Documentary Review: Andre the Giant (2018)

Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Directed by: Jason Hehir
Music by: Rudy Chung, Justin T. Feldman
Cast: Andre the Giant (archive footage), Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon, Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, Shane McMahon, Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Tim White

Bill Simmons Media Group, HBO, WWE, 85 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this since I first heard about it’s production a while ago. Then, once I saw the trailer, I was really stoked.

I have seen a lot of documentaries about professional wrestling but they have mostly been the ones put out by WWE. Sure, those have great production values and even greater stories but I’m always skeptical about WWE releases due to their history of showing a lot of bias. Go back and look at their hit piece called The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior if you don’t believe me. In fact, WWE has sort of ignored that that film even exists after mending their relationship with the Ultimate Warrior and his family.

HBO put together and released this documentary on the legendary Andre Roussimoff a.k.a. Andre the Giant. So that alone puts it in higher regard than WWE’s own productions.

While it does follow his wrestling career, it was nice seeing some of the focus being put on his short acting career, as this documentary interviews those who worked on The Princess Bride with him: Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. It also showcases his childhood and his family but not as much as I would’ve liked.

Strangely, the film also features Hulk Hogan a lot. I get that they needed to foreshadow the importance of their epic WrestleMania III main event match but it seemed as if the Hogan material was distracting from Andre’s story. Granted, Andre was still the primary focus. Also, Hogan is a well known bullshitter that likes to present revisionist history. I had to kind of take what he was saying about his and Andre’s relationship with a grain of salt.

Negatives aside, this was still well done and it painted a picture of a man that was really a gentle giant. Sure, he would use his size to his advantage but ultimately, Andre was sort of a sweetheart that sadly suffered from a lot of physical, as well as emotional, pain.

But more than anything else, he was a man that was beloved by many.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The recent Ric Flair 30 For 30 documentary by ESPN.

 

Film Review: Rampage (2018)

Release Date: April 4th, 2018 (Microsoft Theater premiere)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Based on: Rampage by Midway Games
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton

New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company, Rickard Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Like my grandpappy always said, ‘Us assholes gotta stick together.'” – Harvey Russell

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. I am a massive fan of kaiju movies and I was a big fan of the Rampage video game when I was dropping quarters into it on the reg back in the ’80s. However, the game didn’t have a plot, really. It was just about playing as one of three monsters: a gorilla, a werewolf or a lizard. The only real purpose was to cause as much destruction as you possibly could: punching buildings into rubble and eating people hanging out of windows.

The film’s story actually did a decent job of explaining the creation of these giant creatures and their physics defying abilities.

For the most part, I really liked this movie. It was ridiculous in the best way possible and a ton of friggin’ fun. This is what a blockbuster should be. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate or attempt to be overly serious, it can be a balls to the wall smash’em up festival. And while that formula has worn thin and I’ve been critical of it in the past (*cough, cough Man of Steel), when done right and with an organic purpose, it can still work. It works here.

From a storyline standpoint, this is more engaging than the first Pacific Rim movie. I liked the plot of the second Pacific Rim much better, by the way. Rampage just does a good job with its human characters and also really makes you feel for George, the Rock’s large albino gorilla friend who turns into a menace, only to be cured of his aggression and turn into a hero that teams up with the Rock in taking down the other two monsters: the giant wolf and the giant alligator.

I also love the cast. The Rock, who prefers to just be Dwayne Johnson now but is and will always be The Rock to me, leads the charge but is backed up by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Marley Shelton, the last two being in small roles, unfortunately.

But with The Rock, Morgan and Manganiello together in the same film, there is a testosterone overload that matches the beastly intensity of the three actual beasts in the film. I also loved Malin Akerman as a villainous corporate bitch in this. She was perfect, cold and still looking damn fine. In fact, having her and Morgan in this makes the film a mini Watchmen reunion.

I also really liked the Easter egg of having the old Rampage arcade game in Akerman’s office.

There are some goofy things about the movie. Okay, “some” is an understatement. However, it works for a movie with giant monsters tearing up Chicago and literally toppling the Sears Tower. I’m not going to get nitpicky and bitch too hard but sometimes the dialogue was forced and felt unnatural but this was usually in the moments where The Rock was yelling at green screen. There just seemed to be a disconnect at times, which isn’t the actor’s fault but for some reason certain bits felt off.

