Film Review: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Also known as: The Demon Planet (US TV title), Planet of Blood, Space Mutants, Terror In Space, The Haunted Planet, The Haunted World, The Outlawed Planet, The Planet of Terror, The Planet of the Damned (alternative titles) 
Release Date: September 15th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Ib Melchior
Based on: One Night of 21 Hours by Renato Pestriniero
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr.
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Italian International Film, Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, American International Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll tell you this, if there are any intelligent creatures on this planet… they’re our enemies.” – Capt. Mark Markary

While Mario Bava is mostly known for his horror and giallo pictures, I really liked when he did more ambitious, larger scale things like this and Danger: Diabolik.

Bava was really good at making Italian blockbusters that looked more epic in scale and production cost than a typical ghost story or murder mystery. But I guess he was just a superb director all around because even his misses are still enjoyable and have enough positives to make them worthwhile.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this specific Bava film. So long in fact, that when I had seen it previously, I didn’t really know who Bava was and I certainly wasn’t as acclimated to his work, as I am now.

This was a favorite late night film of mine, as a kid, though. I remember it being on late night cable quite a bit when late night cable was still really fucking cool when you weren’t going down the rabbit hole of infomercials.

I always loved the look and style of this film and I didn’t even realize it was Italian/Spanish back then. While it looked like your typical ’50s and early ’60s sci-fi epic, it was a lot more colorful and vibrant. I think it’s visual allure is what drew me to it and it’s that visual allure that would eventually become the visual style of giallo.

Beyond that, though, I loved the costumes of the crew, I loved the design of the ships, the simple but unique and stylized sets, as well as the look of the planet and all its weirdness.

The scene where we see a giant alien skeleton was so ominous and cool that it asked more questions than it answered and I’ve always kind of felt like it might have inspired the “Space Jockey” from Alien.

Planet of the Vampires is just a really cool, great, old school sci-fi/horror thriller. It’s one of my favorite Mario Bava pictures and honestly, it’s something I should revisit more often.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

Release Date: October 24th, 1978
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz by William F. Brown
Music by: Charlie Smalls, various
Cast: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene, Roberta Flack (uncredited), Quincy Jones (uncredited), Luther Vandross (uncredited)

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.” – Scarecrow, “That’s beautiful! Who said that?” – Dorothy, “[modestly] I did.” – Scarecrow

It’s been ages since I’ve seen this but I enjoyed it back in the day. Mainly, because I always thought the sets, style and overall visual look of it was pretty awesome. Although, it was also loaded with people I like such as Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and more.

It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered that this was directed by Sidney Lumet with a script by Joel Scumacher. Also, Quincy Jones was very involved in the production. Having a newfound understanding of the talent involved in this made me want to revisit it with fairly fresh eyes and ears.

I’m really glad that I did, as it still captivated me and pulled me into its magical world.

Now the film has its share of flaws but it’s one of those movies that’s so fun and sweet that you don’t really care about the imperfections.

While Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, I still think she’s pretty great in this once you suspend disbelief. Originally, the film was supposed to star the young lead actress from the stage musical but Ross really pulled some strings to get this part. Honestly, I don’t blame her and movies are a cutthroat business.

Anyway, Ross is still Ross and she has immense talent, which shines through in her performance. Also, her scenes with Michael Jackson are so genuine and affectionate that it transcends the picture. The two were great friends before this film went into production and I think that personal connection really boosted their performances.

Nipsey Russell is tremendous as the Tin Man, as is Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion.

I have to say, though, the absolute highlight of the film for me is the grand performance by Mabel King, this film’s version of the wicked witch, as she makes her factory workers slave away. Man, this scene is just amazing to watch from the size of the set, it’s design, the amount of performers in the sequence and King’s perfect performance.

Two other really solid sequences are the one where Dorothy meets the Munchkins, which was filmed at the somewhat dilapidated New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. It was a site built for the 1964 World’s Fair but it created such an interesting looking location for Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The other was the Emerald City sequence, which was filmed at the foot of the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful and opulent scene with great music and considering the world we live in now after 9/11, the scene just has much more meaning now. It makes you really appreciate the beauty and immensity of those two iconic structures.

