Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been nearly sixty years since the last time two of the silver screen’s greatest titans ever faced off against one another. Godzilla vs. Kong no doubt delivers on the over-the-top, larger than life, escapist entertainment in the best way possible.

A little Sc-Fi heavy at times, the plot focuses on a now-captive King Kong being released to more or less save humanity from a seemingly hostile Godzilla, who’s really just peeved by the creation of a Mechagodzilla by the evil Apex Cybernetics. Meanwhile, an Apex employee and conspiracy theorist named Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) who is hell bent on exposing the truth, teams up with a couple of kids (one of them once again being Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame, joined this time by Julian Dennisen) to get the job done. This aspect gives the film a very real, ’80s-adventure feel to it in the same vein as E.T., where the kids must ultimately save the day from under the adults who only know about half of the actual story.

The other portion of the main storyline involves an expedition to “Hollow Earth” with Kong lead by a couple of doctors (portrayed by Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall) to find some magical “power source.” And if you think that all sounds somewhat nerdy, you’re absolutely right, though there is a somewhat touching relationship between Kong and a young girl (played by Kaylee Hottle) that helps add a much-needed dramatic element to the film.

In short, Godzilla vs. Kong is far from flawless. But as far as modern action films go (which I’m truthfully not too big on, especially the countless superhero flicks churned out these days), it’s at the head of it’s class. It is without a doubt the ideal type of flick to take the fam out to, sit in a dark theater, and just forget about the rest of the world for a night.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Film Review: Coming 2 America (Prime Video)

By: Jesse Striewski

For many in my own age group, the 1988 original comedy classic Coming to America starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, was a staple go-to default flick on cable TV back in the day. But was a second edition over three decades in the making really worth the wait, or even necessary?

The sequel finds Prince Akeem (Murphy) having to track down a son (played by Jermaine Fowler) he unknowingly fathered his first time around in New York, and grooming him to become the next heir to the throne. Of course this leads to various culture and emotional conflicts for both parties involved and their loved ones (both Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan add to this chaos perfectly in new supporting roles).

The nostalgic factors alone are worthwhile themselves; just seeing Murphy and Hall return to McDowell’s, or hilariously don the makeup for such characters as Randy Watson or Reverend Brown again, or even watching such greats as James Earl Jones, Louie Anderson, and John Amos return in their respective roles, were all welcomed trips down memory lane.

But unfortunately, the actual jokes themselves are often too far and few in between, and come off as either too forced, or often times just strain to be overly timely. At the heart of it, Coming 2 America wants to be an endearing film, but comes up far too short. If you really want to revisit Zamunda, you’re better off just going back to the original.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Willy’s Wonderland (Saturn Films/Landmark Studio Group/Landafar Entertainment/JD Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

This Nicolas Cage-driven horror/comedy hybrid romp, directed by Kevin Lewis, ranges from being part harmless homage to such goofy ’80s guilty pleasures as Killer Klowns From Outer Space, to part demented (and ridiculous) Toy Story-induced nightmare.

Cage stars as a silent drifter (literally – he utters zero dialogue throughout the entire film) who gets roped into a diabolical scam by small town locals when his vehicle is abruptly disabled while passing through the middle of nowhere. He ends up in an old, rundown, Chuck E. Cheese-type joint called Willy’s Wonderland (suspiciously similar to Five Nights at Freddy’s, too), where he must fight for his life against maniacal machines that come to life. Lucky for him, there’s also a group of local teens (lead by talented newcomer Emily Tosta) who know the real secrets of Willy‘s, and are hell-bent on taking it down once and for all. This of course leads to some very surreal, A Nightmare on Elm Street-esque moments that range from legitimately creepy, to over-the-top, cringe-worthy deaths.

Character actress Beth Grant (who you may recognize from such films as Rain Man or Child’s Play 2) pulls a worthy performance as the town sheriff, and Killer Klowns… alumni Grant Cramer even makes a brief cameo. And even the soundtrack features some impressive work by Emoi (watch for the mesmerizing scene where the film’s theme song is played during an epic battle between Cage and a pinball machine).

But for every time I found myself getting completely lost in the film, something overly juvenile or absurd would usually come along and instantly snap me back into reality. I really wanted to like the film, and for the most part I suppose I did. But perhaps just a little more effort in the dialogue and acting departments would have put it that much more over the edge. If you’re simply looking for mindless entertainment though, then Willy’s Wonderland is hands down the place to go.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

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)

Bill_&_Ted_Face_the_Music_poster

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)

Go-Gos

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