7.27.2017

Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

I usually don't do anything on here if it's related to a "new" film, as I like to keep this strictly to older and cult films in general. But after heading out to the theater last night to see Luc Besson's latest film, I felt the need to give you some insight into what to expect from the man who gave us classics like La Femme Nikita, The Professional and The Fifth Element. And I don't want to make this long or thorough, because I don't want to bore you. But I feel the need to because unfortunately this film is tanking big time at the box office, and I fear it will disappear before you've had a chance to see this for yourself on the big screen. And let me tell you, if you ever see this film, it needs to be seen on a big screen. So let's begin.

Valerian is quite possibly one of the most fascinating films I've had the pleasure of seeing this year. Is it great? No. But it's entertaining science fiction done in a way that is rarely ever done, by a gifted filmmaker who's hit-or-miss decades-long career has been largely miss for most of us. Valerian is a slight exception though, as it falls right in the middle of being either bad or great. It's good, with enough going for it that you should absolutely go see this in the theater before it's too late, as a home viewing, no matter if it's in HD, 4K or how big your television screen is, just will not do it justice. This is the kind of film that needs to be experienced, not just seen.



Valerian is a visual feast for the eyes. There's so much magic happening visually that it's hard to take it all in at once, even in the moments where the film slows down (and there are many), the insane amount of detail and kaleidoscope of colors will keep your eyes glued to the screen as your brain tries to process it all. And if there's anything that Valerian will be known for, it's for it's eye candy, courtesy of writer/producer/director Luc Besson. There are moments where Valerian feels comfortably familiar, where Besson gives a sort of faint hint at the magic he created in The Fifth Element, and for brief periods of time you get excited. But these moments are few and far between, because like most filmmakers who have been continuously working for the last 30-40 years, their styles and techniques tend to change, and Besson is no different. Thankfully, he still shoots it fun and it's a beauty to see. It's just Besson working on a whole new level (almost entirely CGI and motion-capture), and it doesn't always deliver. And it's because of this that there always seems to be something lacking, like every action sequence and any bit of excitement just does not pack the kind of visceral punch you would expect, always leaving you a bit underwhelmed. While all the CCI allows Besson to explore things he couldn't before using traditional methods, it also takes away what made his classics so special in the first place, when he had to shoot on film, using practical effects, makeup and sets. But you know, it's a fun movie regardless, despite the fact that critics and reviews are trying to convince you that it's dull and boring, because it absolutely is NOT. There's just too much eye candy happening for that to happen.

For all it's visual beauty, Valerian suffers from a number of problems that keep it from being awesome. For starters, it's terribly miscast. I for one can't stand the lead actress Cara Delevingne. I don't know what it is, but I just don't like her. She comes across as a completely unlikable person in real life, and it's hard to get past that when I see her on screen. And while I think Dane DeHaan is a fine actor, he's just completely wrong as the lead, who's supposed to be a handsome, confident, conceded ladies man. And it hurts the entire feel of the film when these 2 leads, who spend nearly every scene together, just have no chemistry. Not that casting actors bigger, more recognizable and more attractive would have made the film any better, because it wouldn't have. But it would have made their characters more believable as they were written.

Secondly, the film is too confusing and epic for it's own good, starting with the title. After having finally watched it, the title Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets doesn't accurately fit the film. And there's so much information being thrown at you at lightning fast speed that it's impossible to understand just what the hell is going on for large periods of time, on top of the fact that important details are kept hidden until the end, but by that point so much has already happened that it's hard to keep track of every single plot point, so you've already forgotten about things that happened earlier in the film. It almost seems as if this easily could have been divided into 2 or 3 different films, which would have allowed them to flesh out storylines and character development, which might have helped it's overall flow.

If there is anything Valerian will be compared to it will be Avatar, and honestly, that's not a bad thing at all. It won't go down as one of Luc Besson's best, but it's definitely not one of his worst either. While I personally prefer Besson's older style, a la everything he did in the 80's and 90's, it also demonstrates his gift of working with CGI, and I'll admit, he handled it better than most directors today who have been dealing with it for years. He knows the importance of perspective (in regards to distance between the camera and something far away in the background), and does his best at making things look natural in the far background, which most filmmakers forget to do and it drive's me nuts.

I will mention though that this film did contain one really solid surprise, and that's Rhianna's performance. Sure she ends up being a minor character in the film overall, but believe it or not, she did an outstanding job and surprised the hell out of me in her limited screen time. Of all the actors, even the surprise cameo's, she's the one that left the biggest impression, and that's coming from someone who doesn't really care for her. She kind of blew me away in this.

I would highly recommend seeing this on the big screen as soon as you can. It doesn't matter if it's in normal digital, XD or 3D, but trust me, you just won't get the same experience watching it at home, no matter how impressive your setup is. But you better do it soon, because it's not making any money here in the states and will likely disappear within a week or two.

7.26.2017

Documentary Dynamite!: S is for Stanley


If I ever come across anything that has anything to do with Stanley Kubrick, it will always be on my radar, which was the case with this excellent documentary. Currently on Netflix, I threw it into my list where it stayed for a good month until I finally decided to watch it one Sunday afternoon.

S is for Stanley tells the story of Emilio D'Alessandro, who was Stanley Kubrick's right hand man and personal driver for nearly 30 years. When I say right hand man, I mean this guy literally did everything for Stanley Kubrick, and if you know "anything" about Kubrick, you know how meticulous and detail-oriented he was with "everything", and this charming and highly entertaining documentary will give you deep insight into the daily life of one of the most important filmmakers of our time.

This intimate portrait focuses on the lives of both Kubrick and Emilio, who met while Kubrick was working on A Clockwork Orange in 1970, and remained life-long friends in both their personal lives as well as their professional all the way to Kubrick's last film Eyes Wide Shut. It's an incredibly fascinating journey as we hear from Emilio himself as he tells about how he met the eccentric director, and Kubrick's immediate connection to him and their decades plus relationship where Emilio's responsibilities ranged from driving Kubrick to and from everywhere, handling and transporting some of his famous actors, movie props, scripts, to rescuing animals and getting them their medications.


A touching and charming documentary about one of cinema's most gifted filmmakers, writer/director Alex Infascelli keeps things movie along at a brisk pace, giving great insight to productions of Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, all while Emilio tells these incredible stories through his eyes. I think one of the best aspects of this documentary is the fact that Emilio saved nearly every single little handwritten note Kubrick would leave him on an obsessive basis throughout the years with tasks that he wanted Emilio to accomplish for the day. It's a great view into how Kubrick's mind works on any given day, and how his brain was always focused on minute little details regarding everything, not just his films. S is for Stanley is a must-watch for any Kubrick fan.

How to watch it:
Currently, I think the only way to find it is on Netflix. I can't seem to find it available in DVD form anywhere in the U.S., though there is one in Italy. Amazon doesn't even have it available to rent digitally either. So Netflix will be your only legit option at this time.

7.25.2017

Quick Shot Review: Death Race 2000

I hate to admit it, but I've actually seen Paul W.S. Anderson's remake before I actually got around to this original version. And what a shame that was, because while I did actually enjoy Anderson's remake (gasp!), this one is far superior in every way. Let's begin.

Directed by bit-part actor Paul Bartel, this film gives you pretty much everything you'd want in a film like this, and it does not disappoint. It's fast, funny in a very tongue-in-cheek sorta way with it's social satire, with tons of action, explosions, car chases, enough fake pink blood and unnecessary nudity to satisfy your craving. It's campy, but in a violent, nasty and gritty way. What's more, the cast is pretty phenomenal. For starters, the legendary David Carradine stars as the main attraction, Frankenstein. And he carries the entire film squarely on his shoulders, and does a magnificent job of it. He's cruel and sadistic, but you can't help but like him because he's so damn charismatic. But I think the highlight for us was hands-down Sly Stallone as Machine Gun Joe. He was such a sight to behold. Angry, violent, misogynistic and so full of over the top rage, I don't think there was a single moment when he wasn't yelling and it was hilarious. He was so fantastic that we kept saying how they should have made a film entirely on his character. Stallone definitely steals the show in every scene he's in.



I think the glue that holds it all together so well is Paul Bartel's slick direction. Campy, yet somehow sure-handed and beautiful. It's hard to explain, but even with such a low budget and minimal location changes, the production design department really went above and beyond in giving the film a retro futuristic look and vibe in every single scene. It's ultra-stylish when you don't expect it to be, and combined with Bartel's direction, Death Race 2000 looks amazing. It's a helluva rip-roaring good time to boot.

7.22.2017

80's Thriller Throwback: Black Moon Rising


Here's a funny story. I revisited this one this past week and as I nearly finished my review, it dawned on me that I might have already done that a few years ago and I just don't remember. I guess that tells you what to expect with Black Moon Rising in general. Anyway, I put in the time to do this, so here it is anyway. LOL

If I remember correctly, Black Moon Rising is the sort of film that kind of came and went with little notice. In fact, it's a film that I'd all but forgotten about for many, many years, until I would randomly come across that sweet cover art. Still, that never made me want to actually seek it out and revisit it. But since I'm knee-deep into the 80's thriller genre, I thought now would be as good a time as any. So let's dig in.

A thief hides important documents in a new experimental car while he's being chased. When the car gets stolen by a career car thief, he must find a way to steal the car so he can steal back his documents, with his life hanging in the balance. 

If you go in with little expectations, you'll thoroughly enjoy this somewhat tame effort. Honestly, it could easily pass for a Made-for-TV movie, but that doesn't mean that it's bad. A bit slow, but still enjoyable for brief images of that sweet car and to actually see Tommy Lee Jones look like he gives a shit and not just phoning it in, which is pretty much all he's done in what seems like forever now, but literally decades in the least. While not terribly exciting, it offers up enough entertainment value to keep you invested through a slick 80's thriller sheen. Casting, score, visuals and tone are all very much 80's, and a product of their time. And that's what makes this particular film so interesting. Had it been made today, it'd be boring as fuck. No lie. Yet it's the very specific time period in which it was made that holds your interest on a visual level. And let's face it, the star of the film is the car, the Black Moon, which just rules on so many levels. Yet for a film called Black Moon Rising, it's shockingly absent for a large majority of the run-time. Still, when it does show up, it's pretty fucking awesome.

In case you weren't aware, this is co-written by John Carpenter, also taking a "story by" credit here the same year he directed Big Trouble in Little China. And honestly, you'd never guess that just by watching it. It doesn't really carry a Carpenter vibe or flavor, but I will admit that had he directed this himself, it would have turned out much better, and certainly more stylish and interesting. Not that director Harley Cokliss is bad, because he's not. In fact, I love his work in Malone, his next film the following year with Burt Reynolds. But while there are certainly moments of pizzazz, there are just as many that are plain uninspiring. And unfortunately the trailer really sells you on the flashy scenes, which makes the film look awesome, but as a whole, it drags quite a bit and never really packs any sort of punch either on an emotional or visceral level. Too bad too, because it has a lot of the right ingredients, just not enough action or excitement to keep it all together. Still, had Carpenter directed it, just his visual eye candy alone would have made this a better movie by leaps and bounds.

7.20.2017

Glow: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Going into the new Netflix show Glow, I had no idea that it was based on an actual all-women's wrestling team from the 80's. I just thought it was some really creative entertainment. In fact, I knew nothing about it going in, other than it was a new Netflix production about women's wrestling set in the 80's. So we went in fairly cold, and ended up loving the shit out of it. In fact, Glow was so damn good that it was hard not to binge-watch the entire season. It's an interesting idea for sure, and the team behind this show effectively manage to mix just the right amount of laughs and drama with brilliant casting and story.

Not knowing anything about this, imagine my surprise to see the impossibly cute Alison Brie "and" Marc Maron, who I just love in his IFC show Maron, which is also on Netflix. The supporting cast of mostly new actors and actresses also impress. I'm not going to get into the whole storyline and possibly ruin any surprises in store, so I'll just leave saying that it's a well scripted show, with just the right balance of humor and drama, full of strong performances and being set in the 80's, it's like nostalgia on crack!


When we finished the show, we were so bummed that it was over and that we have to wait until next season for more episodes, so we decided to keep the Glow vibe going by following up the finale with this excellent doc, which happened to premiere on Netflix before the show did. But again, I didn't know anything about it until I saw the show.

This fascinating doc is just as fun and engrossing as the show, if not more. Here we get to meet the actual real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in new interviews as well as vintage footage. They tell their stories about how they even got to be on that crazy show in the first place, what they're doing now and Glow's long lasting legacy and cult status. It truly is one of the most fun documentaries on Netflix right now, even if you're not a fan of wrestling. You don't have to be to enjoy this flashback to the 80's. It's a lot of fun. Check out the trailers for both the show and the documentary below.


7.19.2017

Cutthroat Island Film Review: A Swashbuckling Great Time


1995
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Category: Action/Adventure

I hate to admit it, but the only reason I stayed away from this film was all the bad word of mouth and negative press upon it's original release. It didn't help either that it would ultimately go on to become one of the biggest box office disasters of the century, resulting in the downfall of Carolco Studio's. Nevermind the fact that I actually really loved Renny Harlin's work as a director back then. No sir, I jumped on the bandwagon and as a result, I never saw this film until now. After finally having seen it, one thought keeps running through my mind. "What an idiot I've been".

Despite all my dumb unfounded reservations going in, Cutthroat Island manages to be hands-down one of the most fun experiences watching a film I've had in a long while. Sure I see great films all the time, but it's rare when one can match the sheer budget, spectacle and talent that easily makes this one of the best pirate movies ever made. And I'll be honest, I'm not much of a fan of pirate films. I have seen the first Pirates of the Caribbean, but I quickly learned these types of films are just not for me. So I suppose that could be another reason I stayed clear of this one for so many years. So imagine my surprise to discover that I really, really loved this one.


While it's easy to point figures and nitpick why this film did so terribly at the box office, none of them can excuse it's poor performance, when the reality is that it's quite an entertaining big budget spectacle if there ever was one. And it's all put together like a pro by director/producer Renny Harlin, here doing far more than he's ever proven behind the camera up until this point and since. If there was ever a film that could define just what a director could do with a massive budget, practical effects and stunts and a whole lot of talent, it's this film. Though most would probably consider Die Hard 2 (my personal favorite in the series) his highlight in terms of production, I have to give it to Cutthroat Island just in terms of it's sheer massive audacity. It's truly a sight to behold and when you watch films like any of the PotC for example, this film proves how much harder and just flat out better it was over 20 years ago, when CGI wasn't readily available and they had to do everything practically.

Again, this is all coming from someone who generally doesn't like pirate films, but you just can't deny the excitement, fun, thrills and insane stuntwork provided by Harlin and company with this one. And while there are a scene or two where it's obvious Geena Davis' face has been superimposed on a stunt actress, there are other moments where she's obviously doing the stunts herself and it's mindblowing. Same with Mathew Modine, who also jumps smack into the action himself flying by rope from one ship to another and it's damn impressive. Again, these swashbuckling films aren't for me, but I just couldn't help but have an absolute blast with this.



Is it perfect? No, but it doesn't have to be. Honestly, I only have one single complaint, and it's with the casting of Davis and Modine. Geena Davis is a fine actress, but she seems ill-fitted for the role and just doesn't sell it that well. Yes she handles the physicality of it and never phones it in, but she just doesn't come across as a natural badass. I don't know, there's just something missing and she never quite hits those beats. Mathew Modine comes off much better. While it does take a little bit to get used to seeing him in this kind of film, it's soon apparent that the guy can deliver, and you know, he's likable and charming and it works. And then there's the legendary Frank Langella, who steals the show as the villain, channeling some serious Skeletor vibes a la his turn in Masters of the Universe. So good.

I don't think all the negativity against this film from the onset is fair at all, or even justified. I think you'll find that this is in fact a very fun and well-made film. It's exhilarating, exciting, beautiful and most importantly....fun. Just the visuals alone, courtesy of director Renny Harlin and Cinematographer Peter Levy (Predator 2, Ricochet) will floor you. Though he had already changed his visual style with his previous film Cliffhanger, he would go back to his more signature style that he delivered with Cinematographer Oliver Wood on his classics The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Die Hard 2 for this film, and the results are incredible! Despite the fact that this was a blast from start to finish, my eyes were glued to the screen and my mind blown by what I was seeing, things achieved practically, on such a grande scale, and somehow, people lost sight of this fact and for reasons I don't understand, this film tanked. Instead of being heralded for it's competently brilliant film work, it was crucified both critically and by it's box office. Too bad, because it was quite an excellent film full of surprises.



The action needs to be seen to be believed. The action sequences presented in here are nothing short of spectacular, with each new one blowing the previous sequence out of the water....literally. The pyrotechnics are insane, with explosions galore left and right, bodies flying, cannon's bursting, ships exploding and guns blazing. But while they're all pretty great, none of them beat the last act, where 2 ships pull along side each other and proceed to blow the shit out of each other, all while hundreds of extras battle to the death using swords, guns, knives and their fists. It's some of the most impressive technical achievements ever put to film, and I just can't stress enough how much of this goes to Renny Harlin's eye. He was on fire here, and though his next film, The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) would mark the end of his winning streak just a year later, we at least have a handful of classics that have endured the test of time, and that we can learn to rediscover and appreciate all over again.

If there was ever a film that taught me never to judge a book by it's cover, or to heed negative word-of-mouth, it's this one. Despite all the chips stacked against it, Cutthroat Island manages to be quite frankly one of the best action adventure films ever made, and one that needs to be experienced if you've never had the pleasure.

How to see it:
Currently on Hulu Plus in HD, and available from a variety of releases on both DVD and Blu Ray for very cheap.

7.18.2017

90's Thriller Throwback: Flatliners


There are only 3 things I remember about Flatliners. 1, that it was a slick looking thriller, 2, that the cast was pretty great, and 3, that it was one of Schumacher's better films out of his vast and diverse filmography. Outside of that, I remember virtually nothing about this (or so I thought), even though I have seen it before, but it's literally been decades. Thankfully, it's currently available through a number of online streaming services and readily available, so let's dig in.

When a group of medical students, led by Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland), experiment with near death experiments to see what happens once you're clinically dead, their competitiveness drives them to push the boundaries by staying under longer. They soon realize that there comes a price, and dark secrets of their pasts come back to haunt them. But are they real? Or or they hallucinating? 

The first thing I'll say is that Flatliners is undoubtedly Joel Schumacher's most stylish film to date. And this is coming from someone who loves his work with Lost Boys and Falling Down, but here, he's on a completely different level of slick and I can only assume a large portion of this is due to cinematographer legend Jan de Bont's (Die Hard, Basic Instinct, Black Rain and director of Speed) involvement. There was so much style in this that it acts as another character of the film. You're constantly immersed in the vivid colors that bathe each and every frame, and it's these bright colors that gives Flatliners a surreal quality. There are sequences that are awash in a single color, like for example, a sequence of Julia Roberts walking through her house while investigating a strange sound. The entire sequence is bathed in red, and there's no rhyme or reason for it, but it looks amazing. And that's what this film offers, a sort of kaleidoscope of colors and deeply rich in style, giving you a visual experience that will blow you away while simultaneously stimulate your senses.

As a thriller, Flatliners delivers the goods. It's visual eye candy certainly stimulates the senses, but the story keeps things moving at a solid pace courtesy of The Craft screenwriter Peter Filardi. It also helps that the cast is damn near impressive. This is like a dream-team of hot talented young actors in their prime, and if it wasn't for their specific involvement, I doubt the film would carry on all these years as well as it has. Flatliners is successful because of their talents. You imagine a film like this being made today with the actors we have and I can guarantee you that it won't hit the mark nearly as well as this one does, because the 90's were a different time, and an ensemble cast of talented young actors today just wouldn't or couldn't deliver as well.

