Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Black Panther" Review

Marvel continues its just-can't lose streak to 18-0 (I don't count the weaker entries like The Incredible Hulk or the first two Thor movies as losses; just not home runs) with Black Panther, a quite good movie which unfortunately has been hijacked by SJWs seeking to politicize everything.

Introduced in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman continues his journey as T'Challa, who became King of the fictional African nation of Wakanda after his father, T'Chaka, was assassinated, also inheriting the mantle of the Black Panther, protector of the nation, clad in a vibranium - the mythical metal that makes Captain America's shield - cat suit. As explained in a prologue reminiscent of the storybook expository scene in Wonder Woman, a vibranium meteor landed on Africa and the metal's properties fueled Wankanda's rise as a technologically-advanced Utopia, which they have hidden from the outside worth with a shielding dome, cut off from the outside world.

The debate of Wakanda's place in the world and how it could help poorer African nations is forced when an American ex-SEAL, Erik Killmonger (a malevolent Michael B. Jordan), arrives and challenges T'Challa's claim to the throne. He wants to use Wakanda's tech and weapons to basically topple all the nations he feels are holding the African diaspora down and if you think that sounds a little (OK, a LOT) like a race war, I'm touching my nose. But we'll deal with the politics in a moment.

What's remarkable about Black Panther is how little like a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie it is. Other than Martin Freeman's CIA agent character also introduced in Civil War and Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue first/last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron getting his arm cut off (the replacement is literally a blast, along with Serkis' no-CGI-covering-him performance), there are no hints of the Avengers, no drop-bys from Tony Stark. Instead it feels like a Shakespearean family tragedy with the ancient, deeply African tribalism and customs rubbing against the questions of how should a 22nd Century superpower masquerading as a poor 19th Century agrarian land interact with the 21st Century world.

With the usually overqualified casting (two Oscar winners, two Oscar nominees, and everyone else is excellent) that typifies Marvel's serious approach to funny book flicks, there is a weight to Black Panther that seems more like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies than the recent laugh-a-minute Thor Ragnarok. Not that there aren't laughs or it's grimdark like the DC Murderverse slogs, but it's got a lot on it's mind, though more is implied than explicated; it really would've benefited from a tad more breathing room to debate its concept instead of just getting to the final climatic boss battles.

It's not a flawless masterpiece, however. Some of the CGI is surprising subpar and rubbery physics make fights look more like videogames or the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. The performance are so solid (though Jordan's street-level American jars compared to the mellifluous African patois of the others) that you don't realize until later we could've stood for more details, especially about Lupita Nyong'o's spy life and Danai Gurira's badass general. Letitia Wright's Shuri, T'Challa's super-brainiac little sister, feels too young for her precociousness - and are there no other scientists or doctors working with her? - and she gets a couple of ignorant racist comments stuffed in her mouth.

Which leads to the part we really shouldn't have to discuss, the inevitable co-option and politicization of yet another piece of entertainment by forces seeking to keep resentment, grievance, division and polarization whipped up in order to advance their agendas. Just a couple months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi was buried in vapid "think pieces" bashing the male characters, screeching "girl power" and proclaiming "diversity" (read: "less white men, yay!"), we're now assaulted by Time magazine covers and a tsunami of commentary about how landmark it is for a black-led superhero movie is in the Era of Trump as if the Blade movies didn't happen 20 years ago and Will Smith wasn't the Biggest Movie Star In The World before passing his crown to Dwayne Johnson.

It's depressing to see a narrative of "black people are finally getting something in AmeriKKKa" being fomented when if that was the case, no one would be making a reportedly $200M budget film with a 98% black cast, black writers, designers and director, female cinematographer (who's white, but she's a lesbian, so her victim class card is punched, twice) which is on track to make over $200M in its opening weekend. Focusing on the skin color, genitalia and sexual behavior of the filmmakers is insulting, not empowering. Unless they're studying the IMDB, audiences doesn't know or care whether the crew behind the camera are black, white, straight, gay, male, female or a left-handed Amish panda with a limp, just whether the movie is good or bad. That the faces are different is just a footnote to anyone not obsessed with scorekeeping.

Black Panther's existence and success moots the premise of those seeking division over what should be another opportunity for ALL people to commune with escapist entertainment which also has thematic gravitas. What's ultimately ironic about the grievance mongers who share Killmonger's rage is that they seem to miss the fact he's the villain and his internalizing of victimhood is what leads to his inevitable downfall. It's T'Challa's pragmatic peace-seeking that is considered the ideal which leads to victory and peace.

So try and tune out the noise and just enjoy another excellent offering from Marvel. As an added bonus, we're not going to have to wait 2-3 years for more of the Wakanda folks; they're going to be back in Avengers: Infinity War in just three months. Can't wait.

Score: 8.75/10. Catch a matinee.

"Collide" Blu-ray Review

I needed a second title in order to get the 2/$5 deal at Family Video and with zero desire to own Assassin's Creed or several other lame flicks and my buddy not wanting anything, I decided to get Collide based off the review which said it wasn't original, but it was well done. The alternative was to spend an extra 50 cents and just buy the other title alone.

Thinking now I should've spent the 50 cents and saved the other $2 and 100 minutes of time.

Slick-looking with some impressive car crashes, Collide is a forgettable trifle about a pair of ex-pat Americans played by Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones (because there were no American actors available it appears) in Cologne, Germany. He left behind one-too-many stolen cars in America and we never really know why she's there. He's been driving for Ben Kingsley's drug trafficker - something she appears familiar with already - and she won't date that kind of guy, so he quits the life in order to get all up in her business and we're treated to a montage of them being pretty and in love. And they lived happily ever af....[record scratch SFX]

Nope! She's got failing kidneys that she neglected to mention to him during all the kissy times and as a foreigner of unspecified "status" in Germany, ineligible for that sweet socialized medicine or something. In order to get the cash needed to pay for her transplant, Hoult returns to Kingsley's service to execute a heist of a truck full of either money or drugs (they never made clear which phase of the operation they were hitting) being run by Kingsley's master, the outwardly-appearing totally legit Anthony Hopkins. Of course everything goes wrong (or does it?) and Hoult is on the run and Jones is Pauline being imperiled and so on. Vroom vroom ensues.

Collide is one of those utterly forgettable films which clearly took a lot of care to make yet leaves no impression. It's not that the beats are cribbed from a half-dozen other heist/caper/chase/whatever flicks but that it all feels so inconsequential. Hoult and Jones are pretty and chipper, but Hopkins has this look behind his eyes that he's slumming for the check like so many other former Oscar winners like Nicholas Cage and Robert De Niro have. Kingsley, on the other hand, is having a hammy blast as the Turkish gangster with the golden gun and weird sunglasses he never takes off; he may be slumming, but he's reveling.

The Blu-ray's transfer is clean and colorful and the DTS-Master HD audio track will seriously boom your room with LFE effects, though I had to keep riding the volume between the talking and the chasing. So annoying. There are no extras other than other trailers.

If it wasn't so inconsequential, Collide could've provided some mindless rainy day it's on cable fare, but it just doesn't hit as well as it could have.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Blade Runner: The Final Cut" Blu-ray Review

Six years after my original review - and only 25 months before the events depicted were to have occurred! - my questions about how off the mark the futurists were about 2019 remain valid.

Score: 10/10. Buy it!

"Who the F*ck is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago" Review

Stumbled over this on Netflix. Who the F*ck is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago is the oral history of Michael Alago, a poor gay Puerto Rican kid who lived in the Hasidic Jewish area of Brooklyn and parlayed his time as a club kid in 1970s New York City into influential booking gigs and eventually a career in A&R where notable signings included Metallica and White Zombie. He eventually befriended and guided Nina Simone's final album.

With tons of photos and testimonials from musicians from the bands he signed and championed, plus some odd inclusions like Cyndi Lauper and John Lydon, it's brisk and entertaining, but probably mostly of interest to music industry junkies who actually care about managers and promoters as much as the talent they push.

