Film Review: Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

Also known as: Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Bairus (alternative spelling), Destroy All Planets, Gamera vs. Outer Space Monster Viras (US alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Kenjiro Hirose
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Daiei Studios, 90 Minutes (TV cut), 81 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“Attention all spaceship crew members. Attention all spaceship crew members. Gamera has been located. He’s at the bottom of the ocean. Prepare to attack at once. Activate the super catch ray.” – Doctor A

This Gamera film is really a mixed bag but due to the behind the scenes troubles that Toei was dealing with at the time, their shortcuts in this film are somewhat excusable and the new stuff is pretty enjoyable for a Gamera picture.

What I’m referring to is that the studio was in financial trouble and they needed to make some money to stay afloat. The biggest money maker for them was the Gamera film series but since money was tight, this picture reuses footage from previous ones.

So on one hand, this plays like a Gamera’s Greatest Battles compilation while also providing a new, cool alien threat and an awesome kaiju creature for Gamera to fight in the final act.

From my youth, this was the Gamera movie that always stuck out in my memories, as the set design of the alien ship was just f’n cool. It’s pretty simplistic and just uses triangular screens and flashing light panels but it’s surrealness just burned into my brain. Plus, the outside design of the alien ship is cool and I always wanted a toy of it.

I also liked the monster Viras, who was essentially just a space squid with a sharp, pointed head and the ability to fly.

The plot is wonky as shit and the overall production is cheap and noticeable, even for a Gamera picture.

Still, this isn’t a bad way to waste some time, especially if you’re a kaiju fan and haven’t seen this one.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Also known as: Super Mario Brothers: The Movie (original script title)
Release Date: May 28th, 1993
Directed by: Rocky Morton, Annabel Jankel
Written by: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon
Based on: Mario by Nintendo
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Fiona Shaw, Richard Edson, Mojo Nixon, Dana Kaminski, Lance Henriksen, Frank Welker (voice), Dan Castellaneta (narrator)

Allied Filmmakers, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Hollywood Pictures, 104 Minutes, 90 Minutes (Japan), 87 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“[bathing in mud] Do you know what I love about mud? It’s clean and it’s dirty at the same time.” – King Koopa

Super Mario Bros. was one film in a string of a few that helped to build the reputation that video game movies suck. Looking at the picture in comparison to the video game series it’s based on, I get it. And frankly, it irked the shit out of me when I saw it in 1993. 

However, seeing it with pretty fresh eyes nearly three decades later, I have a very different view of the film now. Especially, when I just look at it as its own weird body of work apart from the video game franchise.

Removing the source material from the equation, I can still see why this would be viewed as a bad film by most but for me, a lover of really weird shit, everyone in this cast and late ’80s/early ’90s cyberpunk shit, this is kind of a feast of awesomeness!

Additionally, the Alan Silvestri score is great, lively, playful and boisterous. It reminds me of his score to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which was, honestly, what really set the magnificent tone for that movie. Here, Silvestri’s work is just as effective and man, I miss scores like this.

This movie also feels like a time capsule into the heart of the ’90s. It embraces the wonky tropes of the decade and it completely misses the mark it should’ve been aiming for. Although, in retrospect, I really like that this just did whatever the hell it wanted to and provided the world with something so damn bizarre and zany.

I really liked the bond between Mario and Luigi, even if trying believe that Hoskins and Leguizamo are supposed to be real brothers is maybe the most unbelievable thing in the film. That kind of doesn’t matter, though, as nothing in this needs to make any sort of logical sense. It’s actually cooler that it doesn’t. Now that’s something I’d typically be highly critical of but this movie with its flaws is still so much fun and overly ridiculous that it adds to its charm.

I guess Dennis Hopper was miserable working on this due to behind the scenes clusterfucks and severe delays but honestly, it probably worked to the movie’s benefit, as he truly comes off as an insufferable prick and it just makes his character that much more sinister and entertaining to watch.