This film works so well because it was made at just the right time. Schumacher smack in the middle of his creative streak, and the high point of his career, a knockout ensemble cast at the peak of their star-power, and some of the most alluring and impressive camera work to ever grace the genre, courtesy of 2 legends in the field. It really delivers on all fronts, and one of the best things about it is that it doesn't take it's time getting things started. Flatliners kicks into gear from it's very first frame and never lets up, resulting in a wholly satisfying thriller experience via the 90's. It's a surreal visual spectacle ripe with strong performances, style and most of all, substance. So strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

How to see it:
Currently as of this posting it's available for FREE on the Crackle app, and also on Hulu Plus. You can rent it in HD on Amazon for $3.99 as well. If you need a physical copy, there's no shortage of avenues or formats to choose from. The Laserdisc, VHS, DVD and Blu Ray all come rather cheaply, and it's even included in a number of DVD collections.

7.17.2017

RoboDoc Trailer is Here!!

As you may or may not know, the magnificent documentary team behind the excellent docs "Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser 1 & 2" and "You're So Cool Brewster!: The Story of Fright Night 1 & 2" have done it again with their new retrospective doc on Robocop called "RoboDoc: The Creation of Robocop"! I've been following the progress of this journey since it's beginning, and though there's still no firm date set for it's release, they decided to release this amazing trailer in honor of Robocop's 30th Anniversary, having been released on this day in 1987. Watch this amazingly kickass trailer and be sure to read some important info below regarding it's release. Enjoy!


TODAY (JULY 17TH) MARKS 30 YEARS of the RoboCop franchise and 1987’s original seminal sci-fi classic movie.
We’re celebrating the anniversary in style!
Here’s the OFFICIAL TRAILER for our upcoming retrospective documentary ROBODOC: THE CREATION OF ROBOCOP. Crafted by our Creative Producer and Editor Eastwood Allen.
This comprehensive documentary promises to explore all things RoboCop and provides an extensive look at every aspect of the original trilogy, plus its ongoing legacy.
We wish to thank our backers, the docs contributors and everyone who has supported us along the way.
Props to our friend BLOOD + CHROME for his sleek end 'RoboDoc' animation.
We want to give a special mention to our recent musical collaborators (featured in the trailer) who are contributing original material to the soundtrack of the doc to coincide with our composed score from Sean Schafer Hennessy.
These guys provide the soundtrack..
Lost YearsSayak StrikerBLOOD + CHROMEProtector 101KalaxArcade High and Timecop1983.
Here's a dose of Robo-nostalgia.
GO ROBO!!

7.14.2017

Silverado Film Review


1985
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Category: Western

I've always been a casual fan of westerns. Meaning, I enjoy them when I come across a good one, but I don't go out of my way to find them. Of course this also means I've missed out on a whole lot of good ones, which I'm only now discovering, because for every Tombstone I've seen, I'm now learning I've missed out on others like Silverado.

Silverado has been on my radar for literally decades. I've always been aware of it, and have always known it was written and directed by Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, in a time when westerns were slowly fading away from popularity, but I just never seemed to get around to it as the old saying goes. The 80's weren't totally devoid of the genre though, there were a few exceptions like Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider for example, but westerns were few and far between during this decade. When I recently stumbled upon a fun article about this film and it's lasting impact on the genre and it's insatiably fun vibe that still delivers the goods, I felt it was time to finally get off my ass and check it out. And as luck would have it, Hulu Plus just recently added it to their lineup. So let's dig in.

A diverse group of men cross paths in the most unlikely of ways, and head to the small town of Silverado. When injustice is handed down by a brutal sheriff, they band together to put a stop to it.

After finally having seen it, I finally understand it's appeal and almost cult-ish status. Silverado is hands-down one of the best westerns I've ever seen. Ripe with rich character development, an outstanding cast, and a fun vibe that never ceases to please and entertain, Silverado defied the odds and became one of the best, most entertaining westerns ever made.

Kasdan doesn't try to modernize this in any way. It's an old-school western through and through. Nothing is added to give the film any sort of punch. It's the razor-sharp script, courtesy of Kasdan and his brother Mark, and the films insanely talented cast that gives the film every breath of life it needs. And it's flawless, resulting in one of the most enjoyable western experiences ever produced.



The cast is simply fantastic in this, led by the wonderful Kevin Kline and Scott Glen in understated performances. They're soon joined by drifter Danny Glover, who would also co-star in the excellent Harrison Ford thriller Witness and Spielberg's The Color Purple the same year. His character adds much of the glue needed to hold the group together, and to help propel the story along in all the right directions. Kevin Costner joins the fun as a young, childish and naive gunslinger who can't help but act like a rambunctious kid most of the time, but can use a six-shooter like nobody else when the time calls for it. And it's really Costner who steals the show here. I have never seen him act so "lively" before in a film and his exuberance and excitement in nearly every scene shines through, leaving a lasting impression. And it's because of his role here that he would become a breakout leading man the following year with The Untouchables and No Way Out. These are the main players, but it's also the supporting cast that shines so bright, and as much as I want to talk about them, I think I'll just leave it be for you to discover on your own when or if you sit down to watch this for the first time. Let me just say, the constant "holy shit he's in this too?!" I kept yelling throughout the film was just a constant reminder of all the pleasant surprises this film continued to give me.

As great as the script and acting are in this film, attention must also be paid to Kasdan's solid direction behind the camera. The film opens with one of the best openings I've seen in any film from any genre, and it's a very fast indicator of what you have in store for the remainder of the film. Kasdan shoots with restrained precision, but it's also bold and exciting when it needs to be. For all the moments that are beautiful and subtle, there are just as many that are gritty and brutal, but never in an over-indulgent way, striking just the right balance of both. What makes it all the more impressive is that Kasdan had only directed 2 films prior to this, and what he was able to pull off in a genre he hadn't yet tackled before is so damn impressive. Not only did he deliver one of the best westerns ever made, he did so having never tackled that genre before and did a far better job than most who had been stuck in that specific genre for years, knocking it out of the park.



Hands down one of the best film experiences I've ever had, and absolutely one of the best westerns. Every minute was a welcome and pleasant surprise. An outstanding cast, strong script, solid direction and a no-frills approach that lends to an exhilarating experience that builds and builds to a highly satisfying climax.

7.12.2017

Documentary Dynamite!: 24 X 36: A Movie About Movie Posters


2016

I don't know how this one flew under my radar, because movie posters are one of my many passions, and a documentary about just that very thing would have immediately stuck in my head. But alas, I somehow missed this one. And I'm not entirely sure how I came across it now, but it looks like it was released back in 2016, but I guess it's never late than never. So let's dig in.