While the seeming incongruity of such a flamboyantly out person like Alago working with bands in a genre with a reputation of not being particularly friendly towards practitioners of that lifestyle is discussed, it's not belabored. There are the usual late-film detours into the downsides of lots of drinking, drugging and promiscuity, but it obviously works out as Alago is our tour guide through his life.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Recommended for music biz nerds mostly.)

An interview with Alago and the film's director, Drew Stone.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" Blu-ray Review

Rewatched in prep for seeing War For the Planet of the Apes. Original review here and is still valid.

Score: 9/10. Buy it.

"Independence Day: Resurgence" Blu-ray Review

For Independence Day, the missus and I watched last Independence Day's flop, Independence Day: Resurgence because with the neighborhood sounding like Beirut with all the fireworks in the 'hood, we weren't going to bother with something deep. Even by the standards of dumb Roland Emmerich destructo-porn, it looked bad; the reviews were rough; and the Cinema Sins and Honest Trailers seemed sufficient to kill any curiosity in the endeavor.

But we still watched it because I'd picked up a cheap ($2.50) Blu-ray and, yeah, it's pretty terrible. Emmerich has always been the reference point to show that for all his myriad faults, Michael Bay ain't Roland Emmerich, but even Emmerich seems to be phoning in his work here. The original Independence Day was no great shakes despite its cheesy Nineties success and star-making performance from Will Smith (who declined to be in this sequel, his character killed off and replaced by a son who must've gotten his non-charisma from Mom's side), but ID:R doesn't even seem to want to try. I'm not even going to bother recapping the dumb plot, trite conflicts and cheesy story; it's not worth it.

The visual effects occasionally benefit from 20 years of technological advances (just as Earth did after looting the crashed spaceships from the first movie), but a frequently quite cheap-looking as you can tell they shot on empty soundstages and composited in the backgrounds as badly as The Martian did quite well. As laughable as some of the "they survive this" scenes of destruction were in 2012 or San Andreas, it's just ludicrous here.

I didn't watch the extras, but the transfer is clean and the audio booming. There are better movies as movies to show off your home theater with. 

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

The "They like to get the landmarks" line which closes the trailer isn't in the final movie. Weak.

"Baby Driver" Review

I've seen everything Edgar Wright has made, but the trailers for Baby Driver didn't really feel like one of his movies; they felt like an oddly dark crime flick at odds with the usual levity his films had. (It didn't help that the title sounded like a kiddie picture like The Boss Baby.) The critics have spooged over it (98% RT score), but they always go crazy for anything that's not a sequel and Wright has been the Wronged Auteur after putting in 8 years developing Ant-Man only to leave the project over "creative differences" with Marvel. I went into the show with mixed impressions and, unfortunately, the movie lived down to my expectations. (Though the missus thought it was awesome.)

Ansel Elgort (I remember when Hollywood imposed better names on their performers) plays Baby, a getaway driver (see how that works?) for Kevin Spacey's crime boss whose car with a trunk full of valuable MacGuffins he stole thus obliging him to work off the debt by being the wheelman for heists Spacey masterminds. He's almost paid up and his just One More Job to work before he's free.

He's made the acquaintance of a pretty waitress (Lily James from the live-action Cinderella, looking like a young Madchen Amick) and is smitten with her, but this being a gangster movie, that One Last Job rapidly turns into a You Didn't Think You Were Going To Just Walk Away From This Life, Did You? and with the arrival of a scary new shooter named Bats (Jamie Foxx, actually acting for a change), the stakes are raised to the roof with deadly results.

While the car chases and gunfights are snappily shot and edited to the hipster-bait soundtrack with gun blasts in time with the rhythm (a thing first noted in the terrific Suicide Squad trailer and aped by so many other trailers now), there is an inescapable thinness to the plot and characters. We know nothing about James' character other than she's pretty and sweet and Baby is nearly a cipher; what was he going to do if Spacey had let him go? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ When things get really dark in the last act, it's just too mean and gritty and less fun, despite being flashily executed.

I attribute these failings to Wright having sole authorship of the script. His "Cornetto Trilogy" (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End) were all co-written with Simon Pegg and the sublime Scott Pilgrim vs. the World had a co-writer and source material. Without the leavening of another voice, he's sort of exposed as more of a sharp director. There's no shame in that, but it unbalances the mix. There are some big laughs - a bit involving sunglasses is hilarious - and the performances are solid, but it just didn't  work well enough for me. It's not a complete wreck; more of a parking lot fender bender.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

"Kedi" Review

If you're a cat-lover, you're going to want to see Kedi, the lovely documentary about the street cats of Istanbul. Unfortunately, it's not particularly convenient to see it.

Turkey's largest city, with a population of nearly 15 million people, sits straddling the divide between Europe and Asia. Thousands of years old and a major land and sea trade crossroads, ships from all over the world who had cats on board to control rodents found their mousers hopping off with the cargo and taking up residence.

With so many cats and so many people, you'd think they'd collide but as Kedi shows, they not only co-exist, but sometimes co-depend with many humans making great efforts to feed and love their furry feline friends. From the woman who cooks 20 pounds of chicken(!) per day to the fellow who walks around with bags of food, succoring large herds of kittehs to the woman who lets one cat in who promptly eats her indoor cat's food to the polite cat who parks outside a restaurant, never coming in or begging from the customers, but brushing his paws on the glass until they bring out smoked meats and fine cheeses, the cats of Istanbul have it made, at least in this telling.

Beautifully photographed with both soaring, tourist bureau-grade aerial drone shots of the skyline and cats-eye level tracking shots which follow the cats on their travels, Kedi makes you want to pet and cuddle all the cute critters and be happy that so many treat them as honored neighbors and not pests, even when they're biting fish off the mongers stand. One featured fellow credits caring for the kittehs for bringing him back after a nervous breakdown.

The biggest problem with Kedi is that it's a YouTube Original film meaning only YouTube Red subscribers can see it. I've had a Google Play Music subscription (it's like Spotify, but costs me a couple bucks less because I was an early adopter) for ages and got YouTube Red along with it when that started (it works vice versa, too; you get both regardless of what you sign up for), so it wasn't a problem for me, but most people have Netflix and maybe Amazon Prime and/or Hulu. Kedi is kinda stuck with no one to pet it in it's current location. If you can get a free trial, but all means put this at the top of your queue.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on YouTube Red.

"47 Meters Down" Review

It would be easy to presume that the girls vs. sharks flick 47 Meters Down was a quicky ripoff of last summer's sleeper girl vs. shark flick The Shallows, but it was originally slated for VOD/DVD release under the title of In The Deep less than two months after The Shallows came out in June 2016, but after seeing the success of Blake Lively's lively thriller and smelling cash-in blood in the water, another studio bought the rights and saved it for summer 2017 release, to much less success.

Watch the trailer:

That's it, folks. Claire Holt and Mandy Moore are girls on vacation in Mexico. Moore is nursing a broken heart from a breakup, so Holt convinces her to go clubbing. They meet a couple of hot locals who take them on sharking trip, the cable breaks and how will they make it up to the surface?

On its surface, 47 Meters Down should offer double the trouble of The Shallows: Instead of one babe, there's two (though come on, Blake Lively>>>Holt and Moore); instead of one shark, there are many; instead of being trapped on a rock on the surface waiting for the tide to come in, they're trapped in a cage on the ocean floor, running out of air.

But the crucial difference is that in the dark murky ocean depths, it feels claustrophobic and inert. While helping with the tension of whether sharks lurk just out of view, it rapidly feels rote. Director Johannes Roberts doesn't do much to make it visually interesting and when the sharks chomp on people, it's handled haphazardly.The third act fake-out and ending are unsatisfying as well.

Score: 3/10. Skip it and watch The Shallows.

"Aftermath" Review

My favorite type of movie to review; the kind where the synopsis is all in the trailer:

Ahnuld's family is killed in a plane crash due to a convoluted screw-up by Scoot McNairy. Grief and a quest for revenge ensue. However, despite the booming action drums, it's actually a very quiet story of grief that no one would pay notice to if it wasn't for the presence of Ahnuld and anyone looking for vintage Ahnuld ass-kicking action will be sorely disappointed. (My girlfriend remarked on how she didn't think this was "just going to be him being sad" and promptly dozed off.)