The creatures and their physical embellishments all worked for me and the special effects used to bring them to life was well done. I also like that they didn’t make the monsters too big like the Pacific Rim kaiju or the modern versions of Godzilla. The monsters don’t have to tower over the largest buildings, they just need to tower over the humans running away and the military might that confronts them.

Rampage isn’t a great motion picture in the terms of being cinematic art or something that the Academy would see as worthy of their consideration outside of special effects. However, it is a solid popcorn movie. Especially for those of us who can’t get enough modern kaiju films.

And if you are wondering if there is a scene where a monster eats a lady like in the video game, well… you won’t be disappointed. And frankly, it’s an awesome f’n moment.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 2014 Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island and the Pacific Rim movies.

Film Review: A Quiet Place (2018)

Release Date: March 9th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: John Krasinski
Written by: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

Platinum Dunes, Paramount Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Who are we if we can’t protect them? We have to protect them.” – Evelyn

I was a bit skeptical about going to see A Quiet Place in the theater. Not because I didn’t want to check it out but because my theatergoing experiences have been really bad, lately. So how was it going to play out, going to a theater that is typically full of talkie assholes during a film that is all about keeping quiet?

Well, the theater was dead f’n quiet. This film pulled the room in and had everyone’s attention from start to finish. There may have been a whisper or two but people actually followed the golden rule of theatergoing: STFU.

And man, this film builds suspense so well, I found it damn near impossible to get up and go pee, even after three beers before the film and a Diet Coke the size of Andre the Giant’s torso during the film. Granted, I hate having to leave the theater for anything and I’m glad that I didn’t.

John Krasinksi was once Jim on The Office. Like many sitcom stars, he could have easily been typecast for the rest of his career and he probably would have had he not fought hard for roles he thought he had something to offer. Since The Office, he has fared better than all of his other co-stars except for maybe Steve Carell, who has also proved he can do drama. But Krasinski’s unique path led him to the director’s chair. This is the second picture he has helmed (after The Hollars) and he already displays great skill.

The building of tension and suspense in this film is incredibly effective and it relies on that tactic to tell the story and to convey the feeling of dread. While you see the monsters throughout the film and even see one very early on, A Quiet Place could have easily done what lesser horror films do and just tease the monster leading to a disappointing reveal late in the film. Many pictures try to build tension this way and most of the time, it fails. Krasinski threw the monster on the screen in the opening sequence and just got that bullshit out of the way, so we could focus on the human characters, their dynamic, their pain and their struggle to survive in a new and deadly world.

I liked the casting of Krasinski as the lead with his real life wife, Emily Blunt, playing his wife in the film. It made Krasinski’s picture a lot more personal and their chemistry came through adding extra emotional weight. While I’m typically not a huge fan of directors starring in their own things and casting family, it works here.

The kid actors: Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe were both absolutely fantastic. They handled the material very well, weren’t annoying and didn’t need to be rescued all the time. Sure, in the end, dad had to step in but they were capable and heroic characters, which was nice to see for a change.

I liked the monsters. They weren’t particularly unique but they were effective, scary and they worked for the story. They’re sort of like these armored humanoid four legged, spidery things that have a mouth similar to Venom from Marvel Comics.

I didn’t know what to expect with A Quiet Place, as it is really hard to find satisfying horror films this decade. While I wouldn’t call it a classic or anything, I hope it is adding to a new trend where we see better, smarter horror coming back. Between this, Get Out and It Follows, there is still hope in a genre dominated by PG-13 CGI haunted house movies.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: It Comes at Night but this is a better film than that.

Film Review: Ready Player One (2018)

Release Date: March 11th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Based on: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Letitia Wright, Clare Higgins, McKenna Grace

Village Roadshow Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Farah Films & Management, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” – Parzival

*There be spoilers here!

The first thing that people who read the book are going to ask is, “How much did they change?” The short answer is, “Everything.”

In fact, there is so much that has changed that it’s too much to list out. As my friend Greg said once the credits started rolling, “They should change it to say ‘vaguely inspired by Ready Player One.'” And that’s pretty much how I feel, as someone who read the book first.

The main thing that this film is lacking is heart and soul. The book did a decent job building up characters and making the first time meetings meaningful and sweet, the film just drops the real humans in with no warning, halfway through the story. In the book, none of these people actually meet until the very end, as they unite in the real world for the big final battle.

