Film Review: Elektra (2005)

Release Date: January 8th, 2005 (Las Vegas premiere)
Directed by: Rob Bowman
Written by: Zak Penn, Stuart Zicherman, Raven Metzner
Based on: Elektra by Frank Miller
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Will Yun Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Terence Stamp, Bob Sapp, Jason Issacs (uncredited), Ben Affleck (cameo, scene cut)

Marvel Enterprises, Regency Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 97 Minutes, 100 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I like your bracelet, by the way. Do you know what those are? Here. They’re warrior beads. They’re from Indonesia. Centuries ago, you had to be the best fighter in your village to earn them.” – Elektra, “Wow. I bought’em off eBay.” – Abby Miller

I never wanted to see this because the trailer was a complete turnoff that made this film look like absolute schlock of the highest and worst caliber. Not good, cheesy schlock but the kind that’s so drab and pointless that it’s shocking it even got a theatrical release and wasn’t used to torture terrorists.

Having finally seen this, I wasn’t wrong. This is definitely a terrible movie, littered with atrocious special effects, generic and lifeless characters, as well as wasting the talents of the few good actors in it.

What’s even worse is that this doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same universe as 2003’s Daredevil, which was a pretty decent movie if you watch the Director’s Cut instead of the theatrical version. Hell, even Ben Affleck filmed a cameo scene to tie them together and for whatever reason, it was cut from the final version of this film.

What this does feel like is a made-for-TV SyFy movie of the week. It’s duller than a plastic knife left too close to an open flame with about as much personality and charm as a lobotomized sloth.

The only real silver lining in this is that Jennifer Garner looks absolutely stunning. But she’s always pretty stunning and one shouldn’t have to suffer through this deplorable production just to see her kick the shit out of people while being super hot.

Elektra is bad, really bad. I mean, I guess it’s better than 2004’s Catwoman but at least that film had some memorable moments. Everything in this film is completely forgettable.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: the 2003 Daredevil movie, as well as other superhero films from the mid-’90s through mid-’00s.

Film Review: The Phantom (1996)

Release Date: June 7th, 1996
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Based on: The Phantom by Lee Falk
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Casey Siemaszko, John Capodice

Boam Productions, The Ladd Company, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“When darkness rules the earth, America’s in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on a brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. Like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos. And so, my brothers, I give you… [raises out the first skull] The skull of Touganda. This skull is one of three. When all three skulls are united, they will produce a force more than any army on Earth.” – Xander Drax

A lot of people, myself included, slept on this movie when it came out because even for 1996, it looked hokey and cheap. Granted, it was actually made by a larger studio and it was a more expensive picture than one might think.

I feel like the tone was off for what was becoming the popular trends at the time and that this would’ve fared much better, half a decade earlier. But even really solid comic book movies like The Rocketeer and The Shadow struggled to find an audience before this flick was even greenlit.

While I’ve seen this a few times over the years, I think there are things within it that one can appreciate that would’ve most likely been overlooked in 1996.

To start, this is just a fun adventure movie, a popcorn picture at its core that features good actors, cool characters and period piece sets that show you where most of the budget went.

There is a very pulpy vibe to this and it almost calls back to the tone of old school swashbuckling epics without having any real swashbuckling in it.

It mostly taps into the film serial genre that helped make The Phantom character more of a household name in the ’30s through ’50s. For modern audiences, it will play like a superhero picture with elements of an Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to it.

While it’s not particularly well-acted, the core cast still give good performances that really show that they’re committed to this film’s pulpy goodness. Treat Williams’ over-the-top antics as the villain are superb and I liked him immensely in this. I also thought that Billy Zane made a really solid Phantom and Kristy Swanson was a good choice for her role. I can’t say that this is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ best work but she did look like she was having a blast hamming it up in this goofy but stylish movie.

The Phantom is far from being a classic in the superhero genre but its much better than a lot of the other offerings in the pre-Dark Knight and MCU era. Frankly, I wish it would’ve done well enough to have had a few sequels but since this felt somewhat dated for 1996, I can’t imagine any sequels connecting with the audience of that era.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other comic book adaptations of the era like The Shadow, Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer and the early, cheap Marvel attempts at live-action.

Film Review: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Also known as: The Visitor, Return of the Apes (working titles)
Release Date: July 26th, 2001 (Hong Kong, Puerto Rico)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, David Warner, Lisa Marie, Glenn Shadix, Erick Avari, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston (uncredited)

Tim Burton Productions, The Zanuck Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 119 Minutes

Review:

“Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!” – Attar

I feel as if I was one of the few people that didn’t seem to mind this film when it came out. It certainly deviated greatly from its source material but I liked some of the ideas that were explored in this picture and I liked that it took a well-known concept and tried to create something new out of it without rehashing things we’ve already seen five times within its own franchise and a dozen times over with all the ripoffs of it.