Ahnuld's performance is almost adequate if you view the emotive quality of his wooden countenance as "deeply internal" (though he's more emotive than Casey Affleck's utterly inert, yet Oscar-winning role in Manchester by the Sea) and McNairy has this impotent dweeb shtick down as anyone who's wanted to scream, "GROW A PAIR!" at him during Halt and Catch Fire or Batdude v Superdude: Dumpster Fire of Fail, but when they finally have their confrontation, it is so abrupt and unsatisfying, it makes the wait not worth it. The coda, which can be seen coming from over the horizon, is equally banal.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Life" Review

When you're telling a story about the discovery of extraterrestrial life which turns into an alien loose on a space station knocking off the crew one by one, but someone beat you to the title Alien, you either try and come up with something catchy or settle for the bland and uncompelling Life, which is ironic considering how little intelligent life is present.

The alarm bells go off early in the opening shot, a needlessly showy single-take shot swooping around a moodily-lit International Space Station, introducing us to the crew, who for the sake of I don't care and it doesn't matter I will call Deadpool, Donnie Darko, Discount Idris Elba, Natasha Fatale, White Queen, and Japanese Dad. Since the ISS is familiar to anyone who has watched the news, the lack of verisimilitude (i.e. the real one is lit brightly) combined with the astronauts swearing up a storm (e.g. Deadpool shouts, "Instagram that, motherf*ckers!" - and I complain as someone who uses gratuitous profanity liberally, but I'm not an astronaut) make things feel wrong and it doesn't get better.

Their mission to retrieve a Mars probe - the particulars don't make sense - leads to the discovery of a single-cell organism. Not having seen a sci-fi movie ever, they adjust the environment in the isolation box to encourage its growth and definitely not having paid attention to Prometheus decide touching the cute widdle critter is a great life choice. (Spoiler: It's not.) It rapidly escapes and proves itself much smarter than the crew, not that these astronauts are really rocket scientists.

At its core, Life is DOA because the thinly-sketched characters are idiots doing dumb things because that's what's necessary to keep the plot stumbling forward. The squid-like alien seems able to enter and exit the station at will as if the fire-extinguishing system connects to the coolant supply and it can climb into the thrusters and exit inside the ship as if the whole place had doggie doors. We're also supposed to believe the communications system completely fails, leaving them unable to inform Earth as to what's happening, due to the alien drinking the ship's coolant and there are no backups. Super convenient that we can go to Mars to pick up alien life, but can't have backup systems. (If you saw The Martian you'll remember the plot point about all the redundant systems they'd have to circumvent in order to hijack the ship to rescue Matt Damon.)

It's too bad so much of Life depends on everyone being brain dead because director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) does put together some impressively tense sequences which would have you holding your breath if not for the fact you're laughing at how stupid and far-fetched the cause of that tension is. A scene where a spacewalking astronaut is drowning in their suit because the alien has somehow managed to cause the coolant to leak into the suit requires the viewer to believe that there is that much liquid in the suit and that it could be caused to spill without breaching the suit; better to have had the monster clawing its way in.

At the very end, in a sequence completely ripped-off from Gravity down to certain shots, there are confusing details in a couple of shots which makes you wonder what is happening. It turns out to be deliberate to have one last whammy. It's actually the final insult of our intelligence.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Catfight" Review

Netflix sent me an email that "a movie you may like" was now available. I'd never heard of Catfight, but looking at the trailer featuring Sandra Oh and Anne Heche beating the hell out of each other while clumsy class warfare antics raged around them seemed like it may have potential. A sampling of reviews were mixed, but what do critics know, right?

Sandra Oh is a rich man's wife with a sensitive artistic son and a bit of a drinking problem. Anne Heche is an angry lesbian artist whose work is confrontational and unmarketable. Their world's collide when Heche's partner, Alicia Silverstone (who at 40 looks like a less-haggard Drew Barrymore), force her to help cater water an event where they run into each other and learn they were college classmates. It all culminates in them getting into a brawl which leaves Oh bloodied and unconscious at the bottom of the stairs.

She comes out of her coma two years later finding her husband and son both dead and her money gone. Her former housekeeper takes her in and she's reduced to working for a living as a hotel maid where she discovers that Heche has become quite the hot artist as her work has found favor during the latest Middle East war that has raged while Oh slept. (The way they use a terrible late night talk show to ladle in these details is typical of the clumsy script.)

Enraged that Heche has seemingly traded places with her, Oh hunts her down at a gallery opening and a rematch ensues and that's where Catfight's simplistic structure becomes depressingly evident. You can more or less predict how the last third will play out and when it finally happens, it ends in another meaningless brawl with an ending that's even more unsatisfactory.

Despite the trite script, Sandra Oh gives a nicely layered performance, but Heche and Silverstone don't have much depth to their characters. The script is nowhere as incisive or insightful as it imagines itself, but their are a few flashes of satiric teeth, particularly in a baby shower scene in which Silverstone craps on every gift given. However, a mediocre episode of Girls has three times the laughs and insight in a third of the time, albeit with the risk of Lena Dunham inflicting her body on the audience.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Prometheus" Blu-ray Review

In preparation for the upcoming Alien: Covenant, we watched Prometheus again because while I'd been watching the Blu-ray in bits and pieces as a test disc for home theater tweaking - I hadn't really watched watched it despite getting the deluxe 3D version upon its release (more on this in a moment) - the missus hadn't seen it since we'd seen it in the theater five years ago. I don't know why I haven't written up a review of this package before and there's a problem with it you'll see it a bit, but I must note have screened the full movie thus the lack of an entry here.

While people still treat Prometheus as some sort of cinematic war crime, on second appraisal it's not that bad and I'd bump the film score up to a 7/10. The dumb stuff is still dumb and Holloway is a complete tool and thus his death isn't really that much of a loss (spoiler alert!), but the overall slick style, Fassbender's performance and Ridley Scott's ability to still throw down a tense scene like the auto-doc alien extraction sequence make it a missed opportunity more than a complete failure.

More problematic is this Blu-ray release which along with Life of Pi saw Fox putting some of the special features exclusively on the 3D version release, forcing people to either buy a version they may not even have the capability or interest in watching in order to get all the extras or doing without. While Life of Pi's omitted extras appear to be minor, the 4-disc collector's edition I bought (and sold off the 3D disc to a friend) came with an amazing disc of extras with a production documentary and tons of goodies which were actually better than the movie itself. The problem is that it appears to have gone out of print - it lists on Amazon for over $350(!!!) and while Best Buy lists it for $20, it's not actually available. 

If you're not an extras fiend like me, then the basic disc is a good pickup for $10 or less; the transfer and audio are pristine and the movie doesn't totally blow despite being full of bonehead actions which led to Cinema Sins coining the "Prometheus School For Running Away From Things" to describe any time people aren't trying to dodge to the side.

Score: Collector's Edition - 8.5/10. Buy it if you can find it. Regular Edition - 7/10. Buy it cheap.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" Review

Watched it again on Vudu with the girlfriend in prep for seeing the sequel with her. She slept through most of it because she's seen it before. Sigh. Hope she remembers enough to understand what's happening.

Score: 8.5/10.

"The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?" Review

In the late-20th Century an attempt was made to reboot the moribund Superman franchise with Superman Lives, a Jon Peter-produced movie with Tim Burton directing, Nicholas Cage starring and Kevin Smith writing the first draft. With tens of millions expended on pre-production and pay-or-play deals, the production was shut down three weeks before it was to start shooting.

As bizarre-looking costume test photos leaked out showing a stoned-looking Cage in a shiny blue rubber suit leaked out - Superman Lives director Bryan Singer would keep that photo handy to shut up anyone who questioned what he was doing with his film - and Kevin Smith's recounting of his involvement with the project (Parts One and Two here) became legend, the true story of what killed Superman Lives was mostly speculation and conjecture until now as writer-director Jonathan Schnepp has pulled together the threads and woven The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?

Stunningly getting the participation of every main and secondary participant but Cage (who appears in fitting videos), Schnepp interviews Peters, Burton, Smith and the two screenwriters who followed him, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and the army of illustrators, designers and artists, showcasing an overwhelming amount of illustrations and test models. Everyone seems candid and honest, though Peters flat out denies Smith's claim that he asked that Superman not fly or wear the costume.

