Film Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Release Date: September 25th, 2012 (Part I) and January 29th, 2013 (Part II)
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Bob Goodman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley, Paget Brewster, Grey DeLisle, Michael McKean, Bruce Timm, Frank Welker, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Tara Strong

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 76 Minutes (Part I), 76 Minutes (Part II), 148 Minutes (Deluxe Edition)

Review:

“You don’t get it, son. This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.” – Batman

When I see that there is a new DC Comics animated adaptation of a famous comic book story coming out, I usually don’t get too excited. The reason being, most of them take tremendous liberties and just sort of do their own thing, ignoring the story they’re “based” on and making the whole thing nothing more than a bullshit marketing scheme to sell more Blu-rays.

I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this film, a true adaptation that really captured the spirit of Frank Miller’s most famous Batman story.

I put off watching this for a very long time and I only gave it a shot because a friend of mine that actually reads comics told me it was definitely worth my time. He wasn’t wrong.

This film does a fine job of capturing the magic of Miller’s story and it also has some solid homages to the imagery of the famous comic.

I guess my biggest gripe is that even though the animation is really good, it sort of just looks like the other DC Comics animated features. DC has a specific style to its animated films and this falls in line with it. For what this project is and what it represents, I fell as if the art should have been closer to the style and tone of the actual comic. This took a big step forward from a narrative standpoint but the visual style really should have been unique, grittier and more in line with Frank Miller’s art.

I also wasn’t crazy about the length of this but that’s really my own problem, as I start to tune out when watching animation for too long. I don’t really know how this could have been edited down and because it adapts a very rich story in a really great way, I’d leave it alone. It fills the time well and there really isn’t a dull moment.

The voice actors were all superb. Peter Weller was perfect as an old Batman and Ariel Winter, who had to have been really young when this was made, was very convincing as the Carrie Kelley version of Robin.

I’ve watched a lot of DC Comics animated stuff since the ’90s and this is certainly in the upper echelon of the things they’ve put out.

If you love The Dark Knight Returns in comic book form, this shouldn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other recent DC animated Batman and Justice League films.

 

Film Review: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1969 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Bert Batt
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 98 Minutes, 101 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I have become the victim of everything that Frankenstein and I ever advocated. My brain is in someone else’s body.” – Professor Richter

It’s been a really long time since I have seen this chapter in the Hammer Films’ Frankenstein series. This is the fifth one out of the six movies starring Peter Cushing and it’s my favorite one after the original.

Even though I really like this installment, it has its ups and downs but the film really plays out like a good drama with horror and sci-fi elements thrown in.

This has some of the best acting in the series and the inclusion of Veronica Carlson was a strong positive for me. She is one of the more talented Hammer scream queens and really takes over the screen in the scenes where she is featured. It also doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning in that old school, classic beauty sort of way.

I also thought that the rest of the cast was pretty damn good for a Hammer picture that came out towards the end of their two decade run as kings of horror.

Peter Cushing is absolutely dastardly in this one and while that does a fine job of building suspense, tension and the desire to see him get his comeuppance, it did feel uncharacteristic for his version of Baron Frankenstein. We’ve come to know him over the four films before this one and he’s always operated fairly consistently. Sure, he’s done evil shit before but he just has an extra edge to him here. He isn’t driven by his science and obsession over his work. Instead, he seems to be driven by the fact that he enjoys being a complete bastard. His dive into deeper evil is punctuated by him raping Veronica Carlson’s character and frankly, that’s the most uncharacteristic thing that he does in the film. He never cared about the ladies before but that changed with this movie. For the first time, it made him truly unlikable. I guess it makes him more of a pure villain but I always liked to think that there was still some way to save his soul and that he was just a victim of his own mania.

I love that the “monster” in this maintains his intelligence and isn’t just a dumb, hulking brute. It’s about time that Baron Frankenstein’s experiments reach a higher level. And I’m glad that this ignored the absolute weirdness of the previous film that saw the mad doctor trapping souls.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed benefited most by having the series’ best director, Terence Fisher, return. This felt like a true sequel to the original more than any of the other films and in some ways, it was probably another soft reboot, as the continuity in this film series doesn’t seem to matter from film to film.

This is solid, classic Hammer. This is a prime example of why they were masters of the horror genre from the mid-’50s through the mid-’70s.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

Also known as: Kyōryū Kaichō no Densetsu, lit. Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds (Japan), The Legend of Dinosaurs (US alternate title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Junji Kurata
Written by: Masaru Igami, Isao Matsumoto, Ichirô Ôtsu
Music by: Masao Yagi
Cast: Tsunehiko Watase, Nobiko Sawa, Shotaro Hayashi

Toei Company, 94 Minutes

Review:

The trailer for this Toei picture is actually infinitely better looking than the film itself. Yes, the scenes from the trailer are in the film but the movie lacks energy and excitement and the action just seems pretty minuscule. Basically, this is a really boring movie and I’m a guy that loves kaiju and tokusatsu films.

While I have watched a lot of Toei pictures, this one eluded me until I found it at the end of the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was never brought back for the show’s nationally televised run unlike several of their first season features.

Considering the era in which this film was made, it was greatly inspired by Jaws and the Hollywood trend of having giant animals attack humans. Being that this is Japanese though, the animals here are much more fantastical than their more plausible American counterparts. This really is just a standard kaiju movie but one with generic looking monsters that lack the personality of Toho or Daiei’s more famous creatures.

This never got a theatrical release in the United States but it did appear on television in 1987 with a terrible dub track. In all honesty, the atrocious dubbing really hurts the picture and is probably a major reason as to why this plays so poorly. There isn’t a subtitled version of this that I have been able to track down.

If you like this style of film, there are so many that are much better. If you’re a kaiju completist though, you should probably check this out. I doubt it will wow you but at least you can check it off of your list.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Toei’s other kaiju and tokustatu stuff, as well as lower budget, more generic kaiju pictures that don’t feature famous monsters.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Also known as: RoboCop II (working title)
Release Date: June 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer, Gabriel Damon, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Willard E. Pugh, Frank Miller, John Glover, Fabiana Udenio

Tobor Productions, Orion Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes we just have to start over, from scratch, to make things right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a brand-new city where Detroit now stands – an example to the world.” – The Old Man

Do you remember that time that RoboCop showed up on a WCW pay-per-view to rescue Sting from the Four Horsemen? Well, that was a stunt to promote this movie. That being said, it would have been a better stunt to promote the third film, as this one wasn’t quite as cheesy as that terrible professional wrestling segment. Spoiler alert: the third movie is terrible but I’ll review that one at a later date.

RoboCop 2 is no RoboCop but it is still a pretty solid sequel, all things considered, and it is still to this day the second best RoboCop film.

Now this isn’t, by any means, a classic. It is, however, a pretty good example of a sequel that can expand on an already established mythos and expand on it in a new way, enriching the world these characters live in and giving us new material that isn’t simply just a retread of the already proven formula.

Peter Weller is still excellent and I was glad that we got to see more of him playing off of Nancy Allen. They have a nice chemistry, which existed in the first movie but didn’t really flourish until the end of it. Sadly, this would be the last time they’d share scenes together, as Weller dropped out of the series before RoboCop 3 was filmed.

The real scene stealer in this film is Tom Noonan, who just plays creepy bad guys so damn well. This was the first time that I remember seeing him but he went on to be one of my favorite character actors of his day. Although, the scenes with the young Gabriel Damon, who plays the child gangster Hob, were pretty f’n great too. The villains here aren’t as great as Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox in the first RoboCop but they are still fantastic foils and gave RoboCop two new types of threats that he didn’t face in the first movie.

I also liked the girl, Angie, and the top level henchman that looked like a cross between Joe Bob Briggs and Elvis.

Additionally, I love that Tom Noonan’s Cain is made into a new cyborg, appropriately called “RoboCop 2”. This was the first time that we got to see RoboCop fight a big villain that was similar to himself and not just a human meatbag. Granted, he has two run ins with ED-209 in the first film but those were relatively easy confrontations for him.

I liked that they really embraced the dark humor a bit more in this film too. The use of kids as legitimate juvenile delinquents in an almost post-apocalyptic Detroit was damn cool. Especially when I saw this as a kid.

A real standout for me though was Willard E. Pugh. I talked about him a bit when I reviewed the severely lackluster The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 because he stood out in that film and was pretty funny and the same can be said here. In this film, he plays the mayor of Detroit and he’s just so enjoyable that it’s almost a crime that he didn’t come back for RoboCop 3. Other than this film, he is probably most famous for playing Trustus Jones in CB4.

My only real complaint about this film is that the score was all new. Basil Poledouris did not return so I guess they didn’t use his iconic themes. The score here is decent but it lacks the extra gravitas that the original RoboCop theme had. Poledouris would return for RoboCop 3, however.

RoboCop 2 is a sequel worthy of following its predecessor. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, or so they say, but this was much better than other sequels to sci-fi classics.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first RoboCop movie and the first two Terminator movies.

Film Review: Batman Ninja (2018)

Release Date: March 24th, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Junpei Mizusaki
Written by: Kazuki Nakashima
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Yugo Kanno
Cast: Tony Hale (English dub), Tara Strong (English dub), Kōichi Yamadera, Wataru Takagi, Ai Kakuma, Rie Kugimiya, Hōchū Ōtsuka

DC Entertainment, Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks, Barnum Studio, Warner Bros., 85 Minutes

Review:

“This is madness.” – Batman

Yes… yes it is, Batman.

The only reason I checked this out is that it’s on the DC Universe app, which I now have and am trying out. Other than that, I didn’t have much interest in this.

However, some of the character designs looked cool and I thought that this might just be bonkers enough to be enjoyable. The problem is that I only made it about twenty minutes into the film before I regretted hitting the play button.

Cool and interesting character designs don’t mean much outside of a sketchbook of conceptual art. You have to apply these cool looking characters in an engaging and dynamic way and this anime fails to do just that.

This movie is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions and I’m pretty sure that the creators behind this had no idea what the hell they wanted to do apart from throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen just for the sake of throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen.

The story is all over the place, makes little sense, I can’t tell what the hell is happening through most of the film and there’s a big mecha battle because this is Japanese and it can’t exist without a big mecha battle.

This is a bunch of cool, unrelated shit thrown into a blender without little care as to whether or not it would blend well and be enjoyable, let alone remotely palatable. I had an uncle that had throat cancer and for awhile, he had to blend up every meal. His face while drinking his meals was similar to mine while trying to drink in this movie.

Batman Ninja is abhorrent and it should not have been made. It’s existence reminds me of the most famous of all of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s quotes: “Your scientists creators were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: terrible to subpar anime.

Film Review: The Pest (1997)

Release Date: February 7th, 1997
Directed by: Paul Miller
Written by: David Bar Katz, John Leguizamo
Music by: Kevin Kiner
Cast: John Leguizamo, Jeffrey Jones, Freddy Rodriguez, Aries Spears

Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment International, The Bubble Factory, TriStar Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“[speaking to some Germans] So, you started a few wars, aight? Okay, you actually started every war but I mean who’s counting; it’s not like you ever won one, right? [laughs and pulls Leo’s pants down]” – Pest

When people often ask me what’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen, this always pops into my mind as a strong candidate. However, that’s all from memory and I hadn’t seen this since I saw it on a date in 1997. My date ended up not being my prom date because she made me watch this.

Anyway, I was talking about this movie with a friend recently so I figured that I would revisit it to see if it was as bad as I remembered or if it had aged in a way that gave it some sort of redeeming qualities. I mean, I generally like John Leguizamo, his sketch comedy show House of Buggin’ was something I watched in my teen years and he was a scene stealer in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.

But no, this film is still absolute shit. And by modern standards, this would offend all of the snowflakes running around social media today. I wasn’t offended by it but this also came out in an era where people weren’t so sensitive and we weren’t living in a comedic dark age. People were allowed to laugh in 1997. But there isn’t much to laugh at here thanks to the over the top nonsense and idiocy that actually comes off as baffling and surreal.

The Pest has an atrocious script and even though Leguizamo has charm, he can’t keep this turd afloat. The only thing that made me slightly chuckle was the gay German teen but in 2019, I’m an asshole for finding that funny.

This is a film that shouldn’t have been made. I think that Hollywood felt that they had to strike while the iron was hot and Leguizamo was on his way up. But honestly, I think this ultimately hurt his comedy career. Thankfully, he still finds work today but usually you’ll see him in more serious movies.

1997 was a really strange year for John Leguizamo after just coming off of a good, serious performance in Romeo + Juliet but then following that up with this abomination and then Spawn.

If you just want a small sample of how bizarre and off putting The Pest is, go to YouTube and just watch this film’s opening scene.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: a root canal administered by a drunk hobo dressed as a clown.