Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

I saw Skiptrace

I’ve always been a Jackie Chan fan. It’s hard to think of a time when I wasn’t amazed by the man. Though his recent output hasn’t been amazing, I’m still interested in the projects he chooses and how they come to be. Skiptrace, which has been released all across Asia but not yet in the states, is a fun film but far more interested in concept than in reality. Skiptrace is the work of Chan, Finish director Renny Harlin, Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing, American comedy actor and human groin-punch Johnny Knoxville, and rich Chinese film producers. It seemingly came together under the wackiest set of circumstances since that time Nic Cage starred in a Chinese production with Hayden Christensen. Unfortunately, all these elements don’t make for a great film; Skiptrace is interesting for sure, but decidedly flawed.

Skiptrace_American_Poster

The film revolves around Jackie Chan, playing hotshot Hong Kong detective Bennie Chan, and Johnny Knoxville, playing American gambler Connor Watts, teaming up to take down The Matador, a Hong Kong gangster responsible for the death of Yung, Chan’s partner in the Hong Kong police. On paper, this reads like gangbusters, a sort-of Midnight Run meets Rush Hour. The execution is somewhat botched however by an obvious low budget and the not-so-deft touch of director Renny Harlin. Harlin has made some solid action films in the past (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea), but he is not at his best with Skiptrace, as it appears his directing is all over the place.

This is most evident in the fight scenes and the added silly comedy. The fight scenes in a Chan movie need more room to breathe, but Harlin confines Chan and Knoxville too often to stairs, slides, and even river rafts. It doesn’t seem like Chan is given the freedom to wind up and then go. It seems restrictive and limiting. Say what you will about Brett Ratner, but he’s a Western director who definitely knows how to frame a Chan movie. Harlin is an action director first and foremost, and his inability to properly stage Chan’s fights show. The little bits of added in comedy, crucial to Chan’s films, don’t quite work either. Sure there are funny scenes, but mostly due to the chemistry and line readings between Chan and Knoxville. Again, Harlin doesn’t really give his talented cast any help here.

The film’s budget (estimated at about 60 million dollars) is stretched due to location scenes, which are definitely gorgeous. Unfortunately, there is some atrocious green-screen work going on in Skiptrace. One of the funniest scenes in the film, in which Chan and Knoxville are confined to a zipline, suffers somewhat as a result. Some of the sets and costuming likewise appear to be cheap, but it isn’t as noticeable as the special effects. Certain set pieces, such as the casino chase towards the beginning and the sinking yacht at the end, work just fine, however. The film has a slick and polished sheen overall; it just appears somewhat cheap in places.

I don’t want to sound too negative about Skiptrace because I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. However, it is ultimately something of a missed opportunity. But let’s focus on the positive – Chan and Knoxville have great chemistry together and their scenes together are a blast mostly. The script is just fine, though probably could have used another lay of polish. Knoxville gets most of the laughs of course, and is able to do some of the schtick that he brought to the Jackass franchise over the years. Chan is getting very visibly old, but remains a delight to watch on screen. Fan Bingbing is definitely a solid screen presence, but would most likely work better in a Chinese language movie. She is absolutely beautiful however, and does not detract from the film in any way.

Probably my biggest qualm about Skiptrace is that it opens with such a bang before slowing down considerably. Chan and Knoxville’s journey through Mongolia and China should just be funnier and more interesting. Once the two finally get closer to Hong Kong, the pace picks up again in time for a very interesting and exciting finale. The first twenty minutes of the film are really good work, particularly from Knoxville who looks to be having the time of his life. I hope he got a significant paycheck for doing this movie, because he absolutely earned it. I wish the film had kept up with that initial pace however, because there’s a goofy and lovable energy within it that I really enjoyed.

Though I sound overly negative, I actually enjoyed quite a bit about Skiptrace. Knoxville and Chan’s chemistry is a definite high point, and there are some inspired action set pieces and good laughs. I went in with somewhat high expectations, and the film just couldn’t properly live up to them. No matter what, it was good to see Chan back on the big screen having a good time and being in a relatively enjoyable movie. I’m not sure if this film is going to get a wide release in theaters (it has the tone and feel somewhat of a very solid direct-to-video production) or not, but I’d say it’s worth it if you’re a diehard Chan fan like me, and maybe not so much if you could take or leave Chan’s work.

-Z-

ANCC: Ghostbusters

Who you gonna call?  Nick, the Gorehound, and…..Jennifer??? In an episode that will forever change the All-New Culture Cast, a new host is introduced and they discuss Ghostbusters…the entire franchise.  From the original 1984 classic to the recent reboot and the return of Ecto-Cooler!  There is a lot to cover in this supersized episode, so grab your stick and heat it up!

Also featuring a cameo from Thor of Thor’s Hour of Thunder!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image below!

ANCC39

Also be sure to check out:

Nick’s review of Ghostbusters (2016)
Nick’s review of Ghostbusters: The Return
Nick’s take on the controversy surrounding the new Ghostbusters film
Zack’s disappointment with Ghostbusters II
Nick’s look at the LEGO Ghostbuster Firehouse

ANCC: The Killing Joke

Nick and the Gorehound chat about the classic and controversial comic Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.  Now a direct-to-DVD animated movie, the original tale is back in the spotlight, so why not cash in on this craze?  Did this dynamic duo like this story or find it as bad as the controversy suggests?  Find out in this episode!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image!

ANCC38

ANCC: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

They’re back!  After a brief hiatus, the Gorehound and Nick are ready to talk about movies again!  This week, they delve deep into the Star Trek franchise and wind up talking about the infamous Star Trek V: The Final Frontier!  Will they discover what God needs with a starship?  Listen to the episode to find out!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image!

ANCC37

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – The Nick Review

If you were like me growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, you probably watched the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.  The reason I bring that up is that this new Ninja Turtle movie, subtitled Out of the Shadows, is exactly like the cartoon.  Beyond the fact that the film introduces the cartoon staples of Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady, it also has all the goofy technology and the same level of corny, yet charming humor.  This film felt like a direct adaptation of that animated series.

turtl2.jpg

This, I found, to be a good thing.  It seemed that the previous installment wanted to ground the Turtles a bit more (which struck me as defeating the point).  Here, the gloves come off and director Dave Green lets loose the crazy of the Ninja Turtles. And it comes off as fun.

One of the things that always seems to be lacking in any of the Ninja Turtles adaptations is the teenage part.  They are supposed to be something around 16 or 17, but they never act like it.  Here, I really felt that they are teens and reacting to things the way teens would react (for the most part).  I really liked seeing that for a change.

And Bebob and Rocksteady are a hoot.  Give them a spin-off.

Though I found this movie to be pretty fun, it does suffer from some issues.  The human characters (Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and Stephen Amell) are pretty superfluous, and some of the action is incredibly chaotic where you can’t really get a feel of what was happening wear.  In addition, some of the plot threads don’t quite come together as well as they probably should.

Overall, though, Out of the Shadows is an entertaining movie, especially if you want to bring kids to see it.  It’s probably the strongest Ninja Turtle movie since the 1990 original (which, granted, isn’t saying much).  If you loved the cartoon as a kid, chances are you’ll be entertained with this.

~N

Trek Tuesday: Beyond

Earlier tonight, I saw Star Trek Beyond, the latest and third of the rebooted Star Trek films (and thirteenth overall).  I know that the movie is still very fresh in my mind, and it would be prudent for me to really take some time to absorb the movie before sharing my thoughts.  However, my immediate reaction to Beyond is that it is a very middling film.  It isn’t terrible by any means, but this is a movie that I really wanted to like more.  There was something about it that I just found lacking.

beyond

In Beyond, the crew of the Enterprise is ambushed and stranded on an alien planet where they are desperate to escape from the evil Krall who wants to destroy the Federation with some device that the crew happens to have.  Here are the positives.  I liked the set-up.  Having the crew apart from one another on an alien world is something new and refreshing for the Star Trek films.  I also liked how every main cast member had something of importance to do.  No one was really shafted and they all had a moment to shine.  All of that was great, and I really liked seeing that.

Where the film suffers is the writing, particularly that of our new villain Krall (as played by Idris Elba).   What is this guy’s ultimate plan?  How does he have control of the aliens on the planet?  Where did he come from?  What is pushing this guy to do what he is trying to do?  You never really know until very late in the third act and by that time, you don’t really care.  And the problem is that it is still incredibly muddled.  Given his eventual backstory reveal, Krall could have been an interesting character, but by the time the movie deepens him, it is too little, too late.

Once you get his backstory, you then start to ask questions that are never really answered.  How did he do this or how did he learn about the weapon?  How did he know that the Enterprise had the item he needed when the Enterprise didn’t know what it was?  Why didn’t he ever try to leave the planet when he clearly had the means to?  His whole character then completely unravels.  And since the plot really hinges on him, the movie really suffers.