While the copious artwork and deep-diving will probably satisfy uber-nerdy Superman fans, it drags out the feel of the 104-minute documentary making it less suited to more general audiences. It's fascinating to see the ideas being pitched around like the Kryptonian Skull Ship which is exactly as it sounds, but struck me as possibly being too goofy-looking for a live-action movie.

Ultimately, Warner Bros.' string of box office bombs ultimately killed the project (ironically, the money went to fund another bomb), but for those who've always wondered what could've been, for better or worse, The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened? definitely sets the record as straight as could be hoped. A must-watch for superhero movie fans; slightly less so for general audiences.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (It's currently on Showtime.)

"Colossal" Review

When the first trailer for Colossal dropped, the premise was a grabber: A young woman (Yummy Girl, known to you people as Anne Hathaway) discovers that she is somehow responsible for a giant kaiju monster stomping on Seoul, South Korea. Hijinks ensue. What's not to like about that? Sounds like fun, right? What the trailers don't reveal and most reviews have hidden - though the first one I read explicitly blew the back half in order to allow for SJW axe-grinding - is that the fun rapidly drains out in service of some ugly turns which aren't earned. If you're concerned about spoilers, jump to the score and come back later.

After an odd prologue showing the monster appearing in Seoul 25 years ago (which is eventually explained), we meet Yummy Girl as she wanders into her Manhattan apartment after another night out partying, babbling rote excuses about how her being gone all night isn't her fault to her clearly steamed boyfriend. Fed up with never seeing her unless she's hungover and carrying her after being unemployed for a year, he's kicking her out.

With nowhere to go, she returns to her unspecified Middle-American childhood small town to move into her parents' empty home. While lugging home a heavy sack, she encounters Jason Sudeikis, a childhood schoolmate. Giving her a ride they end up at his bar, which he inherited from his father, and she immediately falls in with Sudeikis' drinking biddies (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell), hanging out boozing until dawn, leaving and walking home with her bundle. Waking up in the afternoon, she learns that a monster has appeared in Seoul.

After a repeat appearance the next night, she immediately realizes her connection to it and somehow figures out that it happens when she crosses a playground. She reveals this to her new friends and attempts to make amends to the people their by writing an apology in the sand, but then its revealed that when Sudeikis enters the playground a giant robot appears in Seoul, doubling the terror for them and the complications back here.

This is where Colossal takes the turn that the ads and reviews hide. Sudeikis' nice guy character - he give her a TV and furniture for her house - veers into Evil Controlling Sociopath territory as he becomes jealous of her hots for the hunky, shy Stowell. (Why she's after him isn't really spelled out. He's a bland, handsome blank.) When her ex from NYC comes to town, ostensibly for a coincidental business meeting, the theme of "evil men consumed by toxic masculinity and need to control and oppress women" really blares forth, culminating in (SPOILER ALERT!) Sudeikis' threat that if she leaves he will go back to the the playground every morning and have his giant robot avatar wreak havoc on the other side of the world. Wotta swell fella.

The problem with this turn of the story is that it's not earned. Yummy wasn't his high school girlfriend, though he obviously has harbored a crush on her and has Googled her up. (Who hasn't looked up an ex or ten online just because?) They had no relationship, so his violent reaction to what she does just comes off as extreme. Sudeikis, who has made a name as the bland sorta straight guy in comedies like Horrible Bosses and We're The Millers, is quite chilling in his dark turn; he's just let down by a poorly-motivated script which really faceplants in their final confrontation despite its obvious attempt at crown-pleasing.

Yummy is also quite good, making her drunken wreck somehow appealing and winsome, though clearly troubled by the mayhem and death she has accidentally caused, at least until the script forgets about all that and goes off on the He-Man Woman-Hating Club stuff.

My girlfriend didn't know about the twist and didn't like it, feeling it should've been a straight-up comedy as advertised, though she agreed that if they'd more properly sold the rationale for Sudeikis' anger and possessiveness towards Yummy, it may've worked better. (Off the top of my head, how about Yummy being a former high school mean girl who was cruel to Sudeikis because his dad "just owned a bar" and he's always wanted to pay her back for her snobby cruelty now that she's the needy one? Not saying this is awesome, but it's better than what's there.)

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Fast & Furious 6" Blu-ray Review

The march to The Fate of the Furious continues with what is hands-down the best and most well-rounded of the entire series. My original theatrical review still stands. The sound and picture quality are good. Didn't have a chance to look at the extras yet, but they appear respectable.

Score: 8.5/10. Buy it.

"Ghost in the Shell 2.0" Blu-ray Review

I originally reviewed this Blu-ray six years ago and dug it out to refresh myself in preparation for this weekend's arrival of the controversial live-action ScarJo version and upon second viewing I'm finding that 1995's anime classic Ghost in the Shell is a tad overhyped. People remember the iconic action sequences or the shocking (robo) nudity or the haunting score, but lost in the reminiscences are the fact that the plot makes little sense and there's way too much philosophy dumping going on.

The opening thermoptic camo scene makes the Major look like an assassin, not a cop. All the nattering about the "ghost" maybe being or not being the human soul is half-baked and the political chicanery and investigative work to detect possibly illegally cloaked people who then never are revealed is just confusing.

The biggest stink over the casting of ScarJo is that it fed the SJW outrage pimps another example of "whitewashing" (in which evil disgusting white actors are playing roles believed the sole property of "People of Color"), but as with so much anime, there is nothing Asian about Major Motoko Kusinagi other than her super Japanese name and since her body is robotic and her appearance manufactured, what makes her "Asian" to the point it requires racially-specific casting? (FWIW, I would've gone with Rinko Kikuchi from Pacific Rim.)

While the original Ghost in the Shell remains something self-respecting cinephiles should see, it will be interesting to see how this live-action version, which reportedly takes elements from both theatrical films and the Stand Alone Complex series and blends the philosophical angles with the need for sci-fi shooty-shoot action.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

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"The Assignment" Review

When I saw the trailer (below) for The Assignment I wondered what the heck it was supposed to be. Within five minutes, I could tell it was going to be some Biblical level of suckage, but perverse curiosity as to why this cast was involved in this mess kept be going. Ugh. The things I do for my readers.

As the trailer lays out, M.Rod plays a hitMAN who was given an involuntary sex change as revenge for killing Sigourney Weaver's brother. What's not shown is the framing device for this tale - Tony Shaloub's psychiatrist character conducting an evaluation on Weaver's doctor which opens with them spewing some of the worst Basil Exposition dialog ever committed to digital video (can't say film anymore, right?) and immediately making one wonder if the all shared the same agent who lost a bet and had to force his clients into this weird mess?

As it trudges through it's allegedly shocking tale of revenge - since half of it is told in present day narrating flashbacks, there's never a doubt as to who survives - it never rises above it's thin premise. But the actors commit to the dreck fully, though I couldn't stop wondering why they accepted the gig. Yes, co-writer and director Walter Hill produced Weaver's Alien movies and had some notable flicks 35-40 years ago(!), but I don't get it and pondering that helped get through this.

There's a minor reveal at the end, but things hinted at meaning something like Weaver's wearing of men's suits never pay off. The only thing The Assignment will be remembered for is that Michelle Rodriguez made her nude debut after 17 years in the biz in her late-30s. But you'll be able to find that on the Internet and the context doesn't make it any better.

Score: 2/10. Skip it unless you are a perverse masochist who can't believe it's this bad.

If you're wondering why it's called Tomboy at the end, it's because it was also titled that and (Re)Assignment. When you can't settle on the title....

