May 31, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: SON OF GOD

Starring Diogo Morgado, Roma Downey, Joe Coen, Amber Rose, Revah, Darwin Shaw, Paul Marc Davis, Joe Wreddon. Directed by Christopher Spencer. (2014, 138 min).
Fox Home Entertainment

This is about the life and death of Jesus Christ (sorry, I didn’t mean to give away the ending).*

Son of God is adapted from a chapter of the popular History Channel series, The Bible, and expanded for theatrical release. It did solid business among the Christian crowd by preaching to the converted, much like AC/DC does whenever they sing about the glories of rock & roll. In other words, if you aren’t already a disciple, this ain’t gonna change your mind.

Hence, Son of God is difficult to review objectively. It’s essentially a collection of Jesus’ greatest hits (walking on water, healing the injured, resurrecting the dead, etc.), his life competently-but-unimaginatively rendered. The film is a literal interpretation of events depicted in the New Testament, a chronological checklist of everything most of us already know about Jesus. Since he goes from zero-to-messiah in the first fifteen minutes, actor Diogo Morgado is given the thankless task of portraying Christ exactly as the Christian audience wants him to be…angelic, peaceful and loving, free of any human frailties. That has to be a shitty gig for a budding actor (on the plus side, he has great hair, and would look awesome onstage fronting an 90s-era grunge band).

Buddy Christ
Son of God is mostly devoid of character development, suspense and surprises. The cast does its best (none of the performances are bad), but like Morgado, they are straddled with roles which are mere caricatures; displaying any depth or unique interpretation might offend its intended audience. The script simply requires them to do little-more than shout or solemnly paraphrase grandiose statements from The Bible. The CGI effects (mostly depicting the city of Jerusalem) are on par with what you’d see in a SyFy disaster movie (despite the epic story this film tells, everything feels rather small).

However, those very criticisms are what likely make Son of God a great film for its intended audience, who are simply looking to enjoy an oft-told story which confirms their faith. They don’t want a reinterpretation of Jesus’ life, just like headbangers don't go to an AC/DC concert hoping to hear an acoustic ballad. As such, I suppose the film accomplishes its task magnificently.

On a side note, there will be inevitable comparisons between Son of God and The Passion of the Christ (the one ‘Christian’ film to do insane box office business). The final act of Son of God is indeed reminiscent of Passion, depicting Jesus’ cross-baring and crucifixion. While not quite as graphic, it is still justifiably difficult to watch.

  • Son of God Reborn (a making-of featurette, though it would be a great title for a sequel if this were a slasher film)
  • From the Set: The Passion
  • Faith Into Practice: Introduce Children to a Relationship with Jesus Christ
  • DVD version of the film
*Yeah, that was a joke. Thank's folks. I'll be here all week.

(OUT OF 5)

May 29, 2014

GODZILLA (2014) and the First Date

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche. Directed by Gareth Edwards. (2014, 123 min).

I wanted to see the new Godzilla, but my wife, Francie, hated the 1998 remake enough to sour her on the big ol’ lizard forever.

But I grew up on this stuff. One of Portland’s local TV stations used to show old Godzilla flicks on weekday summer afternoons, along with a few other classic behemoths from the 50s and 60s. Personally, I preferred the nasty, city-killing Godzilla to the superhero he became when fighting other monsters, but all those movies cemented my affection for rampaging beasts who seemingly exist only to knock buildings down. After awhile, I also wondered why the hell everyone insisted on staying in Tokyo, a town literally leveled every year by fire-spitting, radioactive reptiles (I guess the same reason everyone moves right-the-fuck back to Florida after yet-another hurricane blows through).

Monster movies are dumb but a hell of a lot of fun, and I still love them, especially those featuring creatures hell-bent on urban destruction. Even though Jurassic Park was a groundbreaking classic and the best of the series, if you were to strap me to a lie detector, I’d be forced to confess I enjoyed The Lost World more, mainly because an angry T-Rex wreaks-havoc on the streets of San Diego. I’m also one of the few folks left on Earth willing to admit I actually enjoyed the 1998's Godzilla, despite plot holes, lapses in logic and the monster’s inconsistent size from one scene to another. Sure, it’s Godzilla in-name-only and phenomenally stupid, but considering it had been decades since anyone attempted a big-budget giant monster movie, I had a good time.