Overall, this is a lively and jubilant picture. I typically don’t like musicals but this is one of the few that I do enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Also known as: Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear (original script title)
Release Date: December 4th, 1985
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Written by: Chris Columbus
Based on: characters by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Anthony Higgins, Sophie Ward, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Freddie Jones, Nigel Stock, Brian Oulton, Susan Fleetwood

Industrial Light & Magic, Amblin Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“A great detective relies on perception, intelligence, and imagination.” – Sherlock Holmes

It may sound strange since I’m a kid of the ’80s and a massive Spielberg fan from that era but I’ve never seen Young Sherlock Holmes.

Now I have seen clips of it over the years, due to its very early use of emerging CGI technology, which made this a very groundbreaking film in digital effects, even if it wasn’t a massive hit like Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus and Berry Levinson had hoped.

Honestly, it’s those effects that have cemented this motion picture as a relevant one for its time. Nothing else within it is all that memorable or significant. But that’s not to say it’s not good. It’s just be pretty forgettable without its great effects for the time in which it was produced.

I mostly liked this and I liked the kids in it and how they helped generate a sense of wonder, which is something Hollywood is completely unable to do in modern times. Still, this movie does drag in several spots and while I can buy the kids in these specific roles, they’re not that memorable except for Sophie Ward, who would go on to have an interesting career.

I liked the whole Egyptian cult that Sherlock and company were trying to expose and take down but if I’m being honest, a lot of that stuff felt like it was recycled from the Thugee cult stuff in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and that film came out only a year earlier and also involved Spielberg, as he directed it.

This also has a magical element to it and because it stars some proper British kids, there’s a particular vibe that I can best describe as proto-Harry Potter.

Young Sherlock Holmes isn’t a movie that I felt like I missed out on. As a kid, I would’ve certainly liked the effects heavy scenes like the stain glass knight but I probably would’ve been bored for 75 percent of the movie.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Vacation (2015)

Release Date: July 29th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, Michael Pena, Hannah Davis Jeter, Colin Hanks, John Francis Daley 

BenderSpink, David Dobkin Productions, New Line Cinema, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I just wanted to sing Seal with my family like normal people.” – Rusty Griswold

Full disclosure, I’m not an Ed Helms fan. I think the main reason for that is due to him making the final season of The Office pretty damn insufferable. I also don’t necessarily blame him for that, I think it was the writing and whoever was calling the shots on that show at the end. But with that, I was burnt out on Ed Helms for several years.

So, as I approached this film, I wanted to go into it with an open mind and without my previous biases. I knew I’d have to eventually get to this, as I was already watching and reviewing all the Vacation movies and didn’t want to simply omit this one just because it didn’t feature Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the leads.

I’m happy to say that I found this to be pretty decent. It does have some laughable moments, features cameos with a lot of people I like and Ed Helms had solid chemistry with Christina Applegate. Also, he played this version of Rusty Griswold pretty straight and not as over the top as his Andy Bernard character from The Office.

Ultimately, though, this is a rehash of what the original film was with the same destination in mind. The adventure on the way to WallyWorld followed similar beats and homaged some classic moments but there was enough original stuff in this to allow it to stand on its own and to not just be a paint-by-numbers remake.

I also like that this did bring back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in their iconic roles, even if it was just a small part within the larger movie.

I can’t really say that this is all that memorable, though. It’s better than some of the other Vacation movies but that was never really a high bar to begin with.

In the end, this is goofy, mindless escapism and while some jokes don’t land as intended, the movie still has a good, positive spirit about it and I liked the core characters.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Hotel Hell Vacation (2010)

Release Date: February 7th, 2010
Directed by: Bryan Buckley
Based on: characters created by John Hughes
Music by: Stephen Altman
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Hungry Man, 14 Minutes

Review:

So this entry into the National Lampoon’s Vacation film franchise is the most unique, simply because it isn’t a feature length film and is actually a 14 minute short that was produced to promote a website from a decade ago that was essentially Airbnb before Airbnb.

The entire short film centers around just the Griswold parents, as they go to a romantic getaway in a hotel that’s terrible in every way.

The purpose of the film was to show that hotel stays are awful and that you should be renting people’s homes instead while on your vacation.

Website marketing aside, this is a fairly funny short that stays pretty true to the characters of Clark and Ellen Griswold. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo committed to this project and their iconic roles.

