On The Birth of a Nation 2016


Before I tell everyone how I feel about this new movie coming out in October, I think it’s prudent to tell you how I feel about the original The Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith.  I wrote a review last year about one of the most controversial movies ever made.  Released in 1915, D.W. Griffith’s film was met with some pretty justified hostility on the part of the African-American people.  The NAACP strongly condemned the film as racist in its overtones, and the organization STILL considers the film to be racist.  The truth of the matter, is that the NAACP isn’t particularly wrong.  However, I judged the film on its technical achievements and it’s ability to tell a coherent story, however controversial.  I refused to give the film a score, not necessarily because of the content, but because of how much power the film still has.  It came out in a time when racial tensions were still sky high.  Many film historians will tell you that the film is important.  It’s important because not just because of its historical inaccuracy, but as I said, it was powerful.  It had fantastic acting with really great cinematography, and it was very well written and directed.  Some people consider D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation one of the greatest American films ever made.  I agree to a certain extent, however, the film has been seen as propaganda for the Ku Klux Klan.  It’s an interesting movie that’s worth watching at least once.  It’s currently in the public domain, so you can see it for free.  You can read my review of the original film here.

The 2016 version of The Birth of a Nation tells the true story of Nat Turner, a black preacher, who led a rebellion of slaves in 1831.  It’s not exactly one of the most well-known stories to come out of that era, but it is particularly significant for civil rights.  While I am certainly curious about the movie, and am willing to see if it’s any good or not, I can’t help but wonder what possessed director Nate Parker to slap D.W. Griffith’s film’s name on to his own.  In my opinion, that smacks of pretentiousness and capitalizing on the name of a movie that’s over a century old.  I had an interesting, but brief discussion with a friend of mine on a forum about it.  I’m not opposed to people making movies about slavery, whether it’s modern-day or Civil War-era.  In fact, I approve of the topic.  It’s a discussion that’s been happening and needs to continue to happen.  My problem with Nate Parker’s film, is that the movie looks really, really preachy.  It also looks like it approaches the issue from one side of the discussion.  Now, somebody might say, “HOW COULD THERE BE TWO SIDES OF THE ISSUE?!  IT’S SLAVERY!”  The answer is this:  Slavery was common in the South during most of the 19th century.  Most of the people in that part of the country didn’t see slavery as an evil.  It was part of the economy.  I’m not trying to justify it, because slavery is evil in and of itself, but when you take on a subject like that, you have to be willing to see things from all sides, not just one, otherwise you’re not going to see the whole picture.  That’s where I have a problem with the new Nation.  It appears to be approaching the issue from one side, but I won’t know for sure until I see it.

There’s another issue surrounding the film, but this is more of a legal issue, but it’s still worth mentioning.  In 1999, Nate Parker was accused of raping an 18-year old college student.  While he was acquitted in 2001, details surrounding the case have come back to haunt the man and potentially overshadow the new Birth of a Nation.  Something like that is definitely going to be on the minds of many people who are planning to see the movie.  Accusations of rape aren’t going to go away, even if you’ve been acquitted of the crime.  How it’s going to affect the release of Parker’s movie is something that only time will tell, but it will definitely have a negative impact.

As with any movie, I will attempt to reserve judgment until I have seen the final product, but I will admit that there are issues here that I really can’t ignore.  I will review the film as soon as it gets released, so stay tuned for that.


Hardcore Henry

Released: April 2016

Director: Ilya Naishuller

Rated R

Run Time: 95 Minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Sharlto Copley: Jimmy
Danila Kozlovsky: Akan
Haley Benett: Estelle
Tim Roth: Henry’s Father
I love video games.  Anybody who knows me can tell you that.  I’ve been gaming for most of my life.  I didn’t start REALLY getting into games until Wolfenstein 3-D.  Wolfenstein 3-D was a first-person shooter.  For those who don’t know, a first-person shooter video game is played entirely from the perspective of the character you’re playing.  You’ve got a weapon in your hands and you’re moving in a fairly 3-dimensional space.  But the game that really cemented my love for that particular genre was, and still is, Doom.  Movies based on video games have been around since 1993, but the first video game movie to feature an entire sequence from the first-person perspective, ironically enough, was Doom starring Dwayne Johnson.  Not a great movie, but it had some really good stuff in it.  There was a section in the film where the film switched perspectives to one of the main characters.  It was a 5-minute sequence but it was extremely memorable.  So, how would you do that for a full 90 minutes?  I give you Hardcore Henry.

