Spider-Man Homecoming – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ Theatrical Review

Spider-Man Homecoming


The day after I saw Baby Driver, a friend an I went out and saw Spider-Man Homecoming.  Now, I haven’t seen the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man films in quite a while, but I think this could quite possibly be the Spider-Man movie I needed it to be.  I loved it.


At a science exhibition, nerdy high school student Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, granting him incredible powers. When a burglar killed his Uncle Ben, Peter vowed to use those abilities to protect his fellow man, driven by his uncle’s words: With great power comes great responsibility…. but we all knew that, and fortunately Spider-Man Homecoming knew that we knew that, and didn’t bother wasting any time telling it to us again.  We jump right in with Spider-Man shortly after Captain America 3: Civil War, now back in New York City and being monitored by Tony Stark’s driver/chief of staff, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is not as hands on as you would think he’d be with the young hero, who he’d given the upgraded costume we saw in Civil War he actually kind of ignores him.  This could be because he has seen how dangerous the super-hero life can be first hand, most recently when his best friend Rhodey was seriously injured in Civil War.  He encourages Peter to leave the big and dangerous missions to more experienced heroes, to be a “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man”.  But when street level thugs start using high-tech weaponry (possibly not of this earth) in his neighbourhood, and Iron Man doesn’t take his calls, Spider-Man has to take action for himself.  Eventually though he gets in over his head and makes a error in judgment that could have killed a lot of innocent people, which forces Stark to take back the suit.  Now limited to his original homemade suit and web-shooters, Spider-Man readies himself for a final showdown with the Vulture.


Can I say that it was “amazing”?  This is Spider-Man in the MCU, and it was amazing.  I loved it, so I’m just going to point out a lot of the things that made me love it:

I loved that they chose to set Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in high-school which gave the film’s title a double meaning.  It was the homecoming dance where Peter has his climactic encounter with the Vulture (Michael Keaton) and the character came “home” to Marvel Studios from Sony Pictures.

I loved the cast of characters that they used in the film and that they somewhat re-imagined.  There was no Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson though Michelle (Zendaya) reveals at the end of the movie that her “friends call her MJ….  Now, let’s be clear, Michelle is NOT Mary Jane, but the character was great, funny, sarcastic, and smart; so she could be a great alternative to the comic book (and movie) MJ as Peter’s new love interest.

It was very “John Hughes-like” in the way it treated the high school aspects of the film and the high school characters.  Homecoming is really just a big  coming-of-age tale (albeit one with superheroes and villains), and Hughes told those better than anyone.

Tom Holland got Peter Parker completely right.  He wasn’t a socially awkward skateboarder who twitched and couldn’t make eye contact, he was shy, and nervous, and he was a nerd (his bedroom was full of Star Wars toys and he and his best friend were planning on putting together the LEGO Death Star!).  He was smart, but he was the underdog, and we loved him for it.  This was an “everyman” Peter Parker I could relate to.

We got a great new rendition of the Spider-Man costume, complete with resizable eyes and the web wings in the armpits!  The eyes were great and gave all the expressiveness that is hard to relate when your character’s face is completely covered by a mask (just like Deadpool’s eyes/mask did in his movie).  We also didn’t have to have the mask coming off all the time to show the character’s expressions.

When they show the Marvel Studios logo at the opening of the film, we get an orchestral version of the Spider-Man cartoon theme song.  That theme song did make an “appearance” in Spider-Man 2 when Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker gave up being Spider-Man for a time and a busker is playing the song in a subway station.

Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) wasn’t a jock, he was on the quiz team, but was the smug rich kid and still a bully.

Ned (Jacob Batalon) was a great “partner” for Spider-Man and a great friend for Peter.  Now, I can’t remember if they said his name was Ned Leeds or not, but that would be very interesting if it was.  Ned Leeds in the comics was one of several men who took the guise of the Hobgoblin, one of Spider-Man’s deadliest enemies.  Ned Leeds also married Betty Brant who was J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary in the comics (and previous films).  Brant was also in Homecoming as a student news presenter.

The wit was back.  It was nice to see a wisecracking, funny Spider-Man like he was pulled from the comic books.