Additionally, I really liked Samantha Mathis in this, as she played Princess Daisy, the apple of Luigi’s eye. Her and Leguizamo had nice, believable chemistry and she really was a highpoint of the picture. In fact, her final scene where she returns as a gun toting badass really made me wish a sequel had been made.

That being said, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to having more things made from this version of the Super Mario IP. I get it, it was a bomb and most people hated it but it’s also unique and kind of special in its own odd way. Plus, it’s developed a good cult following over the years and I think many people are like me, where seeing this decades later really allows you to separate from what it should of been and wasn’t to seeing it as its own cool thing.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other few ’90s movies based on video games, as well as other early ’90s cyberpunk films.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Also known as: Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Monster X (US TV title), Monsters Invade Expo ’70, War of the Monsters, Gamera vs. Giger (alternate worldwide English titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Katherine Murphy

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 82 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Gamera movie but I do have a few left from the original run of films that I haven’t yet reviewed. I already did all the movies that were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but there are still three left that never made it on that show.

This one is mostly more of the same but it does have an interesting bit where Gamera, after a defeat, is essentially dead with a pale head. His body is left half submerged in the bay near the World Expo ’70 site, a world’s fair type of festival that takes centerstage in this movie.

With Gamera out of commission, two kids use a small submarine to enter his mouth and try to resuscitate him. While in there, they have to survive the heroic mission while outwitting killer parasites in the giant creature’s body. It’s weird, it’s neat and it’s pretty cool if you’re a fan of this sort of awesome cheese.

Other than that, there’s not much more to say. Everything is on par with the other sequels but this at least stays afloat and has an edge over some of the other chapters because of the sequence with the kids inside of Gamera’s body.

All in all, a decent flick for Gamera fans but if you’re not a diehard kaiju or tokusatsu viewer, you’ll probably be scratching your head for eighty-two minutes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Release Date: November 15th, 1992 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: John Hughes 
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, Kieran Culkin, Tim Curry, Brenda Fricker, Eddie Bracken, Dana Ivey, Rob Schneider, Ally Sheedy (cameo), Donald Trump (cameo), Bob Eubanks (cameo), Rip Taylor (cameo), Jaye P. Morgan (cameo), Jimmie Walker (cameo)

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Hey. You guys give up? Have you had enough pain?” – Kevin McCallister

As I said in my review of the first Home Alone, I hadn’t seen that movie in-full in years. Well, I hadn’t seen this one since it came out. I’ve seen scenes on television over the years but I felt like a full watch was grossly overdue.

So while this isn’t as great as the original and while I don’t think that it was necessary, it’s still really endearing and a fun, holiday movie.

All the important cast members are back but if I’m being honest, it would’ve been nice just getting a cameo from Roberts Blossom after he saved Kevin and reunited with his estranged son in the first film.

That being said, it’s kind of unbelievable that Kevin would’ve been left behind by his family once again but you’ve got to kind of suspend disbelief and just go with it. I mean, it’s also unbelievable that this kid could live and survive in New York City on his own and that while there he’d run into the same burglars from the first film but I digress. This isn’t the type of story where you should be really thinking that hard.

My only real gripe about this film is that it’s too long. I don’t know why they had to go for a full two hours, as the just over ninety minute running time of the first movie was perfect. But I guess Kevin is in a much larger environment and that provided John Hughes the luxury of writing more gags.

Despite the new, grandiose setting, though, the film is really formulaic and just tries to repeat the main beats of the first movie. That doesn’t wreck it though, it just makes it a slightly inferior but still a pretty good copy of the masterpiece it’s trying to emulate.

I really liked the cast additions of Tim Curry and Rob Schneider in this one, though. They added a lot to the movie and their interactions with Kevin and then his parents were pretty good.

It was also great seeing Kevin put the burglars through the gauntlet once again and while this sequence isn’t as iconic as the original, it still provided some great slapstick comedic moments and I love seeing Culkin, Pesci and Stern play off of each other in these scenes.

