Film Review: Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, J. Evan Bonifant, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, B.B. King, The Blues Brothers Band, Erykah Badu, Blues Traveler, Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Bo Diddley, Issac Hayes, Dr. John, Lou Rawls, Paul Shaffer, Travis Tritt, Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Winwood, Kathleen Freeman, Frank Oz, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Nia Peeples, Darrell Hammond, Max Landis

Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, Willie, you gotta understand. Those goons are orphan remnants of the post-perestroika Soviet secret police apparatus, which, until 1991, carried out its twisted interpretation of the original well-intentioned Marxist-Leninist doctrine vis-a-vis state security, which was massively corrupted by Lavrentiy Beria in the ’30s. Of course, once a mass populace is coerced into such behavior as a permanent condition, a radical didactic, dialectic shift, such as glasnost, produces guys like these:…” – Elwood Blues

I never wanted to see this movie.

For one, the first one was perfect and should have been left alone. Especially, after the death of John Belushi. Had he not passed away at a young age and then wanted to do a sequel, I probably would’ve been fine with that. Something just seemed grossly inappropriate about this film even being made but Hollywood has no morals, shame or respect for anything so I can’t say that this movie’s existence didn’t surprise me.

I figured that I’d give it a fair shot, though. Mainly, I wanted to review it and because maybe I was initially too harsh on this and it’s possible that it might be a nice tribute to Belushi.

Well, I wouldn’t call it nice or even good, really. Now it’s not as terrible as other people have led me to believe, over the years, but it’s kind of a pointless movie.

The reason why it’s pointless is that it takes all of the famous beats of the original film and just reuses them… poorly. It’s like Dan Aykroyd and John Landis dusted off the script to the original, changed some character and location names, moved some scenes out of sequence and then tried to do some clever modifications. Unfortunately, these tricks were really transparent and what we’re left with is a lame, terribly derivative picture that doesn’t have a reason to exist. Well, except for maybe one reason.

That reason is the music itself. I know that Aykroyd and Landis love the blues and they, at the very least, were able to create some solid musical sequences that I enjoyed. Now none of them are as iconic as the ones from the original movie but these sequences are where you can see that the creatives involved in the movie were really trying their damnedest to make this something special.

So, I can’t knock the musical parts but if the threads holding these sequences together is made of shit material, well, the semi-attractive tapestry is just going to fall apart. And sadly, that’s what happens with this movie.

In the end, I don’t hate this but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: its far superior predecessor and other John Landis comedies.

Film Review: Trading Places (1983)

Also known as: Black or White (working title)
Release Date: June 7th, 1983 (limited)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliot, Paul Gleason, Kristin Holby, Bo Diddley, Jim Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Frank Oz, Giancarlo Esposito

Cinema Group Ventures, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me, and it was all because of this terrible, awful negro!” – Louis Winthorpe III

Since I watched The Blues Brothers a week ago, I wanted to revisit this movie, as well. I’ve been on a John Landis comedy kick, as of late.

Like The Blues Brothers, this was one of my favorite comedies, as a kid, because it featured two comedic actors I loved and still do.

While these aren’t my favorite roles for either Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy, they’re still iconic and the guys had tremendous chemistry. So much so, I had always whished for a sequel to this. I kind of hoped it would happen after this film’s villains had cameos in Coming to America, which saw them potentially get their lives back.

Speaking of the villains, played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, they were superb and charismatic for being total pieces of shit. They contributed just as much to the greatness of this picture as the two leads.

However, I also have to give a lot of credit to Denholm Elliot and Jamie Lee Curtis. The two of them rounded out the group of protagonists and formed a solid team alongside Aykroyd and Murphy, as they fought to take down the two rich bastards that were going to completely destroy them.

The story sees a commodities broker have his life ruined by his two bosses over a one dollar bet. That bet sees someone from the furthest end of the social hierarchy take his place to see if he can overcome his environment and succeed at the level that a man born into privilege could.

Essentially, Aykroyd and Murphy play switcheroo but neither are aware of why. Once they find out, they decide to work together to teach the villains a hard lesson. In the end, they outwit them at their own game and walk away with their fortune, leaving them broke.

The film does a pretty amusing job of analyzing “nature versus nurture”. While it’s not a wholly original idea and has similarities to the classic The Prince and the Pauper story, it at least makes the switching of lives involuntary and with that, creates some solid comedic moments.

Even though this isn’t specifically a Christmas movie, it takes place over the holiday, as well as New Year’s, and it’s a film I like to watch around that time of year.