But my wife nixed taking the family to see this new one, partially because she hated the first remake, but also because the trailer made it look like another dark, gritty reboot (fast-becoming a cliche).

Who farted?
“You’re the only one who wants to see it,” she informed me, which made sense since family nights at the movies are no longer something we can do on a whim. It’s too damned expensive. Francie and I have occasional ‘date night’ movies, but for the most part, unless it’s something three-out-of-four of us want to see, we’ve generally stopped going to the movies as an entire family. However, we are still flexible during those rare occasions when that ‘gotta see’ factor is a tie. But one-out-of-four? That means you're waiting 'till it comes out on video.

So imagine my excitement when, during dinner one night, another Godzilla trailer popped up on TV and my youngest daughter, Lucy, piped in with “I wanna see that!”

Yessss! Two people - half the family - want to see a reptile's rampage! Suck on that, Francie! 

Prior to this, Lucy had been my little horror buddy, and the two of us would stay up late at night watching scary movies together. We always had a great time, but a few of those movies gave her nightmares so Francie curtailed such activities (though I wish she’d have informed me before I brought home Insidious Chapter 2 for the sole purpose of enjoying it with Lucy, since the original is her favorite scarefest).

Though weekends are often designated as family time, Francie suggested I take Lucy to see Godzilla while she and Natalie went shoe shopping.

Hmmm…a day spent hanging out at every women’s shoe store on Portland‘s east side versus a few hours of massive monster mayhem with my little horror buddy...decisions, decisions.

I love my family, but would rather sit through an Adam Sandler film festival while getting my teeth drilled without anesthesia by a drunken epileptic than spend the day driving them to shoe stores, so Francie dropped the two of us off at the Division Street Cinema for the first Saturday afternoon show.

While we were waiting in line for tickets, it occurred to me that Lucy and I had never really gone out together, just the two of us. Sure, we sometimes hang-out at home watching movies or play the occasional game together, but it’s never been me & her on a grand day out. She’s 10 years old and it’ll only be a few short years before hanging out in public with dad would be as appealing as…well, sitting through an Adam Sandler film festival while getting her teeth drilled without anesthesia by a drunken epileptic. But for now, we were movie buddies again, and even though two matinee tickets, a tub of popcorn and two sodas cost me 36 fucking dollars, I was gonna make the most of these few hours together, regardless of how Godzilla turned out.

And Godzilla turned out to be awesome, and not just because of my love for the genre.

As Francie suspected, Godzilla does begin somberly, and even gets a bit depressing during the set-up. It also takes its time; an hour passes before our scaly star first appears in all his 300-foot glory, and he’s not even the first mega-monster to show up. Before that, the giant chrysalis of a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) is discovered beneath a nuclear power plant in Japan. A MUTO is a prehistoric parasite that consumes radiation and looks like a giant version of the ‘bugs’ from Starship Troopers. The idiotic powers-that-be have been keeping its existence a secret for years in order to study it. Of course, it gets loose, otherwise there’d be no movie, because the MUTO’s appearance is what lures Godzilla out of the ocean depths (yeah, the government knew about him, too, and even tried to kill him back in the 1950s).

I have to admit when I first heard beforehand that the main storyline of this film was a mega-monster battle, my anticipation deflated just a bit. Pitting Godzilla against an increasingly-ridiculous variety of foes was always the corniest part of most of those old films. Were they really gonna attempt to do the same thing in this century, only with better special effects and classier actors?

Godzilla gets a colonoscopy.
But ironically, this is when Godzilla becomes great, partially because it masterfully builds tension with a surprisingly smart story, but mainly because our title creature is not presented as a hero here to save humanity. In fact, Godzilla doesn’t appear to give two shits about us. He’s just as destructive as the MUTOs; we’re all just collateral damage resulting from these creatures' hatred of each other. In a way, this makes Godzilla every bit the anti-hero as Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. When these monsters finally start fighting (fairly late into the film), I kept thinking this was everything Transformers should have been but wasn’t…rousing fun that proves you can make a bombastic, effects-laden blockbuster without dumbing things down for the booger-eaters in the crowd.

I’ve not-yet mentioned any characters or actors in the film. That’s because, in the long run, they’re perfunctory. Aside from a few morose moments early on (when highly-touted cast members die much earlier than their billing suggests), they play second-fiddle to the monsters and the destruction left in their wake. Characterization is arguably the weakest aspect of the movie. In fact, writing this now, I couldn’t tell you a single name without looking it up.

Two hours later, Lucy and I came out of the theater with our ears ringing and big dumb grins on our faces.

“That was awesome!” she chirped more than once, and I had to agree. Godzilla wasn’t just an awesome monster movie…it was an awesome movie. After Francie and Natalie (by oldest daughter) picked us up, Lucy and I talked about it during the entire drive home, mostly to each other, though I think our gushing praise of the movie made Francie begin to regret she didn’t give the big ol’ lizard one more chance.

But that’s okay. I’m glad I had the privilege of seeing it with Lucy, my horror buddy and the one member of my family who’d appreciate it the most. We had a great time and I hope she doesn’t grow up so fast that we can’t do this again sometime.

May 28, 2014

"WTF?" featuring Classic Disney

"What the f*ck?"
"Aw, what the f*ck."
"What the f*ck..."  
What the f*ck?
"!!!WHAT THE F*CK!!!"

May 25, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: KILL ZOMBIE!

Starring Yahya Gaier, Mimoun Ouled Radi, Gigi Ravelli, Sergio Hasselbaink, Uriah Arnhem. Directed by Martiijn Smits & Erwin van den Eshof. (2012, 90 min)
Well Go USA Entertainment

Shaun of the Dead wasn’t the first zombie-comedy (or, zomcom). That distinction probably goes to 1985’s Return of the Living Dead (though a decent argument could be made that Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is primarily a comedy). But Shaun more-or-less defined the genre as we know it, setting the standard by which all others would be compared. Since then, only Zombieland really achieved the same level of greatness, though a few others have had their moments (Fido, Dead & Breakfast and Warm Bodies immediately come to mind). But for the most part, the zomcom genre has been run into the ground by a slew of cheap, overacted splatstick flicks (mostly released directly to video). Few of them actually offer anything new, kind of like someone who thinks coming back with “That’s what SHE said!” is still funny.

The awkwardly-titled Kill Zombie! (aka, Zombibi) is no exception. Hailing from The Netherlands, this film has the usual eclectic batch of ‘eccentric’ characters reluctantly making their way through Amsterdam trying to help lowly office worker, Aziz, rescue a co-worker he’s smitten with, who’s trapped in their office tower after a Russian space station crashes into it. The station, however, brought something back…a slimy moss which turns people into ravenous, green-blooded zombies.

No, it isn't explained how almost everyone in Amsterdam is infected, yet most folks in the stricken building are not. Nor is it explained how some zombies can be killed with a single blow to the head, while others keep coming after being repeatedly bludgeoned, shot and stomped-on. Nor is it explained why, even though surrounded by hordes of the undead, the main characters often stop in the middle of the street to bicker with each other. But that's just nitpicking. I guess two more-important questions need to be asked: Is Kill Zombie! funny? And if it isn't funny, is it at-least gory?

In the midst of shooting Kill Zombie!, the cast
watches their own dailies.
Most of the attempts at humor are lame…‘wacky’ weapons (bowling balls, footstools, a tennis ball launcher), heavy-handed satire (tired pop culture references, an idiotic newscaster & out-of-blue title cards), slapstick violence and an energetic cast forced to waste all their energy shouting their lines or looking comically-dumbfounded every five minutes. This is all accompanied by a bouncy music score to remind us how hilarious everything is.

As for the violence...much of it is elaborate and over-the-top (as in most zomcoms), but since these zombies bleed and explode green slime as opposed to real blood, any shock value is greatly diminished. Seeing our heroes drenched in green goop after slaughtering a roomful of the undead isn't too far removed from a celebrity getting slimed on a Nickelodeon awards show.

Since it’s all been done before - and in better movies - Kill Zombie! is depressingly tedious, even though it never slows down for a minute. Desperate-for-a-fix zombie fans might find consolation in a few creative kills and an admittedly-hot Gigi Ravelli as a no-bullshit, ass-kicking cop (she also turns in the best performance in the movie). Others are better off popping in their old copy of Shaun of the Dead.