In the comics, or at least the old ones that I used to read, Spider-Man talked to himself a lot, or at least thought to himself a lot.  He’d ask himself questions, get angry at himself, lament his terrible luck, and we were there for the ride, but that’s kind of hard to do in a movie.  You can’t really see a character’s thoughts, and soliloquies haven’t really been that popular since the days of Shakespeare, so fortunately we had Karen, the Spider suit’s AI (voiced by Jennifer Connelly) for Spidey to talk to.

Peter struggles to balance his double life, and we see once again how important that is to him.

Michael Keaton was great as Adrian Toomes, the Vulture was an excellent choice for the film, and they way they power him up makes sense.  Of course it’s great that Keaton was also just in Birdman where he played an actor who had previously played a superhero on screen….and that he also actually used to play another superhero on screen….(he was Batman!)

We also got two versions of the Shocker (Logan Marshall-Green then Bokeem Woodbine) and the Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) in the film, plus a pre Scorpion Mac Gargan (Michael Mando), hints at the Prowler (Donald Glover), and possibly Miles Morales…

Other great nods to the comics were there too, but the most obvious and my favourite was when Peter was trapped under the rubble of the building while fighting the Vulture and though on the verge of giving up, after crying out for help, how when he sees his mask half in the water and the reflection of his own face in the water, (giving the classic half and half Spider-Man shot) he summons up the strength of character and the physical strength to free himself to continue on, just like the scene in Amazing Spider-Man #33. Panel 1  Panel 2  Panel 3 .

Stan Lee of course has a cameo, and it was pretty good.

I loved the Captain America cameos too, as we see Cap via videotape passing on PSAs to the students of Midtown High in gym class and in detention.

There were two after the credits scenes, the first one is serious and involves some villains coming part way through the credits, and the other is for humour only, and comes at the very end of the film.  I’m glad I had the patience to stick around for that one!


A great story all around, and it captured the heart of one of my favourite superheroes of all time.  I love Doctor Strange, but Spider-Man was probably one of the first superheroes I was ever introduced to, so to see it done right makes my day.


Bottom Line: There was one joke in the movie that made me laugh for a long time.

Stark: You screwed the pooch, but then you did the right thing and took the pooch to the clinic and raised the hybrid puppies … Admittedly not my best analogy.


The part about the hybrid puppies is still making me laugh.

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Baby Driver – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ Theatrical Review

Baby Driver


In Baby Driver, writer/director Edgar Wright has combined music and action to create one of the most exciting and stylish heist films I’ve seen in a long, long time.  It may have been a little heavier on style than it was on plot, but the mix made it incredibly entertaining.


Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best getaway driver criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey) has ever met, but now Baby wants out.  The timing couldn’t be better, he’s paid off the debt he owes Doc, and he’s just met an attractive waitress named Debora (Lily James).  But getting out of a life of crime is never as easy as one would think.  Doc has another robbery planned, which could be the most dangerous yet, not just because of the target, but because of the crew: Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González) and Bats (Jamie Foxx).  Buddy and Darling are a couple and Bats is ….. well it’s probably best to describe him as batty…. or bat-shit crazy.  Baby is a great driver and when he’s behind the wheel he can escape any situation on the road, but once Bats discovers that Baby is trying to leave the crew on the night before their heist, he also discovers who Debora is (and where she works), then the real escape plan begins.  Baby has to find a way to get out of the heist, get Debora and get out completely, all without anyone following him, and without getting hurt.


When you heard talk of Baby Driver you probably heard people talking about the soundtrack, and it was incredible.  A fantastic mix of music that meshed organically and naturally with the action on screen.  It would be a shame if the film is not nominated for a few of the more technical Oscars this year.  I could see it getting nods for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, and possibly even for Film Editing.  The thing about Edgar Wright’s films that I love is the amount of detail that goes into the script, the planning and that ends up on the screen.  During the opening credits, Baby is dancing along to the music (Harlem Shuffle) while on a coffee run and several of the lyrics appropriately show up on the screen, hidden in graffiti in the background at just the right time.  As in several other of Wright’s films, key plot points of the film are subtly foreshadowed well ahead of time.  Lines overheard on television end up being lines used by characters, and lines you think are throwaway lines end up coming true.


