Film Review: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Also known as: Secret of the Planet of the Apes (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Peter Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban, M. Emmet Walsh, Charlton Heston (archive footage)

Twentieth Century Fox, APJAC Productions, 98 Minutes

Review:

“They became alert to the concept of slavery. And, as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said ‘No.’ So that’s how it all started.” – Cornelius

I guess I remembered the beginning of this film wrong, as I said in my review of the previous one that the ending kind of didn’t leave it open for the films after it. However, this one starts off in what was then modern times. From memory, I thought that the apes in the picture went back in time at some point midway through the story but they actually start off in 1970s America.

Anyway, it’s been a few decades since I’ve seen this one and memories can do weird things, especially when one has spent a lot of the time between the memory and now, experimenting with several vices. Don’t worry, I barely party anymore because getting old makes you more chill and because amateurs at the local bars and opium dens is a deterrent.

I really dug the hell out of this film though and revisiting it was certainly a worthwhile and entertaining experience. As of now, this is my favorite film of the lot. While I see the first chapter as a better motion picture, overall, I found this one to be more entertaining and more effective at making its point, using the bigotry between apes and humans as a metaphor for xenophobia.

I was also really glad to see Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter move into the main focus of the story, as their arrival on Earth sets in motion a hope for unity but ultimately leads to fear overcoming the masses and eventual tragedy.

Due to the time travel element, this sets the stage for its sequels and it also makes the whole series a time loop. Honestly, after this sets in motion the events that cause the creation of the ape world from the first film, you can watch the five movies in a constant loop or start with whichever chapter you want and then loop back around to it. It’s a pretty unique thing and it’s one of the many factors that make the original Planet of the Apes franchise really damn cool.

The acting in this is also really good and it’s certainly a step up from the second, fairly mundane movie. I’d say the acting is on the same level as the original but with McDowall and Hunter doing most of the heavy lifting, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Release Date: November 14th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Lowell S. Hawley
Based on: In Search of the Castaways by Jules Verna
Music by: William Alwyn, Muir Mathieson, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman
Cast: Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Keith Hamshere, Jack Gwillim, Wilfrid Brambell, Michael Anderson Jr., Antonio Cifariello

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know which is worse, by George: having you so happy you sing all the time, or so glum you won’t even talk. “The ombu tree is gorgeous. Enjoy it!” Huh!” – Lord Glenarvan

While these kids today won’t have the attention span for this movie, it’s still one of the greatest family adventure films of all-time!

Sure, you may disagree, but you’re wrong.

This was made by Disney at the height of their live-action adventure epics. It also starred one of their most bankable stars, at the height of her young career: Hayley Mills.

In Search of the Castaways was also an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel and while it might not be as well known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In 80 Days or Journey to the Center of the Earth, it is still a grand adventure of the highest and most exciting caliber.

Disney did a fine job in creating this motion picture and despite a few spots with wonky effects, it is one of the best effects blockbusters of its era. Sure, some of it looks dated but there’s also a certain appeal to it. And frankly, none of it breaks the movie or ruins the magic. In fact, it adds an extra level of charm and for fans of classic filmmaking, it’s just cool to experience on the screen.

This is one of those larger-than-life classic films that I wish I could’ve seen on the big screen but it predates me by a few decades. Unfortunately, I’ve never caught it playing anywhere but that’s probably because it’s a fairly forgotten movie. Hell, it isn’t even streaming on Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+.

Honestly, it’s a film that deserves more love. From start-to-finish it is energetic and fun. You’ll like most of the characters, even if the French guy can sometimes grate on the nerves with his singing and goofiness. But for something that is only 98 minutes, the picture covers a lot of ground, goes to a lot of exotic locations and constantly pushes these characters into new situations to overcome.

The core of the story is about two kids looking for their father who is missing somewhere in the world. They’re not immediately sure where but they set off on a long journey, trying to find answers to their father’s whereabouts.

I’m actually kind of surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to reboot this movie yet. I mean, they probably will at some point because original ideas in Hollywood are like trying to catch a leprechaun. However, it’d be damn hard for a modern version of this story to have the same sort of cinematic magic.

All in all, this is just an amusing and lovable picture. It’s a sort of perfect storm of several important factors just coming together and gelling the right way: a Jules Verne story, Disney’s blockbuster filmmaking style and Hayley Mills in her prime. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the ’50s & ’60s, as well as other Disney Hayley Mills movies and other Disney adventure films of the time.

Film Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Release Date: June 25th, 1962 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Music by: Edwin Astley
Cast: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I am going to teach you to sing, Christine. I am going to give you a new voice! A voice so wonderful that theatres all over the world will be filled with your admirers. You will be the greatest star the opera has ever known. Greater than the greatest! And when you sing, Christine, you will be singing only… for me.” – The Phantom

My memories of this film were much fonder than they probably should have been. Granted, I love Hammer horror, especially the films directed by Terence Fisher. Plus, this had Michael Gough in it and that guy’s typically fantastic.

I still like this film and I thought that the look of it was great and akin to what one would expect from a Hammer horror movie of this era. I also love the look of The Phantom and thought that his mask is one of the best the character has ever had in this story’s long history and countless adaptations.

My biggest issue with this film, though, is that it is really slow and kind of boring, as some segments just drag along at a snail’s pace.

Also, the alterations to the plot didn’t really seem to benefit the story and I have to question why this deviated so much. I mean, that’s something that Hammer did often, as they wanted to tell their own story while using these famous literary characters but The Phantom of the Opera is already a pretty one-note story with a pretty one-note monster. This is probably why there weren’t a slew of Phantom sequels in the classic horror runs of Universal Studios and Hammer Films, which saw several Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies.

Still, this is a good, competent film. It’s just not Hammer or Fisher’s best and it sort of feels like it was half-assed at the production stage. Maybe Hammer kept striking oil with all of Fisher’s other films based on classic monsters and all parties involved just phoned this one in.

I used to think of this as one of my favorite film adaptations of the story but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lon Chaney or Claude Rains versions.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer films of the late ’50s through early ’70s, especially those directed by Terence Fisher.

Film Review: Ben (1972)

Release Date: June 21st, 1972 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Gilbert Ralston
Based on: characters by Stephen Gilbert
Music by: Walter Scharf
Cast: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell, Rosemary Murphy, Meredith Baxter, Bruce Davison (archive footage)

Bing Crosby Productions, Rysher Entertainment, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[singing while showing his Ben marionette to the real rat, Ben] Start the day, oh come along now, Ben. Come on out, before I count to ten. If you stay, you will miss all the fun and there’s room for everyone.” – Danny Garrison

Well, this is a very different movie than its predecessor. But I think a lot of that is due to the main character being a young, sick boy who has a passion for making marionettes and singing his own show tunes.

It’s a weird film in that the tone is completely inconsistent throughout, as on one hand, it feels like a dramatic kids movie about a sad boy that likes being creative and theatrical, while on the other hand, it’s about rats that eat people. These two things can work together but in this film, they don’t.

Also, coming off of how dark the first film ended, this comes off as even stranger and not really sure of what it’s supposed to be building off of.

That being said, I still kind of enjoyed it. Not to the point that I’d probably ever watch it again but it’s such a unique and disjointed picture that it’s hard not to be somewhat lured into it.

Also, the kid is really charming and you do feel for him and his situation, even if there are moments where he show signs of being a totally evil little shit.

This also feels more like a TV movie than an actual theatrical motion picture. It felt like a two-hour pilot to a TV series sequel of the first film. Weirdly, it plays like its trying to appeal to kids.

Anyway, a boy finds Ben, the leader of the rat army from Willard, befriends him and sees him as his only friend because the only other kid in the movie is a bully. The kid lies to his sister and mother about what’s actually going on and he even covers up for the rats when they try to eat the bully kid.

There’s not much to really sink your teeth into with this one and honestly, it’s probably most famous for the theme song Michael Jackson provided and simply because it’s the sequel to a cult classic film. 

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s predecessor Willard, as well as the 2003 Willard remake with Crispin Glover.

Comic Review: Nightwing: Our Worlds at War – One-Shot

Published: July 11th, 2001
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Rick Leonardi, John Lowe, Noelle Giddings, Jae Lee (cover)

DC Comics, 36 Pages

Review:

While this was released as a one-shot comic book, it is tied-in to a larger story arc. Therefore, working as its own story, it kind of falls flat, as I wasn’t privy to the details and didn’t have the context to fit this into.

It’s pretty enjoyable though for those who like the relationship between Nightwing and Oracle. They’ve been my favorite semi-romantic pairing in comics since it was first teased and they’ve always had good chemistry when written well. Thankfully, this benefits from having Chuck Dixon as the writer, as he really gets both characters and their bond.

And ultimately, this story is carried by that bond.

Other than that, this sees our heroes traveling backwards through time in an effort to arrive at a place where the story’s unseen villain can’t touch them and thus, alter their present and future.

This is pretty short but we do get to see several different scenarios of the heroes coming into a new time and having to immediately deal with the threats waiting for them. In the end, they have to find a way to outwit the villain who is orchestrating these traps.

I wasn’t aware that this was tied to a larger plot and it probably would’ve read better had I known that beforehand and actually read the whole arc. However, there is still enough to sink your teeth into and it just further solidifies why these two characters are two of the most beloved in DC Comics lore.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Chuck Dixon era Nightwing and Batman comics.

Video Game Review: Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six (NES)

While not all licensed property video games are created equal, most in the 8-bit era were terrible. While this isn’t as good as DuckTales or the ’89 Batman game, it is actually better than most games like it. It certainly blows that Nintendo X-Men game out of the water! It’s also a lot less frustrating than the Silver Surfer game, which gave me an ulcer and a permanent lifelong migraine when I was eleven years-old.

This Spider-Man game is fairly okay but it pales in comparison to the 16-bit games like the first Genesis Spider-Man title and the much beloved Maximum Carnage.

Still, this brings together the Sinister Six and lets you fight through them all in an effort to stop their nefarious plan.

This version of the villain group consists of Doctor Octopus, Hobgoblin, The Vulture, The Sandman, Electro and Mysterio. All of them are regular Sinister Six members so I was pretty happy with the lineup, as we didn’t get stuck with some schmo like Carrion, Boomerang, Tarantula, Vermin or Shocker.

As far as design goes, the levels are pretty basic and a bit tedious to work through. Granted, the game certainly isn’t unbeatable and you can get through it with enough practice or if you’re just an 8-bit platform master.

The biggest thing working against you though, isn’t the level design and overabundance of enemies and projectiles, it’s the clunky, shitty mechanics. Spidey is a bitch to control and the physics are terrible.

When it comes to boss battles, most of them seem pretty hard the first time but once you figure out the enemy’s pattern, they aren’t too hard to beat. I actually thought the final boss, Doctor Octopus, was one of the easiest in the game.

Overall, this is both fun and frustrating. For those who grew up in this game’s era and who loved the Sinister Six story arcs in the comics, you’ll most likely enjoy this. Even if it overwhelms you about midway through, it’s not a hard game to adjust to and eventually conquer.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling 8-bit era action games based on comic books characters.

Book Review: ‘The Secrets of Writing: How to Write Great Fiction’ by James Hudnall

This book was recommended to me by a friend on Twitter who knew that I was currently working on a comic book script. The author, James Hudnall, also has a pretty invaluable YouTube page with a lot of solid advice on it, as well.

That being said, even though I’ve been a writer my entire life and have published four books, I’m always down with learning new techniques and new approaches from others.

Hudnall, who has had a ton of experience writing in multiple mediums gives some good, solid pointers on how to create better works in regards to fiction.

For me, even though I’ve always written fiction, it’s the one area where I’ve had the most trouble, as I’ve found it difficult ending stories in the right way. I can build worlds, create good characters and send them off on adventures but in the realm of wrapping things up, I’ve always had some difficulty.

I can write non-fiction all damn day, though. Hell, I can pump out ten-to-twenty reviews daily if I have to. Granted, they’d wane in quality but writing a mass amount of content has never been the issue for me.

Hudnall’s book really helped and I’m glad that I read it after finishing the first draft of my current comic book project. It’s allowed for me to go through the draft and pinpoint areas that need some improvement.

For those that want to write fiction or that feel the need to get better at it, this is a pretty cool book to read and it just may help.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Also known as: Spider-Man: No More, Spider-Man 2: Lives, The Amazing Spider-Man (working title), Spider-Man 2.1 (recut version)
Release Date: June 25th, 2004 (Lithuania)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Alvin Sargent, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Alfred Molina, Donna Murphy, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Baker, Daniel Gillies, Vanessa Ferlito, Elya Baskin, Hal Sparks, Joel McHale, Emily Deschanel, Joey Diaz, Chloe Dykstra, John Landis (cameo), Willem Dafoe (cameo), Cliff Robertson (cameo), Phil LaMarr (uncredited), Peyton List (uncredited)

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 127 Minutes, 135 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“We need a hero, couragous sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero, people line up for ’em, cheer for them, scream their names, and years later tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who told them to HOLD ON a second longer. I believe theres a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble. And finally gets us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want most, even our dreams.” – May Parker

I always thought of Spider-Man 2 as the superior film between the first two. However, having revisited them for the first time in over a decade, I think they break even. And that’s a good thing, as the first was a wee bit better than I remembered and this one was just about the same.

I like the story and the stakes in the first one better but this film has what I consider to be one of the greatest moments in superhero film history, if not the greatest.

That moment comes at the end of the train battle where Spider-Man exposes himself to the people on the train while he is risking his own life to save them from a horrible death. Those people, in a very powerful moment, stand up for Spidey and vow to protect his identity. Shit gets me misty… every fucking time.

The rest of the film is pretty great too and while I get bored with there being a lot of romance in superhero films, Sam Raimi did a stupendous job with these pictures, as he truly captures the emotions and the heartbreak of the characters, showing both sides of the equation equally and fairly.

A lot of the credit also has to go to Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who played these roles greatly while also having incredible chemistry. Sure, their story gets a bit fucked up in the third film but I’ll review that one in about a week.

Another thing I like about the film is how Raimi foreshadows things to come. Spider-Man is exposed to the public, which sort of foreshadows his identity becoming known to his love Mary Jane and his best friend Harry Osborn, who has vowed to get revenge on Spider-Man for the accidental death of his father.

It also foreshadows stories to come after this film by including Dr. Curt Connors, the man who would become The Lizard, as well as J. Jonah Jameson’s son, who would become Man-Wolf. Granted, Raimi never got to explore these characters more, as Spider-Man 4 and the films following it were eventually cancelled after the third movie misfired pretty hard.

It also felt like the groundwork was being laid for a Sinister Six story, which would become a focal point of The Amazing Spider-Man films that followed but that series was also cancelled in favor of another reboot that brought Spidey into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe via Captain America: Civil War and his own solo films and guest appearances that followed.

Anyway, getting back on the topic of this film, my only real criticisms of it are the same as the previous one and that’s the visual style of it and how it looks overly copper. Granted, that feels like it is less of a problem here and the visual aesthetic was a bit more fine tuned and natural looking.

Apart from that, I just don’t like Dr. Octopus as much as I liked the Green Goblin. Both characters had weird designs and outfits in these movies but with the films being so good, you quickly look passed that. But Octopus feels kind of generic and uninspiring. While I like Alfred Molina in the role, I felt like he needed more meat to chew on and a much better look. In the end, however, you do really sympathize with him when he realizes what he’s done and decides to undo his work in an effort to save New York City and redeem himself in the eyes of Peter Parker, a kid he likes and respects.

Wrapping up two movies, this picture has an absolutely perfect ending. If the series ended here, it probably would’ve been remembered even more fondly but we did get that third film that derailed everything and it sort of left a stink on top of the series. Plus, after this, it would’ve felt almost criminal not to continue on.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: I Come In Peace (1990)

Also known as: Dark Angel (original title), Lethal Contact (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1990 (South Korea)
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
Written by: Jonathan Tydor, David Koepp
Music by: Jan Hammer
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas, Michael J. Pollard, Al Leong

Vision PDG, Epic Productions, Trans World Entertainment, Triumph Releasing Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Either you’re Santa Claus or you’re dead, pal.” – Jack Caine

At least this movie isn’t as bad as its poster.

That’s not to say that this is a good film by any stretch of the imagination but I enjoyed it for what it was, a pretty mindless, hard-edged action flick starring Dolph Lundgren at the height of his earlier career.

The story follows a badass, no nonsense, “fuck playing by the book”, ’80s movie cop. He discovers that an alien drug dealer has arrived on Earth and is killing people to steal endorphins from their brains, as that’s a powerful narcotic on his home planet. He uses some snake-like tendril that shoots out of his wrist and sucks the endorphin juice out of humans like a crazy straw.

The alien has a goofy weapon that is basically a CD disc what flies around, slitting throats and chopping off body parts. He also has a pretty badass gun that looks like a fairly normal pistol but it fires more like an attack from an Apache helicopter. It’s absolutely ridiculous but it definitely gives this film a few extra badass points.

Let’s not talk about the acting, the direction or the paper thin plot that makes you suspend disbelief at record levels. The quality of those things are exactly what one would expect from a cheesy sci-fi action flick from this era.

I like the tone and the visual style of the movie. It’s certainly derivative of the other schlock-y goodness one can compare this film to but it utilizes these things much better than average and setting it in Houston, as opposed to L.A., New York or Chicago, was a nice touch that gave the viewer something cool to look at, as far as the background environments.

Honestly, this isn’t a motion picture that I’d really recommend to anyone, other than those that really like the combination of the action and sci-fi genres from a time when action films were still unapologetic, balls out bonanzas. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dolph Lundgren action pictures of the era, as well as other R-rated sci-fi action flicks.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 4

Published: June 5th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 272 Pages

Review:

I’ve been blowing through these Fantastic Four – Masterworks collections pretty fast. But these represent the collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at its best while also showcasing the earliest stages of the Marvel universe, as it was still developing, taking shape and hitting its stride.

This one kicks off with the second Fantastic Four annual and then collects issues 31 through 40.

I’ve always wanted to read the second annual and man, it did not disappoint. It actually tells the origin of Doctor Doom, as well as showing him meet Rama-Tut a.k.a. Kang the Conqueror for the first time. I knew enough of what was in this massive 72-page issue but I never got to read it until now.

Beyond that, this gives us more Namor, the return of the Mole Man, as well as a great Skrull story. Probably my two favorite things come in the second half though, which sees the debut of the villainous Frightful Four, as well as the first time that the Fantastic Four meet Daredevil, which is a great story on its own.

This was a real high point for me in the overall grander Fantastic Four mythos. A lot of cool stuff happens and this just keeps building up the Marvel universe in a great way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.