All in all, the first film is perfect but this is a worthwhile sequel that doesn’t diminish the greatness of the original while giving you a few more hours to spend with these characters you love.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and other John Hughes holiday movies.

Film Review: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Release Date: November 27th, 1985
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Music by: Henry Mancini, Leslie Bricusse
Cast: Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston, Judy Cornwell, Burgess Meredith, Carrie Kei Heim, Christian Fitzpatrick, Jeffrey Kramer, Christopher Ryan

Calash Corporation, GGG, Major Studio Partners, TriStar Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Now, all those within the sound of my voice, and all those on this Earth everywhere know that henceforth you will be called Santa Claus.” – Ancient Elf

I actually wrote about this movie in an old article titled How Dudley Moore Ruined My Childhood – A Christmas Story. In that article I outlined the plot of this movie from memory but I was kind of off, as I hadn’t seen the film since 1985.

Anyway, seeing this now, it’s a much better movie than I remembered and I kind of enjoyed it in spite of my complaints in the previous article and how it destroyed Santa Claus for my seven year-old brain.

This is a movie with really odd pacing and plot structure where the first act seems like it takes up the first full hour of this 107 minute movie. But I do really like the first act, which shows the fantastical origin of Santa Claus. It’s so well shot and orchestrated that the picture feels otherworldly but incredibly magical and soothing.

David Huddleston was perfectly cast as Santa and his wife and the elves were also great, especially Dudley Moore and Burgess Meredith. We also get to see Christopher Ryan in a small role as an elf, which I thought was really cool. He’s best known, at least to me, as Mike from The Young Ones and as different Sontaran commanders from Doctor Who.

After the first hour or so, we are introduced to the film’s villain B.Z., played by the great John Lithgow. As a kid, I always loved this character and sort of saw him as the Lex Luthor of Christmas. I guess I remembered his role and his presence in the film being bigger than it actually was but that’s probably because Lithgow was so solid that it left a big impression on me.

There are also two little kids in the movie but they’re kind of annoying and overly happy all the time. But I guess you need kids in a Santa movie and they’re supposed to be the narrative stand-ins for the kids in the audience, imagining themselves hanging out with Santa and the elves.

The film looks really dated though and I remember thinking that it looked older than a 1985 movie in 1985. Also, the special effects aren’t great but the matte painting work and sets kind of make up for that.

The story isn’t great either but trying to see it through the eyes of a kid, it’s fine.

In the end, this is a weird but comforting movie. I feel like it’s been lost to time and mostly forgotten but I still think that people would like it if they gave it a chance.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other family Christmas classics.

Film Review: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Also known as: The Greatest Gift (working title), Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (complete title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Based on: The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Smith
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, Gloria Grahame

Liberty Films, 130 Minutes, 118 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence

Maybe I’m a jerk for never having seen this motion picture in its entirety until now. I had seen all of the iconic scenes over the years and thought that I knew the film well enough but I was wrong. This wasn’t some lame, old-timey, feel good, cookie cutter Christmas movie. This is, in fact, a f’n masterpiece and I have to consider it one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christmas movie of all-time.

I think that I had just heard the hype for decades and I imagined that it would be impossible to live up to it. I had also seen the important bits and heard so many people talk about it my entire life that I almost felt like I didn’t need to experience it. But this year, I thought that giving it a shot was long overdue and since I love both James Stewart and Donna Reed, I hit “play” on my HBO Max app.

This was a long, great story that covers the entirety of a man’s life. In that regard, it reminded me of another masterpiece, Citizen Kane. However, this has a very different tone and it showcases a great man, feeling down and out, nearly committing suicide, as he witnesses what life would have been like for others, had he not existed and touched them over the years.

It’s a film with a real lesson in it and I think it truly applies to everyone regardless of their situation. We’ve all had really bad strings of luck and most have probably thought really bad thoughts about their own mortality at one point or another. This film kind of centers you and makes you realize that there is much more at stake than our own singular lives.

This works so damn well too because James Stewart is one of the greatest actors that ever walked the Earth. I also have to give a lot of credit to Donna Reed, as well as Lionel Barrymore. But ultimately, I think that the real creative and driving force behind this film was its great director, Frank Capra. And after seeing this, this is possibly my favorite Capra picture. I’ll need to revisit more to be sure, however.

The lesson I learned in watching this, which I’ve learned before but I have a thick skull, is that you should never assume you know something unless you’ve fully experienced it. Maybe I thought the world had spoiled the movie for me but honestly, even knowing the end result didn’t diminish the impact that this film had on me after finally seeing it in its entirety without interruption.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other classic family Christmas movies from way back in the day.

Film Review: Home Alone (1990)

Release Date: November 10th, 1990 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: John Hughes 
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Roberts Blossom, Angela Goethals, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, John Candy, Larry Hankin, Kristin Minter, Kieran Culkin, Billie Bird, Bill Erwin

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Down here you big horse’s ass, come and get me before I call the police.” – Kevin McCallister

I’m just going to come out and say it immediately, this is a perfect film: a true masterpiece.

I hadn’t seen this in-full in a few decades, actually, but I was quickly reminded as to why I loved this movie so much, as a middle school-aged kid back in 1990.

The film has that special John Hughes charm but it’s turned up to eleven. I think that had a lot to do with Chris Columbus’ direction and his ability to seemingly magnify Hughes’ effect into something magical, charming and so heartwarming that it’s impossible not to love.

The cast is perfect from top-to-bottom, which is difficult with big ensemble pieces. However, most of the scenes feature the trio of Macaulay Culkin, in his first starring role, as well as great actors regardless of genre, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

These three main players had immense chemistry and they looked like they enjoyed the hell out of making this movie. I’m sure they had no idea that this would blossom into a cultural phenomenon but it did and their great work paid off, immensely.

What surprised me most about this was how much heart it really had. It’s a film with soul and while I picked up on that as a kid, I see it much differently now, as an adult that has lived a much fuller life. In that time, I’ve lost several people close to me and had a deeper understanding of family that you don’t fully grasp as a child.

Home Alone really does hit you in the feels in a really profound way and I guess I can understand why my mom cried every time she saw it. I just thought she was weird but I was also a little shit obsessed with Nintendo, comics and G.I. Joe.

It’s actually kind of hard to review a perfect film. I can’t really pick anything apart or point out negatives because there aren’t any.

So I guess that’s it.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: its direct sequel and other John Hughes holiday movies.

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Release Date: January 29th, 1959 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi (supervising director), Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark
Written by: Erdman Penner, Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright
Based on: Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
Music by: George Burns (adapted from Tchaikovsky)
Cast: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Marvin Miller (narrator)

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

“A forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! ‘Round Stefan’s castle, cast my spell!” – Maleficent

This is my favorite classic animated Disney film of all-time. While I also love Alice In Wonderland immensely and have (in my own mind) debated which one takes the cake for me, it’s always Sleeping Beauty that wins out, especially when I see them both pretty close together.

As far as the classic Disney style and patented tropes go, this is a perfect motion picture but then it’s also more than that.

This, at face value, looks like a standard Disney princess story but it also features the greatest villain that Disney has ever had in Maleficent. A villain so badass and cool that she’s been featured in the great Kingdom Hearts video games and gone on to have her own series of live-action films featuring her as the main character over Aurora a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty.

On top of that, this is a visual triumph for the Disney company, as it has a very unique animation style with incredible character design, a delectable, vivid color palate and a sort of looming darkness that their other films don’t have. There’s a real beauty with this picture that holds it above Disney’s other masterfully crafted and visually impressive films.

The animation is also so smooth, especially in regards to the great action sequences. The big action-packed climax that sees Prince Philip take on Maleficent in her massive dragon form is stunning to behold. Sixty-plus years later, it has held up incredibly well and is, hands down, one of the absolute best and most memorable animated action sequences in film history.

For me and what I like in Disney films, as well as fairytale stories, this is just a perfect storm, which is greatly enhanced by the unique and alluring visuals and one of the greatest silver screen villains ever created.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other classic animated Disney films of the classic era.

Film Review: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Release Date: June 16th, 1955 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Written by: Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi
Based on: Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog by Ward Greene
Music by: Oliver Wallace
Cast: Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Dallas McKennon, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Peggy Lee

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 76 Minutes

Review:

“(repeated line) As my grandpappy, Ol’ Reliable, used to say… I don’t recollect if I ever mentioned Ol’ Reliable before?” – Trusty

As I started reviewing Disney’s classic animated features from the beginning, I wondered where their distribution partnership with RKO Radio Pictures would end. I guess it’s here, as this is the first film distributed by Buena Vista, which was created to be the distribution arm of the Disney company.

While that might not seem as if it is important to the final film, it could possibly be a reason as to why this one feels like a slight step down in quality for what Disney had been putting out, at the time. However, following up Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan couldn’t have been easy.

Also, that’s not to say that this is bad or unworthy of the Disney brand. Lady and the Tramp is still one of the best animated films of its time and deservedly considered a classic.

In fact, this is one of the classic Disney films that I watched the most, as a kid. I always liked the characters, the story and yes, even the romance. Honestly, this may have been my first experience seeing romance play out in a film. Well, it was at least the first romantic movie I probably paid attention to.

The animation is great and I also like the few songs in the film. However, the movie plays more like a sequence of events without much tying them together. At least, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the larger arc of the story and it almost feels like there isn’t one. Things happen, dogs fall in love and eventually, they live together and have babies. All of this, however, just felt like things that happened around random scenes.

I guess it didn’t need to have a clear objective and can be brushed off as just peaking into these two dogs’ lives for a bit but its lack of real structure and narrative progression does effect the quality.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)

Also known as: Gojira X Mekagojira (original Japanese title), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 3 (alternative English title)
Release Date: November 2nd, 2002 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Masaaki Tezuka
Written by: Wataru Mimura
Music by: Michiru Oshima
Cast: Yumiko Shaku, Shin Takuma, Kou Takasugi, Yuusuke Tomoi, Kumi Mizuno, Akira Nakao

Toho Co. Ltd., 88 Minutes

Review:

“You gave me strength. So did the others. No life is worthless. I believe you now.” – Akane Yashiro

The Millennium Era of the Godzilla franchise is definitely my least favorite. However, the films aren’t bad, they’re just kind of meh, overall.

While people seem to really like this film’s direct predecessor, I actually liked this one a wee bit more. I think it had a lot to do with feeling less convoluted and not bogged down by so much fantastical mysticism.

This is just a sci-fi action flick with a giant beast and a giant robot. Even though the Mechagodzilla gimmick had already been done to death, by this point, this version of that type of story felt like it worked. I also love the redesigned version of the robot, now called Kiryu.

The plot also feels like it was lifted from an Ultraman series more than it feels like a rehash of previous Godzilla plots. Although, the duo of Mechagodzilla films from the Heisei Era had similar plot setups.

The reason I liken this to Ultraman is that it features a government task force that is fighting the kaiju threat. Instead of calling on Ultraman and various suped-up vehicles, the ace pilot in this story controls Mechagodzilla (or Kiryu).

The human elements of the story are pretty boring, though. The action scenes and monster battles are good, however.

But if I am being honest, this is almost completely forgettable in the grand kaiju-sized scheme of Godzilla things. Honestly, this whole era, other than the series’ finale, Final Wars, is pretty forgettable.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Godzilla films of the Millennium era.