Solid acting was guaranteed with two Best Actor Oscar winners in the cast in Foxx and Spacey, but James and Elgort gave equally excellent performances as well.  The stunt work was top notch too, especially the driving (obviously).  I even managed to resist the urge to speed on my way home after seeing this in theatres.  Usually after seeing a movie that features a lot of car chases, I want to drive just like the people I saw on screen.  Heist movies are always fun, but Baby Driver managed to be more than just a simple summer popcorn flick.  It balanced the action, music, drama and even humour perfectly, creating a film that will be enjoyed for many years to come.


Bottom Line: I can’t wait to pick this up on Blu-Ray.  Wright usually puts a “trivia” track on the home video releases of his films so we can see exactly what he was thinking when a shot plays out, or we can see the Easter eggs he had hidden throughout the film.  I like to think I pick up on a lot of them, but it will be nice to see how many I miss!

Rules Don’t Apply – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Howard Hughes is one of the most interesting people in American history.  Aviator, inventor, filmmaker, and possibly insane, Rules Don’t Apply opens with a packed newsroom awaiting a phone call from Hughes (Warren Beatty) who has holed up in an Mexican hotel room, to debunk a tell-all book about him, and prove to the world that he is still alive, and that he is not crazy.  The film then jumps back in time and tells us the story of hired driver Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), and one of Hughes’ contract actresses, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins).  Hughes of course has a strict no dating policy between his drivers and his contract actresses, but naturally sparks fly between the two, but ambitions on both sides get in the way. 


She wants to be an actress, he wants to invest and develop land with Hughes.  Both want to meet their reclusive boss, and when he does arrive on the scene and each does get to meet him, things get a little crazier and a lot more complicated.  Beatty’s Hughes is a character I’d love to meet.  He was a bit nuts, but often times he was still the smartest man in the room.


The film was enjoyable, both as a look at a bygone Hollywood age, and as a fictional biopic of Howard Hughes.  Warren Beatty really stood out in the film, which is not surprising as he was screenwriter, director and star.  That aside, his performance really was excellent.  He walked a fine line between sanity and insanity, between genius and insanity. The film almost felt like Sunset Boulevard with Howard Hughes instead of Norma Desmond.  Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) had great chemistry with everybody, and I really enjoyed her singing too.  The film really brought together a great cast including Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen and Oliver Platt among others.


At times I do think that the film lost it’s course a bit and couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be a comedy or a dramatic tragedy, but overall the story was light and it was enjoyable.  The pieces they chose to show of Hughes’ life were interesting and they even managed to throw a few twists in that I did not see coming.


Bottom Line: I thought I should watch The Aviator to get some more Howard Hughes, but I decided to watch The Rocketeer instead.  I love The Rocketeer!

Free Fire – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Usually the climax of an action film is the shootout, in Free Fire, the entire movie was the shootout!  In 1970s Boston, two sets of criminals arrange a gun deal, but one of the henchmen (Harry) recognizes one of the other henchmen (Stevo) from a bar fight the night before because the latter assaulted the former’s cousin.  Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), Stevo (Sam Riley), Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), Chris (Cillian Murphy) are the buyers and Ord (Armie Hammer), Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), Harry (Jack Reynor) are the sellers.  Just when things are almost settled between the two sides someone pulls a gun and shoots someone.  Though they are initially split by geography and loose loyalties, it soon becomes a deadly game of “everyone for themselves” as everyone grabs a weapon.


Set entirely in one place (an abandoned factory/warehouse) the story is a bit claustrophobic, but I think it was saved by the characters and the cleverness of the dialogue.  While the action was completely over the top, I found it to actually be fairly realistic.  Even though they seemed to have an endless supply of bullets, our bad guys (because they are all terrible people who you can’t really root for)  do have to stop and reload.  Every one of them got shot at some point: a bullet in the arm, a shot in the leg, one man gets grazed in the head exposing his brain; and while it may be gruesome, the violence wasn’t glorified.   I also appreciated that the bad guys were not really good shots, it’s difficult to shoot and hit your target especially when you’re a target yourself, and have been hit yourself as well.


Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) pretty much stole the show, but Michael Smiley (Luther) came really close too.  I loved the dialogue he had with Armie Hammer, almost as much as I loved the back and forths between Copley and Brie Larson.  There wasn’t really a whole lot of a message or purpose or complexity to the movie which is fine, it was pretty much just a black comedy thriller about two groups of trigger happy criminals trying to survive by killing the other guys.  It was fun, and that’s all it needed to be.  I think it’s safe to say this film was a bit of an experiment, so the runtime of 91 minutes was perfect.  I don’t think the film would have worked if it was any longer.

Bottom Line: It’s a good thing there’s no honour among thieves, because if the gun deal went down smoothly, Free Fire would have been an awfully short film…

Once Upon a Time In Venice – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Once Upon a Time In Venice was pulpish, noirish, and funny with an incredible array of characters.  I found it extremely entertaining.  It wasn’t the best movie, it certainly had flaws, but I enjoyed it and that is what I base my ratings off of, how much I enjoyed the film.


Bruce Willis plays Steve Ford, the only licensed private investigator in the Venice (Los Angeles not Italy) and he gets himself mixed up in a lot of odd cases.  His partner John (Thomas Middleditch) narrates us through the story as we see Steve track down a missing sister, only to sleep with her and incur the wrath of her overprotective brothers, who he escapes in a naked skateboarding scene…  He meets a friend whose car was stolen and he tracks it back to a drug dealer named Spyder (Jason Momoa), who he steals it back from by crashing out of his garage.  When he gets home he finds out that his sister’s house has been robbed, taking his niece’s X-Box, their television, and Steve’s dog Buddy who his niece takes care of after school.  They were robbed by punks who needed money for drugs, which leads Steve back to Spyder who controls the drug trade in town.  Now Steve has to apologize for wrecking Spyder’s garage, and what he feels was “his” car (even though it was stolen) in an attempt to get Buddy back.  Spyder agrees, (Steve’s gift basket of muffins helped smooth the tensions between them) and he’ll give Steve the dog back, if he’ll retrieve a case of cocaine that was stolen from him by a hooker.  Things don’t get any easier for Steve who is trying to buy back his parent’s house that he was forced to sell years ago to Lou the Jew (Adam Goldberg) and help his best friend Dave (John Goodman) who is selling his surf shot to get through a tough divorce.  Lou is in a bind too, because someone is painting pornographic graffiti on a building he owns that he’s trying to sell.  So if Steve can catch the graffiti artist, he’ll get the house back, if he can find the drugs he’ll get his dog back, easy right?


When I first heard of this film, I thought it was trying to be a John Wick rip-off, action star Bruce Willis trying to get his dog back sounds a bit like action star Keannu Reeves trying to get revenge on the guys who killed his dog.  Boy was I wrong, if this film was trying to cash in on any of the perceived similarities with John Wick, it did so totally with tongue in cheek.


I think what made Once Upon a Time In Venice work was the very clever script.  The dialogue was snappy and natural, and really plays off the comedic talents of the lead, Bruce Willis.  Bruce Willis is very funny, and has great comedic timing.  I wouldn’t have thought that “tough guy” Jason Momoa would be as funny as he was either, but perhaps it was the juxtaposition of these tough actors playing these tough roles with a lighter twist that made it work.  Having more seasoned comedic actors like Thomas Middleditch and John Goodman in the film also helps carry the story.  Quite good, and quite entertaining, if you’re looking for a few good laughs, give it a try.


Bottom Line: Every time you thought a situation was resolved it just got more and more absurd!  Every time things seemed sorted, a new character came in and twisted the plot into something more absurd than the last character did.  I loved it.

All Nighter – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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J.K. Simmons.

I was thinking of leaving that as my entire review, but you deserve more….more J.K. Simmons that is!  I love J.K. Simmons, and this movie just kept that love going.  Simmons plays Frank Gallo, the no-nonsense, businessman father of Martin’s (Emile Hirsch) ex-girlfriend Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton).  Six months ago Martin had a disastrous “meet the father” night with Ginnie and Mr. Gallo, where he did everything wrong.  He didn’t pull out Ginnie’s chair for her, he sat down before her, he is a musician, he’s a vegetarian, he spilled wine on her father.  Things could not have gone worse.  Flash forward to today when Mr. Gallo knocks on Martin’s door looking for his daughter, not knowing that Martin and Ginnie broke up a few months ago.  Martin takes Mr. Gallo on a wild chase all across Los Angeles, meeting an array of characters, and following hints and slim leads that might lead them to Ginnie, who isn’t answering her phone.