This hasn’t aged well, however, and it is pretty apparent that the movie just seemed to be aimless without much meat to chew on. It honestly feels as if the film wasn’t completed and it’s missing an entire act.

There’s just a real lack of story and context and while you can follow the simplicity of the narrative, all the characters come across as paper thin and there is obviously a history between many of them that needed to be expanded upon.

However, the film did have production issues, as its start date was delayed and one of the major locations was suffering from a drought and needed water pumped in. There have been other issues alluded to in interviews with those involved, over the years, but a lot of that could be brushed off as hearsay.

One thing I like about the movie is that it used practical, physical effects for the Apes. Everyone in the film wore prosthetics and it gave the film an authentic sense of realism where most movies were already reliant on CGI in just about every regard.

Additionally, I like the visual tone of the film and its general style. It looks cool and the world feels lived in and legit.

Still, it’s just lacking a real sense of plot and character development and because of that, it feels soulless and flat.

Also, while I liked this initially, it’s kind of a boring movie once you look passed the very distracting and alluring visuals. I honestly feel like I have a love/hate relationship with this film as there are many things that went wonderfully right but there are major things that didn’t deliver.

In the end, the film feels half-assed, rushed and like a wasted opportunity. This could have been the start of a new, exciting version of the Planet of the Apes franchise but instead, it’s a disappointing dud that left a pretty harsh blemish on Tim Burton’s career, which was still damn solid in 2001.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Planet of the Apes movies, regardless of era, as well as late ’90s/early ’00s blockbuster science fiction.

Film Review: Twins (1988)

Also known as: The Experiment (working title), Twiins (alternative spelling)
Release Date: December 8th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: William Davies, Timothy Harris, William Osborne, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: George Delerue, Randy Edelman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, David Caruso, Marshall Bell, Maury Chaykin, Tony Jay, Frances Bay, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman, Heather Graham

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“My name is Julius and I am your twin brother.” – Julius Benedict, “Oh, obviously! The moment I sat down I thought I was looking into a mirror.” – Vincent Benedict

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the absolute top of the action film world, he decided to be in a comedy. At first, that may have seemed crazy. But the end result was this great picture that in my opinion, is a true comedy classic of its era.

Granted, this also had Danny DeVito in it, who never disappoints, and it was directed by Ivan Reitman, who was a great comedy director at his creative peak.

I think this film has actually aged really well too. Sure, it’s definitely a product of the ’80s but it is still a very human story that is carried by the charisma and chemistry of its two stars.

Schwarzenegger and DeVito just felt like a natural pair and even if they aren’t really brothers and don’t look the part, as that’s part of the gag, they just clicked and their connection and relationship felt truly genuine. And maybe Schwarzenegger doesn’t get enough credit as an actor but this allowed him to show his range and he did stupendously well in the role. It’s damn near impossible not to love him in this. And even if DeVito is a shithead for most of the film, you understand why he’s broken and I find it hard not to sympathize with his character and sort of grow into loving him as well.

At its core, this is just a feel good movie and it came out in a time where family dynamics were changing. I think that for a lot of people, it gave them hope that even if their upbringing might not have been the ideal, cookie cutter situation, that maybe, in some way, they could find the people in their life that would become family.

It’s really hard to peg but this is just a film that resonated with me at an early age and it still does. I don’t really think that has to do with nostalgia and for me, at least, it has to do with how good this is top to bottom from the characters, the story and their emotional journey.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Ivan Reitman comedies.

Film Review: Vampires (1998)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Vampires (complete title), Vampire$ (working title)
Release Date: April 15th, 1998 (France)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Don Jakoby
Based on: Vampire$ by John Steakley
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior, Gregory Sierra, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

JVC Entertainment Networks, Film Office, Storm King Productions, Largo Entertainment, Spooky Tooth Productions, Columbia Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask ya somethin, Padre? When I was kickin your ass back there… you get a little wood?” – Jack Crow

James Woods is cooler than any of us could ever be. And frankly, this may be the coolest he’s ever been. I mean, shit, he’s a vampire slaying, foul mouthed, badass, ready to burn down hordes of undead bloodsuckers.

Then you have Daniel Baldwin, who is always very convincing as an overweight piece of shit that isn’t afraid to punch his way through problems.

Both of these guys inject so much testosterone into this picture that it truly is cinematic Viagra.

Now I’m not saying they’re good people or even heroic. But that’s what makes this movie so badass and chock full of the best ’90s action movie cliches.

This also features Thomas Ian Griffith as the big evil vampire that they have to kill. Griffith was born to play this part, even if he’s given better performances elsewhere – The Karate Kid, Part III is still my favorite thing he’s ever done. But he is absolutely convincing, has the right build and physical presence and is able to terrify the audience. I remember people in the theater being in absolute awe during the scene where Griffith crashes the vampire hunters’ motel party, ripping everyone and everything to shreds.

