Film Review: The Legend of Zorro (2005)

Also known as: Zorro Unmasked, The Return of Zorro, The Mask of Zorro 2, Zorro 2 (working titles), Z (alternative title)
Release Date: October 24th, 2005 (UK)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rufus Sewell, Nick Chinlund, Adrian Alonso

Tornado Productions Inc., Amblin Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“[after making a “Z” mark on Armand] So the devil will know who sent you.” – Zorro

Unlike the previous Antonio Banderas starring Zorro picture, I had never seen this one before and wasn’t sure what to expect.

What I do like is that they got the first film’s director, Martin Campbell, back. However, they replaced the original writers with the dynamic duo of failing upwards, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Those guys have been instrumental in turning once great franchises into Port-O-Lets at a music festival.

Since neither Orci or Kurtzman are actually real human beings with real human being emotions, they completely fumble the ball in regards to the romantic relationship between Zorro and his babe, Elena. In fact, it’s handled so badly that when Elena splits with the kid, very early in the movie, I nearly wanted to turn this off. It was nonsensical, didn’t mesh with who she was in the first film and frankly, Martin Campbell should’ve stood up and said, “What is this?! Fuck this shit!”

Anyway, I stuck around because I wanted to review this and at least there were some things that made me enjoy the film. Although, it does pale in comparison to its incredibly fun predecessor.

For starters, I really liked the kid in this. He was badass, amusing and even if he was sometimes a prick to his dad, he made up for it when the time was right.

I thought that the general story was weak and that’s probably because the rivalry between Zorro and the villain is connected to the breakup of Zorro and Elena because the villain is her new boyfriend. But of course he is, as we’ve got to shit writers that have to follow the easiest path because they might hurt their brains.

What mostly saves this film from being a pile of shit is the swashbuckling action. Banderas is just a fun and cool Zorro and he gets to be involved in some great moments. Granted, I don’t know how much of the action is his stuntman or Banderas, himself. Still, Banderas’ Zorro is one of the most energetic and entertaining incarnations of the character and that’s not going to get diminished by a shit script.

Beyond that, the comedy in the first movie was well-balanced with the rest of the story and it fit. Here, the comedy is nowhere near as polished and this felt like a bad sitcom pilot at times.

Coming out of this, I can see why a third chapter was never made. Although, this has a happy ending and also concludes in a way where it wasn’t necessary to continue the story.

Rating: 6.5/10

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: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Also known as: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (full title)
Release Date: November 9th, 1994 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Written by: Anne Rice
Based on: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Stephen Rea

Geffen Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“The world changes, we do not, there lies the irony that finally kills us.” – Armand

In the ’90s and early ’00s, I watched this film a lot. But I had seen it so many times that I actually haven’t seen it now for at least a decade. But that time off from it made me appreciate it even more.

This is the best vampire motion picture of the 1990s. It is pretty damn close to being a masterpiece. It is a beautiful adaptation of a book that really has become a literary classic, at this point. And it’s great to see that Anne Rice penned this script, as no one knows these characters better than she does.

There are a few minute changes from the book. The stuff with Louis’ wife was omitted and the character of Armand has a different appearance from the literary version. However, these minor alterations don’t matter within the context of this film. Had it actually gotten sequels (and it should have) the Armand thing might of been a bit problematic but I’m still okay with Antonio Banderas in the role for this one-off outing.

Anyway, Neil Jordan did a superb job directing this. He had just come off of The Crying Game, a film that earned him two Academy Award nominations for direction and script, and also had some experience with supernatural gore after his work on the barely remembered film The Company of Wolves. Both of those experiences would serve him well in this film, which had supernatural gore and also tapped into very light homo-eroticism between a few characters.

One thing that really stands out is the film’s score by Elliot Goldenthal. It has the makings of a great classical composition mixed with some very powerful and energetic flourishes that help accentuate the scenes in ways that a less capable score wouldn’t have been able to accomplish. The music also flows with the picture, it’s not distracting or in the way, it just exists to set the tone appropriately and really, that’s all a film score needs to do. But the craftsmanship of these classical tunes is what sets this film apart and gives it such a grandiose feel. There are just few scores that can make this sort of emotional and narrative impact in modern film.

The acting in this is also possibly the best you will see in any vampire movie. Tom Cruise, at first glance, just doesn’t seem to fit the role of Lestat but he was absolute perfection and this is still my favorite performance of his. This was also where I first noticed Brad Pitt. This is where his career was really born, in my opinion, as this was a turning point for him and his exceptional abilities. I could use those same words for Kirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas, as well. Both of them made such an impact in this that it really helped to set them off towards bigger and better things going forward.

Something else that stands out is the special effects handled by Stan Winston and his team. Most notably, the scene where Lestat is withering away to a corpse on the floor. That moment was masterfully crafted and has held up exceptionally well. It looks better than the vast majority of CGI effects that would have been used to achieve this today. Also, the amazing looking ash remains of Claudia and Madeleine were made by Winston and based off of photographs of victims from Hiroshima.

Interview with a Vampire is a perfect storm. It’s a film where everything, at every level, went right for the production. While there are some other good vampire films from the 1990s, this one takes the cake for me. It’s stellar from start to finish and it’s still an incredibly satisfying experience even after seeing it well over a dozen times.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Bram Stoker’s DraculaNear Dark and The Lost Boys.

Film Review: Machete Kills (2013)

Release Date: September 19th, 2013 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez, Kyle Ward
Music by: Carl Thiel
Cast: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins, William Sadler, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Jessica Alba, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Tom Savini, Elon Musk, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan

Quick Draw Productions, Troublemaker Studios, Open Road Films, 108 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2013.

“Machete don’t tweet.” – Machete

I was a big fan of Machete when it came out. It kept alive the modern revival of grindhouse cinema, which was reintroduced to the world a few years back by the films Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s own Planet Terror. Both films were released together as a double bill feature called Grindhouse. Between the two films, there were a series of faux trailers for other grindhouse pictures. One of those was for a film named Machete. The fake trailer was so popular that Rodriguez decided to make the film. Once that was successful, he decided to make this film. There is also a third planned.

Machete Kills doesn’t hold a candle to the first Machete film. Don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable and had some awesome moments but it was lacking in energy and in scope. It felt smaller and more linear, whereas the original film was a wild ride taking many different unexpected turns. This film went from point A to point B and then introduced us to a point C. Had it not been for the awesome performance by Mel Gibson as the main antagonist of this film, it would’ve fallen much flatter than it did.

The cinematic style of this movie, mirrored the first and for the most part, stayed somewhat true to the grindhouse vibe. The problem I have with these modern grindhouse films though, is the use of CGI effects. I get that it is more affordable and that these films have a tight budget but the whole essence of grindhouse films is over-the-top violence and action and often times gore. In the old grindhouse days, they had to find ways to pull this off with very limited resources. Part of what made those movies so effective and respectable, was the ingenuity of the filmmakers. This film, like its predecessor really lacks in this area. It takes the easy road and frankly, I expected more from Robert Rodriguez.

I do love that Danny Trejo finally has a starring vehicle though and I do look forward to the next sequel. I could watch new installments of Machete for years to come. He’s a great character and at the end of the day, despite the few issues mentioned above, these films exceed the standard blockbuster action fare that Hollywood keeps pumping out at $300+ million dollar price tags.

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Review: The Expendables 3 (2014)

Release Date: August 4th, 2014 (London premiere)
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Millennium Films, Nu Image, Lionsgate, 126 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

“I need a job! All I know what to do is kill people! And I do that very well, Goddammit!” – Galgo

The Expendables 3 isn’t out yet but I saw it. This film is just about exactly what I expected. At this point, the novelty has worn off and the film is just incredibly cookie cutter, predictable and the one-liners made me roll my eyes. I can’t tell, at this point, if they are trying too hard or just not trying at all.

I feel like Stallone has taken the Michael Bay approach and just sees these as Transformers movies starring humans instead of CGI robots. I say that because like those films, The Expendables series has given us movies full of insane action sequences strung together by something barely resembling an actual plot that isn’t even all that important.

I get it though, these films are about celebrating the fact that all these cinematic bad asses are all together on the same screen, at the same time. But as I said, that novelty has worn off.

As the second film had to up the ante from the first, this one has to up the ante as well and gives us the addition of Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes and a new crew of younger Expendables. It has gotten to the point where there are just too many damn people on the team now. I feel like I am watching some sort of live-action version of the 80s G.I. Joe cartoon and every character in the entire series was forced on screen at one time. I almost feel that with a cast that has grown to be so massive, that this would work better as a television show. Granted, I doubt any of these big stars would commit to something so time consuming and they’d actually have to write a decent plot.

And speaking of time, it feels as if each big cameo actor got flown out to an exotic location and had about one day’s worth of work to shoot their scenes – having never read the script. Nothing about this felt genuine. I’m not saying that these guys don’t enjoy meeting up every two years to hang out on a film set and blow shit up but the camaraderie that they probably have in real life, doesn’t really come through on screen.

There is nothing from this film that is memorable. Having just watched it the other night, I can’t simply recall one sequence or scene that I can pinpoint as anything worthwhile to take away from this picture. It isn’t a waste of time, I liked it overall. However, The Expendables 3 only has enough steam to get it through one initial viewing. While I would watch another sequel in two years, I’m fine never seeing this or any of the previous films again.

Rating: 6/10