(OUT OF 5)

May 24, 2014


Narrated by Erik Thompson. Various Directors. (2014, 176 min).
Lionsgate Entertainment

This disc could be a sign the long running History Channel series has finally run its course.

First, Season 7 began and ended in 2012, and this single disc consists of only four episodes which aired in spring 2014, two of which attempt to explain possible alternative reasons for the construction of Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, and two which offer scientific explanations for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem. Even History Channel’s website refers to it as Season 8, arguably making this the shortest-ever season of a show which hasn’t-yet been officially canceled.

Second, despite the subtitle, Ancient Mysteries Solved, no ancient mysteries are actually solved. These episodes use wonderfully-creative CGI as usual (always the coolest part of the entire series) and feature experts whose alternative theories are compelling (unless you’re one of those who interpret The Bible literally). But ultimately, they aren’t nearly as awe-inspiring as the first few seasons of The Universe, where the presentation of science fact alone was amazing enough, and the more speculative episodes were still aimed exclusively at the infinite sky above us.

Ancient Mysteries Solved isn’t a bad collection, but considering how thoroughly the previous seven seasons of The Universe exhausted every possible way to blow our minds with the massive (sometimes destructive) awesomeness of space, it isn’t surprising that this disc is a little underwhelming.

(OUT OF 5)

May 23, 2014


By Jeffrey Brown. (2012-2013, 64 pp ea).
Chronicle Books

It says a lot about an author who can create a couple of wonderfully funny, satirical and ultimately sweet illustrated books based on some plot twists from a sci-fi movie franchise. Of course, it helps if that franchise is Star Wars, and those plot twists are so well-known that even the six people on Earth who’ve never seen them know what they are. It also helps that the author & illustrator, Jeffrey Brown, is both a loving dad and apparent Star Wars fanatic.

Brown’s two books, Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess, hilariously show Vader as a doting father of his two kids (Luke & Leia) and the everyday trials of parenthood, while still remembering everyone’s place in Star Wars history. Both books tread a fine line between the type of universal parent humor you’d find in Reader’s Digest and the subtle satirical gags only the geekiest of Star Wars fans could appreciate. Brown’s colorful illustrations are priceless, especially those of Vader, who’s expressionless in every panel, yet we still feel his parental angst when dealing with his cankerous kids.

Of the two, I personally prefer Vader’s Little Princess, but that could be because I have daughters and can relate to most of the cartoons. That’s what so great about both books. I’m certain my brother in law would find Vader and Son funnier because of his boisterous boys. Unlike a lot of officially-licensed Star Wars products (yes, these books have George Lucas’ blessing), extensive knowledge of this universe is not required. Simply being a selfless parent will suffice.

FKMG RATING (both books):
(OUT OF 5)

Blu-Ray Review: ENDLESS LOVE (2014)

Starring Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson, Robert Patrick, Rhys Wakefield, Dayo Okeniyi. Directed by Shana Feste. (2014, 105 min).
Universal Studios Home Entertainment

This is a remake of the teen-porn camp classic that had us rolling in the aisles back in 1981. The main thing I remember from that one is being dragged kicking-and-screaming to the theater by my girlfriend, then literally howling at the sight of Martin Hewitt’s oh-Jade-I-love-you-soooo-MUCH sexpression during a particular ‘climactic’ scene (pardon the pun). That film was a syrupy bastardization of a much darker novel by Scott Spencer, rendered unintentionally hilarious by failed attempts at eroticism, Hallmark card dialogue and Brooke Shields’ spot-on impression of a Nordstrom mannequin. In other words, Endless Love was a lot of fun.

This new version isn’t as gloriously goofy (though some dialogue is still chuckleworthy). The basic story remains: David and Jade, two high school kids rendered stupid by obsessive love, much to the chagrin of Jade’s overprotective dad, who does everything within his power to break them up. But because it isn't as laughably awful, there isn’t a hell of a lot left to enjoy, mainly because the story itself was never inherently compelling. Without all the original's campy charm, it's just a checklist of teen romance tropes we've seen before. As David & Jade, Alex Pettyfer & Gabriella Wilde look they were cast more for their looks than their ability (and Pettyfer looks a hell of a lot older than a high school graduate). Only Bruce Greenwood & Robert Patrick, as the kids' fathers, manage to rise above the material and bring real depth to their characters. Ironically, by making a more competent film, this is a less entertaining one.