I think the topic of movie posters, and their ever-changing and evolving style is such a brilliant idea for a documentary. It's a topic that's rarely ever discussed anymore, except when complaining about the prices that any new Mondo release goes for. As for the state of movie posters in general, it's pretty sad, and I know I'm not the only one who really dislikes where they are right now with the big studios. Movie posters used to be an art form, just look at any of them beginning with the 20's going on through the 80's. Each decade offered a different style, but each very much an artistic endeavor, with the work being done in the 80's being a critical and commercial high point. Once we got into the 90's, it all started to change, with photography creeping into the format more and more and hand-drawn or painted artwork going out the window. And it's only gotten worse with Photoshop, where every single new film is either a floating head of the star, or a badly rendered collage of images from the film. Just look at most of Marvel's superhero films. Though I am loving DC's Wonder Woman marketing campaign and their colorful almost art deco approach to her posters, as well as Kong: Skull Island's classic artistic approach.

Personally I found this documentary to be highly enlightening, and thoroughly entertaining. It's not perfect, but a very fun way to spend 2 hours of your life, especially if you're an artist or collector of movie memorabilia. For the most part, I really enjoyed it, but I felt that it devoted too much time to the state of modern-day posters today rather than the art and skill of it in decades past. Meaning, a good chunk of this film's running time is pretty much spent on Mondo and other's like it, which is cool because they are the ones who reinvigorated the "hand-drawn movie poster" movement, but I really would have liked to have learned more about the older posters and their artists, which they do touch on early on, but I guess not enough for my liking.

At the same time it was interesting getting to see in person the artists that I currently follow, some of who's work adorns my walls, and their thoughts on the current movement and where it's headed. It also brings up an issue that I have with these new posters, and that's the flippers who buy the extremely limited quantities out within seconds and immediately flip them around for ridiculous fee's on eBay in a matter of minutes. I knew I wasn't the only one who had an issue with this and I was glad to hear from the artists themselves how it pretty much makes them sick that some asshats (flippers) are only in it for the money and take so much away from the collectors who just want one to hang on their wall, not for profit. It's good that most new companies out there that do the same thing are mass producing them instead of limited runs of 100 like Mondo, that way anyone can get one if they want. I like that idea.

Definitely worth a watch and it's a fun one at that. Just wish so much time hadn't been spent on the current movie poster crisis, and instead focused on the classics and their lasting appeal compared to the over-Photoshopped nightmare we're currently in. But I get it, trust me I do. There's a resurgence and an urgency and art about the movie poster format and it's because of companies like Mondo and others. Hell, I still try to grab one from time to time because some of them are just too badass. One thing's for sure, watching this will definitely get you into wanting to track down some old favorites, or even check out what new artists are doing with them these days.

How to watch it:
The DVD and Blu Ray can set you back roughly $20, which isn't bad at all. Or you can stream it through Amazon in HD.

80's Toy's: Rambo Water Hawk by Ljn 1985


Up in my other blog Robo-Bit, I talk about acquiring this gem of a toy, the Rambo Water Hawk water gun from Ljn & Entertech, released in 1985. Back in a time when they made realistic-looking toy guns and water guns without fear of being actually killed or shot just for playing with one. Today that's a totally different story, but back in 1985, times were different. We actually played outside (Nintendo and Sega hadn't hit the market yet), and we did so playing war a lot of the time, if you were with a group of friends. 

As you may "or may not" know, I'm on a quest to track down all of the toys of my childhood as a kid who grew up in the 80's, the absolute best decade for toys. But this toy is a bit different. I never actually had this gun, but rather one of my best friends did, a few actually, and I remember playing with them often and just thinking how amazingly real they looked for water guns. And I mean, just the fact that they were a Rambo toyline made them automatically awesome, and these bring back a flood of memories of a time when kids actually had to play outside.





When I decided to begin tracking any of these Rambo guns down, I soon realized that it wasn't going to be easy. These have become exceedingly scarce and highly sought after in the collectors market. Much more so than the Rambo figures or toys from Coleco. So I had quite a task ahead of me. The thing with these toys by Ljn and Entertech is that they're so rare that they almost never pop up, and when or if they do, the prices are outrageous. For example, that M-60 machine gun or even the rocket launcher (not pictured) will demand anywhere from $300-$1000 each. Yea, no thanks. I want them, but not "that" bad.

Rambo Water Hawk Side View 1985
More often than not, the go-to for collectors are the online sites, which I frequent on a daily basis.
But then I came across a group on FB, one of many, that caters to older guys like myself and who are in it for the collecting aspect and not the flipping. While I've done some selling in this group myself, I've never actually purchased anything from anyone else. Then one day someone posted a few images of some items they were selling at their local toy show, and of all the things that were pictured, this caught my eye. I immediately contacted them and inquired about the price and condition. They were honest and upfront about the condition. As you can see in the photos, the box is a bit beat up, but it's not a deal breaker for me because for the most part, it's still in tact and in decent shape. However, the gun is still in it's original tray and has never been used, played with or taken out of it's enclosure tray. The price was extremely fair, when you consider that the average going rate for this sucker is anywhere from $100-$150 typically. Let's just say I got it for far below that, and now this is in my hands once again.

While I have yet to ever come across the Bow & Arrow Set, Military Set or Action Playset, and I'm not entirely sure if they were ever actually produced, the one that actually does pop up is the Water Hawk surprisingly. But again, never for a decent price. There are quite a few Rambo toys from various companies and toylines to sift through, and I'm discovering that there are quite a few gems I seriously missed out on back in the day. But it's been a fun journey and I hope that you stick around for the rest of it.

7.11.2017

Freejack Film Review: Revisiting an Underrated 90's Classic

Sometimes it's like Hulu and Crackle can just read my brain, because more often than not, when I think about revisiting a film, it automatically shows up on either of those apps, which is just what happened with Freejack. Somehow this title popped in my head and I began looking into grabbing myself a copy since Netflix didn't have it to rent as a physical DVD or to stream. Literally a few days later it shows up on Crackle, and I couldn't be happier. So let's dig in.

Loosely based on the short story Imortality, Inc., Freejack tells the story of a professional race car driver who's teleported through time into the future a second before a car crash would ultimately kill him in the present. Once in the future, he needs to figure out why people are trying to kill him as well as how and why he just experienced time travel. 

Freejack was just the thing I needed to scratch my 90's sci-fi/action itch. While not spectacular in budget or story by any means, it still remains a highly satisfying film due largely to it's ultra-slick style, some outstanding direction and action sequences courtesy of director Geoff Murphy (Young Guns 2, Under Siege 2), and a healthy dose of cult character actors that bring this film to life. And don't be fooled by it's mediocre reception and reputation, Freejack is a really good film, full of style, grit and a very ultra -cool 90's vibe that acts as a stark reminder of how films like this "used" to be made back in the day. And I think that's one of the things I liked most about this futuristic tale. There are no flying cars or spaceships, but rather a future steeped in more of a reality-based setting where old and new are mixed, much in the same way Timecop did it, another excellent 90's sci-fi/action entry. With the exception of 2 questionable effects scenes, the fact that they use practical and optical effects more than anything really gives the film a lot of character. It's the future so there's definitely a futuristic design to everything, but it's more gritty than glossy, which works great.

This is a film I remember being excited about upon it's release. I was really big into sci-fi/action in the 90's (still am), and I remember this film being a big deal because it surprisingly co-starred Mick Jagger (???) as one of the villains, and he was doing the promotional rounds before it's release, where all the shows were touting it as the next big summer blockbuster. Well, as we all know, that didn't happen and it came and went with little attention, which is a real shame because it's not a bad film at all. A bit uneven, with some peculiar casting for sure, but nowhere near a bad film. Yet, I didn't remember much about it at all going into it again. Just an image here and there, but for some reason this didn't resonate with me initially all those years ago and I've essentially forgotten about it since then. And these are the experiences I enjoy the most, when I revisit a film that I hadn't seen in decades, only to discover they're so much better than I remember and for the most part, it's like watching a brand new film for the very first time.

Emilio Estevez is a fine actor, but I can't help but feel he's a bit wrong for the lead in this. He does a fine job regardless, but he comes across as ill-fitting for the role. And then there's Mick Jagger, who's a far more bizarre choice as the lead gun-for-hire-assassin who spends the film relentlessly hunting down Alex Furlong (Estevez). I never in a million years would have picked Jagger for the role, and after finally revisiting it, my feelings haven't changed. He's a truly bizarre choice and a completely wasted bit of stunt casting. While not a bad actor in the least, his performance is so bland that I struggle to find anything amusing or interesting about his character or performance. Had Jagger been even slightly amusing, hammy or even charismatic, then that would have been far better than what he's like in this film. But sadly, he is not, and so it's both a wasted performance and a wasted role. And then there's Anthony Hopkins, who does what he does well and shows up from time to time being Anthony Hopkins without even trying and delivers a role that reminds me of his turn in the HBO series Westworld. At least he's not trying to do an American accent.

I've always considered Geoff Murphy a very underrated director, and this was just another sad reminder of that. Murphy infuses this film, as well as his others, with a streamlined gritty style that's reminiscent of Roland Emmerich and Peter Hyam's early work. In fact, it's this style that give this film so much substance more than any other aspect, because quite honestly, while entertaining, had it been in the wrong hands, it could easily have ended up a disaster. But Murphy knows what he's doing. He's a veteran, and knows how to shoot a film well. Reports indicate that some involved with the production were not happy that he spent too much time focusing on the action rather than the other elements of the film, but my personal feelings are that the action saves the film from being a total bore. The end results speak for themselves, and Freejack carries a nice balance of action, suspense and thrills. If you've never seen it, or it's been a while, definitely take a chance on this one immediately. It's a great and highly underrated good time.

How to see it:
Freejack is currently available for free on the Crackle app, which I use through my XBOX 360. It's in HD and widescreen, so I would hurry and jump on this while you can, as I "think" Crackle changes their films up month to month. So time is wasting! If you need a physical copy, you can pick up a Laserdisc, VHS and DVD all for under $5 each, but be warned, the 2000 DVD release is bare bones, but does come in widescreen thankfully.

7.09.2017

Today Marks the 35th Anniversary of Tron






















Today marks the 35th anniversary of Tron, released on this day in 1982. Though a box office failure upon it's initial release, it has since gained a huge cult status, and is recognized for being the film that inspired many artists and filmmakers to work with CGI and do things that had never been done before. But in 1982, computers were a mystery to most and were years away from being a household item. The language and concept of Tron (being inside a computer) was completely foreign to the general moviegoer and despite a large marketing campaign by Disney and a plethora of Tron items and toys, it came and went with little notice.

Disney was struggling by 1982 and was in desperate need of a hit. After decades of animated films, they were wanting to venture into more adult and more importantly, live action films. When Tron was a disappointment, they wouldn't make another live action film for another 10 years. The Tron Arcade game ultimately grossed more than the film did. Today Tron is considered a landmark piece of film-making and the reason why special effects are where they are. It all started with Tron.

If you haven't seen it in a while, or ever, I STRONGLY suggests picking up the Blu Ray. It's cheap and such a beauty to watch in HD.

7.07.2017

John Carpenter's Vampires Film Review


1998
Directed by: John Carpenter
Category: Horror

Vampires is a very unique picture to say the least. It came at the tail end of what Carpenter could offer in terms of his signature style, and honestly, it's his last good film because the one following this would be the trainwreck Ghosts of Mars, which would signal his semi-retirement from directing feature films for many years. Oddly enough, another one of his worst films, Escape From L.A., was made right before this one, so here you have a pretty decent and good looking film sandwiched between 2 of his worst. Crazy.

Jack Crow is one of the best vampire hunters left. Raised, trained and employed by the Catholic church to hunt down and destroy vampires, things begin to take a nasty turn when a new more powerful and unstoppable vampire emerges. 

I really enjoyed Vampires, but I didn't love it. There are things that work and things that don't, but either way, it's far better than his next effort, Ghosts of Mars, so it at least has that going for it. For me, the best thing Vampires has to offer is James Woods in the lead. He's just such a badass, even though nearly everyone else towers over him. And I loved that though he's older in age and smaller in stature, just putting him in some jeans, a leather jacket and a black t-shirt and sunglasses instantly makes him a badass. Or, at least the costume department tries by taking this approach. As a film, Vampires tends to drag quite often, but the eclectic and very 90's cast of character actors give the film a significant push, even though most of them don't last very long. On the plus side though, I'm thankful that it looks like a John Carpenter film. He makes the film look good for the most part, and uses an array of lens tints to give the film a western vibe, which mostly works. Still, even with all these things I liked about it, it never quite hits the mark, always leaving you feeling like it's missing something.



I loved that the main villain was Thomas Ian Griffith (Excessive Force). I just love that guy, and though he's mainly associated with the action genre and playing the lead in low-budget films, it was a spirited choice to have him play the lead vampire in a horror/western. He doesn't really get to stretch his acting chops here, and looks more like a goth than a vampire, but he does the most with very little and makes it memorable. Still, it woulda been cool to see him randomly throw in some martial arts, but that's just me.