The film opens as the character of Henry wakes up with a missing arm and leg.  A cybernetic arm and leg are then attached when the laboratory where they are at is attacked by a mysterious telekenetic warlord, Akan.  After kidnapping Henry’s wife, Estelle, Henry goes on the run and meets up with an eccentric character named Jimmy.  That’s the gist of the story.  For a film like this, the story is secondary to what’s happening on the screen.  Now the first thing you will notice, is that the entire film is filmed strictly from a first-person perspective.  You never actually see Henry’s face at all until towards the end of the movie, and even then it’s only a reflection.  So now we have a movie that plays out like a first-person shooter video game.  The question is:  Does it work?  The short answer is, yes, mostly.

I’m going to warn you:  If you get motion sickness of any kind or really don’t like shaky-cam, stay away.  The nature of the whole first-person perspective is to place the audience directly in the shoes of the main character.  Because of that, the camera tends to be quite shaky at times and it moves fast, so it may be hard for you to keep up.  If you can keep up with what’s going on, you are treated to a very visually interesting action movie.  When Henry wakes up, he has no idea what’s going, so the audience doesn’t know what’s happening until we start piecing things together with the help of Jimmy.

I’m going to flat-out say it:  The acting in this film, aside from Sharlto Copley is basic at most.  Sharlto Copley plays the most interesting character in the movie, and one of the most interesting characters of his career.  Yeah, the character is there for mostly comic relief, but he’s also there as a guide for the audience by telling Henry, and therefor, the audience what’s really going on, and why he’s helping Henry.  The villain of Akan is a kind of an albino telekenetic nutjob that we really don’t know anything about.  He’s not the worst villain I’ve seen, he’s just…bleh.  But again, you really don’t go to a movie like this for deep characterization and story.  No, you come for the action.  If you’ve ever played a first-person shooter, you know it can get pretty crazy with a ton of enemies on the screen.  Hardcore Henry plays out exactly like one of those games, and it really works.  The action is brutal, fast, and extremely bloody.  People get eviscerated and blown to pieces, while cars explode and people fall from helicopters.  One of the reasons the first-person perspective works so well in a movie like this, is the stunt-work.  Between the parkour scenes and shootouts, this movie has it all.  The stunts are absolutely out-of-this world.  I mean that in a good way.  The whole movie was filmed in Russia, so a lot of the stunt men are really good at what they do.  Henry is played by several stuntmen who assume the role for a particular stunt.  You’ve got one guy is good parkour, another who is good at falling, and yet another, who knows horses.  The various kinds of stunts that take place are absolutely jaw-dropping.  There’s this sequence early on where Henry is chasing another guy and repells down a 16-story building.  The car chases are NUTS.  The one where he’s riding shotgun in one of those old motorcycles that has a side-car for a passenger, and Henry wields a fifty-calibur machine gun.  It’s very well-done.  I have to give the film-makers credit for that.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though.  The movie moves at such a break-neck pace, that we really don’t get time to breathe.  I don’t mind a wall-to-wall action film, but with the first-person perspective, we need to get a few moments where we can get our heads on straight, and some of the action scenes are so chaotic, you can’t really see what’s going on.  That being said, the whole is just plain bonkers.  If you’re looking for a unique action movie that doesn’t let up, Hardcore Henry fits the bill.  Sharlto Copley’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.  Overall, this movie is pretty freakin’ awesome.  It’s one of the best straight-up action movies this year and it’s generally a hell of a lot of fun.  I definitely recommend it.  8/10 is my final verdict.