And for some reason, maybe because Spielberg is besties with George Lucas, this version has some sort of “rebellion” that already exists and abducts Parzival in an effort to get him to join. This leads to him meeting Artemis before the midpoint of the film. In the book, she’s so freaked out by her own appearance that she won’t actually meet Parzival until the very end. Here, her birthmark was something that could be easily covered up with foundation. I’ve seen plenty of girls who have looked far worse without makeup… hell, with makeup. And in a world where most people are poverty stricken and dirty with facial tattoos, the whole thing is ridiculous.

The biggest problem with the movie is it took a decent book with some good ideas and it made them worse. I was hoping that Spielberg could put his hand in the story and use his magic to fix up the weaker bits. But the story is so different than the book that those weak bits are gone. Sadly, they’re replaced with something much more superficial, artificial and monotonous.

Every time that something with real weight happened in this movie, it didn’t have the weight that it did in the book. I think the book benefits from having Wade/Parzival tell his story from the first-person point-of-view. The movie is just a movie without any narration, internal monologue or anything that can really add more the the story. You just don’t feel anything for these people, their situation or the events themselves. The film needs a lot more seasoning.

Additionally, the challenges were terrible. The first one is a motor race with a small detail no one was able to crack for over five years. Yet anytime a new video game comes out in the real world, our real world, some guy on YouTube finds all the Easter eggs and secrets within the first 24 hours of playing it. But in a future world where the population is probably double what it is now, where everyone is obsessed with solving the first challenge, not one single person thought to themselves, “I wonder what will happen if I drive backwards?” In reality, some noob would’ve done it by mistake and solved the puzzle.

The second challenge brought the characters into a recreation of The Shining but as cool as it was initially, it still didn’t measure up to the similar sequences in the book, where Parzival had to reenact a role in a film from start to finish. Whatever. We ended up with The Shining being populated by dancing, green glowing zombies for some reason.

The final gate was the closest to the original version but was still a heavily altered and simplified version.

One thing I was hoping would make it in the movie was the battle between Ultraman and Mechagodzilla during the big finale. Ultraman was replaced with a Gundam. Mechagodzilla was there but the design was something new and looked more like a generic metal dinosaur than any version of Mechagodzilla we’ve ever seen.

And what the hell was with Sorrento leaving his password right on his pod? Make your password something you can remember that way you don’t get easily hacked? You’re the top dog in the second largest corporation in the friggin’ world and you basically wore a t-shirt saying, “Please hack me! My password is…” I can’t accept the stupidity of this plot point, he’s not an assistant principal from a John Hughes movie. Plus, in the film they dumb him down and make him rely solely on the knowledge of his minions, as opposed to being savvy on his own and only calling for backup when stumped.

The film fails in comparison to the book and the book was hardly a literary classic. I could pontificate about all the shit I didn’t like and take this review to 5000-plus words but I think I’ve made my point about the negative side of the equation here.

On the side of positives there is sadly only really a few.

One, Mark Rylance was fantastic as Halliday and played the character in a way that was even better than what I saw in my own head while reading the book. He was really the only character I felt a connection to by the end of the film. Which is sad, as he’s barely in it.

Another positive is that it was fun in the right sort of way but it still wasn’t enough to make up for the soullessness and randomness of this adaptation.

I can’t think of another positive.

The biggest highlight of the film was the big battle at the end but it was still a mess. There were so many pop culture references running around on the screen that it was hard to focus on any one of them and you just sort of see this mish mash of shit where if the camera stops moving for one second, you might make out a Battletoad, Spawn, Ryu or a Ninja Turtle. But at least Chucky from Child’s Play got to kick some ass for a few seconds.

I don’t know, man. I had high hopes for this and I left the theater feeling empty and completely unemotional. This was like a vacuum that sucked everything out of me for well over two hours. I walked out of the theater a dumbfounded blank.

This film is like an excited toddler showing you all their toys by throwing them at your face with the speed of the Flash for two hours and twenty minutes. There is no real semblance of a plot, just toys bouncing off of your face and incomprehensible toddler rambling.

Also, Spielberg produces those terrible Michael Bay Transformers movies. This was the perfect opportunity to use accurate looking Autobots and Decpeticons. I mean, what the shit, dude?! You’re telling me the G1 versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron aren’t avatars in the Oasis?

