Film Review: Aquaman (2018)

Release Date: November 26th, 2018 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan
Based on: Aquaman by Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Djimon Hounsou, Julie Andrews (voice), John Rhys-Davies (voice)

Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Films, Mad Ghost Productions, 143 Minutes

Review:

“You think you’re unworthy to lead because you’re of two different worlds? But that is exactly why you are worthy!” – Mera

People talked this movie up quite a bit when it came out but I didn’t see it in the theater because the holidays are busy for me and this is not a Tolkien movie.

But I had high hopes as several people I tend to trust told me that I’d like it. Well, they were wrong. I mean, I didn’t hate it and if you are comparing this to the other DCEU films, it’s actually the second best. However, that’s not a high threshold to try and beat.

First off, I like Jason Mamoa and I like Jason Mamoa in this movie. However, he’s basically playing Jason Mamoa and not Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman. Well, at least not how Aquaman has been written for decades. And couldn’t he have gone blonde? He could’ve kept the long hair and beard, as Aquaman has had that look before but I guess Arnold Schwarzenegger did a good job of once playing Conan without brunette locks.

But the thing is, he doesn’t feel like Aquaman and he really just feels like a badass buff dude with similar powers to Aquaman.

I thought that Amber Heard was pretty on point as Mera, though. She needs a bit more confidence if she’s to be the tough as nails future queen but this was a good start, assuming they make more of these, which they probably will.

Most importantly, though, Mamoa and Heard had damn good chemistry and that’s what had to carry this movie and it was certainly a strength when everything else around it felt like aquatic Candyland.

Other than a handful of good actors, mainly Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Temuera Morrison, the rest of the film was pretty lackluster and underwhelming.

It had action, it was fun for the most part, but a lot of the film felt too dragged out once you got to the middle. It had really good pacing for about 45 minutes but then the plot just seemed to be a mixture of different genres and this didn’t have a clear identity as to what it was. Some of these genre twists seemed like they were more in conflict with the film as a whole than being a collection of interesting ingredients there to make the dish taste better.

I didn’t like how Black Manta was handled and he’s just sort of a henchman and an afterthought in this film. He’s much more badass than that. Read Dan Abnett’s first few story arcs on his run of the Aquman comic. There, Black Manta was a dangerous terrorist that had Aquaman and Atlantis in the palm of his hand. I know that they introduced him in this film to build him up for later but I just don’t feel like they did it effectively and it’ll be hard to take him seriously as the big baddie when he was just portrayed as Mr. Laserface and then get knocked down a cliff. Plus, with his helmet on, the effect they used on his voice mixed with the actor’s line delivery, reminded me of Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

Patrick Wilson was pretty good as the Ocean Master but the way he was written was confusing. He’s willing to do pure evil to maintain his throne but he doesn’t seem to commit to the bit and he just sort of accepts his fate when his mom shows up and tells him to love his brother.

This film is an example of something being fun and entertaining but not being good and not being something that I particularly like. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and that goes for all the films in the DCEU. But that also doesn’t mean that I won’t watch the sequel, I probably will but I doubt I’ll see that one in the theater either.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC Comics movies within the same shared universe.

Film Review: Border Incident (1949)

Also known as: Border Patrol, Wetbacks (working titles)
Release Date: October 28th, 1949
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: John C. Higgins, George Zuckerman
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Howard Da Silva, James Mitchell, Charles McGraw

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“What is cheaper than time, señor? Everybody has the same amount.” – Zopilote

This isn’t my favorite film-noir by Anthony Mann but it is still a quality film that rivals his other ones.

A very young Ricardo Montalban is the star here, and man, he shines like a supernova and really carries this badass movie on his shoulders.

What’s unique about this, is that it takes place on the Mexican border and was mostly filmed in the wilderness in the desert areas of Southern California and the northern portion of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The location shooting made this majestic and added some gravitas to the already heavy and serious proceedings.

The plot is about a gang that smuggles Mexican farm workers across the border into California. The gang ends up killing the immigrants, which leads to federal investigators going undercover to destroy the gang. With typical noir twists, the agents end up having to fight the gang leader for their own survival.

Montalban and George Murphy were both superb as the agents seeking justice, while Howard Da Silva was a perfect, sinister heavy, out for their blood.

