Film Review: Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Also known as: Super Mario Brothers: The Movie (original script title)
Release Date: May 28th, 1993
Directed by: Rocky Morton, Annabel Jankel
Written by: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon
Based on: Mario by Nintendo
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Fiona Shaw, Richard Edson, Mojo Nixon, Dana Kaminski, Lance Henriksen, Frank Welker (voice), Dan Castellaneta (narrator)

Allied Filmmakers, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Hollywood Pictures, 104 Minutes, 90 Minutes (Japan), 87 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“[bathing in mud] Do you know what I love about mud? It’s clean and it’s dirty at the same time.” – King Koopa

Super Mario Bros. was one film in a string of a few that helped to build the reputation that video game movies suck. Looking at the picture in comparison to the video game series it’s based on, I get it. And frankly, it irked the shit out of me when I saw it in 1993. 

However, seeing it with pretty fresh eyes nearly three decades later, I have a very different view of the film now. Especially, when I just look at it as its own weird body of work apart from the video game franchise.

Removing the source material from the equation, I can still see why this would be viewed as a bad film by most but for me, a lover of really weird shit, everyone in this cast and late ’80s/early ’90s cyberpunk shit, this is kind of a feast of awesomeness!

Additionally, the Alan Silvestri score is great, lively, playful and boisterous. It reminds me of his score to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which was, honestly, what really set the magnificent tone for that movie. Here, Silvestri’s work is just as effective and man, I miss scores like this.

This movie also feels like a time capsule into the heart of the ’90s. It embraces the wonky tropes of the decade and it completely misses the mark it should’ve been aiming for. Although, in retrospect, I really like that this just did whatever the hell it wanted to and provided the world with something so damn bizarre and zany.

I really liked the bond between Mario and Luigi, even if trying believe that Hoskins and Leguizamo are supposed to be real brothers is maybe the most unbelievable thing in the film. That kind of doesn’t matter, though, as nothing in this needs to make any sort of logical sense. It’s actually cooler that it doesn’t. Now that’s something I’d typically be highly critical of but this movie with its flaws is still so much fun and overly ridiculous that it adds to its charm.

I guess Dennis Hopper was miserable working on this due to behind the scenes clusterfucks and severe delays but honestly, it probably worked to the movie’s benefit, as he truly comes off as an insufferable prick and it just makes his character that much more sinister and entertaining to watch.

Additionally, I really liked Samantha Mathis in this, as she played Princess Daisy, the apple of Luigi’s eye. Her and Leguizamo had nice, believable chemistry and she really was a highpoint of the picture. In fact, her final scene where she returns as a gun toting badass really made me wish a sequel had been made.

That being said, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to having more things made from this version of the Super Mario IP. I get it, it was a bomb and most people hated it but it’s also unique and kind of special in its own odd way. Plus, it’s developed a good cult following over the years and I think many people are like me, where seeing this decades later really allows you to separate from what it should of been and wasn’t to seeing it as its own cool thing.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other few ’90s movies based on video games, as well as other early ’90s cyberpunk films.

Documentary Review: Circus of Books (2019)

Release Date: April 26th, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Rachel Mason
Written by: Rachel Mason, Kathryn Robson
Cast: Karen Mason, Barry Mason, Rachel Mason, various

Netflix, 92 Minutes

Review:

I saw this pop up on Netflix, so I figured I’d check it out, as I generally enjoy the documentaries they distribute through their streaming service.

I wasn’t disappointed, as this is a really interesting story about a religious Jewish family who opened up a gay porn store, which also became a gay porn film studio and distributor. The store rose to prominence within the Los Angeles gay scene in the ’80s and would also reach far beyond its home city.

This kind of hit close to home, as I’ve been around gay culture since my teen years. The scene in southern Florida is big and even though I’m straight, I’ve always had gay friends and also lived with a pretty legit drag queen for a bit. The era that the bulk of this story took place in just brought a lot of those great memories back.

Beyond the nostalgia, this is an intriguing story about really interesting, good people. It’s hard not to love the family that started this store and it’s just as much a love letter to them, as it is the store itself.

I especially liked how interesting the father was with his backstory and the road that life took him on, leading up to becoming a straight, religious, family man that owned a gay book store.

This also examines the impact that owning the store had on the family as a whole in an age when it was considered really taboo. I liked meeting the kids, getting their take on all of it and how they grew up with this “moral” cloud over their religious upbringing.

It was also really cool seeing people from the L.A. gay community talking about the store and what it meant to them during really difficult times in their lives.

This really hits you in the feels and it’s unfortunate that the store, during the filming of this documentary, was falling on real hard times due to the world evolving away from the old mediums of pornography thanks to the Internet.

While this documentary was made by someone within the family, it’s not in any way inauthentic or dishonest because of that. In fact, it made the experience more intimate and meaningful.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about LGBTQ cultural history, porn and small business.

Film Review: Stripes (1981)

Also known as: Cheech and Chong Join the Army (original script title)
Release Date: June 26th, 1981
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Dan Goldberg, Harold Ramis, Len Blum
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, Sean Young, John Candy, John Larroquette, John Diehl, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Bill Paxton

Columbia Pictures, 106 Minutes, 122 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“Who’s your friend? Who’s your buddy? I am, aren’t I? You’re crazy about me, aren’t you?” – John Winger

This is considered one of the all-time great Bill Murray comedies. While I do like it, it was never really at the top of my list. I’m not quite sure why, as it also features Harold Ramis, John Candy, John Larriquette, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas: all comedy legends I love.

Stripes is funny and amusing but from a narrative standpoint, it always felt kind of sloppy and pointless. Sure, these new recruit losers (mainly Murray and Ramis) do rise to the occasion and become heroes for a day, however, things in this movie just sort of happen without much purpose.

I get it, though, this is sort of just a goofy, mindless comedy. However, I guess I hold these guys and director Ivan Reitman to a higher standard because they’ve made much better films.

Without Bill Murray and someone as great as Ramis to play off of in nearly every scene, this would be reduced down to just a run of the mill screwball comedy like Meatballs or Porky’s.

I also know that Reitman probably didn’t have much of a budget to work with but this picture looks more like a television movie than a cinematic one. However, the film’s success did pave the way for the Ghostbusters movies, which are, to this day, my favorite comedy films of all-time.

Stripes is a movie that I still watch about twice a decade, as I can put it on and not think. But ultimately, it’s just never been as beloved by me as it seems to be by many others.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bill Murray films of the ’80s, as well as comedy pictures directed by Ivan Reitman and John Landis.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 2’ by Roy Thomas

The first volume of this book series covered issues 1-51 of the original Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian series. This volume covers issues 52-100.

These two books are written by Roy Thomas, the legend that wrote the Conan comics. These basically serve as his commentary on his stories.

In fact, when I go back and read old issues, I’ve picked these books up to read his insight before revisiting them.

Thomas has always been one of my favorite comic book writers and the Conan franchise has always been one of my favorite IPs. So having these books is pretty damn cool and I’m actually pretty thankful that something like this was written, compiled and published.

I already reviewed the first one and all the positives I had to say about it also ring true for this volume.

All in all, these are great, resourceful books that allow you to understand Thomas’ inspiration, his stories and these characters on a level much deeper than just the comic book page.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.

Film Review: The Fifth Estate (2013)

Also known as: The Man Who Sold the World (working title), The 5ifth Estate (alternative DVD spelling)
Release Date: September 5th, 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Josh Singer
Based on: Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg; WikiLeaks by David Leigh, Luke Harding
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Moritz Bleibtreu, Peter Capaldi, Dan Stevens, Alexander Siddig

Participant, Reliance Entertainment, Dreamworks Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.” – Julian Assange

Wow! This movie was an utter disappointment and honestly, a fucking disaster!

I should be clear from the get go that the performances were good and the shitty end result of this picture didn’t really fall on the shoulders of the actors. Hell, this film actually has a tremendous cast and that’s why I finally decided to give it a watch despite all the bad things I’ve heard about it since it came out.

I haven’t read the books that were used to write this film’s script but I know enough of the WikiLeaks story to know that this was a lot of bullshit. Also, I’m not sure how you can take such an exciting story and turn it into something this fucking dull! I mean, it’s got to take a real cement brained dullard to make the WikiLeaks and Assange story this damn boring!

Yes, I expected it not to be up to snuff but I at least expected the cast to kind of make up for the film’s technical and narrative shortcomings. Again, the cast is good but everything else is so bad that it barely even matters that they’re there.

In fact, I have to give this film a low score and the final tally is still going to be well below average, even though I gave it two bonus points for the actors.

This was a long, sloppy, boring film. It didn’t look that great and visually came across as really pedestrian. There weren’t any shots that stand out in my mind, as everything seemed to be shot like a television show that was on a tight schedule.

I don’t know how you can make a completely uninspiring movie out of a very inspiring person. But kudos, I guess.

This is shit.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other films and documentaries about cypherpunk culture and whistleblowers.

Video Game Review: Donkey Kong 3 (NES)

This is a game that’s kind of forgotten even though the two games before it are absolute classics.

I think the problem with Donkey Kong 3 is that it is a very different game than its predecessors.

This gets rid of the simple platforming style of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. and instead gives you more of a simplistic action game.

Basically, you use your smoke gun to ward off bees and to push Donkey Kong up into a beehive. Simple, effective but somewhat of a step down from the other, very creative games in the series.

I’m one of the few weirdos that enjoys this game for what it is. On its own, it’s fine. It’s also pretty f’n hard as you advance.

Strangely, this is the first game without Mario in it, as you play as a character named Stanley. I’m not sure why Nintendo went in that direction but maybe it didn’t make sense to have a plumber using beekeeper equipment? Then again, this plumber also dresses up like a frog and eats mushrooms and strange flowers.

Most people seem to hate Donkey Kong 3. I don’t. I think it’s a fun departure from the style of the first two games but on the other hand, I would’ve preferred something in the style of the first two games.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., as well as Mario’s Cement Factory and the original Mario Bros. before they went “Super“.

Film Review: I, Monster (1971)

Release Date: November 1st, 1971 (Sweden)
Directed by: Stephen Weeks
Written by: Milton Subotsky
Based on: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: Carl Davis
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven, Richard Hurndall, George Merritt, Kenneth J. Warren, Susan Jameson

Amicus Productions, British Lion Film Corporation, 75 Minutes, 81 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“The face of evil is ugly to look upon. And as the pleasures increase, the face becomes uglier.” – Dr. Charles Marlowe

Being that I like Jekyll & Hyde stories, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I definitely thought I’d love the hell out of this film. Sadly, it was a bit underwhelming and kind of slow for only being a seventy-five minute movie.

Still, I do like the performances of horror icons Lee and Cushing and they really committed to the roles, as they always do.

Something about this production just seemed off and like it was all sloppily slapped together with the studio and director assuming it’d all just work because it had two great stars and utilized beloved source material.

This isn’t terrible but it’s a heck of a lost worse than it should have been.

I guess, on paper, I can see why they seemed to just dial it in from a production standpoint but the great Hammer films with Lee and Cushing still had to be solid from top-to-bottom at every level of the production.

Sure, these movies tend to look and feel cheap but even then, you still get so wrapped up in the magic that you don’t care and you believe what you see on the screen. This picture just lacked that magic.

I’m not sure why but it’s devoid of energy outside of a few good moments where Lee is experimenting on himself or raging as the movie’s monster.

I wouldn’t call this a waste of time, though. It’s still got moments to enjoy if you’re a fan of the two leads but they’ve been a part of much better productions and there are certainly better Jekyll & Hyde adaptations out there.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film adaptations, as well as other movies starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.