As the night goes on, what you expect to happen pretty much does happen; Martin and Frank slowly warm to each other and end up forming a friendship.  They learn a bit about each other, and so do we.  We learn a bit about why Ginnie and Martin broke up, we learn a bit about why Frank broke up with Ginnie’s mother, and those same reasons are why he has a strained relationship with his daughter to this day.  The film was funny and just what I was expecting.  It carefully  balanced sarcasm and relatable situations with mild slapstick humour.  I think the term “predictable” is used too often when talking about movies.  I wouldn’t say that All Nighter was entirely “predictable”, I’d call it more of a “comfortable” movie.  I was comfortable with the way things unfolded because while a lot of what happened was what I expected, they also didn’t do the most expected things.  Martin did not get back together with Ginnie, and I’m glad he didn’t.  His character had fallen into alcohol and depression when she left, but the night with Frank did help him and moved him out of that funk.  To simply get them back together would have been a waste of every discovery Martin had made about himself that night.

The acting was very good, and I loved J.K. Simmons as the tough guy, sarcastic, smart-ass, in-charge-of-every-situation, father-knows-best character.  Emile Hirsch was very relatable as Martin and I think he wins the audience as a bit of an underdog.  The supporting characters were interesting, from Ginnie’s former co-workers to her former roommates.  Kristen Schaal and Taran Killam as Ginnie and Martin’s friends Roberta and Gary were funny at first, but in my opinion overstayed their welcome making their characters more annoying than humourous.  The other supporting characters simply did their job and didn’t stick around or return.

Overall though the film had some solid laughs and a decent narrative arc.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and would easily recommend it if you’re looking for some light entertainment for 86 minutes.

Bottom Line: I want J.K. Simmons to be my movie dad.

Power Rangers – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Five teenagers with attitude discover five alien artifacts that have been lost on Earth for millennia.  Together, with these power coins and their potential unlocked, they become the Power Rangers, defending the Earth against all levels of threat! 


Well, okay, it wasn’t that straightforward.  Three of the five teenagers meet at weekend detention like in The Breakfast Club, Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and Billy (RJ Cyler) attend Angel Grove High together.  Jason was a star athlete who rolled his car and injured his knee during a police chase after a prank gone wrong.  Kimberly leaked photos of a rival in a compromising position to the entire school.  Billy is autistic and the target of bullies…I don’t remember why he was in detention, but he was.  In detention Jason protects Billy from a bully, making them friends.  Billy overrides Jason’s house arrest ankle bracelet and the two are off on an adventure where they find Kimberly and meet Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G) in a local quarry, a quarry where Billy and his dad used to hunt for scrap metals and treasures before he died.  Blasting apart a quarry wall, they find five glowing coins: red, pink, blue, black and yellow.  These coins give the youths strength they couldn’t imagine, but they are not Power Rangers yet.  Meeting Alpha Five (Bill Hader) who takes them to Zordon (Bryan Cranston) they train and eventually bond, forming a team who can finally morph into the Power Rangers, set to defend the Earth from Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).


You know what, I actually really enjoyed this.  Sure it was 90% cheese, but it was nostalgia, and it was fun.  Yes, it was an origin story so getting to the action was a little slow, but the story developed the characters fairly well, and had a lot of heart behind it.  I liked how they managed to make a fairly intelligent story out of what was effectively an after-school show for kids.  Zordon was a former Red Ranger, Rita was part of his team as the Green Ranger.  Her monster Goldar was created when she managed to steal enough gold to make him.  Sure there were some plot holes and head scratching moments (the Pink Ranger was in detention for spreading revenge porn?  SPOILER: Rita drowns the Blue Ranger and instead of anyone giving him mouth to mouth or CPR they take him miles away to Zordon’s hidden Power Ranger base?), but I enjoyed it.


I liked the effects, and I liked the costumes.  Whenever there is a movie of this type, you have to get the costumes right, and the new “armoured” look was a lot more practical for fighting space aliens than spandex ever was.  All the actors really did a great job, from the seasoned veterans like Cranston (who voiced several monsters on the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV 1993-1995) and Banks to the newcomers.  They each really seemed to have fun in the roles, and they all fit their updated characters.  The characters also seemed quite realistic.  Black Ranger Zack seems moody and aloof, but is really concerned about his mother’s ailing health.  Yellow Ranger Trini has problems with her parents (it’s hinted that she’s either bi-sexual or a lesbian).  Red Ranger Jason and Pink Ranger Kimberly both are dealing with the consequences of their past decisions, and Blue Ranger Billy is still dealing with the loss of his father, but really is the heart of the group, and the most enthusiastic about becoming a “super hero”.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel, but apparently that is in doubt.  I’ve heard that the film did not perform as well as the studio had hoped, and that the director thinks the PG-13 rating may have had some affect on it.  The reasoning is that with the slightly higher rating, families may not have been as likely to watch the film.  From what I could tell, the primary reason the film got the PG-13 instead of a PG rating was swearing.   A few times the language was a little more “colourful” than you would expect for a property mainly directed at children.  I think that something the director could have controlled and taken out of if the potential rating worried him.  They could have even fixed it in post production.  Power Rangers was a solidly entertaining popcorn flick, plain and simple.  You would be disappointed if you were looking to take more than that from it.


Bottom Line: Nice that it wasn’t just a simple rehash of the television series.  I liked the cameos (Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson) but would have liked more.  Where were Bulk and Skull?  Even if they didn’t have the actual actors (Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy) from the original series, it would have been a nice nod to have the characters show up.

The Belko Experiment – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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From James Gunn, the writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy (Volumes One and Two!) comes the twisted social experiment known as The Belko Experiment.  Eighty employees of the Belko company arrive for work one morning, and are locked in their office building.  An anonymous voice comes over the PA system telling them that they have to kill thirty of their co-workers in an hour, and if they don’t sixty of them will be killed instead.  Some of the workers try to hide, some try to escape, and some turn violent.  Factions are formed, leaders are chosen, and people die.  When some of the workers try to make contact with the outside world one of their heads is remotely blown up, proving this experiment is not just a game.


The Belko Experiment was graphic, violent, suspenseful but also repetitive. Was it realistic though? Were these the reactions people would have in this admittedly absurd situation?  Yeah, it was probably pretty accurate.  James Gunn apparently came up with the idea for the script in a dream, and if this is what his dreams are made of, I’m worried about the possibilities in his nightmares.  He did a great job on the characters and there were a lot of recognizable actors involved with the project.  You liked some of them and you hated some of them. John C. McGinley was especially rotten in the movie, and it was great to see his character die. Gunn’s brother Sean has a nice little role, as does fellow Guardians of the Galaxy “Reaver”, Michael Rooker.  Tony Goldwyn was the boss in the film, and even though he could have been considered the bad guy, the cleverness of the script makes you wonder, as he was doing everything he did for his own survival.


My only complaint about The Belko Experiment was that it was a little slow because of the great character development.  I would almost have preferred it just went to the crazy action right away. The action when it did happen was pretty crazy, and the effects were quite good for what is clearly an elevated indie film.  The final scene was pretty predictable, from who would be the sole survivor, to how they would deal with their captors.  Still, it was quite entertaining and a nice release.  When I first heard of The Belko Experiment I was told it was going to be like Battle Royale meets Office Space, which I immediately made me think of the movie Operation: Endgame.  In that film a team of spies have to kill each other in their own office building, using whatever they have around them, I was very glad that Belko wasn’t just another film like that.  It was thought out very well, and was a lot more intelligent than you would think.  Dark beyond belief, it won’t be for everyone, but I did enjoy it.


Bottom Line:  I was very surprised to see Belko was put out by Orion Pictures, I had no idea that name was still around!

Phantom Boy – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Leo is a young boy who is undergoing treatments in a New York hospital (I don’t think they say it outright, but I assume the boy has cancer of some sort).  Presumably due to his treatments, he learns that he has the ability to become a “phantom” and can explore the city as a ghostly apparition. Alex (voiced by Jared Padalecki) is a New York City detective who is injured while attempting to capture the villain known as “The Face” (voiced by Vincent D’Onofrio) who has taken control of the city’s power supply, throwing the metropolis into chaos. Now, using Leo’s phantom powers, Alex’s detective work and his reporter friend Mary (voiced by Melissa Disney) as their “legs” they team up to foil the plot and save New York.


I love superhero stories, and this seemed like a nice twist on the typical cartoon or comic book hero story.  Phantom Boy is a French animation, and done by the same team that made A Cat In Paris.  The animation was hand drawn, and rather simple, but it was still remarkably well done, and had a very French feel to it.  The story keeps you engrossed in the mystery and actually can effect you emotionally.  As I said, we’re not sure what Leo’s ailment actually is, but we learn that his chances of recovery are low.  Despite that, he becomes the star of an action movie, and while some of the situations seem sad, he isn’t a sad character at all.  Leo’s powers, his adventures, all show the silver lining of life, and finding the good things in bad situations because he only discovered this ability when he got sick.


The directors (Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol who also wrote the screenplay) said something very interesting about superheroes; it’s not their powers we’re interested in, but their human side, that’s what people identify with.  It’s entertaining to watch them fly and climb walls, but that’s not what makes them captivating.


I really enjoyed Phantom Boy, it was an original story, that felt very pulp-ish, and very noir-ish and it had a lot of heart in it.  It took a slightly different spin on astral projection (  A nice thing about foreign language cartoons is that when they’re dubbed into English, you don’t notice that the mouths don’t match like in live action films.


Bottom Line: I really enjoyed the fact that even though the Face’s backstory was teased several times it was never actually revealed.  Also, I really enjoyed A Cat In Paris, which I watched the next night.

Railroad Tigers – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Railroad Tigers


Railroad Tigers was an interesting movie, unfortunately if you consider Jackie Chan movies to be either hit or miss, this one was probably a near miss.  Okay, first a little history (from Wikipedia) that I didn’t have before watching the movie, and that the movie didn’t provide.

The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937 to September 9, 1945. It began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops escalated into a battle. The conflict escalated afterwards. It ended with the unconditional surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945 to the United Nations allies of World War II. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the war merged with other conflicts of World War II as a major sector known as the China Burma India Theater. Some scholars consider the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 to have been the beginning of World War II.


Railroad Tigers was about a railroad worker who leads a team of freedom fighters to oppose the Japanese in order to get food for the poor.  This resistance is loosely organized and led by Jackie Chan.  Most of the “tigers” have quirky personalities and characteristics about them; you’ve got the handsome one, the fat one, the planner, the elder, the lazy one, the strong one, the inept one, the crazy one, the young one and the female one, things like that.  They mostly rob from the Japanese to feed the poor Chinese, but when they hear of a foiled plan by the Chinese Army to blow up one of their own bridges to cripple the Japanese efforts, they take on the mission themselves.


The plot sounds fairly simple but for the first half hour or so, I really had no idea why these “tigers” were doing what they were doing.  I think the film would have benefited greatly from a little bit of exposition.  Once I understood who was who and what was what, the film unfolded predictably.  The characters didn’t really leave a memorable mark on me, and I didn’t really care about them as you think you would for a band of “freedom fighters”.  Visually the film was very good, and the costuming and the scenery all looked sharp and authentic.  The stunts and action were not as fast or frenetic as I would have liked, though the final fight on the train was pretty exciting and tense.


I think the film really had two things going against it.  First, Jackie Chan is no longer a young man, and cannot carry the action of a film by himself anymore.  A lot of the stunts and fights really seemed to be recycled spots from his previous films, but now they were largely being performed by Jackie’s son Jaycee Chan.  Jaycee really looks a lot like his father by the way, and this seems like a real passing of the torch.  The second thing going against Railroad Tigers I think, is that it wasn’t sure what type of movie it wanted to be.  It took several confusing jumps back and forth between action and comedy. Overall, the film wasn’t bad, it was actually entertaining, but it was not memorable.


Bottom Line:  I think the best thing to come from my viewing of Railroad Tigers was seeing the trailer for Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga, which clearly is playing itself up to be a comedy action film, mixing Chinese and Indian cinematic styles.  I will definitely catch that one because there’s a car chase with a lion in the car.  This film will not flip flop in terms of tone.

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