The film is certainly intense and it has a gritty realism to it, even for its time, where many big studio motion pictures had a lot of visual luster and prestige. But Mann was perfect at achieving his vision in a time where his stylistic choices weren’t common.

Border Incident has stupendous cinematography and lighting. Mann was a master of mise-en-scène and this motion picture is just further proof of that. The use of natural lighting was especially impressive in the outdoor scenes. Mann knew how to manufacture doom and gloom, visually.

I really liked this film and I believe that is the last of Mann’s noir pictures for me to review. That’s kind of sad and I put this one off for awhile because of that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Anthony Mann film-noir pictures: T-Men, Desperate, He Walked by Night, Raw Deal and Side Street.

Film Review: American Splendor (2003)

Release Date: January 20th, 2003 (Sundance)
Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Written by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Based on: American Splendor and Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar
Music by: Mark Suozzo
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak, Donal Logue, Molly Shannon, Josh Hutcherson, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Toby Radloff

Good Machine, Dark Horse Entertainment, Fine Line Features, HBO Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?” – Joyce Brabner

Even though I grew up burying my head in comic books, I wasn’t really aware of Harvey Pekar until my late ’20s. Initially, his comic book style wasn’t something I sought out. I was more into superhero comics and sword and sorcery style fantasy epics.

However, I would say that I found Pekar (and Robert Crumb) at the right time in my life. Both men’s work captivated me and spoke to me in a very human but amusing way. Crumb was attractive to my deviant sensibilities, while Pekar spoke to that cynical observational part of myself that’s always watching and analyzing the shit show around me.

I’ve seen a lot of Pekar in interviews and things over the years and I’ve got to say that Paul Giamatti’s performance as Harvey Pekar is fantastic. While he might not exactly look like Harvey, which is actually joked about within this film in a fourth wall breaking critique by Pekar himself, Giamatti just captured the right type of charm and charisma and did this role justice.

Additionally, Judah Friedlander was absolutely spectacular as Pekar’s best bud Toby Radloff. Friedlander was so good, in fact, that even though I saw his name in the credits, I didn’t realize that it was him playing Toby until really late in the film.

All the other performances are also great. Especially Hope Davis as Joyce, Harvey’s wife, and James Urbaniak, who played Robert Crumb in a few key scenes.

The film covers the important parts of Pekar’s adult life quite well. It’s a film that has a lot of time pass in its 101 minutes but nothing feels rushed and every scene seems pretty vital, as the narrative hits the points it needs to in showcasing what was most important.

For someone that’s a professional creative and pretty grumpy on most days, it was easy for me to relate to Pekar and this film. It was a moving picture that tells a sweet story, even if the main character isn’t someone that would be likable by most people on a first impression.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Crumb and Basquiat.

Documentary Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Release Date: January 19th, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Music by: Jonathan Kirkscey

Tremolo Productions, Focus Features, 93 Minutes

Review:

This was a highly lauded documentary when it came out at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. I heard about it almost immediately but I didn’t get to see it till now, as it is streaming through HBO, which I happen to have at the moment.

I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood but then, what kid in America didn’t? But because of this, I always felt close to Fred Rogers. I mean, he was a part of my daily life during my developmental years and I continued to see him often, as younger kids in my family also grew up watching the show.

It was really nice seeing this, as it does take a real intimate look at the show and Fred Rogers, the man. This does a great job of being both a biography film of Rogers personal life, as well as a behind the scenes look at the show’s development, production and legacy.

I learned a lot about Rogers and who the man was. I, like most people, always wondered if he was a character or if he was just being himself. Now I have no doubts that the man we all grew up with was the authentic Fred Rogers.

The documentary gives a lot of speaking time for several people from Rogers’ professional and personal lives. All of them had nothing but love and admiration and while that may make the skeptic wonder as to whether this was just some sort of puff piece or not, I think that Rogers truly touched everyone around him.

I love showbiz documentaries but this was a rare gem in that it delved into a part of showbiz that isn’t really examined.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent biographical documentaries featured on HBO.