Movies That Deserved A Sequel

Over the past several months I’ve discussed at length about sequels, remakes and reboots.  I’ve gone over good sequels, bad sequels and varying qualities of reboots/remakes.  But there is a group of films out there that deserves a special mention:  Movies that deserved a sequel.  For this particular list, I will be talking about movies that needed a sequel, but never got one for one reason or another.  I will not be including movies that have established franchises, so you won’t be see any Star Wars or Star Trek on this post.  Movies that deserved BETTER sequels is a post that I will get into soon, because it’s just as relevant, but for now, we will be focusing on those movies that could have used an extension or two.  Now, the main reason why some of these movies never got sequels is due to one major factor:  Money.  They didn’t pull in enough money in the box-office for movie studios to re-visit.  I will also not be including direct-to-video sequels.  These are going to be about big-screen movies.  Now, these are some of the movies that I personally enjoyed a great deal, so let’s see what we’ve got here:

The Rocketeer

Of all the superhero movies that I’ve seen, this one is one of the most underrated.  Directed by Joe Johnston and released in the summer of 1991, The Rocketeer was an absolute blast of a movie.  With an all-star cast including Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Terry O’Quinn, Jennifer Connelly, and Timothy Dalton as the villainous Neville Sinclair, it was an amazing and original adventure movie.  Set during the late 1930’s, The Rocketeer was an old-fashioned kind of movie, the kind they don’t make anymore.  The acting was great all around.  It was exciting, romantic and funny.  It’s just a shame that the audiences never really took to it.  It’s not surprising as 1991 had some major-league sluggers in the field with Terminator 2 and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  When The Rocketeer ended, it left it open for the possibility of a sequel, and had it earned enough money, we would have gotten one.  But something happened that few people would have expected:  The movie garnered a massive following despite its lackluster box-office performance.  Apparently, when they screened the film during the film’s 20th anniversary, fans dressed as the character lined up for blocks.  It was about this time that Disney started thinking about the idea of a sequel, and it looks we might actually get one.  Details are scarce at this point, but apparently, the film is going to be another period piece set six years after the events of the first movie.  I’m all for it, although I wish it didn’t take 20 years for it to happen.


Willow is a movie that I truly wished had a legitimate big-screen sequel.  Now, some of you may not know this, but some years after the film’s release, there were novels based on that particular universe that nobody read.  It was a trilogy that saw Elora Dannon grow into a teenager.  I personally never read the books.  I wasn’t particularly interested.  I WAS interested in the universe that the film had established, but never re-visited.  It was a movie with some surprisingly dark tones to it.  Visually, it was spectacular.  You also had the acting talents of Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, and Kevin Pollak.  It had the right amount of humor, romance and excitement to make it an epic fantasy adventure.  Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan stole the show with as a wise-cracking master swordsman.  It was extraordinary how Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer bounced off each other.  The acting was great.  The story was good and the action was amazing.  It just didn’t connect with audiences or critics who railed against the film and Ron Howard for the supposed emphasis on special effects over everything else.  Charlatans and heathens, I tell you.

David Lynch’s Dune

Now, THIS is a real shame.  The initial plan was to have Dune as the first film in a trilogy detailing the exploits of Paul Atreides and his children.  However, during production, the suits at Universal Pictures didn’t particularly care for the idea of a 3+ hour film, so they forced David Lynch to cut some rather important material out.  Considering how dense Frank Herbert’s novel was, it came as a surprise to fans of the book, that a lot of what they were expecting was not to be found.  For the rest of the audience, it was a confusing mess of a movie.  But for those of us who did understand what was going and and DIDN’T read the book, we got a very solid and visually spectacular science fiction epic with some really big-name actors including Patrick Stewart, Jurgen Prochnow, Freddie Jones, Virginia Madsen, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt and Kyle MacLachlan.


This one bothers me, because despite the amount of praise that the 2012 film got with Karl Urban as Judge Joseph Dredd, it failed to ignite the box-office.  Considering that people were still trying to forget the disaster that was Sylvester Stallone’s take on the character, it wasn’t really a surprise that people stayed away.  It’s too bad, Karl Urban makes for a more convincing Dredd than Sly ever did, and not once did you ever see his face.  Yeah, it was definitely violent and gory, but the film stayed true to the roots of the comic book character.  Karl Urban clearly loves the character, and he’s willing to put on the helmet again, but it seems that a full-blown theatrical sequel may not happen after all, despite multiple conversations.  HOWEVER, there is a possibility that the character might be getting a series on Netflix, which I think would be appropriate.  Considering the amount of scrapes and battles the character gets into throughout the comics, a Netflix series would probably be the best option.