What I really enjoy about this movie, is that it is a vampire movie with a real hard edge to it. In the ’90s, vampires were still scary and this does a good job of tapping into that while reminding you how cool vampires can be when used as legitimate monsters. This, along with Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn used these mythological terrors in the way that God intended.

This isn’t John Carpenter at his finest but it’s the second best movie he did in the ’90s after In the Mouth of Madness. It’s tough as shit, blue collar as fuck and it shows you that being a vampire slayer means that you’re probably going to die a very early death instead of just being a cool teenage girl that talks like all her dialogue is written by a balding middle aged guy pretending to be a teenage girl.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and John Carpenter’s ’90s movies.

Film Review: Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991)

Also known as: Sgt. K (script title), Yakuza (working title)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1991
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Stephen Glantz, Caliope Brattlestreet
Music by: David Michael Frank
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Professor Toru Tanaka, Al Leong

Little Tokyo Productions, Original Pictures, Warner Bros., 79 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, will you do this right? Clean? Like a cop in the 20th century, not some samurai warrior? We’re gonna nail this guy. And when we get done… we’re gonna go eat fish off those naked chicks!” – Johnny Murata

This is one of those movies that came out when I was middle school age and I didn’t know about it because it never came to my local theater. But once I caught wind of it on video, I would rent it almost bi-weekly for about a year.

First of all, this features Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee, as buddy cops out to stop the Yakuza in Los Angeles. Plus, the Yakuza in the film were led by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa!

So this was like Ivan Drago teaming up with the Crow to kill Shang Tsung!

Plus, this had Tia Carrere in it and I was crushing hard on her back then. And what made this especially awesome was the nude scenes. Sure, I now realize that she had a nude body double due to how those moments were shot but when I was a kid, as far as I knew, I got to see one of my dream girls naked.

This is pure late ’80s/early ’80s toxic masculinity at its absolute finest. This is a balls out, violence festival with solid humor, hot chicks, martial arts and explosions. What more could a middle school boy want in 1991? And frankly, what more could a grown ass man want in 2019? Just because a bunch of crazy busybodies frown upon escapism like this in modern entertainment, doesn’t mean that I have to change to appease people that I don’t even want to talk to.

One thing that I always loved about this film is how the white guy is completely immersed and influenced by Japanese culture while the Asian guy is pretty much just some dude from the Valley. Granted, the Asian dude from the Valley knows a good amount of martial arts.

Additionally, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was dynamite as the Yakuza boss that the good guys had to squash. Tagawa just has that look that makes him feel like a genuine evil bastard. He spends a great deal of his most badass moments, shirtless, showing off his Yakuza tattoos. He just feels like the final boss of a side scrolling beat’em up arcade game from the same era.

I love this damn movie. For what it is, it’s pretty close to perfect. Lundgren and Lee both have charm, solid charisma and it sucks that Lee died because I could’ve watched countless sequels to this movie. But then again, Hollywood rarely gives us sequels to movies like this unless they were Cannon Films properties.

That being said, this is probably the most Cannon film that wasn’t actually made by The Cannon Group.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Commando, Rapid Fire, Black Rain, Tango & Cash and Dark Angel.

Film Review: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Release Date: July 13th, 1995 (Argentina, Israel)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Kevin Droney
Based on: Mortal Kombat by Midway Games
Music by: George S. Clinton, various
Cast: Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Robin Shou, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Christopher Lambert, Peter, Jason, Frank Welker (voice)

Threshhold Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Challenging Goro eh? You weren’t supposed to fight him now. Are you that eager to die?” – Shang Tsung

This is the epitome of poorly aged films.

But let’s be honest, Mortal Kombat was never a great film or even a very good one. People that still seem to love it, do so because of nostalgia. Either that or they just have incredibly poor taste. I’m someone that watches a lot of bad movies because I’ll review just about anything but I found this picture to be almost unwatchable in 2018.

I loved the Mortal Kombat game when it first came out but I’ll be honest, this movie didn’t do much for me, even if I threw quarters into the arcade game like a pervert at a Times Square peep show in the ’70s.

While this didn’t initially seem as bad as the Street Fighter movie that came out a year earlier, I feel that Street Fighter is just so cheesy in the right ways that I actually enjoy it more and would watch it again. As far as Mortal Kombat, I don’t want to see this film again, ever.

Granted, I’ll watch the sequel because I’ve never actually seen it and I heard that it’s so bad that you have to see it to believe it. The thing is, I would have liked this movie better if it was as terrible as what people say about the sequel. This is just mundane and a cornucopia of terrible ’90s cliches.

I have always liked Bridgette Wilson though. I wish she’d still make movies but since marrying Pete Sampras circa 2000, she hasn’t done much. Actually, her most recent credit is ten years-old now. She was one of my ’90s crushes though, so I’ve always got a soft spot for her, even though she’s mostly been in pretty mediocre movies.

As much as I like Christopher Lambert, but really only because of the original Highlander, he’s fucking awful in this. Raiden’s lines are atrocious but that’s not Lambert’s fault, this script is a hot mess. And frankly, he doesn’t do a fucking thing in this film except look more like Gandalf the White than the actual Raiden character.

I don’t understand why Johnny Cage is the one that kills Goro. Cage is a lame ass character and always has been. Although, using him to do the spot with the dick punch was pretty solid.

The worst thing about this film, however, is the ridiculous special effects. I guess Goro looked good for the time and for the limited budget this had but all the magic shit was beyond terrible. The scenes with Scorpion were laughably bad, even for 1995. Then you had the animated demon dragon things that looked like they were ripped out of a 3D PC game from 1991. Also, there is incredibly obvious green screen work. The scene where Shang Tsung sucks the soul out of a warrior and into his own eye literally made me laugh out loud like a drunken hyena.

I think that the main reason that this film didn’t work for me is that it tried to be a real live action adaptation of the game. Certain things work in a game that won’t work in a live action movie. For instance, Liu Kang’s special kick came off as forced and cringy.

In 1995, I wanted this to be good. I kind of figured out, from the trailer, that it wouldn’t be. So I went into the film with low expectations. It’s a good thing I did.

I should also point out that the soundtrack was fucking stupid but honestly, I could go on about that for 1000 words and I don’t want to pull that Band-aid off. I just remember walking by the Taekwondo gym in the mall around 1996 and seeing toddlers flailing around throwing sloppy kicks to the theme song at full blast. That’s the moment where I knew I didn’t want kids.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Other mediocre but mostly crappy movies based off of fighting games: Mortal Kombat: AnnihilationStreet FighterStreet Fighter: The Legend of Chun-LiTekken and Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge.

Film Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

Release Date: June 13th, 1989 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Wayne Newton, Benicio del Toro, Anthony Starke, Priscilla Barnes, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Christopher Neame

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money… but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.” – Franz Sanchez

Timothy Dalton was my favorite James Bond. I know that makes me strange and weird but he was the first Bond on the big screen for me and his movies had a bit more gravitas than those cheesy Roger Moore outings. They also had more gravitas than those later Brosnan films because those went back towards the route of cheese and eventually killed the franchise until Daniel Craig came along and stopped smiling.

Licence to Kill is a very divisive Bond film but then Dalton is a very divisive Bond. The film takes a turn for realism nearly two decades before the Daniel Craig starring Casino Royale. In 1989, that rubbed most people the wrong way. This was the first Bond film to get a PG-13 rating due to that realness and its use of violence. Some people also felt that the more violent bits were too much but I felt that it reflected a Bond franchise that was about to enter the ’90s.

The film boasts some solid action sequences. All the Key West stuff was fantastically shot and looks great by modern standards. The Mexico material also looks incredible, especially the Olympatec Meditation Institute scenes, which were filmed at the Centro Cultural Otomi. The cinematography was pretty standard but the locations didn’t need much razzle dazzle. They really only needed explosions, which there were plenty of.

Robert Davi plays the villain and I can’t think of another actor that could have played the role as well as he did. He had the right look, the right level of intensity and had a predatory presence like a reptile. His top henchman was played by Benicio del Toro in only his second film role.

We also get to see Wayne Newton in a role greater than just a cameo and honestly, I love Newton in this. The film also boasts a collection of other talented actors in supporting roles: Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Anthony Zerbe, Anthony Starke and Priscilla Barnes.

I thought that the Bond Girls were a mixed bag in this film. Carey Lowell was pretty badass and held her own. I liked her a lot and think that she doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great Bond Girls. She certainly had more to offer than the standard “damsels in distress” of the classic Bond pictures. Talisa Soto, however, was more like a useless damsel but to the nth degree. I thought Soto was fine with the material she was given but she didn’t serve much purpose other than being a pretty gold digger that probably deserved to be in a drug kingpin’s web. I don’t think that she was a character that anyone could relate to and really, wouldn’t care about because she’s a greedy woman that lays around all day.

The thing is, I love Timothy Dalton’s Bond. This is the better of his two pictures but sadly, we wouldn’t get anymore with him. Not because no one else liked him but because the James Bond franchise went into a state of limbo for six years, as the rights to the material were being battled over in court. By the time things were settled and GoldenEye was slated for a 1995 release date, Dalton decided to step away.

Licence to Kill is rarely on people’s lips when naming favorite Bond movies. But when someone else mentions it, it usually comes with a fist bump and a stoic, confident nod of admiration because I know that I just met someone with real taste.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The only other Timothy Dalton James Bond movie, The Living Daylights.