Oscars 2017 Livesnark

The collected tweets from @DirkBelig during the 2017 Virtue Signaling Olypmics.
  • Ultra-Leftist Hollyweird millionaire hypocrites wear ACLU ribbons at the #Oscars to signal support for parts of the Constitution they like.
  •  I've seen 8 of 9 Best Picture #Oscars nominees, all but Fences, and didn't care for any but Lion. The faves to win are the worst overall.
  • And now after that bright, peppy, joyful opening #Oscars number by Justin Timberlake we can get down to bashing Trump and crying "Fascism!"
  • Good opening monologue from @jimmykimmel, but he's basically begging for #Oscars winners to throw tantrums to bait Cheeto Jesus.
  • Alicia Vikander is way too tan for a Swedish girl. Mahershala Ali wins for Moonlight as expected. He was OK, but nothing special. #Oscars  
  • That's the #Oscars winning motion picture Suicide Squad, bitches! That that, Marvel! LOL! And then obligatory Trump bash. Take it back!
  • Witchcraft works to get Colleen Atwood her 4th #Oscars win, yet she pretends to be as surprised as Taylor Swift. 
  • The orchestra is actually in the pit this year's #Oscars after several years piped in from Capitol Records studio. Good perf from Moana kid.
  • First Walmart receipt #Oscars ad by Antoine Fuqua was dumb. Low bar for competition to beat. Yes, it's a contest. I said so.  
  • Inclusion: Leftists keep saying that word, but I don't think it means what they think it means. We're missing Walking Dead for this? #Oscars
  • Sound awards #Oscars split between Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge for those who were out of the room getting snacks. 
  • What is with @jimmykimmel's constant baiting and bashing of Mel Gibson? It's not as if he's going attack him. Same w/ Trump. #Oscars #NoFear
  • Weird #Oscars speech from Viola Davis until the point on stories from the graveyard was explained. Her win was the free space on your pool.
  • 2nd Walmart receipt #Oscars ad by Marc Forster was a bimbo: looked good, but stupid. Low bar for Seth and Evan to clear for victory.
  • And terrorist-backer Iran wins Foreign Film #Oscars in order to allow the #MuslimBan lie to be cheered by Hollywood Jews who hate Israel.
  • Sting is providing music too boring for NPR for your snack break. Oh, pity the poor journalists whose #FakeNews is being punished. #Oscars
  • King of #FakeNews @nytimes bleats on their #Oscars ad that "the truth is more important now than ever" because they've been lying forever.
  • Tiny Latino actor demands America have no borders to #Oscars cheers. Guess Hollywood forgot the illegal alien who murdered Adrienne Shelly.
  • The #Oscars bit w/the tourists was nicely amusing. I'm sure those "random folks" were cast for max hilarity. Trump is still Hitler, right?
  • Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg handily win the Walmart #Oscars receipt ad contest by just getting high and literally rattling off the items.
  • The Google #Oscars ad totally spoils Lion for those who haven't seen it while subliminally sticking it to useless Apple.
  • Do the people cheering for The White Helmets at the #Oscars know that their beloved Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama did nothing for Syria?
  • @jimmykimmel desperately tries to troll Trump cuz there's not enough rage happening at the #Oscars. Pathetic. Leslie Mann's dress is hate.
  • John Legend, who had the one good line in La La Land, performs the #Oscars-nominated tunes, neither of which as good as "Another Day of Sun"
  • The "Best" Song #Oscars goes to three white guys over the Hamilton guy because RAAAAAAAAAACISM! #LiveUpToYourStandardsHollywood  
  • Another year, another #Oscars Parade of Death which doesn't use Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" as the backing.
  • Where was Miguel Ferrar on #Oscars Parade of Death? Who else got snubbed? Surprised they didn't include America, the way they've been crying
  • Kimmel intro to Matt Damon was funny, showing that if he had forgone baiting Trump all #Oscars night, he would've been better.  
  • Great Batfleck and Matt Damon schtick was hilarious. Amy Adams brought the twins to the #Oscars! ( o Y o ) Moonlight was barely a story.
  • The Wikipedia page for Tarell Alvin McCraney was updated to say he won Best Adapted Screenplay #Oscars within two minutes. #ThatWasFast
  • Sorry, Halle Berry, even Beyonce couldn't pull off that mop at the #Oscars Damien Chazelle is so wildly overrated. Whiplash was meh, too.  
  • Have they ever had an #Oscars ceremony without any clips from the Best Picture nominees? Probably cut for time to allow more Trump-baiting.
  • Can't believe Casey Affleck won Best Actor #Oscars, not because the SJWs were after him, but because his role was monotone and dull. #fail
  • Leo is thinking, "I froze my freaking ass off to win my #Oscars, but Casey wins for being mopey for two hours?"
  • Emma Stone was so good in the mediocre La La Land; serving like J.K. Simmons as the reason people stupidly praise Damien Chazelle. #Oscars
  • Old white guy Warren Beatty, whose last movie bombed so hard, speaks up for diversity to #Oscars cheers. Spare us all the preaching.  
  • Tuneless musical La La Land wins Best Picture at #Oscars because diversity-preening has limits when circle-jerking themselves calls H'wood.
  • WHAT!!!!! Unbelievable #Oscars moment as they handed out the wrong card and had to take La La Land's Oscar away on stage! #SomeoneIsFired
  • Pure diversity-pandering by Hollywood in picking Moonlight. As much as I didn't care for La La Land, Moonlight was my least liked. #Oscars
  • I simultaneously stage-managed and co-hosted a 4-1/4 hour show last night, same as #Oscars, and we had a much better-done show than this.  
  • @EW sez "Celebs unleashed on Hollywood's big night" - actually wasn't as terribad as feared other than Kimmel's desperate baiting. #Oscars
  • Best Supporting Actor, Best Documentary Feature; Best Supporting Actress; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Picture. #Oscars #OscarsNotSoWhite
  • In addition to discovering who f*cked up #Oscars Best Picture cards, Warren Beatty needs to explain why he didn't just ask if this was right
  • When is it going to be revealed that M. Night Shyalaman wrote tonight's #Oscars show? #WhatATwist

"Money Monster" Review

The most surprising thing about Money Monster is the director: Jodie Foster, making only her fourth feature film in a quarter-century and, omitting 2011's The Beaver (which had its released nuked by star Mel Gibson's image problems despite having good reviews), her first in 21 years. The surprise is compounded by the subject matter and brisk handling its tale requires; nothing she'd done before indicates a taste for such fare.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gate's a Jim Cramer-esque host of a cable TV financial show called Money Monster patterned after Cramer's Mad Money. Schlocky, with sound effects, video clips and even backup dancers, Clooney dishes out stock tips and bromides. However, one hot pick he'd pushed, an outfit called IBIS had experienced what was being called a glitch where its high-frequency trading algorithm supposedly had a problem causing the company's stock to plunge $800 million instantly, severely damaging investors.

One such investor is Kyle (Jack O'Connell), a poor sap who put his meager inheritance into the stock only to be wiped out. Wanting an explanation as to how such a "glitch" could happen, he passes himself off as delivery man and makes his way onto the set where he produces a gun and an explosive vest which he has the hostage Clooney don on live TV.

As the police lock the building down, the show's director Patty (Julia Roberts) tries to track down the MIA CEO of IBIS (Dominic West) in order to appease Kyle. Assisted by IBIS's suspicious communications officer (Caitriona Balfe), the race is on to figure out just how so much money can disappear and no one seems to really care since the ultra-wealthy are still rich and the shlubs like Kyle are invisible to the Masters of the Universe.

Despite some provocative themes - rich vs. poor, connected vs. serfs, rigged vs fair markets - Money Monster doesn't take the path down Occupy Wall Street too far, opting for a swiftly-paced thriller with corporate shenanigans plot on the side. Foster's tempo in the beginning is too brisk as they race onto the set with implausible banter, but once Kyle arrives with his delivery of the plot, things calm down and the pace digs in and the tension ratchets up. When all is revealed, it all seems a bit far-fetched, yet not that unique for a movie. Some valid targets about voyeuristic audiences and how they react to watching life-and-death situations could've had more teeth, but as with the financial games aspects, I don't think they wanted to bite too hard, settling for entertainment over incitement.

Clooney is good enough, though I never really bought his show's shtick. Roberts is good at being tense and drab. O'Connell has a weak hand dealt as a stereotypical lower-class New Yawker and looking at his bio, I see my nagging suspicion as to why he seemed cliched is confirmed: He's another English actor playing an American because we've apparently stopped making actors in NYC. Pffft.

Glossily shot by Matthew Libatique (Iron Man, Straight Outta Compton, The Fountain, Josie and the Pussycats!), Foster's foray into popcorn-level drama is ultimately as insignificant as the DJIA going down 3 points, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon on the couch watching it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sully" Review

No, Sully it's a movie about the big blue guy from Monsters, Inc. It's a surprisingly bland and unengaging biopic by Clint Eastwood about Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, pilot of the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight in January 2009 in which he landed his plane with 155 souls on board on the frigid Hudson River (between Manhattan and New Jersey) with no loss of life after a herd of birds knocked out both engines of his Airbus.

Focusing on the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation which is portrayed as a witchhunt seeking to blame Sully for ditching the plane when computer and pilot simulations indicate he couldve made it back to LaGuardia or landed at Teterboro in NJ, Sully jerks around from focusing on his nightmares, sometimes waking, about how it could've crashed in the city, to calling his wife, to coping with strangers going "You're that guy!, to a couple of random flashbacks of his piloting as a youth and in the military, to a recreation of the incident itself (which has some sporadically sub-par CGI VFX). 

Events seem randomly tossed out and there is no real narrative coherence as if Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki really didn't have a central thesis to hang everything else off of. The series of reveals and turnabouts at the culminating public NTSB hearing are clearly intended to rouse the audience to cheer for our hero against the mean government inquisitors, but it beggars belief that it would've gone down this way. It rings phony.

Tom Hanks is good with the limited material he's been provided, conveying the rock solid stoicism that allowed him to pull off such a piloting feat - sure, it's not as spectacular as the crash sequence from Flight, but that was total make-believe - and subsequent self-doubt as to whether perhaps he had screwed up because those government fellers sure seem pretty certain he did. Aaron Eckhart doesn't have much to do as Sully's co-pilot, but he rocks a bitchin' porn 'stache that makes him look like a baseball pitcher.

While competently made, Sully misses the points I suspect it was trying to make about how heroes are treated in a cynical world or something; it's all too scattershot and lackluster to stick, never gripping, just floating along like a plane on a river.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Pet" Review

How many times have we seen a variation of the "creepy stalker dude is obsessed with woman and kidnaps her to make her love him" story? At first blush, it seems that Pet is just another misogynistic torture porn movie until the end of the trailer has an eyebrow-raising moment. But while the trailer for Pet implies one kind of movie and hints at another angle, it manages to not give away its real surprise, which while pretty nifty, is undercut by lackluster and tired execution. They had one bright idea and didn't know how to really handle it.

Dominic Monaghan (Lost, Lord of the Rings) is Seth, a creepy loner who works in an animal shelter. He's obsessed with Holly (Ksenia Solo - Kenzie on Lost Girl; Black Swan), a waitress whom he approaches on the LA bus and then proceeds to pester at her job, following her to the bar, basically creeping her out. As indicated in the trailer, he eventually kidnaps her and puts her in a cage because of course.

While Pet takes its sweet time to set its familiar table, just over halfway through comes the whammy and while I am normally loathe to even spoil that there are twists in movies - it has driven me crazy how movie ads blatantly proclaim there's a twist so you spend the whole time looking for and trying to figure it out before it happens (the upcoming Split by Mr. Movie Twist himself, M. Night Shyalaman is being touted this way) - in this case I'm making an exception because I really didn't see it coming and even if I'd known something was coming, I would never have guessed it.

The problem is that after the twist, it all proceeds pretty predictably. Seth's efforts to hide that he's got a girl caged up in the basement of the shelter under the suspicious eyes of a security guard play out predictably and then there's the issue of Holly's ex-boyfriend or employer never seeming to notice she's been off grid for weeks, especially when Seth's contacts with her were known. No one is looking for her?

Solo is really good as Holly, providing a side of her that wasn't really shown off on Lost Girl. Monaghan is OK, limited by the script by Jeremy Slater. Spanish director Carles Torrens tries to imbue the story with a thin script with some noirish visuals, but mistakes slow pacing for dramatic buildup (a flaw of Denis Villaneuve's films).

If not for the twist and Solo's performance, there's not really much to recommend Pet because it's surrounded by familiar stock elements we've seen too many times before. It's a pity, because there is a bright idea caged up on the medocrity.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Nerve" Review

Even the most ridiculous movie premises need a kernel of grounding in reality to work and the supposed critique of social media, shallow celebrity and risky thrill videos, Nerve, doesn't seem interested in playing by those rules as it tells its silly story about daring to break the rules for fun, fame and profit.

Emma Roberts is a high school senior on Staten Island with Sandra Bullock's Syndrome (a condition in movies where we're supposed to believe a traditionally attractive woman can't get a guy because reasons). Dithering about whether to go an art school in California and unable to tell the hot jock she's crushing on him, she watches as her bestie, a trashy party girl stereotype, moves on him instead. Upset, she signs up to play Nerve, a game her friend has been playing and gathering followers.

Copypastaing from Wikipedia here, "The game collects her personal data and explains the three rules: all dares must be recorded on the player's phone, earned money will be revoked if a player fails or "bails" a dare, and a player must not report the game to law enforcement. In addition, the top two most-watched players will compete in a highly sought-after final round." This is Nerve's first credibility shark jump: We see her Facebook profile and other data slurped into the system which eventually is revealed to include total bank account access to deposit and drain money which is the technophobe's vision of what the Internet is like. (Since the target market for this movie is tech-savvy kids, it's as if an Amish person living in the jungles of New Guinea dreamed up this plot.)

Her first dare is to kiss a stranger at a diner for five seconds which brings her in contact with Dave Franco, the Jim Belushi of the Franco family. They quickly team up as it's clear the game is steering both of them into parallel and colliding paths. This is the next BS detail: As dares are issued and payouts remitted, who is ultimately controlling the game. While its open-source nature becomes a plot point, the anonymity of players and viewers (which becomes the lynch pin of the finale) doesn't jibe with the deliberate manipulations going on.

Also floating out there is her bestie, offended that Roberts has blasted past her in followers and ranking, risks her life on a dare and starts macking on the jock to pay her back. Because mean girl, man. If this is the commentary on fame and friendship part of the show, it's too stupid to land a punch.

Of course, it ends up in a scary showdown in a public place where somehow everyone knows to gather without the authorities catching wind. Did I mention that Roberts has a Platonic friendzoned boy pal who is a super nerd and likely to be involved in saving the day with his mad h4x skillz? Yeah, that happens.

While colorfully shot and generally entertaining in a not-hating-myself-for-watching-this way, Nerve doesn't suffer from a lack of that, but a typical lack of brains.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Shallows" Review

This is 10 months after she had her first kid.

They should've called The Shallows something more descriptive like Girl vs Shark because that's literally what it is, not that it's a bad thing.

Blake Lively is a surfer chick heading for a secret beach in Mexico that her recently-deceased mother visited while pregnant with her. She's debating dropping out of med school because everyone ultimately ends up dying and someone read some Nietzsche. A scene of her talking via FaceTime to her father, Basil Exposition, basically exists to let us know she's a med student because she's a med student and it will sure be good that she's a med student in case she were to, you know, be in need of medical assistance for some reason.

Like being bitten by a gigantic Great White shark. Whoopsie!

Chomped on the thigh and stuck on an exposed finger of rock that's in danger of becoming submerged when the tide comes back in, she's royally screwed because the beach's isolation means there are few others to see she's in need and she's too far out to swim to shore while the shark is in the neighborhood, even if she wasn't leaking blood into the water.

It's a tidy little scenario and it works because Lively's character is resourceful and not a damsel. Did I mention she's a MEDICAL STUDENT which makes her survival plausible. Sure, the premise is goofy, no blonde hottie should be hitting secret Mexican beaches alone (her friend was too hung over to join her) from a basic safety standpoint, and she somehow manages to still look smoking hot at the end of ordeal baking on the rock in the sun without fresh water, but it's still a taut and tense flick. Worth watching.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

Don't watch this VFX breakdown until after seeing the movie in order to have your mind properly blown as to how it was filmed. (Hint: Life of Pi)

"Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" Review

The Lonely Island gang - most notorious for their fake rap SNL Digital Shorts - are back with their first feature film since Hot Rod, the music mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

Andy Samberg starts as Connor4Real, a Justin Bieber-ish pop singer who started off as part of a rap group, The Style Boyz (played by fellow Islanders and directors Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer), before going solo and hitting big with his first album, Thriller, Also. Now on the verge of the release of his sophomore joint, Connquest, the documentary is meant to record his triumph, but of course it turns into a Spinal Tapesque debacle. Instead of collaborating with his DJ Owen (Taccone), he's written all the lyrics himself (bad call) and worked with a hundred different producers and the resulting album is both stupid and offensive (in a bad way) and critically savaged.

Popstar's targets - marginally talented pop idols surrounded by yes men, living in a bubble divorced from reality; tabloid journalism as embodied by a running TMZ spoof fronted by Will Arnett, etc. - are easy fish-in-a-barrel stuff, but they managed to hit most of the marks. The music spoofs aren't as good as their SNL-era material, but suffice.

Samberg is OK doing his thing, but the surprise MVP is SNL alum Tim Meadows as Connor's long-suffering manager. Meadows has never really had much of a movie career after SNL - The Ladies Man did about as well as It's Pat and Superstar (i.e. not good) - and he's quite good with the material he has here as a man who used to be part of New Jack Swing-era band Tony! Toni! Toné! as the forth Tony with a question mark: Tony! Toni! Toné! Tony? There is also a parade of real musicians playing along with the gag as well as surprise cameos I won't spoil here.

Sweetly raunchy - it is co-produced by Judd Apatow and if you liked the gratuitous penises in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story you'll be happy here, too - and innocuously amusing, Popstar never real pops hard, but it's worth watching for music spoof and Lonely Island fans.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sicario" Blu-ray Review

As we're told in an opening title card, Sicario means "hitman" in Mexico. It could also mean (according to me) "somewhat overrated movie."

Emily Blunt stars an FBI agent who as lead of a hostage rescue team leads a raid on a drug den in Arizona and after narrowly escaping death discovers the walls are filled with bodies of victims of the cartels. (While it's a striking image, it doesn't make much sense. Why stash rotting corpses in your walls when there's plenty of desert out the back door to bury them?) Recruited to a join a DEA task force run by Josh Brolin with his mysterious sidekick Benicio del Toro, she rapidly suspects this is a CIA operation (which would be illegal on US soil) and is sucked into the violence of life fighting the brutal cartels.

There was a lot of praise for Sicario upon its release, but I attribute that to director Denis Villeneuve's constant simmering tone of dread. But like his previous film, Prisoners, that dread is in service to a script that is frustratingly thin under the gloom; it's as if playing the scenes slowly - bordering on monotonously - lends the impression of depth where little exists. It's not that the movie isn't great looking - with Roger Deakins' Oscar-nominated cinematography, how couldn't it? - with well-staged scenes and strong performances, it's just not as profound as the tone conveys, a problem with Prisoners as well.

Taylor Sheridan's script fancies itself a meditation on how far should good people go to fight truly evil people, but undermines the complexity by making del Toro's motivations so obvious that their attempts to cloud him with mystery insulting and having Blunt's by-the-book Girl Scout persona undermine her supposed kick-ass chick veneer by having her come off as naive more than idealistic. As she does one dumb thing after another against the advice of people whom she should be listening to, you start to wonder if dumb luck has kept her alive this long. Some struggle with her being seduced by the efficacy of drifting into the gray ethical terrain would've done Sicario a lot of good.

On the AV front, the transfer is nice and sharp with even the darkest scenes clear without banding. (Which is why properly-encoded physical discs will always trump streaming.) I don't have the speakers to judge the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but on an old 5.1 system the low-end menace of Jóhann Jóhannsson Oscar-nominated score (it was also nommed for Sound Editing) came through to amp Villeneuve's dread.

Extras are thin with a quartet of brief features discussing the look of the film, the stars, the score and the background of the cartel wars which inspired the screenplay. The signature border crossing shootout (it's in the trailer, so no spoiler) required building a replica of that stretch of road because using the actual crossing was impossible, but while we see blue screen walls off in the distance which would be replaced by CGI extensions, they never go into how that was done. There is no commentary, which may've been because Villeneuve is from Quebec and has an accent, but why not have scripter Sheridan talk?

Not as good as the hype and frustrating in it dumb bunny lead, Sicario is one of those movies that make people leery of films with tons or critics' pull quotes on the poster. It's still worth a watch as long as you temper your expectations going in and don't mind being a bit annoyed the next day.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (It is currently on Amazon Prime.)

If you watch(ed) the movie, check out this analysis of the border crossing scene which also, surprisingly, calls out the Villeneuve's dragging out of things.

This video condenses most of the info bits from the extras in case you watch it on TV instead of renting/buying the BD. BTW, the rental versions don't include extras, only the retail copies.

"It's So Easy and Other Lies" Review

Rock star memoirs are a dime a dozen, but for some reason Duff McKagen's tome It's So Easy: and other lies got the documentary concert treatment in It's So Easy and Other Lies. (Don't ask me why the capitalization and punctuation.

Part standard documentary with interviews and part concert film as McKagan sits reading excerpts from his book while backed by an band strumming mellow lounge versions of Gun 'n' Roses tunes, It's So Easy (itself a GNR tune title) follows McKagan from his DIY punk roots in Seattle, his exodus from the heroin death zone in 1984 to LA and his meeting up with Slash and company (you'll notice a distinct lack of anything Axl even in band footage), onto his nearly dying from alcohol-induced pancreatitis, sobering up, getting married and starting a family, Velvet Revolver, falling off the wagon, the usual Behind The Music drill.

McKagan's stage readings are stiff compared to his voluble offstage interview persona and I'm not sure what this mixed media presentation provides that a straight documentary couldn't have. It's different, but not necessarily an evolution of the format and frankly, I think the method constrains the story from delving deeper into some parts of his life that would've merited more attention. You'll also notice that while there are several members of GnR interviewed and historical footage, Axl is never shown. Weird.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Netflix.

"Gravity Is Just A Habit" Review

Since oddternative (I just made that word up!) band OK Go became a viral sensation maker with their video for "Here It Goes Again" (the one where they're on treadmills), they've been in and escalating race to top their previous videos which work the theme of one single shot with wildly complex Rube Goldberg machines or complicated framing and props that are like Michel Gondry on steroids.

Earlier this year, they dropped this eye-popper for "Upside Down & Inside Out":

While they state up front that they shot it in an airplane flying parabolic arcs - the same method for parts of Apollo 13 - the limitation of creating weightlessness this way is that you only get about 27 seconds of zero-G per arc and the song was three-minutes-long.

So how did they do it? That's what the brief (19 mins) documentary Gravity Is Just A Habit (the title is a line from the lyrics) details, showing how the band connected with Russian filmmakers and used a huge cargo plane with the airplane set inside to film this epic in brief chunks, splicing it together to present a seemingly seamless whole.

While it looks like it'd be fun, it was actually grueling, nauseating work that took weeks of flights to pull off. The ending "Thunderdome" segment (where they burst paint balloons) is a point of drama because they'd thought they'd gotten a perfect take only to discover paint had landed on the lens, ruining the end. The debate about whether to take one more flight is complicated by one member, who looks absolutely miserable, not wanting to do it but knowing it has to be done.

If you're a behind-the-scenes junkie, this is well worth the time to check out.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on Netflix.

UPDATE: This video actual does a better job in explaining how they did it in a quarter of the time.

"Amanda Knox" Review

As someone who doesn't really follow tabloid hype stories very closely, the name Amanda Knox meant very little. I was vaguely aware that she was an American exchange student who has gone to Italy and then some girl (her housemate) turned up brutally murdered and there were intimations that Knox and her Italian boyfriend had killed her in some weird sex game gone super wrong. It seemed like I was always hearing her name pop up over and over as she was convicted, had that overturned, then reconvicted in absentia, etc.

Hot off the success of their stunning Making A Murderer documentary series, Netflix is clearly hoping for similar cultural buzz for Amanda Knox, a cursory primer of the case which dragged on eight years from the time of the murder to her final exoneration. With interviews with Knox, her lover, the British reporter leading the yellow journalism charge, and the chief investigator from the town's police, it superficially recaps the investigation and trial and subsequent reversals.

The problem Amanda Knox has is that her case was widely disseminated with every tawdry detail and how the police totally screwed the pooch with their investigation, basically convicting two people with tainted evidence. The shock power of Making A Murderer came from the fact that outside of Wisconsin, no one had really heard of this case and with 10 hours to work with, there was tons of video footage of the trials which laid out the case that some serious miscarrying of justice was going on and no one should be feeling good about how those convictions were secured. Amanda Knox is a brief hour-and-a-half with which to address years of events and there's simply not enough there there.

If you know little about Amanda Knox's excruciatingly slow slog through the Italian justice system, then Amanda Knox is a tidy catcher-upper. Otherwise, there's nothing new other than inconsequential interviews with the players.

Score: 6/10. Watch for a primer on the case.

"Mad Tiger" Review

While scrolling through Netflix I was surprised to see there was a documentary about NYC-based cartoon-punk band Peelander-Z called Mad Tiger. I'd been seeing them when they came through town for about 15 years and casually followed their career (i.e. went to shows; never bought records), noting when drummer Peelander Blue (they go by color-coded names and outfits) returned to Peelander Planet and was replaced by Peelander Green, etc.

I've photographed their shows several times - you can see those shots here, here and here - and while they always had a theatrical/audience participation element to the band, over the years they tilted heavily into the show and the music itself became almost an afterthought as almost every song would break down into some sort of bit.

The surprising part of Mad Tiger is that it documents their final tour with Peelander Red as he was exiting the band in 2012. My last set of photos were from that tour and I had no idea Red had left. Other revelations were that the girl (Peelander Pink) who'd been around the latter tours as a keyboardist/hype woman/merch girl was Peelander Yellow's wife; that Red worked as a bartender and was quitting to get married himself and open a bar (which apparently happened without him; it's two businesses later according to Google searches and he's not mentioned in any stories); they imported another bassist from Japan (they're all Japanese ex-pats living in NYC) who lasted one show and drummer Peelander Green decided to quit, too.

All well and good, but the fundamental problem with Mad Tiger is that unless you are familiar with the band and its shtick, there is very little to grasp onto. We never see complete songs - merely impressionistic snippets from shows in an attempt to convey chaotic energy - and the way they dole out revelations about their private lives (the Yellow-Pink marriage is like whispering a state secret) and cover the band stifles any narrative flow.

By the end, you will know a few things about some aging Japanese fellows who had a band that eventually disbanded, though that's misleading as YouTube had videos of them playing in the past month with Pink now on bass (though one has another bassist on stage, too). While I learned some things, I didn't learn much more than trivia and those unfamiliar with the band will be perplexed as to why this movie exists.

Score: 6/10. For Peelander-Z fans only. (Everyone else, 4/10 - skip it)

"ARQ" Review

For the first 15-20 minutes of the new Netflix Original movie ARQ, it felt like a riff on the excellent (and crippled by its release title of Edge of Tomorrow) Live Die Repeat, but like it should've been a short film, not a 90-minute feature. But then it started adding layers and twists which made it a tense and unpredictable treat.The trailer below does well to not spoil the fun, but has a few too many shots which out-of-context may not spoilers, but rather than risk it, I'll synopsize as little as possible. You'll have to trust me on this one.

Robbie Amell (the original Firestorm on The Flash TV show; Steve of Arrow's cousin, though they look like brothers) wakes up with a startle. It's 6:16 AM according to the clock. He looks over on the bed and caresses the face of a woman (Rachael Taylor, Trish from Jessica Jones). Suddenly, men in gas masks burst in and drag him away. He breaks free, but tumbles down the stairs, hitting his head with a THUD and...

He wakes up. Men break in. He's reliving the day again. They drag him down to the basement where a massive metal cylinder is rotating like a lathe - this being the titular ARQ. Eventually he gets killed again. And again. Annnnnnnnnd AGAIN!

While this rapidly seems like a direct, much smaller-scale remake of Live Die Repeat, it makes the savvy decision to get Taylor in on the "I can remember the last time loop" fun as her backstory comes into play. One person being able to play Groundhog Day and redo things over and over and over until you get it right has been done before, but not when there is a second player with their own agenda who know that you know and is able to compensate. And that's not where it ends.

Once the reveal occurs, ARQ becomes more than just a rehash of the aforementioned movies because of the unknown factors that not being the only one remembering what happened causes. While the ultimate end of the movie is sort of necessarily by the movie's premise a foregone conclusion, I had no idea how it was going to resolve because eventually there are too many variables and that's what makes the movie ARQ hum like its machine.

Written and directed by Tony Elliot, who has been a story editor and writer on the wonderful Orphan Black, it makes the most of its low-budget bottle episode trappings and doesn't resort to cheats to keep the tensions taut. The doling out of info about the world outside that house avoids Basil Exposition Syndrome though the milieu isn't particularly innovative. (Dystopian wasteland with rebels and all-powerful corporation has been done to death.) The performances are very good and the pulsing electronic score reinforces the mood.

Movies like ARQ are too small for theaters and the usual home for such fare, SyFy, would be inappropriate due to commercial breaks wrecking the flow of escalating stakes.Thanks to Netflix for tossing a far better movie than Talullah onto the pile of content we're paying for.

Score: 8/10. Watch it.

"Florence Foster Jenkins" Review

While surfing YouTube on my TV late one night, up popped this trailer:

It's a hoary cliche to say one's jaw dropped, but in my case it was true. How was this a thing?

Some backstory: I was raised by an opera-loving mother who took me when she could to see the Metropolitan Opera when they toured. I saw Tosca with Plácido Domingo as Scarpia and Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi (two of the Three Tenors before they were a thing!) and when we went to Rome, we spent and afternoon walking to visit the locations of the three acts. (Fun Facts: Scarpia's place is the French Embassy now and there is no way in hell Tosca could've made it to the Tiber River from the roof of Castel Sant'Angelo as portrayed; it's too far.)

Back when Detroit still had a classical radio station (WQRS), the afternoon drive DJ, Dave Wagner, would occasionally throw on a tune by the titular Florence Foster Jenkins and it To cut to the chase as implied by the trailer, she sang worse than Axl Rose filling in for AC/DC. Hard to believe, but true. But because/despite her.....uhhh...."limited" gifts, she had somehow managed to become the stuff of legend. Which is now a movie. Starring Meryl Streep. Duh. Fuh?

Set in the last year of Jenkins' life, 1944, Florence Foster Jenkins is viewed through the eyes of her accompanist Cosmé McMoon (The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg), hired by Jenkins' husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). The audition scene is a hoot as he's not sure if he's the victim of a prank or whether this woman is crazy. Bayfield tucks his wife into bed every night and heads to an apartment he's keeping with a mistress which is weird, but there's a pretty shocking reason as to why this arrangement is a thing.

Jenkins' performances were limited to small groups of fellow socialites with no press permitted and it's never really made clear as to whether these people were quietly laughing behind their silk-gloved hands at her, but it's been a workable business model and everyone has seemed happy. However, this arrangement is threatened when Jenkins takes some phonograph records she recorded as a lark and sends them to a radio station which has begun playing them to huge reaction leading to her booking a recital at Carnegie Hall (capacity 2,804) and giving a thousand tickets to servicemen who are highly unlikely to restrain their critiques in her presence.The gig goes down (in flames) as could be expected and Bayfield's unsuccessful efforts to shield her from the press reviews make up the final segment of film.

While lovingly crafted with the usual great performance from Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins never really answers the question that I had when I discovered its existence: How is this a thing and, more relevantly, why is this a thing. In its efforts to be light and entertaining, it never seems to want to take a position on whether this woman was a loon or not so as to not pass too harsh a judgement on the long-departed dowager. It doesn't need to be a hard-hitting expose of the ritzy NYC vanity performance scene during WWII, but a little sharper focus would've been nice to prevent this from being a pleasantly forgettable trifle.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

After the screening, I noticed a cute, underplayed bit of promo swag left out for exiting viewers: tiny poster cards with a packet of foam ear plugs attached.
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