Well, that’s my list for movies that I felt deserved sequels but didn’t get them, at least not yet.

Box-Office Disasters

Movie-making is a risky and expensive business.  There’s a lot that goes into movie-making than most people realize.  It’s more than just hiring actors, directors and producers.  There’s a lot more than that.  You have to rent equipment, hire costume designers, location scouts, catering, music, and sound design among other many small details.  These smaller details can actually add up to a lot of overhead, sometimes causing a movie to lose money, despite how much it may earn at the box-office.  That’s part of what I’m here to discuss.  I’m here to discuss some of the biggest box-office flops of all time and I’ll explain why.  Just to let you know, I will be talking about big-budget movies with some of the biggest names in the industry.  I will prove to you that despite having a massive budget and big names, your movie can still bomb at the box office.  Just so you are aware, not all of these movies are necessarily bad, some of them are actually rather good movies that just failed for a number of reasons.  In order for a movie to be considered successful, it has to make back more than twice its budget.  That being said, these are the biggest box-office disasters.  Side-note: currency devalues over time, so one has to adjust for inflation.  Also: These are going to be ones that I’ve seen.


Let’s start with something relatively small here:  Krull.  Krull is a fantasy film that takes place on another planet that’s being conquered by a mysterious being known as The Beast.  Initial budget was about $27 million at the time.  Kind of mid-range fare if you ask me.  However, the domestic gross of the film was approximately $16.5 million dollars.  I grew up watching this one, so I have a fondness for the film.  It’s not actually a horrible movie.  It’s mediocre at best, but was not the worst film that year.  So….why did the film bomb?  One reason and one reason only:  Bad timing.  See, the movie was released during the summer, in which the big blockbusters where coming out.  So, the film was going to have trouble finding an audience anyway, but there was one movie that the makers of Krull failed to take into account:  Star Wars.  The third and final entry in the Star Wars trilogy ended up being one of the highest-grossing movies of 1983.  THAT was the movie that people wanted to see, not Krull.

Cowboys & Aliens

This one kinda hurts.  I really enjoyed the hell out of this one.  It combined two of my favorite genres:  Westerns and Science Fiction.  It was an interesting combination, that while it had its issues, was a thoroughly entertaining romp.  Alas, the critics and the audiences didn’t really see it that way.  Despite having an ensemble cast that included Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, and Clancy Brown, the film brought in a paltry $175 million on a $163 million budget.  Despite strong acting from nearly everybody on the cast, the film failed to resonate with audiences and critics world-wide.  Personally, I loved the film, but a lot of people didn’t and it’s a shame.

The Chronicles of Riddick

Oh, here’s another painful entry.  This is another of my favorites.  I loved David Twohy’s Pitch Black which featured the series main character, Riddick, played by Vin Diesel.  While the first movie was a low-budget film that was set on planet of perpetual darkness surrounded by flesh-eating beasts, the follow-up film expanded Riddick’s universe exponentially.  We traveled to more worlds and faced a massive enemy force known as the Necromongers.  With a budget between $105-210 million, Chronicles of Riddick brought in a grand total of nearly $116 million.  What went wrong?  For one, the tone of the film was completely different from that of Pitch Black.  Instead of a close-quarters claustrophobic struggle for survival, Chronicles opts for a more space operatic along the lines of Star Wars.  It’s not a bad idea, and the execution was mostly okay.  The problem is that David Twohy didn’t have the experience necessary to craft a story on that level.  I loved what I saw, but I could definitely see why people didn’t like it.