"You've got something in your teeth."
However, I’m a middle-aged male, obviously not this movie’s intended audience. Sure, I can compare it to the deliciously-dumb original, but that would be selling this one short. This is aimed at young girls who probably still think their first love will always be their greatest, which is why I won’t delve into the ultimately-awful message it sends to impressionable youth (any parent watching the film will know what I’m talking about). It’s essentially Twilight without vampires and a teens-only club. Its gorgeous young stars and simplistic story presents teen love in black and white terms (David & Jade's first tryst between the sheets is, of course, beautiful and glorious, cementing their love...unlike the rest of us who’d probably rather forget the first time we tried having sex).

I can see how Endless Love would appeal to teenagers, since it totally plays-up the idea that falling in love as early as possible is the only goal worth striving for. I thought that once, too, ironically while dating the girl who dragged me to see the original Endless Love in the first place. Like David & Jade, we thought our love was unbreakable and got married right out of high school, followed shortly after by an acrimonious divorce...

...Hey! I think I just came up with a realistic sequel!


  • Making of Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended Ending (!)

(OUT OF 5, though you might add a kitten if you're under 15)

May 21, 2014


By Constantine Santas, James M. Wilson, Maria Colavito, Djoymi Baker. (2014, 694 pp).
Rowman & Littlefield

There’s nothing a die hard movie fan loves more than digging into a big fat reference book about their favorite subject, especially when it’s well-written by knowledgeable authors. And although the Cinema Surgeon General warns us regularly of the dangers of overindulging on certain fattening flicks, what movie fan doesn’t love occasionally gorging themselves on a big, fat, spectacular epic? After all, they're Hollywood’s equivalent of a pizza loaded with everything.

Most of us hold a few certain epics near and dear to our hearts. Like clockwork, I watch The Ten Commandments every Easter, and the entire Godfather trilogy annually rings-in my summer break (since I’m a teacher in the real world). Whenever I’m laid-out with the flu, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Great Escape are as comforting as Ny-Quil. All those films, and just about every other movie one would define as epic (and some one wouldn‘t), are included in The Encyclopedia of Epic Films. If nothing else, this 700 page volume is comprehensive. No one’s likely to say to themselves, “How could they leave out (insert title here)?

The book does a decent job defining what constitutes an epic film, not just its length, but its scope, budget, imagery and timeless story elements. Everything is well-written and there’s no disputing these authors’ knowledge. Additionally, each entry includes extensive cast & crew credits, Oscar/Golden Globe wins and nominations, its availability on DVD/Blu-Ray and bibliographical resources for those inclined to read further.

However, The Encyclopedia of Epic Films is wildly inconsistent in how the entries are written. Some offer interesting analysis on a film’s historical influence or impact, while others are nothing more than detailed plot summaries, with no insight about its production or importance. Still-others, while effectively summarizing a film’s story, end up being a particular author’s subjective critique of its quality. Simply put, there’s no unified structure to these entries, almost as though the four credited authors had no agreed-upon outline with which to write them. That means we get a truly thoughtful analysis of King Kong (1933), while a film just as groundbreaking, Goodfellas, is given nothing more than a detailed synopsis of a plot, with no added insight or commentary. Not only that, the book’s definition of an ‘epic film’ could be called into question with the inclusion of Alien (a claustrophobic classic, but hardly an epic) and Battlestar Galactica (a cheesy, made-for-TV pilot gets its own entry in a book of epic films?).

Then there’s an issue with the appendices. There are three, one for superhero & franchise films, one for foreign films and one for epics made for TV. The latter two are mostly okay, mainly because I admit I’m not all that knowledgeable of them. But the superhero and franchise section seems randomly thrown together. This is where Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Toy Story reside. Okay, franchises are a different animal than a single classic spectacle, but does anyone really consider Toy Story epic? Not only that, why is Armageddon included in this section? Unless I watched a different version than everyone else on Earth, it doesn’t qualify as a superhero film or a franchise.