Besides that, the direction is incredibly lifeless.  Beyond attempts to be the most action-based Star Trek film yet, but outside of the climatic rescue of the crew, it is just kind of dull.  I’m honestly surprised about it because Justin Lin really breathed new life in the then-dying Fast and Furious franchise when he came on board.  And who was in charge of the lighting design?  Some of the night/dark scenes were so dark, I could barely register what I was seeing.

Whereas Star Trek (2009) was a lot of fun and Star Trek Into Darkness had an interestingly complex plot (before it completely fell apart in the final quarter), Beyond doesn’t really do much for me.  The story and motivations pushing it along are too muddled for me to be invested in, and it isn’t nearly fun enough for me to not care about narrative missteps.  I really wanted to like Star Trek Beyond and I do to a certain extent.  I just wanted to like it more.  Maybe a future viewing will have me warm to the film more, but right now, I am a bit cold.  And that disappoints me the most.

~N

ANCC: No Podcast Tonight

Summer 2016 Movie Mini-Reviews!

I’ve seen a decent number of the 2016 summer season offerings, but I honestly have neither the interest nor the time to write a detailed review of everything I’ve seen. Hence, I’ve decided to compile a few mini-reviews as a site update and a way to express a few opinions. I typically have Wikipedia open during a movie review as a reference, but I’m not going to do that this time. So don’t be surprised to find minor errors throughout this post.

Warcraft

This movie, intended by Universal Pictures and videogame company Blizzard to be the first in a series, is terrible and famously bombed in American theaters (Chinese audiences saved it from being a total disaster). The acting is not the problem here. Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, and Toby Kebbell are all pretty great in their roles. I really liked Kebbell’s performance as Durotan actually. Duncan Jones’ direction seems weirdly rushed. The whole movie seemed quickly paced, which limited character development and emotional investment from the audience. Outside of the acting, I also appreciated the production design and special effects. The movie looks great in theaters. The big problems, besides the directing, are in the film’s lackluster script and in its worldbuilding. It seems limited, restrained, held back. It should have been epic and it just was not. That being said, I still probably liked it more than most people. It is not typical of a summer movie, and I can appreciate that. It is still not good.

Finding Dory

I’m not a fan of Pixar movies. This movie didn’t change my opinion of them for the better. Yes, it has grossed a metric ton of cash but then again most Pixar films that aren’t about dinosaurs do. I just don’t care for Pixar movies that much. Highlights include Ellen Degeneres’ and Ed O’Neill’s voice acting performances, beautiful computer animation, and a fairly strong script that doesn’t just rehash the first movie. It is still sappy and emotionally manipulative and it still straddles the line between “for kids” and “for adults,” so again it just isn’t for me. I just don’t think I’ll ever like a Pixar movie again and I’m ok with that.

The Shallows

Anyone who has read my writing on here from the beginning knows I’m a huge fan of “man vs. nature” movies. This is a special case as it is woman (Blake Lively) vs. nature, which hasn’t been done that much. I absolutely loved it! I seriously hope Lively gets some awards season attention for her role in this film as she is fantastic. The movie follows Lively as she is menaced by a shark in the Pacific ocean off the coast of Mexico. Too far from shore and with a gaping wound from a bite, Lively must survive against the elements and outwit Mother Nature herself. Well shot, well directed, well acted, well scripted… this low budget thriller has it all, including really decent special effects despite its limited budget. This is the best “(wo)man vs. nature” film since Liam Neeson’s The Grey from 2012.

Tarzan

Though it received overall pretty terrible reviews, I actually really liked this movie. It is gorgeously shot and although paced glacially at times, it never failed to keep my interest. It is colorful throughout, which is a change of pace from typical modern blockbusters. Stellen Skarsgard’s son (Peter I think?) is fine as Tarzan, but Samuel L. Jackson (who I’m usually not a big fan of) steals the show. He’s the most interesting character in the film and is a huge asset here. Christoph Waltz is also fine as the villain, though I would have liked to see him get even crazier. Special effects are excellent (they should be as this film cost 180 million dollars to produce) with special credit going to the gorillas, who look realistic and terrifying throughout. This movie was a huge summer surprise for me and I really enjoyed it.

The Purge: Election Year

I really enjoy The Purge series of films. The first started small, the second greatly expanded on the idea, and the third expands even further on the excellent sequel. Election Year is the best film in the franchise. It is topical without losing its violent, visceral appeal. Bringing Frank Grillo back as ex-cop Leo was an excellent idea, as was adding Elizabeth Mitchell as a Bernie Sanders-esque presidential candidate. These films get better and better with each installment and its nice to see them thrive at the box office as well. I really appreciate films that skimp on the budget but not on the thrills. It helps that The Purge series is built on a fantastic concept and that the filmmakers have expanded that concept so successfully. This may be my favorite film of the summer, give or take a Now You See Me 2.

Ghostbusters

I have the controversial opinion on the new Ghostbusters film: I thought it was just okay. It’s nowhere near as odious as militant fanboys on the internet would have you believe (Overzealous fanboys on the internet? Well, I never!), nor is it as great as obnoxious left-leaning bloggers would want you to think. It is decently funny in places and its characters are well worth spending the time with. I just think the movie could have been so much better. Unfortunately the villain is completely undercooked and I just couldn’t find him particularly interesting. Likewise, I’m about sick of the Hemsworth family and this film is no exception. I never found Chris Hemsworth funny as bumbling secretary Kevin. The good here are in the performances from the four main characters and the special effects. The script could have used a fine-tuning and the direction is lifeless at times, which is detrimental to a comedy. Again, it’s just an okay movie.

Star Trek Beyond

I did not like Star Trek Into Darkness but I loved the initial installment of this reboot series. Beyond thankfully is more of the first movie and less Into Darkness. I still love this new cast and I really like some of the ideas presented in this movie. It was entertaining and crowd pleasing, but just not that special. It’s a very solid summer movie but also very indicative of the 2016 summer season. It unfortunately doesn’t really stand out on its own. Highlights include the aforementioned cast (RIP, Anton Yelchin), the direction (Justin Lin fits in fine here), the production design, and the special effects. The script is ok, with some good ideas, but is mostly perfunctory. It’s a shame though that it just doesn’t feel as special as that first movie. It is a perfectly good summer movie and I certainly enjoyed it more than Into Darkness.

Ghostbusters – The Nick Review

Thanks to some random luck while bumbling around the internet, I was able to score tickets to see an advance screening of the new Ghostbusters movie tonight.  The film has been incredibly controversial since it was originally announced mostly due to the gender-flipped leads and the fact that it is a remake of a classic and beloved film.  In the latter’s case, I can understand the resistance even if I didn’t share it.

gb movie

Let me establish this: the 1984 original is my favorite film of all time.  I have seen that so many times, the movie is tattooed in my mind. Ghostbusters 2, while I like for nostalgic purposes, I find to be kinda terrible.  It has its moments, but it is such a lazy retread.  I also watched a lot of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, had a bunch of toys, and drank an unhealthy amount of Ecto-Cooler.  Point being, I grew up with Ghostbusters.  It is part of who I am and, in some small ways, the films informed my development.

With that in mind, how did I find Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters?  I really enjoyed it.  I truly did.  The film is incredibly worthy of bearing the Ghostbusters name.  It is funny throughout and legitimately scary at times.  I found it incredibly refreshing that, beyond some broad strokes, it doesn’t retell the same story from the 1984 original.  It mostly does its own thing.

The writing is to be commended (mostly).  I really got a good sense of balance between the four ghostbusters as they met and developed their friendship throughout the film, which is really what this film is ultimately about.  It provided a good, emotional arc to be invested in, while, at the same time, doing some nice (but not in-your-face) world building.  I guess, what I want to say is that the narrative was balanced very well.

I said mostly above, because there are some inconsistencies within the film, mainly revolving around the  tech.  At some points, the tech just holds the ghosts (as in the original films) and other times it disintegrates them.  I think I understand this seeming inconsistency, but a little bit more explanation would have helped out a lot in this regard to make certain sequences fully work.

I should mention that Ghostbusters is a very different kind of comedy than the original film.  The original’s comedy was very dry, sarcastic, and slow burning.  This one is a little more broad and silly (yet still grounded), but it works to the film’s strength.  And having different styles of comedy is okay.  The original was lightning in a bottle and to try to replicate that in today’s world would have been a horrible misstep.  Feig brought his own directing style to the film and it works to the film’s benefit.

Ghostbusters was very well cast, but Chris Hemsworth as dim-witted Kevin and Kate McKinnon as the eccentric Holtzman steal the show.  They are just so charmingly goofy throughout the film.  I hope McKinnon’s career explodes in the near future, and I would love to see Hemsworth do more straight-up comedy.  Beyond that, the cast just gels very well together.  As characters, you like them and want to see them succeed.

Not everything works in the film.  There are times that the movie is a bit too reverential to the original, particularly in regards to the cameos.  Some of the cameos just took me straight out of the film.  Particularly Bill Murray’s extended, gratuitous cameo just kills the story’s momentum and served no purpose other than to give Bill Murray an extended cameo (see Zombieland for a further example).

And, the less said about the awkward Ozzie Osbourne cameo, the better.

Also, the film’s pace just grinds during the second act.  Not sure what exactly happened during editing, but the film starts and ends strong with things moving quickly, but once the aforementioned Bill Murray cameo comes, it takes a bit before the film finds its footing again.

Is Ghostbusters as good as the original?  No.  I might be biased, but the original is a classic that may never be topped.  Is it a good film on its own merits? Absolutely!  The few problems that I had with the film didn’t sour me on it.  It is a genuinely fun and (more importantly) funny film.   I recommend it.

~N

Ghostbusters: The Return (A Novel Review!)

There will never be a third Ghostbusters film featuring the original characters.  However, there have been many continuations such as in cartoons, video games, and comics.  However, there is one continuation that most people and fans probably never heard of: the 2004 novel Ghostbusters: The Return.

return

Written by Sholly Fisch, The Return picks up a few years after Ghostbusters II.  The team has a more-or-less sustainable business, and the Ghostbusters themselves are fairly popular with the citizens of New York City – mostly due to the implied regularity of major supernatural threats.  Due to their status, a political party recruits Peter to run for the mayor of New York City (with Winston as his deputy mayor).  Peter sees this as a way to the good life despite not knowing anything about politics and since he becomes focused more and more on the election, his ghostbuster duties slack.  Not surprisingly, this puts strain on his friendship with Egon and Ray.  And, of course, a new supernatural threat chooses now to come to New York.

There is a lot of good about The Return.  Even though the book is at a standard 300 pages, it is an incredibly quick read.  The narrative moves and it keeps you invested.  It was also nice to read a new Ghostbusters story – something that I am surprised that the market hasn’t really had to any mainstream effect.

There are a couple of competing story lines such as Peter’s election run, Ray and Egon’s investigation into the supernatural threat, and the villain’s rise.  Some of these work better than others. Peter running for mayor is a brilliant story arc.  I can see this idea play out over the course of a possible Ghostbusters movie.  Of all the characters to go this route, Peter is the one that would.  It proves enough of a comedic idea and pushes the Ghostbusters story into new areas.  It also provides some much needed conflict and drama.

In the films, the Ghostbusters never really have any sort of arcs or character growth.  They are pretty much the same characters at the beginning of the movies and at the end.  I liked how Fisch tried to humanize the characters by giving them conflict.  Peter is looking for a quick buck, essentially, by running for mayor and discovers that he is in over his head.  It’s also causing problems with Ray and Egon because he can’t focus on his ghostbusting duties.  The Return really fleshes out Peter and gives him a fairly good arc as he matures throughout the novel.  It is fairly obvious where everything is going to end up, but you can enjoy the ride.

The villain, on the other hand, is somewhat lackluster and underwritten.  Xanthador is a demon who is trying to get more fear out of people by giving life to urban legends.  This will give him power to do something.  I don’t know.  The book doesn’t really go into it.  It works as a basic threat, but nothing really makes sense of what his motivations are.  The hook with this villain is that he is using urban legends, but I feel Fisch doesn’t really take full advantage of it.  As such, it feels wasted.  But that is really minor.  Ghostbusters are not known for their villainous plots.

Where the book doesn’t work for me is that even though I was reading about what Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston are doing and saying, I could never actually picture the actual characters from the films in this.  Something about the dialogue or inner thoughts just seemed to be somewhat…off.  Peter is the biggest offender in this case.  Peter, in the movies, was always a bit immature and a jerk, but would usually wise up with the situation called for it.  Here, however, he just seems much more goofy and borderline cartoony when he interacts with others.  It felt more like this was the character as featured in the Ghostbusters cartoon from the late 80s.

In fact, the entire book had much more of a cartoony feel to it when compared to the original films (especially the first one).  Overall, I enjoyed The Return, but there was the occasional odd characterization that pulled me out of the book.

If you are a fan of Ghostbusters and you want to read a new Ghostbusters story, then I would recommend Ghostbusters: The Return.  It is a fun, fast read – a good diversion for a plane ride.  At least check it out for some of the obscurity of it.  If you are not a Ghostbusters fan, then this book isn’t for you.

Here is the bad part: the book was released in 2004 in limited copies and is now long out of print.  It is nearly impossible to get a hard copy unless you want to pay insane prices on eBay.  However, if you do some Google-Fu, you might be able to find a PDF of it on a certain SPOOKy and CENTRALized Ghostbusters website ready for download.  Not that I advocate such things.  I’m just pointing out that such things exist.

~N

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 294 other followers

%d bloggers like this: