Film Review: Mean Man: The Story of Chris Holmes (Cleopatra Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

Those who know me well, know what a huge fan of ’80s metal veterans W.A.S.P. I’ve been since day one (frontman Blackie Lawless was even the first major interview I ever conducted as a professional journalist more than a decade ago). Guitarist Chris Holmes no doubt played an enormous role in their early sound, yet never really got his just due…until now.

Following heavily in the footsteps of Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Mean Man is the ultimate underdog story that finally answers the question (one that I’ve even been asked a time or two over the years) “Whatever happened to Chris Holmes?” perfectly (for those who don’t know, he now resides in France these days with his wife, still making music albeit on a smaller scale).

Current and archive footage, as well as interviews with numerous musicians including Scott Ian of Anthrax, Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, and Holmes’ own former bandmates Johnny Rod and Stet Howland, help tell the tale of this once revered guitarist, who no doubt got the raw end of the deal from his former band mate Lawless.

I only wish more of Holmes’ former bandmates might have been included, especially early (and somewhat elusive) members like Randy Piper or Tony Richards, or even Lawless himself for the sake of transparency (although I knew going in the likelihood of that wasn’t very promising). Still, this quite possibly might be the closest the world is ever getting to a straight forward W.A.S.P. documentary, and I can live with that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Film Review: Zappa (Magnolia Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

Many a year ago, I was minding my own business and listening to music at a friend’s house, when suddenly his dad emerged into the room and proclaimed, “you need to hear this!” He quickly removed whatever punk record we were listening to at the time, swiftly replacing it with a Frank Zappa album. Of course my instant reaction was “what in the world is this?!” before realizing I was already in love (thanks Andrew). So it’s a thrill seeing the late Zappa’s life and work finally compiled into cinematic form.

Directed by Alex Winter (of Bill & Ted fame), Zappa uses archive footage and interviews to tell the story of one of the most brilliantly inventive and diverse musicians in our lifetimes, but does so in a way that still feels fresh and new. A host of various family members, producers, and numerous celebrities/musicians that range from The Beatles, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Alice Cooper, all help move the story along in the right direction.

It’s obvious Winter is a fan himself, and has treated the material here with the utmost respect and dignity. It’s a fitting tribute to a deserving icon that even the most casual of fans should view for themselves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Film Review: The Last Blockbuster (Popmotion Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

In all seriousness, how could a publication with a name like Rewind It Magazine not be there to review a film dedicated to the people who literally gave us the phrase “be kind, rewind?!” Indeed, it’s almost as if The Last Blockbuster was made by the social outcasts of the world, specifically for them.

As it’s title suggests, this documentary – directed by Taylor Morden – focuses on the last remaining Blockbuster Video standing in the world in Bend, Oregon. Following the store’s GM Sandi Harding, viewers are given insight into what a day in the life is truly like to work at an actual, standing relic. Interviews with celebrities sharing their stories of love (and in some cases, even hate) of the beloved franchise range from Kevin Smith, Adam Brody, Samm Levine, and Lloyd Kaufman (among many others). Everything from the historic company’s rise, to its eventual fall, is covered in great detail along the way.

I couldn’t help but reflect on my own Blockbuster experiences while growing up. Although I may have never worked there myself, it was my first real taste of freedom; after originally obtaining my driver’s license as a teenager, Blockbuster was one of my main usual stops on a regular basis. Those longing for simpler times of a now-bygone era should relish in this bittersweet film as much as I did. From start to finish, The Last Blockbuster is a completely harmless, flawless journey worth every single minute of the ride.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Film Review: Belushi (Showtime Networks/Passion Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

This endearing film profiling the life and career of beloved late comedian/actor/musician John Belushi is as much a heartfelt tribute as it is an insightful documentary on the late creative genius. From his rise with Second City and National Lampoon in his pre-SNL/film days, to his grim early demise, every detail is handled with the utmost care.

Using archival footage, interviews with former friends and colleagues, and even a touch of animation to convey things along, it’s a completely fresh new way to tell the story of a man we often forget all too easily. John’s brother Jim, former wife Judith Belushi-Pisano, and numerous other celebrities including everyone from Chevy Chase to Dan Aykroyd, reflect on Belushi’s life and eventual death.

It’s nearly impossible to make it through Belushi without a flood of memories and emotions pouring in. If there’s any “complaint” to be found here, it’s perhaps the omitting of some details, and the abruptness of it’s ending. Putting these minor pet peeves aside, it’s nearly a flawless ride, that even the slightest Belushi fans should appreciate.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Film Review: Hubie Halloween (Netflix/Happy Madison Productions)

By: Jesse Striewski

Adam Sandler is back to do his best, well, Adam Sandler, in this zany new Netflix romp (and just in time for Halloween). Directed by Steven Brill, the film follows the same formula of many a Sandler flick (even referencing several of his older films like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison), but this time with a spooky twist.

Sandler plays the titular role of Hubie, a do-good “Halloween Helper” type who takes it upon himself to monitor his hometown (which of course is Salem, MA) on the big day, despite constant ridicule from his fellow townspeople. Things take a shift when his new neighbor Walter (played by Steve Buscemi) begins to display some “questionable” traits. From then on, Hubie progresses through virtually every Halloween cliche imaginable, including a drive-in, a Halloween party, and even a haunted house. A large ensemble cast that includes everyone from Kevin James, Julie Bowen, Tim Meadows, and even Shaq, help move the pacing along.

The film no doubt asks its viewers to suspend reality, and those actually willing to do it should find this a fun festive ride. Not overly crass, and harmless enough for older kids to enjoy, it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it actually is, and there’s no annoying hidden agendas in an effort to try to make it timely. If you grew up on holiday classics like Ernest Scared Stupid, this should be up your alley. So take a break from the endless social justice wars on social media (do they ever really change anyone’s opinions anyway?!) and take some time to just be a kid again.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Film Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music (Orion Pictures)

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By: Jesse Striewski

After nearly three decades since their last adventure, Bill S. Preston, Esq (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) have finally returned to the big screen (and with the current state of the world, it’s not a moment too soon). Bill & Ted have always been a personal favorite of mine (to this day, I still have my original VHS copy of the first film), so taking the family to see the latest entry was a no-brainer.

This third chapter finds Bill & Ted traveling through time once again to find their future selves in order to obtain the song that will ultimately unite the world and prevent reality from totally collapsing, often with hilarious results. Meanwhile, the duo’s daughters (played by Samara Weaving and Bridgette Lundy-Paine) simultaneously attempt to construct the greatest band ever (a la the original Excellent Adventure) by jumping through time and nabbing every historical maestro possible from Mozart to Jimi Hendrix.

Sure, there’s plenty of ridiculousness along the way that requires one to have a really open mind, including a cameo from Dave Grohl, and an emotionally conflicted killer robot (played brilliantly by Anthony Carrigan) named Dennis. There’s also plenty of familiar faces from throughout the series that return here, including William Sadler as the Grim Reaper, Hal Landon Jr as Captain Logan/Ted’s dad, and even Amy Stoch briefly returns as Missy (I mean, “mom”). A brief appearance of George Carlin as Rufus via archival footage adds a touch of class as well.

If there’s anything to complain about with this entry, it’s the music itself, or lack of it. Sure, there’s a couple of headbanging tracks thrown in here and there, but the previous two films were nearly giant MTV advertisements with their enriched soundtracks in comparison. Still, Bill & Ted Face the Music is harmless, dimwitted fun, a wyld ride of sheer escapism, and everything the world needs in 2020. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen, if you’re able to make it to one.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Film Review: The Go-Go’s (Polygram Entertainment/Showtime Networks)

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By: Jesse Striewski

The Go-Go’s may forever be remembered as the first group made up entirely of females to pen their own music while reaching the top of the Billboard charts in the early 1980’s. But despite their squeaky clean mainstream image that brought the world such pop staples as “We Got the Beat” and “Vacation,” the band’s punk roots (lead singer Belinda Carlisle was even briefly an early member of The Germs) are often far overlooked. This recently-released Showtime documentary delves deep into those early days, giving each member a chance to recall their own individual accounts the way they remember them.

Director Alison Ellwood paints an immaculate picture of the band’s gritty origins, and the interviews from not only the members of the “classic” lineup, but more obscure ones such as original bassist Margot Olavarria and drummer Ellissa Bello, and one-time bassist Paula Jean Brown, are equally fascinating. Various other musicians, managers, producers, and music writers also lend their insight throughout, and all the typical internal stories of drugs, drama, and debauchery are included, yet somehow still feel uniquely fresh, even to those already fairly familiar with their story.

While the band’s earliest period may be detailed thoroughly, the latter half of the film feels somewhat rushed, and key moments (such as the band’s 1990 reunion) are quickly glossed over or omitted entirely. Still, Ellwood brings the story of the band full circle, ending on an optimistic note that finds the core members performing a brand new song together. Even if The Go-Go’s aren’t your type of thing per se (I don’t claim to be a huge ‘fan’ by any means), the story is more than engaging enough to get lost in it for just over an hour and a half.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Onward (Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Disney/Pixar’s Onward was unfortunately overshadowed by the pandemic when it was released to theaters earlier this year. But despite the brief appearance in actual cinemas, it quickly found a new life on home video and streaming services.

The story centers around brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barely (Chris Pratt), two elves who embark on a road trip to bring back their deceased father via a magical artifact. It might sound a little far-fetched on paper, but in terms of computer-animated films set in fantasy worlds, it really is at the top of the line. Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer round out the main voice cast, while veteran voice actors like John Ratzenberger and Wimer Valderrama also lend their talents along the way.

Safe for the whole family, yet still appealing enough to hold adult attention as well, it’s a fun, welcomed piece of escapist entertainment despite it’s somewhat standard storybook plot. Ultimately it’s a trip worth taking for those raised on Toy Story and the like. 

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Film Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Walt Disney Studios)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Star Wars has been interwoven in our culture for more than four decades now, and after nine films in the Skywalker saga, the series’ inevitable conclusion has finally arrived. The film has already received its fair share of negative feedback, with some critics citing it as too predictable or even pandering to die hard fans. But here’s the thing; so was Return of the Jedi, and today that film is now regarded as a classic.

Sure, The Rise of Skywalker might not be flawless, but it does bring back that same sense of excitement I felt when watching the original trilogy as a kid. Director J.J. Abrams has done wonders redeeming the entire series with this sequel trilogy that began with The Force Awakens in 2015.

In this chapter (without giving too much away), we learn that the evil emperor Palpatine, again played by Ian McDiarmid, is back (no doubt a bit of a hokey concept) and planning on a destructive up rising of the entire galaxy. Of course Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the rebel alliance must overcome obstacles (and inner demons) to stop this from happening in the most good vs. evil sort of way.

For all the logic it might ask you to put aside, it makes up for with heart tenfold. I was completely brought back to when watching the “new” Star Wars movie was an event with the entire family in my household growing up. And I’m not ashamed to admit I was fully in tears by the end of Skywalker. If you’re able to just put aside that “I’m too cool for this” mentality adopted by all the negative keyboard warriors out there, you might be able to enjoy this for what it actually is; an overall pretty great film.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (CBS Films/Lionsgate)

 

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By: Jesse Striewski

Although I already took my son to see this adaption of the popular book by Alvin Schwartz while it was still in the theater, I missed the chance to review it the first time around. In light of its recent DVD/home media release earlier this month, I figured it was better late than never to review it.

Set in a small Pennsylvania town in 1968, the story follows a group of teenagers who unwittingly unlock an ancient evil after taking a mysterious book they find while sneaking into the local haunted house on Halloween night. Things quickly get out of hand as one by one the teens (and their tormentors) become victims of unspeakable horrors written on the book’s pages.

The talented young cast is headed by Zoe Colletti and Michael Garza, while veteran actors such as Dean Norris and Gil Bellows round out the supporting cast.

The eerie atmosphere is both well done, and a throwback to midnight movies everywhere. Although riddled with a somewhat typical/predictable ending, the film is still the perfect late night creepy scare fest flick. So turn down the lights, and settle in for one hell of a bumpy ride!

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars