Film Review: The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Also known as: Mark of Zorro (working title)
Release Date: July 10th, 1998 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: John Eskow, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, Maury Chaykin

David Foster Productions, Amblin Entertainment, TriStar Pictures, 136 Minutes

Review:

“There is a saying, a very old saying: when the pupil is ready the master will appear.” – Don Diego de la Vega

Wow! I forgot how ridiculously fun this movie was. That’s probably because I haven’t seen it since the theater and for whatever reason, I just never got around to seeing it again. Also, I haven’t seen the sequel either but I’m going to rectify that very, very soon.

To start, Antonio Banderas was pretty damn perfect as Zorro. Almost too perfect, honestly. But then, Anthony Hopkins is also pretty close to perfect as an aged Don Diego a.k.a. the most well-known Zorro.

If that’s confusing, it shouldn’t be. You see, this is a movie with two Zorros in it! Yes, two!

Hopkins’ Don Diego is at the end of his swashbuckling career due to his older age but also because he was imprisoned by an evil bastard that stole his daughter and raised her as his own. The villain also carried a grudge because Don Diego had the child with the woman he loved.

Upon escaping prison, Don Diego still has a score to settle and he must bring down the villain. However, he meets a young man with an enemy of his own, who is the right hand of the big villain. So Don Diego takes the younger Alejandro Murrieta and trains him to be the next Zorro.

Over the course of the story, Alejandro falls in love with the villain’s daughter, Elena. Elena, by the end of the story, learns that Don Diego is her true father and shit hits the fan in one epic, incredible finale.

This motion picture truly embodies everything a Zorro story should have: adventure, action, romance, swashbuckling and a lighthearted, playful style of humor. Again, Banderas was perfect as this story’s primary Zorro and it’s as if he was born to play this character. Additionally, his chemistry with Catherine Zeta-Jones and camaraderie with Anthony Hopkins are immensely enjoyable.

Man, I just loved the hell out of this and even though I haven’t seen the sequel, it’s kind of a shame that this didn’t become an ongoing franchise with Banderas as the lead. Although, there have been rumors that Quentin Tarantino wants to bring Banderas back for a Zorro meets Django movie. Tarantino actually wrote a comic book miniseries that featured both characters. I reviewed that here.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (1990)

Release Date: October 25th, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: George T. Miller
Written by: Karin Howard
Based on: The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Jonathan Brandis, Kenny Morrison, Clarissa Burt, John Wesley Shipp, Martin Umbach, Thomas Hill, Noah Hathaway (uncredited archival footage)

Cinevox Filmproduktion GmbH, Bavaria Film, Warner Bros., 89 Minutes

Review:

“Ahh, but have you ever read a book twice? Books change each time you read them.” – Mr. Koreander

While I never saw this as being as great as the original film, I did like it back in the day when it came out. It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, though.

Ultimately, this picks up where the first film left off, which actually only adapted the first half of Michael Ende’s classic children’s book. This does take some extreme liberties, though, and there are still some cool things from Ende’s novels that weren’t properly adapted. Granted, some of it may be too bonkers for the medium.

While I think that the sets and most of the special effects are pretty well done, this still looks cheaper than the first movie, which also came out six years earlier.

Because of the passage of time between films, the kids were all recast. While I generally like Jonathan Brandis, I thought that his Bastian just wasn’t on the level of Barret Oliver’s. Additionally, I liked the spunk of the new Atreyu but Kenny Morrison also wasn’t on the level of his predecessor, Noah Hathaway. As far as the Childlike Empress goes, the new actress looked noticeably older, which was odd, as she isn’t supposed to age.

One casting change that I did like, however, was John Wesley Shipp as Bastian’s dad. In the original movie, he was played by “Major Dad” Gerald McRaney, who did an okay job but he was only featured in one or two short scenes. Here, the dad discovers the book and realizes that his son is inside it, trying to save an entire world. When I was a kid, I loved Shipp in this even more because he was starring in The Flash at the same time.

Overall, this is a much weaker film than the first but it isn’t a total dumpster fire like what came after. Also, there’s still enough here to enjoy.

Rating: 6/10

Documentary Review: Closed for Storm (2020)

Also known as: Closed for Storm – The Story of Six Flags New Orleans (complete title)
Release Date: November 7th, 2020 (New Orleans Film Festival)
Directed by: Jake Williams
Written by: Jake Williams
Music by: Matthew Jordan Leeds
Cast: Jake Williams (narrator), various

Bright Sun Films, 78 Minutes, 57 Minutes (festival cut)

Review:

Closed for Storm tells the story of a once great theme park on the edge of New Orleans. It was unfortunately wrecked hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While it started out as Jazzland in 2000, it was bought by Six Flags and renamed Six Flags New Orleans in 2003.

Six Flags had big plans for the park but once Hurricane Katrina hit the area, priorities in New Orleans, in general, changed.

Additionally, the park was flooded and had incredible damage. Over time, it was looted and vandalized and Six Flags decided to cut their losses. Today, it just sits there, vacant.

This documentary interviews people that were involved with the theme park, those who were regular visitors and those who live in the surrounding community, who were promised a lot from the development of the park but now have an eyesore in their backyards that has had the opposite effect of what was promised to them.

This is also a sad story about the death of a piece of Americana. It reminded me a lot of the recent documentary I watched called Jasper Mall, which told the story of a once busy and successful shopping mall that has, in recent years, just barely been able to stay afloat.

Also, growing up in South Florida, I lived through a similar situation when Hurricane Andrew put the nail in the coffin for Six Flags Atlantis, just north of Miami. It was a place I loved to go to and tried to coerce my dad into taking me a few times per year.

I enjoyed this documentary quite a bit and it does leave you with some hope regarding the defunct park. People keep coming up with plans for the site and it’s probably only a matter of time before a trigger is pulled. Although, it probably won’t become another theme park. Just like Six Flags Atlantis was steamrolled and turned into a shopping center.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The War of the Roses (1989)

Release Date: December 4th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Danny DeVito
Written by: Michael J. Leeson
Based on: The War of the Roses by Warren Adler
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Marianne Sagebrecht, Dan Castellaneta, Sean Astin, G.D. Spradlin, Roy Brocksmith

Regency International Pictures, Gracie Films, Twentieth Century Fox, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I think you owe me a solid reason. I worked my ass off for you and the kids to have a nice life and you owe me a reason that makes sense. I want to hear it.” – Oliver Rose, “Because. When I watch you eat. When I see you asleep. When I look at you lately, I just want to smash your face in.” – Barbara Rose

When this came out, I remember my mum rushing out to see it based off of her love of Romancing the Stone and to a lesser extent, The Jewel of the Nile. I then remember her coming home upset because it didn’t have a happy ending and in fact, had a really dark, tragic one. While my mum was a fan of comedy and romance pictures, she was never too keen on black comedy or dark humor in general.

I had never seen this one until now. Sure, I had seen scenes and knew how it would end but I was always kind of disappointed that in the final act of the Douglas-Turner-DeVito trilogy we didn’t get another fun adventure movie akin to their previous films together. I’m still kind of bummed we never got a third Romancing the Stone film but Turner wasn’t happy with The Jewel of the Nile and most people saw it as a big step down.

Anyway, this certainly isn’t a bad film and I find it more palatable than my mum did. But I’ve also always loved dark humor because I was a teenage male in the ’90s and everyone was an edgy boi in love with edgy shit. Also, watching Turner start to go off the deep end in this reminded me a lot of another one of her movies I love: Serial Mom.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this. It’s hard watching this married couple fall apart, though. Also, by the end of the story, neither of them are good people. They just become obsessed with trying to hurt one another and its a game of escalating one-upmanship that ends in their demise.

Some of this really stung because the performances were so good and after the setup and their backstory, it’s hard watching things fall apart and to the extreme extent that they do. I also think that in my mind, as it’s still fresh, and in many people’s minds, we were still in love with the couple we got in their two other movies.

Danny DeVito was just kind of there to be the eyes and ears of the audience, observing and ultimately reporting and telling the story to a client in his office. DeVito starts out as this sort of sleazy lawyer but evolves, as the tale rolls on.

In the end, this isn’t the way I wanted to see this creative partnership between these three great talents end but for decades, this was it. At least Kathleen Turner popped up as Michael Douglas’ ex-wife in his show The Kominsky Method, which I’ve heard is good. I’ll probably give it a watch down the road. Danny DeVito appeared on the show, as well.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: The Jungle Book (1967)

Release Date: October 18th, 1967
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry
Based on: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, John Abbott, Louis Prima, Bruce Reitherman, Clint Howard

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions, 78 Minutes

Review:

“What do they call you?” – Baloo, “His name is Mowgli, and I’m taking him back to the man village.” – Bagheera, “Man village? They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him.” – Baloo, 

While I always liked The Jungle Book it wasn’t one of the films that popped into my head when thinking of Disney’s greatest classic animated features. However, seeing it this time, the first in a few decades, gave me a new appreciation for it, as seeing it through the eyes of an adult made it a richer experience.

The reason for that, is that even though I can relate to Mowgli, I have more appreciation for Bagheera’s point-of-view and also have grown away from my more care-free ways that Baloo exhibits. Well, until Baloo has to ultimately let the kid move on and live his life.

The magic of this film is that it can connect to anyone through the youthful Mowgli but it has the ability to speak to the adults watching it in a way that the kids also probably understand but can’t fully connect to until they’ve actually experienced more in life.

Also, this is just such a fun and jovial movie that its music really stands out for this era of Disney pictures.

I also like the art style and the lush colors and environment.

It reminds me a lot of the film before it, The Sword In the Stone, in how this plays more like two friends going on random adventures where the main plot is just kind of secondary. Except, this does that better and overall, provides a more memorable and emotional bond.

The Jungle Book is simply great. It’s a positive, fun, coming of age story that has some of the best tunes in the history of Disney films.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Terror (1963)

Also known as: The Night of Terror, The Haunting, Lady of the Shadows (alternative titles)
Release Date: June 17th, 1963 (Buffalo premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman; uncredited: Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Jacob, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Jack Nicholson
Written by: Leo Gordon, Jack Hill
Music by: Ronald Stein, Les Baxter (uncredited)
Cast: Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Sandra Knight, Dorothy Neumann, Jonathan Haze

Roger Corman Productions, The Filmgroup, American International Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“The crypt! It must be destroyed, and with it the dead.” – Helene

Man, The Terror is a really bizarre, nonsensical movie but if you are a fan of Corman’s ’60s gothic horror and know about this movie’s strange production, it’s a worthwhile experience to see this playout onscreen.

The movie shares the narrative and visual style of Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe pictures but this features an original, albeit very sloppy, story that was thrown together quickly in an effort to crank out this movie as rapidly as possible to recycle the still standing sets from Corman’s The Raven, which also featured Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson.

While Karloff’s scenes were shot in just two days, the movie took a staggering nine months to complete, which was absolutely unheard of for a Corman production. But like almost every Corman film, this didn’t lose money.

This is also legendary for the fact that so many people worked on it that would go on to be pretty damn famous: Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson, who even worked as one of the many directors, behind the scenes.

The story was written by regular Corman actor Leo Gordon, along with Jack Hill. The story itself is a mess but I don’t know if that’s due to Gordon and Hill’s initial script or if the chaotic production really screwed things up. There is a scene, leading into the finale of the film, where Dick Miller’s character just gives the audience a massive info dump, so that they can make sense out of what the hell they had been watching up to that point.

Overall, the story is all over the place and hard to follow. I feel like the info dump was necessary to salvage it somewhat. However, it doesn’t save the mess and honestly, there is more entertainment value in enjoying the mess itself.

Additionally, you also get to see Karloff work with Nicholson and Dick Miller in almost all of his scenes. It’s just cool seeing these three legends on the screen together despite the overall quality of the film.

In what must’ve been a real treat for a young Francis Ford Coppola, this was released on a double bill with his horror classic, Dementia 13.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: Schindler’s List (1993)

Release Date: November 30th, 1993 (Washington DC premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Zaillian
Based on: Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 195 Minutes

Review:

“It’s Hebrew, it’s from the Talmud. It says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”” – Itzhak Stern

Schindler’s List is nearly thirty years-old but I hadn’t seen the movie until now. I knew the story of Schindler but I also had assumptions about this movie that I found out weren’t entirely true after having finally watched it.

I expected this to be immensely depressing and also very, very long. The combination of those two things is why I could never get myself to sit down and watch it.

Additionally, based off of the footage I had seen over the last few decades, I assumed this was going to focus on the actual horrors of the Holocaust primarily and that the story would be pretty minimal. I was glad to learn that this has a very layered and deep story, more so than I could have anticipated.

Sure, I assumed it would be superbly acted and it most definitely is. Liam Neeson is incredible, as are Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes and Embeth Davidtz. Yet I was still blown away and surprised by how good their performances were and I was much more moved by that than the specific horrors that happen in the movie. It’s those performances that kept the horrors and tragedy grounded and genuine.

I thought that this was going to be more docu-drama than a narrative driven, performance driven motion picture.

This may also be Steven Spielberg’s best work behind the camera, as some of the shots aren’t just incredible but they’re almost otherworldly. I love that he did this in black and white, which makes it kind of timeless, but also makes it tonally darker.

I really enjoyed John Williams’ beautiful score and it is certainly one of the greatest things he has done in his long career, as a composer who has probably made more memorable movie themes than any other.

The subject matter, here, is really hard to digest. However, this is a story that should be known by everyone. We can’t forget these atrocities because we’re doomed to repeat them in the future, as insane and implausible as that may sound.

After watching this and Grave of the Fireflies just a few days apart, I really need something uplifting because that was a lot of dark human shit that I had to experience in a short span.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Release Date: September 10th, 2009 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Diablo Cody
Music by: Stephen Barton, Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J. K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Adam Brody, Kyle Gallner, Chris Pratt, Bill Fagerbakke, Lance Henriksen 

Dune Entertainment, Fox Atomic, 20th Century Fox, 102 Minutes

Review:

“You know what? You were never really a good friend. Even when we were little, you used to steal my toys and pour lemonade on my bed.” – Needy, “And now, I’m eating your boyfriend. See? At least I’m consistent.” – Jennifer

I never had a burning urge to see this movie and because of that, I didn’t check it out until now. The reason being is that this appeared on The Criterion Channel, of all places, and it made me wonder if there was some hidden artistic genius in this that I, and most of the world, slept on in 2009. That curiosity made me finally give this a shot.

I was pretty underwhelmed by it and it’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be but more boring and featuring a lot less of Jennifer’s body than an average male would hope for.

Sure, Megan Fox shows some skin and I didn’t expect her to go nude or anything but this is a lot less racier than the marketing in 2009 implied. In its defense, however, this was marketed poorly, as it is more geared towards a female audience than a male one, not to say males wouldn’t enjoy it either. However, the strong female message in it is pretty lost amongst all the craziness and sloppy, nonsensical, hole-riddled plot.

I know that Jennifer was murdered in a Satanic ritual by a terrible band wanting fame and fortune. I also know that this ritual turned her into a demon or maybe she was possessed? I don’t know. I’m not sure if she actually survived and acquired this power or died and came back or maybe was just some demon piloting her corpse. Was she alive? Dead? Undead? What are her powers exactly? What are her weaknesses? She died really fucking easily, getting stabbed by a boxcutter. Yet she was brutally stabbed a bunch of times by a giant Bowie knife earlier in the film during the ritual that made her whatever the fuck she is.

None of this stuff is clearly explained, no actual rules for the film are established and what we end up with was a total clusterfuck where things just happen because the plot needs them too.

Additionally, the dialogue was pretty cringe. It’s like it was trying to emulate Mean Girls a decade too late. However, beyond that, the writing also fails the characters, as they both have these multiple personality shifts that don’t logically make sense.

I thought that Megan Fox gave a pretty mundane performance, overall. Although, Amanda Seyfried saved the film from being total shit and she was likable, except for when her character wasn’t acting like her character.

In the end, I guess I’ve seen this and I never have to watch it again. However, now I’m even more confused as to why The Criterion Channel even bothered with this.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: The Jewel of the Nile (1985)

Release Date: December 4th, 1985 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: Mark Rosenthal, Lawrence Konner
Based on: characters by Diane Thomas
Music by: Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Holland Taylor, Spiros Focas, Avner Eisenberg

SLM Production Group, Stone Group Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, 106 Minutes

Review:

“How much romance can one woman take?” – Joan Wilder

This very rapidly produced sequel to Romancing the Stone is better than I remembered but I also hadn’t seen it since about 1987ish.

While it’s not quite on the same level as Romancing the Stone it’s still a fun movie with enjoyable characters and exudes Indiana Jones vibes while being made in the best era for movies like that.

Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are, once again, a great pairing. However, this time around, Danny DeVito is more directly involved with them and it just adds a new element that’s amusing to watch.

In this story, the two leads are now in love and traveling the world. While at a book event on the southern French coast, Turner’s Joan Wilder is recruited by a rising dictator, who she believes is a good leader, to return with him to his country and pen his biography. She leaves Douglas’ Jack Colton behind where he is lucky enough to dodge an assassination attempt. Joan quickly discovers she must write propaganda and is a prisoner that must comply with this dictator’s wishes. Jack and DeVito’s Ralph travel to the dictator’s homeland. While looking to rescue Joan, Jack finds her just as she is escaping with an ally, who is actually the MacGuffin of the story.

As an adventure comedy, this hits the right notes for the most part. There are solid action sequences and everything was pulled off wonderfully for a movie that was rushed and also had major production issues.

Kathleen Turner actually didn’t want to do the film because she didn’t like the script. Michael Douglas, who was the producer, told her it would improve with some rewrites, so she went along with it. In the end, she wasn’t happy with the final product and she isn’t wrong in seeing this as inferior to its predecessor. However, it’s still a great film to escape into for a few hours and these characters are just fun to watch.

It could also be possible that this just didn’t have the right sort of feminine touch and lacked the kind of perspective needed for Turner’s character arc. Romancing the Stone was written by a woman and had the right energy in regards to the feminine half of the film. This picture was written by two men and with that, this comes across as more action and adventure driven where the romance sort of takes a backseat other than a few small scenes.

The Jewel of the Nile was still a decent follow up but I get why it’s become a somewhat forgotten film while its predecessor is still beloved by many. I can also see why this didn’t lead to a proper sequel another year or so later. But in the end, both movies are entertaining.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Also known as: Hotaru no haka (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Based on: Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka
Music by: Michio Mamiya
Cast: Japanese Language: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi; English Language: Adam Gibbs, Emily Neves, Shelley Calene-Black, Marcy Bannor, Andrew Love

Shinchosha Company, Studio Ghibli, Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” – Seita

Man, this is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen but it is also one of the greatest anime pictures ever crafted. It’s a massive gut punch to the soul and it’s also one of the sweetest, beautiful films I’ve ever experienced.

This was made by Studio Ghibli and it was the first film they did that was directed by Isao Takahata, as opposed to Hayao Miyazaki. Upon its release, it was paired up with another Studio Ghibli film, Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.

The story is about a fourteen year-old boy and his four year-old sister, whose father went off to war and whose mother was burned alive by an American attack on their town during the height of World War II. The orphaned kids go to live with their horrible aunt but eventually, she rejects them and they have to try to survive on their own, living in a cave by a lake. They have no money, no food and eventually the little girl gets very sick. Once the boy finds out that his father is most likely dead, things really, really get dark and whatever hope these kids had is gone.

Yet, in spite of all that, the bond of these siblings is powerful and there’s nothing but love between them and that’s what makes the picture so precious and so heartbreaking once you reach the tragic, immensely depressing end of the film.

I respect that this movie shows the horrors of war and also that it shows it from the perspective of the other side, at least for those of us in America. I think it’s an important story to tell, as these are things that most people don’t want to think about. Especially, when our government is at war with another government because its not the regular civilians that are generally doing the fighting but it’s those people who are the victims of the fighting, more times than not.

The fact that this is a story about kids is supposed to make the message more powerful.

Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible, beautiful and emotional picture about what can happen to innocence when it’s confronted by the worst parts of humanity. The film is astonishingly effective and it not only accomplishes what Isao Takahata wanted to say but it greatly exceeds it.

Rating: 10/10