Between the execution of this film and Spielberg’s weird comments about Netflix the other day, I think homeboy is starting to show his age.

Lastly, Zak Penn is awful. Truly, awful. How does he keep getting hired to write shit?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Maybe the novel it is “based on” but the book is far superior.

Documentary Review: Chris Claremont’s X-Men (2018)

Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Directed by: Patrick Meaney

Respect Films, J2 Films, 71 Minutes

Review:

I saw this drop on Amazon Video for rent a few weeks back and added it to my queue because I loved Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men. I mean, if you like X-Men at all, it is probably because of what Claremont created. Also, this was directed by the same guy that did The Image Revolution, which I really enjoyed.

The story behind how X-Men was initially a failure and how it evolved into a mega franchise under the Marvel banner is an interesting one. This shows how all the major players involved came to work on the series and it isn’t just about Claremont’s sole contribution to X-Men.

The X-Men comics of the ’80s had some of the best comic stories of all-time. Claremont and others at Marvel gave us some of the most iconic moments that would also go on to inspire the animated series as well as the big live action motion pictures throughout the ’00s and ’10s. Claremont also gave us some of the most iconic characters to be associated with the franchise.

His storied run is pretty much unparalleled in an industry where writers, artists and other creators are swapped around like pogs in a ’90s middle school lunchroom.

I love that this documentary interviews so many of the key people who were there. We even get to see Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld chime in on some of the events that they were there to witness firsthand.

For fans of comics, especially from this era, you won’t be disappointed with this documentary. After seeing this and The Image Revolution, I want to check out some of the other comic industry documentaries that Patrick Meaney has done.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Another comic book documentary by Patrick Meaney, The Image Revolution. Also, flows well with Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics.

Film Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

Release Date: March 2nd, 2018 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Roar Uthaug
Written by: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons, Evan Daugherty
Based on: Tomb Raider by Crystal Dynamics
Music by: Junkie XL
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nick Frost

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, GK Films, Square Enix, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes

Review:

“All myths are foundations of reality.” – Lord Richard Croft

I wasn’t super enthused to rush out and see this, as I have never been a huge fan of the video game series. I certainly didn’t dislike the series, it was fun and entertaining enough, but I gravitated more towards the Uncharted video games, once they started.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the original Tomb Raider movies. I mean, they were okay for what they were but they certainly weren’t classics and really just existed to take advantage of Angelina Jolie’s good looks during her peak in popularity.

This remake or reboot or whatever, is much more grounded in reality but even then, it still comes with a certain degree of ridiculousness. It tries to be the dark, gritty reboot that is so cliche by this point and really, it is more like a reinvention of the series, as the modern Tomb Raider video games have been.

Overall, this just isn’t very good. There’s not a lot to sink your teeth into. The story is thin, boring and this entire movie just feels like the opening mission of an adventure game that happens before you even get credits.

There actually isn’t a lot of treasure hunting and “tomb raiding”. Sure, they raid a tomb but it takes forever to get there and it’s not all that exciting. The tomb is actually dull and uninspiring. It’s nothing like what you would see in an Indiana Jones movie or one of the Uncharted games.

Most of the film is about Lara searching for her dad instead of treasure. I get that you need a “selfless” reason to get this “heroic” character to the island with the treasure but the film was sold as a high adventure, treasure hunting movie and not what it should have actually been titled Lost Daddy Island.

I wanted lots of solid “tomb raiding”. Lara Croft should have been searching dungeons, solving puzzles, opening doors and getting cave dirty. Instead, she ran around an island for well over an hour doing jungle parkour.

Granted, I really like Alicia Vikander. She was better than Jolie as the character of Lara Croft, although Jolie looked more the part. I’ve never been high up on Jolie though. Vikander has the right attitude and right edge and she could do great things with this role in future movies if any more actually get made and if she works off of a better script than this one.

The biggest highlight for me should have been Walton Goggins, who I love in everything – even that third Major League movie. However, he wasn’t exciting and just sort of a poorly written, cookie cutter baddie. He didn’t give the role that Goggins charisma or really, any of his personality. I felt like anyone could have played the part the same. Goggins is best when his roles allow him to put himself into the part. I’m not sure if he just dialed it in, the director was too controlling or if the script was just so boring that he couldn’t salvage his part.

I guess the actual biggest highlight was seeing Nick Frost in a cameo. Well, he appears in two scenes, so I guess that’s bigger than a cameo.

Tomb Raider is pretty uninspiring. But there is actually a foundation to something that can be much better. Fire the director, fire the writer, keep the cast, move forward.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The older Tomb Raider films and the more recent video games.

Film Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Also known as: Pacific Rim 2, Solar Rim (alternate titles), Pacific Rim: Maelstrom (working title)
Release Date: March 15th, 2018 (Vue West End premiere)
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Written by: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, T.S. Nowlin
Based on: characters by Travis Beacham
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin

Legendary Pictures, UpperRoom Entertainment Limited, DDY, Universal Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

This sequel has been a long time coming. It has been in development since the original came out and was a surprise success in the summer of ’13. Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct it, as he did the first one. However, as time rolled on, he left the project to work on other movies. He still produced the film, though.

I liked the original, even if I don’t feel like it holds up with repeated viewings. I had high hopes that this one would at least be an entertaining popcorn movie. I did have some skepticism, however, as the trailers didn’t due much to peak my interest. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a fair shot because I have been a fan of kaiju pictures since I discovered them as a small child.

To be completely honest, this film that I had some low expectations for, ended up being better than its predecessor. I don’t think that most people will feel the same way but the issues I had with the first movie were mostly fixed with this chapter.

My biggest complaint about the first Pacific Rim is that everything looked generic. Jaegers looked similar and didn’t have exciting designs, all the kaiju were pretty boring and redundant minus a few alterations and every battle was at night giving more visual pizzazz to the cityscapes than the actual titans battling. I liked Pacific Rim but it was pretty unimaginative from a guy as creative as Guillermo del Toro.

Another problem with the first movie, is that it is too basic from a narrative standpoint. Monsters show up, man makes robots, robots smash monsters. Sure, there are a few side plot threads too but it’s a simple movie.

Lastly, the final battle was some shitty underwater thing and the big bad boss at the end wasn’t really that cool.

In this new film, all of these issues are corrected.

The Jaegers have much cooler and unique designs, color schemes and are mostly seen during daylight hours. Also, their enemies don’t just consist of generic kaiju. Our hero Jaegers fight an evil Jaeger, as well as Jaeger/kaiju hybrids and in the end, three powerful kaiju that form into one incredibly massive kaiju like some sort of reptilian Voltron.

The plot was also more layered, had twists and surprises and wasn’t a predictable experience. There were new threats that were unexpected, a main villain twist that was awesome and the mythos was expanded on and enriched by new concepts and developments.

The final battle was beautifully done with a much better final monster than the previous outing. Sure, it is a CGI festival but it is all out in the open, takes place in Tokyo like a proper kaiju movie, moves on to Mt. Fuji and has a pretty incredible final blow to the giant creature.

Pacific Rim: Uprising feels like an anime come to life in the best way possible. It’s over the top, ridiculous and incredible in its scope and scale. But it feels right. And it is f’n fun.

I found myself caring about this cast much more than the one of the previous film. John Boyega and Scott Eastwood were a better macho duo than Charlie Hunnam and Rob Kazinsky from the first film. They had more personality, better charisma and didn’t seem like generic muscle heads mindlessly locking horns, huffing and puffing, to prove who was more alpha whenever there were onlookers.

One aspect of this film that I loved was that regular people are now building their own Jaegers. The girl in the film built a small but very cool and effective Jaeger. Actually, it is my favorite robot from this film series. I hope that this is a concept that is explored more in a sequel. Having hundreds of patched together, homemade Jaegers running into battle would be a cool sight.

I already know that my opinion of liking this more than the original will not be a popular one. People love Guillermo del Toro like they they love Joss Whedon: with blind, undying faith because they created something really, really good once.

This film is also heavy on action… real heavy. People will say it’s a soulless imitation of that “auteur” del Toro’s original vision. Well, even with being action heavy, it has more narrative depth and more creativity crammed into that soullessness than the original film.

There is destruction on a massive scale, lots of battles and once you get to the first big action sequence, the film does not really let up on the high octane intensity. But that is exactly what this film is supposed to be. It’s a friggin’ kaiju movie. It also has giant robots. You don’t go to see these things for anything but entertainment and because it pairs well with a giant bucket of popcorn and a giant bucket of soda pop.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim, the 2014 American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.