Cutthroat Island

How many movies do you know of that have actually sent the production company into bankruptcy?  There aren’t a whole lot.  There was another movie that was notorious for shuttering United Artists: Heaven’s Gate but I haven’t seen that one, so I’ll go with the next most notorious film:  Cutthroat Island.  Renny Harlin’s pirate epic was released in 1995 to mostly negative reviews.  The film was made on a $98 million dollar budget and failed to recoup even $20 million.  While it was known that the production company, Carolco Pictures was in a state of ruin already, Cutthroat Island was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  Carolco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was shuttered shortly thereafter.  What contributed to the film’s failing was a number of reasons.  One: Geena Davis was NOT a convincing pirate captain and the chemistry between her and Matthew Modine was completely absent.  Two: There were a lot of problems during production, before the movie even started shooting.  The situation was really, really bad.  Renny Harlin did the best he could with what he had, but it wasn’t enough to save the movie or the movie studio.  Personally, I had fun with it, despite its problems.

Jupiter Ascending

Is there anybody out there who thinks that the Wachowskis are anything more than a one-trick pony?  They really aren’t.  While I don’t necessarily think they’re bad directors, they are terrible writers.  The only thing significantly good that they have ever done was The Matrix, and only the first one, really.  Why?  Each of their movies has a kind of Wizard of OZ kind of vibe to it that gets old.  Jupiter Ascending had the potential to be something truly great. It had a great visual style with some really amazing set-pieces and action sequences.  There’s a problem:  The movie is boring.  There’s too much space between action scenes.  There’s WAY too much exposition for a movie that’s barely over 2 hours long.  The audiences and critics responded accordingly.  The film’s production was an estimated $175 million, and only brought in $184 million.  It has some good things going for it, one of them with Sean Bean not dying at all, which must be a first in his career.  Visually, this is a stunning film, with some really outstanding visual effects and CGI shots.  But THAT’S where the budget seems to go, instead of character and story development.

John Carter

Now we’re really getting into the big bruisers here.  John Carter was released in 2012 to mixed reviews across the board.  I didn’t really think too much of the film after I saw it, but a number of people seemed to like it.  My dad loves the hell out of it, so there must be some value to it.  However, this film demonstrates how bad of an idea it is to push a movie based on a book that not many people have read or heard about.  The movie was based on A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burrows.  There’s no getting around it:  John Carter failed and failed HARD.  With a massively bloated budget of $263.7 million, the film needed to break the $600 million mark just to break even, and it only got back $284 million.  Let’s forget the fact that the film is based on a book that few people have read nowadays.  The massive budget was due to the fact that the director had to do massive re-shoots.  In fact, Andrew Stanton nearly re-shot the entire film, which is unheard of.  Re-shoots are just a part of the film-making process, but not to this degree.  When word got out that these re-shoots were happening, people stayed away fearing that the movie had some massive problems.  It did.  The film lost nearly $125 million.  It also caused the then-CEO of Disney, Rich Ross, to resign.

The Lone Ranger

One major flop wasn’t apparently enough for Disney, so they ended up with two in a row.  First was John Carter, and now, The Lone Ranger.  The movie was based on the television series from the late 40s and 50s.  It had Johnny Depp in the film and Gore Verbinski directing, you know, the guy who directed Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.  The film was released to mostly negative reviews.  I’m not entirely sure what movie THEY saw, but the movie that I saw was a very entertaining Western that had the right amount of camp, humor and excitement thrown into the mix.  I thought it was fun.  I think people targeted the movie because it ended up getting shut down at one point, because it went over-budget.  Speaking of which, the budget fell between $225 and $250 million.  But you could tell where the money went, to try and make the action as believable as possible without using CGI.  In that regard, it succeeded.  The final train sequence was brilliant.  Unfortunately, audiences and critics were less than forgiving.  The film’s final take-home was about $260.5 million, give or take.

Nobody sets out to make a bad movie.  Not even Ed Wood set out to make a bad movie, he just wasn’t any good at it.  But sometimes the film-makers end up biting off more than they can chew, and the final result is a movie that tanks both critically and financially.  As I said before, not all of these movies are bad, it’s just that the circumstances are really unfortunate.  Now, Disney being as big as they are could weather two massive flops, whereas most film studios would probably collapse.  Thankfully, Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios has put them in a position where they can really do some amazing things.  Not a lot of movie studios have that kind of leeway.