Film Review: The Beastmaster (1982)

Also known as: Invasión Junk (Argentina), Dar l’invincible (France), El señor de las bestias (Spain)
Release Date: August 16th, 1982 (US limited)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton
Music by: Lee Holdridge
Cast: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos

Beastmaster N.V., ECTA Filmproduktion, GmbH & Co., K.G., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, 118 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t move. The beast is fierce. But if we show no fear, we might escape.” – Dar

I used to love the hell out of this film when I was a little kid. It could because it was the first time I remember seeing boobies in a movie and that my parents seemed oblivious to this having boobies and lots of violence and therefore, never making me turn it off when I put it on. But then again, they were usually walking around the house doing adult things.

Anyway, I still like to revisit this movie every few years. It had been awhile seen I’d seen it this time though, maybe five years or more. But I wanted to work my way through all of The Beastmaster films since I haven’t reviewed them yet.

This is absolutely the best film in the series and I’d say that it’s the second best sword and sorcery film after the original Conan the Barbarian, which also came out in 1982.

I think that a lot of this film’s awesomeness can be attributed to it being written and directed by Don Coscarelli, the man behind the Phantasm film series, Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End. It has a very dark fantasy vibe that isn’t too dissimilar from his Phantasm series. And there are parts of this film that feel like actual horror, like the scenes with the winged demon vampire creatures that captured people within their wings and devoured them, turning them into a dripping acidic goo. Also, there is children sacrifice and all types of other hardcore shit thrown in.

The film also has a pretty layered narrative. It’s a straightforward movie where the hero is born, the hero loses the life he knows due to a tyrant, the hero grows up and then takes the tyrant down. But there are multiple villains in the movie: Rip Torn as an evil religious cult leader and a big brutish warrior with one of the coolest helmets in movie history. Plus, there are other evil abominations thrown in at certain points.

For those that might not know, Dar, the Beastmaster, has the power of befriending animals and using them as allies in his war against evil. It’s a cool concept and even though the idea comes from the book this is based on, which is really all they took from the book, it gives this story an edge over other sword and sorcery movies. Now it isn’t better than the first Conan but it is, at times, more entertaining.

I really enjoy Marc Singer in this. I also liked Tanya Roberts, here, but she was always a favorite of mine when I was a kid, between this film and A View to a Kill. Also, she’s the best thing about Tourist Trap. I think the real highlights for me though, are seeing John Amos being a total buff badass in this, as well as Rip Torn embracing his character’s evil insanity. All of the performances are better than what’s typical within this genre.

The movie has good cinematography and the shots are framed quite well. I especially like the scene where Dar faces off with the evil helmeted dark knight amongst the flames. It was well lit, well captured and the use of contrast in this sequence was well done.

Decades have come and gone since this film came out but like Coscarelli’s other motion pictures, it has survived the test of time and it is still a lot of fun to watch.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with its sequels but this is much better than them.

 

Film Review: Space Travelers (1969)

Also known as: Marooned (original title), Abandonados en el espacio (Argentina)
Release Date: November 10th, 1969 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Mayo Simon
Based on: Marooned by Martin Caidin
Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, George Gaynes

Columbia Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Okay Buzz you’re right. To hell with waiting for a bunch of slide-rule jockeys. We used to fix the airplanes we flew with paperclips. Lets get into our hard suits and fix this bird.” – Jim Pruett

This is probably the most critically acclaimed film ever to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as it is the only picture out of the 200-plus that won an Academy Award. In the case of this movie, it won for visual effects.

That being said, this is still a movie worth riffing, as it is dreadfully boring, slow and despite being full of some good actors, none of the performances really hit their mark.

Originally titled Marooned in 1969, this movie was re-released on VHS around 1990 as Space Travelers. The VHS version is the one that I saw, as it’s the version that MST3K showcased.

I’m not sure if there’s much difference between the two versions of the film but MST3K didn’t have time to fit in a 134 minute picture, so what I did see was edited down. As boring and as slow as this was, I couldn’t imagine watching a version that would be 44 minutes longer than the roughly 90 minutes I saw. But maybe that extra time made the story more interesting.

Still, this is a real dud that wasn’t saved by its good effects, even for its time.

Maybe this was fairly original in the late ’60s and being that it came out during the height of the space race era, it could’ve connected with audiences that were still dreaming about space travel and exploration. But this did come out a year after 2001: A Space Odyssey and I find it hard to believe that even in 1969, that this film would even be in conversations with that one as far as being a top notch sci-fi adventure.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Space Race era movies about space travel.