Released in 1998, Vampires came at a time when Carpenter just couldn't deliver a solid hit. After a string of box office duds (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, In The Mouth of Madness and Village of the Damned) - all films I happen to really love by the way and feel don't get the credit they deserve for being well-made entertaining films - Carpenter went back to his one of his classics to make the sequel Escape From L.A., which was another huge misfire, splitting people right down the middle. I personally can't stand it and struggled to finish it the last time I watched it. But Vampires was a nice return to form for the guy and end up being his only solid hit in the 90's. Unlike Escape to L.A., no CGI was used, and this time employing the specialties of effects artists KNB Effects Group, giving the film a more solid and classic Carpenter vibe, which was a bit refreshing.



I can't say I loved Vampires, but I really enjoyed it. It never quite hit's a home run, but it's certainly entertaining and though it drags from time to time, there's enough to like in the visual eye candy and excellent casting to keep you invested.

How to see it:
Currently, it's available on Hulu Plus, which would really be the best way to go since it's in HD. You can also pick it up on DVD, but be warned, the picture quality is pretty bad. Twilight Time recently released this on Blu Ray, which goes for insane money right now on the secondhand market. You can also stream it on Amazon.


7.05.2017

New Vintage Toy Post In My Other Blog...

Just so you don't forget about my other blog, Robo-Bit, where I post and discuss about my obsession with tracking down my favorite toys from my childhood, primarily in the 80's, here's a quick reminder and a peak at what my last post is about: The Mad Scientist Dissect-An-Alien kit that was one of my absolute favorites as an 11 year old kid all the way back in 1987, a full 30 years ago. 

This was a hard one to track down for a number of years, but I finally did, and you can read all about it (if you care), by clicking the link HERE to my other site, Robo-Bit.

Please feel free to comment, share or just read!

6.24.2017

Batman Was Released 28 Years Ago Today

* this is a day late, so it was technically yesterday. But I wrote this yesterday, the 23rd, so that should still count.

Tim Burton's Batman has and continues to be one of my all-time favorite films ever. It's a film that I was obsessed with upon it's initial release, and that obsession has not waned in the least bit ever since. I still love it, and frequently revisit it on a regular basis, always buying each new Blu Ray release that comes out, even though they're not any different from the previous one. It's a sickness.

In the summer of 1989, I was a 13 year old kid, and my family and I were driving all the way to California from Texas to visit family (we did this every 2 summers), which took about 3 and a half days. I remember Paula Abdul and Milli Vanilli constantly playing on every single radio station we picked up on the way over there, and I remember stopping at a random convenience store in some small town and bought the novelization of this film from a book rack and ended up reading it in the car ride up there. I have so many vivid Batman-related memories of that summer, so I thought I'd share them all with you here briefly as I wax nostalgic.

I remember buying so many film related items that summer, like a Batman fabric poster, which I still have, several of the Toy Biz Batman toy line, a cardboard Batmobile sun deflector for my parent's car, and several movie-related Batman t-shirts that were literally available everywhere (the merchandising machine on this film was insane and unprecedented). But the one item that I still covet, the one that I still own and still use to this day is my ceramic Batman coffee mug, which had the  Batmobile on one side. With the exception of a very small minor chip at the top, it's still in pristine condition and I refuse to let anyone else touch or use it to this day.

When I got to the theater in the city of Lancaster, CA that June 23, 1989 wearing my glow-in-the-dark Nicholson Joker shirt, the line literally stretched around the entire building. This was the my first experience ever dealing with a long line for a movie. But I waited, and we eventually got in to see it and that one movie screening changed my life forever. I became obsessed with Batman after that and it was all because of this movie. Ultimately I would end up seeing it in the theater a good 6-10 times and then an innumerable amount on VHS.

Is the film perfect? No. I'm a realistic guy and I know the film suffers from quite a few problems. I know there was a better film in there somewhere but the one we did end up getting wasn't bad either. In fact, from a design standpoint, it's phenomenal. No other film had come out before that looked and felt like this one did. At the time I had no idea who Tim Burton was, even though I'd seen Beetlejuice at the theater the year before and didn't like it (at the time), and being 13 years old, I didn't have a clue what a production designer was, much less Anton Furst, the man who created the industrial gothic look and tone of Batman, who also designed the best version of the Batmobile ever. And then there's the man who designed and created the batsuit, Bob Ringwood. Hands-down my favorite version of the Batsuit in the entire history of film versions and still the best in my humble opinion.

And minus a few issues like structure and a weak ending, the film overall is tremendously entertaining and endlessly enjoyable. There's just a very fun, yet deadly serious and ominous tone, which is totally contradictory I know, but that's exactly what this is and in a very odd way, it works. There'd never been a film like this before, much less a superhero film, and though the current DC Movie Universe is flooding the market with them these days, they still haven't been able to pull it off as effectively as Tim Burton, writer Sam Hamm, and designers Anton Furst and Bob Ringwood. It seems now though that DC has taken all the recent negative feedback and are slowly scaling back on the dark and dreaded tone.

I feel that a lot of what makes this one so much fun despite it's dark gothic tone is Danny Elfman's iconic score. It's perfectly fitting for the material and adds so much to the experience. It's also a sad reminder that we don't get these kinds of scores anymore, no matter how big the film. It seems that composer's are all tapped out of themes these days, because I can't remember the last time we've gotten anything vaguely in the league of scores from Williams, Elfman, Eno and Badalementi. Nothing memorable or iconic, not even for the big superhero films. which is sad.

This past year I had the pleasure of seeing this film on the big screen again as part of Cinemark's Classics Series, and I felt just like a kid again. Even though I've seen it hundreds of times since then, it didn't lose any of it's appeal or entertainment value, and was just as good seeing it for the something-hundredth time as it was 28 years ago.

6.23.2017

Revisiting Timecop

It's easy to say that Van Damme's career is sporadically hit or miss. But there was a time early in his career (late 80's to early 90's) where he was turning out quality work and quality films on a regular basis, with a majority of them hitting the theaters. At that time he was one of the biggest action stars on the planet, at a time when Stallone and Arnold's star-power were waning, and we were hungry for some new action blood. He might not have been the best actor around, but he was dedicated, good looking and could do some physical stuff nobody else could. Timecop was right at the tail-end of his winning streak, before his personal problems became news headlines and his films became less and less fun, important and well....good. Thankfully Timecop is all of those things and more, and yet another highlight of director Peter Hyams stellar career. Let's dig in.

Crackle was streaming this recently and I realized I hadn't seen it for a while. When I began watching it, I was surprised at how good it was and that it was far better than I remembered. I was also a bit surprised to learn that it's really more of a sci-fi/thriller rather than an action film. There's plenty of action for sure, but the film really puts a lot more focus into the story, which was impressively compelling, and it's thriller elements, which kind of took me by surprise, but didn't make it any less entertaining because it was awesome.



Going in, there were 3 things I was most excited about: Van Damme, director Peter Hyams and Ron Silver, and all 3 didn't let me down. Ron Silver has always been a favorite actor of mine. I always love when he plays the villain, because he's just so damn good at it. Watch Blue Steel if you need further proof. And Peter Hyams is such a criminally underrated director. I won't even get into why, because I made a whole post all about him a short while back, but trust me, he's a God among filmmakers in my book. Sure his last good film was The Relic in 1997, and every film since then has been......questionable, but he did keep up a massive winning streak spanning 2 decades (80's and 90's) and delivered some incredible films that have still stood the test of time, and Timecop is a perfect example of that. He gives the film such a distinct visual style, the kind that only adds to the films overall appeal, and he never really gets the credit he deserves for it. It's a very similar style to Roland Emmerich in the 90's (see Moon 44, Universal Solder, Stargate and Independence Day), before Godzilla and CGI changed all that forever. But it's really this "look" that gives Timecop so much of it's flavor.

There were only 2 things that I had minor issues with. I'm sure there are other better examples, but here it seems JCVD was really struggling with his acting. At least he doesn't look tired like he does in later films like Maximum Risk and Knockoff. But here his line delivery is pretty bad, even for him. It could also be because there's more dialogue here than he's usually accustomed to, and definitely much more depth needed for his character. But you know, we don't come into these films for Van Damme's acting, right?



I also felt the ending was a bit of a letdown. Usually these films slowly build up to a big finale, but this one kind of just ends without much of a bang. We do have the big confrontation, the reveal, and a bit of fighting, but none of it really packs a punch the way a finale should. But, as a whole, Timecop delivers the goods on a consistently entertaining level and it's really just a small gripe. There was no huge crazy finale, but that's okay too.

Somehow this film kind of gets swept under the rug in a variety of ways, whether it's listing Van Damme's best films, or director Peter Hyam's talent behind the camera in delivering a great sci-fi/action/thriller under the radar, or just in terms of these classic 90's sci-fi actioner's altogether. It's rarely ever mentioned in the same breath as other great's from the same time like Universal Soldier or Stargate, and that's a damn shame. While I never got around to the Jason Scott Lee low-budget sequel, I can at least revel in the experience of revisiting this classic and loving it more than I ever did before. It's also worth noting that Hyams and JCVD would re-team the following year for the highly underrated and excellent Sudden Death, which I will also be revisiting shortly. Stay tuned...

How to see it:
Timecop has been released numerous times on DVD and Blu Ray as either a standalone film or as part of a 2-pk with Bloodsport on both formats at a very reasonable price. I've also seen it as part of one of those Van Damme Action 4-pks, so really, there's no shortage out there. You'll find it easy and find it cheap. Me, I got the 2-pk with Bloodsport on DVD, because the DVD quality on this one is actually very good and I didn't feel it needed an upgrade to Blu Ray just yet. Plus I got it for under $5. Score!

* speaking of JCVD, are we EVER going to get to see his Full Love aka Soldiers aka The Eagle Path? Anybody have any info on this?

6.22.2017

Documentary Dynamite!: Nintendo Quest


2015
Directed by: Robert McCallum
Category: Documentary

I'm always down for a good documentary, and this is one I'd been eyeing for a while when I first happened upon it on Hulu Plus a while ago. But I never actually got around to it, even though the NES is my all-time favorite console. I eventually forgot about it until I came across it again recently on Crackle. I took it as a sign to finally get off my ass and watch it already.

Avid game enthusiast and collector Jay Bartlett has 30 days to collect every single officially licensed Nintendo game released. He cannot order anything online, which means he has to grab each of the 678 games in person while driving cross-country. His good friend Robert McCallum is along for the ride to document it all. 

Sadly, while amusing and entertaining for the most part, it doesn't quite hit the mark for me. It's a shame too, because it starts off really strong and the subject matter alone, original NES games, should be enough to grab just about any gamer. But this documentary suffers from a few problems that really prevents it from being awesome. For starters, the main focus of this documentary, Jay Barlett, just isn't a very compelling guy. At least not enough to follow around for an hour and a half. He's likable enough, but never really shows much of a personality or charisma, other than the moments when he gets upset about something. Some past trauma and personal issues also come to light. And then there's the amateurish look and feel to it all. While not terrible, it always comes across as a reality show rather than a documentary (yes there's a difference). The camera is constantly moving and swaying side to side, even in the transitional moments where the narrator and director is talking directly to the camera. In fact, this constant camera movement reminded me of a kids game show on Nickelodeon or something. And the other moments, where a small crew is following Jay as he visits friends and video game shops across the country are handled with little flair. It's as if whoever was behind the camera never filmed anything before. It's a slight annoyance, but one I personally couldn't look past.

The beginning of this doc is pretty excellent though, and I wish they had stuck to this format rather than what they chose. It starts by giving you an oral and visual history of Nintendo, from it's inception to it's dominance in the U.S. market to it's lasting impact on the video game market. It's really with this first section of the doc where it really, really shines and ultimately ends up being the most fun and best part of this documentary. Probably because it's quick and throws a lot of information at you in an entertaining way, while also incorporating a lot of old vintage footage. But as this was only McCallum's first documentary feature, I have to cut the guy some slack and hope his upcoming Masters of the Universe documentary, currently in post-production, will be a vast improvement tonally and in quality.

None of this means that it's bad either. On the contrary. It's engaging enough throughout if you're a fan of Nintendo or a vintage gamer. It's fun watching him find a lot of games I hadn't even thought of since their original release, and also discovering titles I never even knew existed. And of course, there are the rare and mega-rare titles. the ones we all hope to come across randomly some day. Here, we get to see Jay find these holy grail cartridges out on the hunt and through connections and the lengths some will go to for these.

Not one of the best, but not a terrible one either. It's enjoyable just for the mere fact that you get to see so many of these games again, especially if you either haven't played them in years or have completely forgotten about what it's like game hunting. Any other NES documentaries out there that I'm not aware of that you'd recommend? Please let me know!

How to see it:
It's since been removed from Hulu Plus, but if you want to stream it for free, you can watch it on Crackle. You just have to endure commercials from time to time. But that's a small price to pay to get to see it in digital for free. You can also purchase the DVD for relatively cheap. I'm sure it comes with bonus content too, so that would be a good way to go. But it's available for free on Crackle right now. I just don't know for how long.