Still, this hefty volume is worth reading (and revisiting from time to time…the best quality of a bathroom book). It does occasionally provide some interesting background about iconic films, but as you read further, you’ll actually be able to differentiate one author from other pretty quickly (noting the initials after each entry). For example, James W. Wilson is content to simply summarize a film (in nearly anal-retentive detail), while Constantine Santas provides actual analysis, providing more discussion-worthy insight.

(OUT OF 5)

RADIATOR SPRINGS 500 1/2 Premieres on Disney Movies Anywhere

Race into summer with the Disney Movies Anywhere premiere of Radiator Springs 500 1/2.  The all-new Disney•Pixar short is available for free, and is an exciting first installment in the "Tales from Radiator Springs" series.  Just download Disney Movies Anywhere app for iPhone or iPad to watch Radiator Springs 500 1/2 now!

Featuring Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen and directed by Rob Gibbs (“Mater's Tall Tales”), Radiator Springs 500 1/2 tells the story of a “leisurely drive” planned in honor of Radiator Springs’ town founder, Stanley, which turns precarious as Baja pros descend on the town and challenge Lightning McQueen to an off-road race. Meanwhile, the townsfolk, led by a Stanley-costumed Mater, enjoy the planned “leisurely drive” to retrace Stanley’s original frontier route. Thinking they’re on the same course, a wrong turn sends McQueen and the Baja pros on a treacherously wild bid for survival. The misunderstanding leaves the racing professionals in awe of the “legend” of Stanley: the Original Off-Road Racer

Go to Disney Movies Anywhere to find out more about buying, watching, and collecting your favorite Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies anywhere!

May 20, 2014

MOVIES IN HAIKU, PART 6: The Director's Cut

Regan is possessed!
Spinning heads, floating beds and Tasty split pea soup.

Rhett Butler is frank
When he informs Scarlett he
Doesn't give a damn.

Who killed Kennedy?
The Mob? Cubans? Government?
Maybe they all did!

I made a mistake
Refusing Vito's offer...
Horse head in my bed!

A botched jewel heist.
One of the crew is a cop.
Hey, whose ear is that?

May 18, 2014

Bring BOXTROLLS to Life!

In anticipation of Focus Features and LAIKA's new stop-motion animated film THE BOXTROLLS, you're invited to get creative and build your very own Boxtroll at One grand prize winner's Boxtroll will be brought to life as a real puppet by LAIKA artists, and other Box-tastic prizes are available!

Blu-Ray Review: BUSHIDO MAN

Starring Mitsuki Koga, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Masanori Mimoto, Kentaro Shimazu, Kazuki Tsujimoto, Ema. Directed by Takanori Tsujimoto. (2013, 88 min).

Toramaru (Mitsuki Koga) is a modern day Japanese warrior who’s spent over a year challenging seven different fighters, all with specific individual skills, in order to become a master of The Cosmic Way. This is a discipline which, not only requires Toramaru to defeat each fighter at their own game, but “know the enemy by eating his food.” The young apprentice then returns to his mentor, Master Gensai (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi), to tell of his adventures and give him the scrolls he earned by defeating them in battle.

These encounters are presented in flashback as Gensai anxiously hangs on Toramaru’s every word, enthusiastically voicing his approval when hearing the variety of dishes he devoured prior to fighting. Meanwhile, Toramaru engages in kung-fu, swordfights, knife-fights, stick-fights, even gunfights (including ’Arm Bullets,’ which fire rounds from a wristband when throwing a punch).

"Hey! My fly ain't open! Not funny, dude!"
Sounds like a typical, somewhat ridiculous, martial arts flick, the kind of overly-serious epic that's often unintentionally chuckle-worthy. Bushido Man starts off that way, too, especially with its obviously limited budget and exaggerated performances (no one’s gonna confuse this with House of Flying Daggers). My oldest daughter (enamored with Asian culture) and I were prepared to go all Mystery Science Theater on its ass. But less than ten minutes passed before, to our delight, we realized Bushido Man is ridiculous on purpose, a whacked-out and remarkably funny film, brilliantly presented with a completely straight face and never descending into broad parody.

