Documentary Review: Walt & El Grupo (2008)

Release Date: April 26th, 2008 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Directed by: Theodore Thomas
Written by: Theodore Thomas
Music by: James Stemple
Cast: Walt Disney (archive footage), various

Theodore Thomas Productions, Walt Disney Studios,106 Minutes

Review:

Walt & El Grupo is the story of Walt Disney’s 1941 US government sponsored trip to Latin America with a group of other artists in an attempt to study the culture in an effort to create two of Disney’s World War II era animated features: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

Considering that I really like those two movies, quite a bit, it was cool finally seeing the story behind their creation.

For those that don’t know, those movies were made to get Americans interested in traveling to the beautiful, exotic nations south of us. The films also gave us one of my favorite Disney animated characters, José Carioca! Granted, I also like Panchito Pistoles but José takes the cake for me.

Walt Disney was always a fascinating figure to me, so learning the reasons behind why he did this was pretty neat. It was also nice learning about who went with him and what they all were looking for and how they created the iconic material that they did from this Latin American adventure.

It was really cool seeing what the culture was like in Latin America in the early 1940s and kind of comparing that to where those places are at now. I like that this documentary showed these places in the modern era, in an effort to illustrate their changes and growth. Granted, that wasn’t the bulk of the story here.

The most important thing about this documentary is that it simply helps you understand Walt’s creative process, his business mind and his passion.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Odd Man Out (1947)

Release Date: January 30th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: R. C. Sherriff
Based on: Odd Man Out by F. L. Green
Music by: William Alwyn
Cast: James Mason, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Kathleen Ryan, F. J. McCormick, William Hartnell, Fay Compton, Denis O’Dea, W. G. Fay, Dan O’Herlihy, Paul Farrell

Two Cities Films, Rank Organisation, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I remember. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put way childish things. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become a sounding brass or a inkling cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faiths so that I could remove mountains and have not charity… I am nothing.” – Johnny McQueen

For my 2500th film review, I wanted to do something special. Something that I had never seen but that I’ve wanted to watch for quite some time. So I chose a Carol Reed classic, which came out just two years before his magnum opus, The Third Man.

Like The Third Man, this movie has a strong classic film-noir flavor, narratively and aesthetically, and it primarily follows a man traversing the shadowy alleys and corridors of an old European city.

The story is about an escaped convict, played by James Mason, who has been hiding in his girlfriend’s home for six months. On this night, however, he decides to commit a robbery with his old gang. A security guard is killed and the convict ends up getting shot in the shoulder, which leads to him falling out of the escape car during the getaway.

The man hides in a warehouse, as his gang tries to go back and find him. Most of the gang is killed when they are double-crossed by a dame. The convict then tries to make his way back to his girlfriend’s house and meets different people along the way, as he continues to bleed out and desperately needs medical attention.

The film ends rather violently for the time and I guess some of the shots were edited out, as it rubbed the ethics and decency fascists the wrong way. But ultimately, like all things noir at the time, the bad people meet a bad end because balance must be restored to universe.

Like The Third Man, this movie features incredible cinematography, especially in regards to the use of light, shadow and contrast. The film has visual texture and many of the shots are so layered, that they provided the sort of visual depth that wasn’t very common. For an example of this, there is the scene where the tramp comes home, walks up the dilapidated stairs where an opening in the ceiling is dripping water through the center of the composition. Once in his apartment, the shadow from the bird cage spreads over the dark back wall and gives the film that layered depth and feels almost otherworldly.

There are other notable sequences that really show off how talented cinematographer, Robert Krasker, was – the hallucination sequence for instance. This is probably why he was Reed’s choice for The Third Man. Krasker was noted for being influenced by the German Expressionist style, as well as the other visually stunning film-noir pictures of his day.

I can’t put this on the same level as The Third Man but it’s a perfect companion piece to it and if you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll definitely enjoy this one and it will also show you an earlier stage of Carol Reed’s development as a cinematic artist. Everything he employed here, he would employ in his later work.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: John Patrick Stanley
Written by: John Patrick Stanley
Music by: Georges Delerue
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Barry McGovern, Ossie Davis, Amanda Plummer, Nathan Lane, Carol Kane (credited as Lisa LeBlanc)

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” – Patricia

This is one of those weird movies that always spoke to me, even as a kid. It’s like I knew I’d grow up and eventually find myself at a monotonous, seemingly pointless, unrewarding job for bosses that just yell nonsense and are just as lost as everyone else. So now that I am an adult and find myself in that position, this movie has even more meaning. I guess I should’ve heeded its warning when I was eleven but alas.

I also think that I liked it for the Tiki aesthetic in the movie’s third act, which sees Joe arrive at a South Pacific island where he is supposed to throw himself into a volcano in order to save the island’s tribal inhabitants.

What the movie is really about though, is living your life. It’s about not being a prisoner of what the modern world expects of you and how it’s expected for you to achieve what’s considered to be the “American dream”. Work hard, little or no play and then wash, rinse, repeat until you’re dead because retirement isn’t something most can really afford.

I love the message and the overall point of Joe Versus the Volcano, even though Joe has to go on a crazy adventure and is lead to believe he is dying and has very little time left. Joe has to believe that he’s out of time in order to really start living his best life.

Along the way, Joe meets three versions of Meg Ryan and falls in love with the best one. He also discovers that after his attempted suicidal sacrifice that he was never really dying. With this news and his new love, however, the world is Joe’s to enjoy, as he has a new, refreshed sense of being.

Beyond the story and it’s odd but somewhat clever way of delivering its message, I like just about everyone in this. Tom Hanks is pretty much his standard ’80s persona but Meg Ryan really turns things up while playing three very different characters. She excels in this movie quite magnificently and it’s kind of a shame that this was a box office dud and most people barely remember it at all. Most people I bring this film up to, haven’t seen it or even heard about it.

Joe Versus the Volcano is a weird enigma of a motion picture but I love it and always will. While I can’t consider it Tom Hanks’ best movie, it is still my personal favorite and one I like to watch when I need a kick in the ass.

Rating: 7.5/10

Ranking the Bosses of ‘Dark Souls III – The Fire Fades’

Since I ranked the bosses of the first and second Dark Souls games, I figured that I should also rank the bosses of the third one.

As I stated in my previous lists, I wanted to take the experience of playing through this multiple times to rank the bosses by how difficult I’ve found them to be overall.

My list certainly is my own and the more I talk to others that have an affinity for this series, we all seem to have a very different take on which bosses gave us the most trouble. I guess, this also has to do with play style and character type.

In the end, though, these are how I’d rank the bosses I’ve faced from hardest to easiest.

1. Nameless King
2. Slave Knight Gael
3. Darkeater Midir
4. Lothric & Lorian
5. Sister Friede
6. Dragonslayer Amour
7. Aldrich, Devourer of Gods
8. Champion Gundyr
9. Soul of Cinder
10. Demon In Pain & Demon From Below
11. Dancer of the Boreal Valley
12. Pontiff Sulyvahn
13. Abyss Watchers
14. High Lord Wolnir
15. Stray Demon
16. Champion’s Gravetender & Gravetender Wolf
17. Halflight, Spear of the Church
18. Old Demon King
19. Fire Demon
20. Vordt of the Boreal Valley
21. Iudex Gundyr
22. Curse-Rotted Greatwood
23. Yhorm the Giant
24. Ancient Wyvern
25. Carthus Sandworm
26. Crystal Sage
27. Oceiros, the Consumed King
28. Deacons of the Deep

Film Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Also known as: Kaze no tani no Naushika (original Japanese title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1984 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Sumi Shimamoto, Gorō Naya, Yōji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Iemasa Kayumi; English Language: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Frank Welker, Mark Hamill, Tony Jay

Nibariki, Tokuma Shoten, Hakuhodo, Studio Ghibli (unofficially), 117 Minutes

Review:

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!” – Nausicaä

This wasn’t officially a Studio Ghibli film, as that studio didn’t exist yet, but many consider it to be the first and it helped pave the way for that studio’s creation and it becoming the standard barer for what was possible with classic, hand-drawn, 2D animation.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is also the first Studio Ghibli-associated movie that I ever saw. When I fired this up, I didn’t think I had seen it but once certain scenes came on, it flooded back into my memory from childhood. But I’m not sure if I saw this in the theater in the ’80s or if it was on VHS or premium cable. The version I saw would’ve had a different dubbing track than the version that exists now.

Anyway, I absolutely loved this movie from beginning to end. Sure, the story is a bit convoluted and I found some of the details hard to follow, although I am getting older and I partake in edibles in the evening on most nights. So I don’t want to pound too heavily on the plot. Also, some things may be lost in translation, which is common with anime and usually due to how well or poorly the translation and dubbing are.

I felt like the dubbing was pretty damn good, though, and I enjoyed the English voice cast quite a bit. I especially thought that Chris Sarandon’s work really stood out and provided some solid laughs at points, because of how pompous he made his character.

The thing that blew me away, which typically blows people away with Ghibli films, is the animation. It’s just beautiful and smooth and for 1984, I can’t think of any other non-Ghibli movies that looked better.

As I said, this helped pave the way for Studio Ghibli being born. Without this film, we may not have ever gotten all their other iconic work. While I can’t say that this is Hayao Miyazaki’s best feature film, it might very well be his most important.

Rating: 8.25/10

TV Review: What If…? (2021- )

Original Run: August 11th, 2021 – current
Created by: A.C. Bradley
Directed by: Bryan Andrews
Written by: A.C. Bradley, Matthew Chauncey
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Laura Karpman
Cast: Jeffrey Wright, various

Marvel Studios, Disney+, 6 Episodes (so far), 31-37 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Marvel’s What If…? is like all things MCU since Avengers: Endgame, a mixed bag of good and stupid.

So let me start by saying that I did enjoy some episodes of this show, while others were absolute shit like the one that sees Black Panther become Star Lord, which doesn’t make a lick of sense and also had a side plot about Thanos not committing universal genocide because T’Challa simply talked him out of it. That episode made me facepalm, repeatedly, so hard that I broke my nose about seven times.

Anyway, it’s clear that Disney is using this show to push certain social narratives without really caring about what that does to the continuity of the second greatest franchise they’ve ever had. But just like the once greatest franchise, Star Wars, Disney is out to wreck this one too.

So for the positives, I mostly liked the Peggy Carter episode, as well as the Doctor Strange one. While the T’Challa one was, hands down the worst, the others weren’t too bad, they just didn’t do much for me.

I was most excited to see that they would do with the Marvel Zombies concept, as some of those comics were fun as hell. Well, I’m glad that they tried something original with it, story-wise. However, it just didn’t hold my attention and was really underwhelming.

Also, I’m not big on the animation style. I really didn’t like it at first but my brain did adjust to it fairly quickly. The main problem with it, is that it looks almost too generic and in the Marvel Zombies episodes, for instance, I had a hard time telling some characters apart because they looked too similar.

When Disney first announced all the Marvel shows that would be coming to Disney+, this is one of the ones I was most excited for. I have loved the What If? comics since I started reading comics. Out of all of the issues that exist with great premises and alterations to continuity, I found it really disappointing that these were the stories they went with to kick off this series. But I guess I just shouldn’t expect much from Disney, at this point.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)

Release Date: July 11th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Peter R. Newman
Cast: Stanley Baker, Gordon Jackson, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern, David Oxley

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“He knew there’s only one way to fight a war, any war. With your gloves off.” – Captain Langford

Yesterday’s Enemy was the second war movie that I have watched from Hammer Films, who were mainly known for making horror pictures. This came in a Blu-ray set I bought, which included a lot of Hammer’s more obscure stuff.

The story follows a group of British soldiers retreating from the Japanese by going into the Burmese jungle in the hopes of getting back over their defensive line and to safety. With that, this is a pretty intense film that does a great job of building suspense and having pretty decent payoffs whenever their is a skirmish in the thick, dense, swampy jungle.

The movie really maximizes its environment well and the jungle really is the main character of the film. Even though this is a 62 year-old picture and in black and white, you do feel like you’re there with these guys and I found that to be pretty impressive due to the limitations of the production and the era in which this was made.

That being said, I can’t call this a very memorable film and it really just stands out in the moment due to it’s environment and atmosphere.

I thought the acting was also decent enough but no one really stands out here. Granted, no one was bad either. But maybe that also helped with the immersion into this tale, as you weren’t distracted by a grand performance and these guys just came across as totally natural.

If war films were my thing, I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more. They never have been, though, except for an elite few. But still, this did work and was effective and it certainly exceeded my expectations going into it. 

Rating: 6.75/10