Still, this is a short and it goes by rather quickly, as Clark and Ellen eventually escape “Hotel Hell” and meet up with their son Rusty, who is staying in a nice beachfront rental with his family.

While this doesn’t have the running time to tell a larger story, it’s still chock full of decent gags and it fits well within the spirit of the film series.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other Chevy Chase comedies.

Film Review: The Princess Bride (1987)

Release Date: September 18th, 1987 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Music by: Mark Knopfler
Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane

Act III Communications, Buttercup Films Ltd., The Princess Bride Ltd., Vestron Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” – Inigo Montoya

I’m going to be honest, this wasn’t a film that captivated me in my childhood like it did most people from my generation. However, I have still always liked it and it’s one of those things I’d leave on if I was flipping the channels in my teen years.

This was the first time I had seen this, though, since probably the ’90s. At least, in its entirety. So revisiting it was kind of a treat and I actually think I’m more fond of it now, simply because they don’t make movies like this anymore.

At its core, this is just a wholesome fairytale. But it’s also full of several characters who have become iconic over the three and a half decades since this was released.

I think that these characters became so iconic because this movie was so well cast, from top-to-bottom.

I also really underappreciated the swashbuckling bits and the camaraderie between the characters, which was so good and natural that one would have to assume that all these people genuinely clicked and enjoyed working together.

As a big wrestling fan, especially the ’80s era, I love seeing Andre the Giant in this. He’s absolutely superb and it makes me wish that he got to do more films before he died, shortly after this.

The Princess Bride is just a really entertaining and fun movie that should work for anyone, regardless of age, gender or generation. It’s kind of perfect in its wholesomeness and its adventurous spirit.

While it’s not what I personally consider a classic, I can see why so many people are immensely fond of it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s family friendly fantasy movies.

Film Review: Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Release Date: January 25th, 2020 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Jeff Fowler
Written by: Pat Casey, Josh Miller
Based on: Sonic the Hedgehog by Sega
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally, Neal McDonough

Original Film, Sega Sammy Group, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Why do you keep calling me Donut Lord?” – Tom, “Because you talk to donuts and then eat them if they get out of line.” – Sonic

I’ll be honest, I initially didn’t have much interest in a live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie and frankly, I wasn’t sure how they could do one without bringing the title character into the normal world. Well, that’s exactly what they did and while that’s somewhat predictable, it still worked and I enjoyed this quite a bit.

When the trailer for this movie first dropped, fans were taken aback by the look of the Sonic character. Because of backlash over the character design, the director and the study delayed the film’s release in order to rework Sonic’s design to be much closer to the video games.

Frankly, I was impressed by this, as it happen in a time where if fans are displeased, studios and their media minions dismiss them as “toxic” and then ignore their feedback on the road to crashing and burning.

Because of that, I felt somewhat compelled to support the movie because the people making it just wanted to make the best movie they could for the fans. I didn’t see this in the theater, as I had a lot going on last February and then COVID happened. However, I finally got around to it and this movie I would’ve otherwise dismissed, won me over and actually has me interested in its upcoming sequel. And had the filmmakers not made the changes to the movie, a sequel probably wouldn’t have happened.

The three leads in this movie are just great.

I love Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic and he gives life to the character and just meshes well with the spirit of the franchise. Honestly, I think he was the perfect choice and I can’t think of anyone who would’ve done a better job.

James Marsden was enjoyable too and I’ve always liked him since he was Cyclops in the original X-Men trilogy of films. The dude never friggin’ ages and with that, he always has a youthful energy about him, even though he has the presence of someone closer to middle age. He spent this entire movie playing off of a CGI character that didn’t exist until post-production and he does a pretty stupendous job in making his interactions with Sonic believable. The two characters formed a solid bond over the course of the movie and I can’t wait to see more of it in the next chapter.

The real scene stealer, though, was Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik a.k.a. Eggman. I thought it was initially odd casting, as he doesn’t look like the traditional version of Robotnik but you kind of don’t care because he’s so damn good that it’s hard not to love the character. In fact, this is one of my favorite Jim Carrey performances of all-time and honestly, I hope once more films are out, it reinvigorates him and gets his career back on the right trajectory. Also, spoiler alert: by the end of the movie, we see that he’s becoming a more accurate physical representation of the Robotnik character.

The best thing about this movie is something I’ve pointed out in several reviews lately. It’s just great escapism. This is a quality that seems to be growing in importance to me, more and more, as modern movies have lost this.

Nowadays, we’re bombarded with Hollywood’s political and social commentary in everything. It’s just nice to have a new film that is just fun and doesn’t beat you over the head with any sort of message or agenda.

This is what films like Sonic the Hedgehog are supposed to be. Just entertain me. Life has enough crap and sometimes I want to forget about it for a few hours. Sonic the Hedgehog did just that. It made me smile, it kept me engaged and it didn’t go out of its way to tell me I’m a horrible person because of X, Y and Z.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent, mostly kid friendly blockbusters.

TV Review: Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Original Run: November 19th, 1994 – January 31st, 1998
Created by: John Semper, Bob Richardson, Avi Arad, Stan Lee
Directed by: Bob Richardson
Written by: John Semper, various
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Kussa Mahchi, Jeremy Sweet, Shuki Levy, Joe Perry, Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi, Udi Harpaz
Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Ed Asner, Jennifer Hale, Roscoe Lee Brown, Mark Hamill, Hank Azaria, Joseph Campanella, Martin Landau, Richard Moll, Don Stark, Dawnn Lewis, Majel Barrett, David Warner, Earl Boen

New World Entertainment Films, Genesis Entertainment, Marvel Enterprises, Fox, 65 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of the early ’90s X-Men cartoon on Fox, it was natural for the network to ask for more Marvel properties to adapt for their Saturday morning audience. The Spider-Man series was the longest running and most successful of these animated spinoffs.

While the X-Men show still stands as my favorite of these animated Marvel series, Spider-Man is a very, very close second and nearly as good.

The stories are generally well written and even if they have to take some liberties and alter the plots from the comics. This was due to time constraints and by trying to wedge in the debut of Venom really early in the series, which changes the overall timeline of events in Spider-Man’s life, greatly. Also, the showrunners probably wanted to get as many villains added into the mix, early on, so that each new episode felt fresh.

Spider-Man has a massive rogues gallery and this show utilized the core villains really damn well.

The tone of the cartoon is pretty perfect. Sure, there are cheesy and hokey bits in every episode because this is a kid’s cartoon but it does stay pretty true to the tone and style of the source material. Most importantly, it’s true to the characters and the writers obviously knew the Spider-Man mythos well.

I love this show and it’s still fun to have minimarathons of episodes. Honestly, to me, it’s one of the highlights of Disney+.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other animated Marvel television series from the ’90s.

TV Review: Silver Surfer (1998)

Original Run: February 7th, 1998 – May 16th, 1998
Created by: Larry Brody
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Silver Surfer by Jack Kirby
Music by: Shuki Levy
Cast: Paul Essiembre, Camilla Scott, Colin Fox

Marvel Entertainment, Saban Entertainment, Fox, 13 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This show came out in a time when I was way more interested in chasing girls than watching Saturday morning cartoons. Also, I was probably really hung over on Saturday mornings in 1998. Plus, this series was really short-lived that I didn’t even know it existed until years later.

I binged watched it online in an afternoon, though, as I wanted to see if it was as good as some of the other ’90s Marvel cartoons that were on Fox and existed as part of that X-Men ’92 animated Marvel canon.

I think that this is pretty decent but it didn’t pull me in like the X-Men or Spider-Man cartoons of the same era. Also, it relied heavily on CGI and with that, gave us a weird mix of traditional hand-drawn 2D animation with 3D CGI graphics. It’s not terrible, visually, but it’s a bit jarring at times and the two styles have never really worked together for me. Also, the CGI stuff looks really cheap, which is probably just because of the time when this was made, as CGI animation wasn’t as refined as it would become.

This is similar to the other shows it shares a universe with, as it adapts the comic book stories but takes tremendous liberties with the material due to the length of the episodes and trying to get the franchise off of the ground with lots of characters as quickly as possible. Considering that everything is condensed down to just 13 episodes, I’m okay with it.

I really liked the three-part origin episodes more than the rest of the series but it was cool seeing what characters they started to sprinkle in and a second season, had it been made, could’ve been an improvement with a much larger universe to explore and a richer mythos.

All in all, this was a fun way to waste a Sunday afternoon. It’s hard to tell what this could’ve been due to it not surviving a short, first season.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel animated shows from the ’90s.