There are two other elements which make Bushido Man remarkable. First, the action scenes are as expertly choreographed and thrilling as any serious martial arts film. Second, this is probably the best ‘foodgasm’ movie I’ve seen since Julie and Julia. The scenes where Toramaru samples the dishes of his enemies made me hungry. But, alas, we were watching this film late at night, which made finding such delectable dishes impossible.

Best of all, Bushido Man is unpredictable at every turn. Sure, because of the way it’s set-up, we know how every flashback segment turns out, but each encounter is full of amusing surprises. This also applies to the climax. I wouldn’t dream of giving it away, but trust me, do not shut-off this film when the end credits start rolling. You’ll miss the best gag of all.

EXTRAS: The Making of Bushido Man

(OUT OF 5)

May 17, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: ROBOCOP (2014)

Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams. Directed by Jose Padilha. (2014, 117 min).
Fox Home Entertainment

It’s hard to believe the original Robocop is 27 years old. The only things which really date it are the Ford Tauruses everyone drives and Phil Tippet’s stop-motion effects for the ED-209 (which were always part of that malfunctioning robot’s inept charm). Even today, the film remains as smart, fast-paced, funny, brutal, wickedly satirical & culturally relevant as it was in 1987. In an era of rebooting, re-imagining and regurgitating, remaking a movie like this seems pointless…maybe even a bit blasphemous to die-hard fans. If you count yourself among them, you’ll likely hate every minute of this slick (and expensive) update.

But if you’re able briefly forget it’s a remake and accept it on its own terms, there are worse ways to spend a few hours.

In a somewhat awkward moment,
Robocop realizes he forgot his keys.
It’ll come as no surprise that 2014’s Robocop is inferior in every way. It loosely retains the basic story, where dedicated cop Alex Murphy is nearly killed in the line of duty by a ruthless criminal, only to be reborn as a crime fighting cyborg, but the similarities end there. While it isn’t a needless scene-for-scene remake (i.e. Psycho and The Omen), this version jettisons nearly every element which made the original subversively-unique among action films. Gone is the tongue-in-cheek humor, satirical asides and well-timed scenes of shocking, over-the-top violence. There are no villains as memorably vicious and amusing as Clarence Boddicker (as played in the original with psychotic gusto by Kurtwood Smith). In fact, the crime lord in this version is nearly a non-entity. Murphy himself is fairly dull, too. In the original, he’s resurrected as a the ultimate weapon against crime, but the slow realization of everything he’s lost (his family) fuel his need for personal revenge. Here, Murphy’s family is not-only consistently present, they are part of the unfolding plot, so other than most of his appendages, nothing has really been taken away from him. With less at stake, we’re not as emotionally involved.

As Murphy, Joel Kinnaman is adequate but unremarkable. The same can be said for most of the performances, which is ironic considering the number of cinema scenery-chewers in the cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jay Baruchel). Only Jackie Earle Haley (one-time Bad News Bears bad boy) leaves any real impression as Mattox, a cocky military man with barely-concealed contempt for Murphy as Robocop.

"Hair on my palms? Oh, God, Mom was right!"
Unlike the original, which was not-only brutally violent but funny as hell (often at the same time) this version takes itself pretty seriously. That, along with the nearly bloodless action leaves us with a watered-down Robocop aimed at the PG-13 mallrat crowd.

But surprisingly, as unnecessary remakes go, Robocop isn’t actually all that bad. After a slow start and some dull exposition, the film builds momentum during the second half. Brazilian director Jose Padilla (Robocop is his first American film) demonstrates considerable skill with action sequences, as typically slick and flashy as most of today’s CGI-driven superhero epics (I especially-enjoyed the training sequence which pits Murphy against Mattox and dozens of military drones). The movie could use more humor and interesting characters, but if I were a teenager, having never seen my dad’s Robocop, I’d probably have a great time.

This might be faint praise for a film with a production budget much higher than the previous three Robocop movies combined, not-to-mention a willingness to forget they even exist in order to get any enjoyment out of it (though it’s still better than Robocop 3). But again, if you’re briefly able to do that, this version is an entertaining enough way to spend an evening.

EXTRAS: Unavailable for review

(OUT OF 5)