Trading Places has held up really well and it feels kind of timeless even though it is very ’80s. It’s story transcends that, though, and the leads really took this thing to an iconic level, making it one of the best comedies of its time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as other films with Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy.

Film Review: The Blues Brothers (1980)

Also known as: The Return of the Blues Brothers (original script title)
Release Date: June 20th, 1980
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: various
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson, John Candy, Kathleen Freeman, Twiggy, Frank Oz, Charles Napier, Steven Spielberg, Steven Williams, Paul Reubens, Chaka Kahn, John Lee Hooker, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Joe Walsh, Armand Cerami

Universal Pictures, 133 Minutes, 148 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” – Elwood, “Hit it.” – Jake

This was a favorite comedy of mine, as a kid. It also probably helped develop my love of music, as it exposed me to styles that weren’t simply the standard pop tunes of the day. Given the film’s name, one could assume that this is full of blues music but it also features some soul, jazz, rock and a bit of country and western.

The Blues Brothers also solidified John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as two of the coolest guys working in Hollywood. Sadly, Belushi died two years later but my exposure and love of this movie led me down the path of watching everything Dan Aykroyd did for well over a decade. It also made me appreciate and love the work of director, John Landis.

A movie like this reminds of what movies used to be. It came out in a stupendous era for film and provided audiences with legitimate escapism from the harsh realities of the real world. This didn’t try to preach to you or force fed you some lesson, it was just a hell of a lot of fun, featured incredible music, didn’t take itself too seriously and offered up a tremendous dose of comedy when you didn’t have to worry about offending a small percentage of people that don’t buy anything, anyway.

This reminded me of why I watch so many retro movies and why I don’t really give a shit about new stuff coming out. At least for the most part. I’m am really intrigued by the newest adaptation of Dune, even if it is only going to be relegated to the small screen. But I digress, as I’ve gotten side tracked here. I just thought that it was necessary to explain what sort of feeling and thoughts this movie generated, seeing it in 2021 for the first time in quite awhile.

The Blues Brothers features dozens of great cameos of legitimate musicians essentially playing fictional versions of themselves. Strangely, this works. I think that also has to do with the film jumping around a lot and by putting the bulk of the acting work on Belushi and Aykroyd, who proved that even at their young age, they could certainly carry a motion picture and entertain just about everyone through their brand of comedy and music.

That being said, it also made me miss the really old days of Saturday Night Live. I was born after that show started but I did have access to a lot of those classic episodes growing up thanks to my uncle’s massive VHS library.

Anyway, this is just an energetic, lighthearted movie with soul and personality. It’s the type of picture that brings people together and leaves them all with a smile. I fucking miss movies like this.

I should also get the soundtrack on vinyl because not owning it should be a crime and I’m disappointed in myself for not having it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other comedies by John Landis, also those by Ivan Reitman, as well as comedies starring Dan Aykroyd.

Film Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Release Date: December 14th, 1988
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Based on: Bedtime Story by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, Anton Rodgers, Barbara Harris, Ian McDiarmid, Dana Ivey, Meagen Fay, Frances Conroy, Louis Zorich

Orion Pictures, 110 Minutes, 104 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“His name is – James. No. His name is – James Josephson. Oh, no, no! James Lawrence. Lawrence! Lawrence! Lawrence. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Fings. Forest Lawrenceton. La – Lars. Lars! Lawrence. Lawrence Lacko. Lawrence. His name is James Jessenden. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Jesterton. Lawrence Jesterton.” – Freddy Benson, “Lawrence Jamieson?” – Inspector Andre, “Yes! Yes! Yes! We’re like this!” – Freddy Benson

I remember my mother taking me to see this when I was ten. While it was a bit more adult than what I would’ve been normally interested in, I liked it quite a bit and it only helped solidify Steve Martin as one of my all-time favorite comedic actors. It also introduced me to the greatness of Michael Caine and birthed a fondness and appreciation for the mostly underutilized Glenne Headly.

It’s been years since I’ve revisited this but it’s been in my queue for so long that I felt like a bastard having ignored it.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels holds up incredibly well and even if you know the big plot twist, it’s still worth rewatching, as you can kind of pick up on some clues, here and there.

Martin and Caine have impeccable chemistry and once Headly shows up, things magnify quite a bit. They’re all so good, in fact, that I can’t believe that they never followed this up with a sequel. Maybe it didn’t perform well at the box office, as it came out during the holidays, but it definitely is a movie that developed a pretty solid following from its fans.

It’s also a beautiful looking picture and that’s not just because it is shot in opulent places. The cinematography is wonderful and being that this is only Frank Oz’s second film as a director without Jim Henson at his side, is a really impressive accomplishment. The guy has a great eye and understanding of visual composition.

This is also Oz’s first film where he didn’t work with puppets and animatronics and just filmed living, breathing, human actors.

It doesn’t hurt that the story and the script were very good. Also, having a solid cast that clicks really helped take this to another level. It probably made Oz’s job a lot easier but at the same time, this was his film and he put in the work and got the best out of his talent in front of and behind the camera. With Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he has a lot to be proud of.

Ultimately, this is a movie that I’d say deserves more recognition that it has. While everyone that I know who’s seen it, loves it, it seems to be somewhat forgotten due to Steve Martin movies that performed better and because it came out a long time ago.

Also, comedy just isn’t like this anymore. In fact, for the most part, comedy sucks now. This is a smart, quirky film that is lightyears ahead of the norm in the 2020s but may also be too smart and quirky for modern audiences to enjoy.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Release Date: December 19th, 1986
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Howard Ashman
Based on: Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman, The Little Shop of Horrors by Roger Corman, Charles B. Griffith 
Music by: Miles Goodman (score), Alan Menken (songs)
Cast: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, James Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, Levi Stubbs (voice), Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Michelle Weeks, Vincent Wong

The Geffen Company, 94 Minutes, 102 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Does this look “inanimate” to you, punk? If I can move and I can talk, who’s to say I can’t do anything I want?” – Audrey II

I used to watch this quite a lot when I was a kid. It was always on cable and I liked everyone in it, so when channel surfing in the late ’80s, I often times stopped when this was on.

Oddly enough, I haven’t seen it since the ’80s but I’ve always meant to go back and revisit it, especially since I love the original Roger Corman film and revisit that one every five years or so.

This version of the story was actually an adaptation of the off-Broadway musical, which was inspired by the Corman film from 1960. I’ve never seen the musical on-stage and there are some story differences but it’s something I’d like to see, even if it’s just on television, assuming there’s a version I can watch.

Anyway, back to this film.

This will always hold a nice spot in my heart because it features two I guys I really enjoy, especially when together, Rick Moranis and Steve Martin. This also sprinkles in Bill Murray, Jim Belushi, John Candy and Christopher Guest. Needless to say, it’s chock full of great ’80s comedic talent.

I also dig the hell out of Ellen Greene and Vincent Gardenia, who rounded out the cast nicely and played their parts perfectly.

The real gem of this picture, though, is the monster, Audrey II. The monster evolves into a massive, talking, man-eating venus flytrap. Audrey II is actually an alien trying to kickoff a full alien invasion but to do so, he needs to grow and to do that, he needs human blood.

What makes the monster so cool is two things, the first of which is the voice acting of Levi Stubbs, the lead vocalist of the Four Tops. Stubbs was stupendous and he made Audrey II one of the coolest villains in ’80s cinema.

The second thing is the practical effects, animatronics and puppeteering that brought the giant plant to life. This isn’t some CGI bullshit that takes you out of the movie, this is a real, physical beast that was live and on the set, interacting with the actors on film. The character just looks great, moves great and it’s incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and get caught up in this bonkers movie.

The real cherry on top of it all is the music. It’s great and I say that as someone that usually turns away from musicals because it’s the one genre that doesn’t really resonate with me. For me to care about a musical, it’s got to work on a level beyond that and attract me to it with some sort of cool twist. This picture does that well and I honestly don’t simply see it as a musical.

In the end, I’m glad that I finally revisited Little Shop of Horrors and it somewhat exceeded the expectations my memory had for it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the original film, as well as other comedies featuring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and John Candy.

Film Review: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Release Date: December 16th, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Based on: characters by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Harrison Ford (uncredited), Billie Lourd, Greg Grunberg, Dominic Monaghan, Warwick Davis, Denis Lawson, Jeff Garlin, Kevin Smith, James Earl Jones (vocal cameo), Andy Serkis (vocal cameo), Ewan McGregor (vocal cameo), Alec Guinness (vocal cameo), Hayden Christensen (vocal cameo), Ashley Eckstein (vocal cameo), Freddie Prinze Jr. (vocal cameo), Olivia d’Abo (vocal cameo), Frank Oz (vocal cameo), Liam Neeson (vocal cameo), Jennifer Hale (vocal cameo), Samuel L. Jackson (vocal cameo), Angelique Perrin (vocal cameo)

Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm, Bad Robot, 142 Minutes

Review:

*There be spoilers here!

“We had each other. That’s how we won.” – Lando Calrissian

Congratulations, Disney and Lucasfilm. You finally broke me to the point that I didn’t have the urge to see a Star Wars movie in the theater. Nope, I waited on this one because the previous few movies left such a bad taste in my mouth that I didn’t want to sit in a crowded theater with a bunch of normies clapping like seals every time there was a weak attempt at a cameo or minor victory. Also, people have been ruining the theater experience for awhile, so this film had that working against it already.

Now I figured I’d go see it once the buzz calmed down and the theaters cleared out a few weeks later but even then, it just wasn’t worth the trip or the money for me to make the effort.

Well, I finally watched it now that it’s available to rent and because this COVID-19 bullshit has us all trapped in our houses with nothing to do.

Anyway, as much as I anticipated not liking this, it was the best film of the three from the Disney produced Sequel Trilogy. Some of the more angry fans out there may think that’s crazy of me to say but I respect the effort of J.J. Abrams trying to fix the abortion that Rian Johnson created with The Last Jedi, especially with the weak skill set that Abrams has.

Honestly, they should have called this Star Wars: Episode IX – MacGuffins and Mystery Boxes but I guess that would require Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Bob Iger, Disney and Lucasfilm to actually understand humility and that they aren’t the great storytellers that they think they are.

Now this movie had a lot of weird shit that made certain sequences hard to get through. If I’m being honest, there aren’t really any sequences that didn’t have issues. I’ll list out some of my gripes from memory at the end of the main part of this review, as I did for some of my other Disney Star Wars reviews.

If I’m going to talk about what I liked about this film, I guess it’s that it tried really hard to give good fan service. Not so much, soulless, cheap attempts at winning me back but more like an admission that the series fucked up with the previous Rian Johnson stinker and that Abrams felt sorry and embarrassed that his larger vision for this trilogy was skull fucked in the eye by Johnson.

Rian Johnson cared more about his own ego and career than being the trusted custodian of something much larger than himself, which was created by others who were a lot more talented than he will ever be. If that’s harsh, I don’t care. Johnson didn’t care about the responsibility he signed up for, so he can deal with the repercussions of that from the fans who felt betrayed by his piss pigeon performance.

I’m glad that J.J. Abrams kicked Johnson in the nuts though. And his disdain for Johnson’s wreckage was made abundantly clear in the short scene where Luke returns, stops Rey from throwing her lightsaber away and states, “I was wrong.” Then he goes on to tell her what we all needed him to tell her in the previous film. For Luke Skywalker and Mark Hamill’s sake, I’m glad that the character didn’t go out like a weak piece of shit and was somewhat salvaged.

While on the subject of Rey, though, I still don’t understand how she is just simply the best at everything. She has an insanely weak character arc, hasn’t had anywhere near the level of adversity that Luke and Anakin had and you barely see her train at all and then she can barely deal with a fucking tiny laser drone. It’s like these modern filmmakers don’t think beyond what looks cool on the screen in a shot.

Anyway, this movie is a mess, narratively speaking. It’s really two movies wedged into one, as Abrams had to try and course correct while also coming up with a satisfying ending. That being said, he does okay in trying to achieve this but maybe this should have been longer or released as two parts. But I guess he is stuck with the numbering system and being tight within the framework of a trilogy.

Unfortunately, while we do get to see the main three characters spend some time together, it is hard to buy into their bond, as they spent the first two movies apart. I want to believe in it and I actually like the actors but this is something that needed to be done in every film. This is why people love the trinity of Luke, Leia and Han so much. But for whatever reason, Abrams, Kennedy and Iger don’t understand what worked about previous Star Wars films.

As much as my brain was picking things apart, I still found this to be the most palatable of the Disney Saga films. It’s hard to peg why but I think that Abrams genuinely wanted this to make up for the damage that’s been done and he did put his heart into it. But that also doesn’t mean that he was the right guy for the job way back when they announced him for The Force Awakens. He wasn’t and I had reservations about it back then.

In the end, I don’t know if I’ll ever watch any of these films again. If I do, it won’t be for a very long time. Maybe they’ll work better as a larger body of work but I doubt it with Rian Johnson’s big lame turd sitting smack in the middle of it. Honestly, it’s like a cat jumped on the table, took a shit in the middle of a mediocre pizza and you just decided to eat around it.

Assorted notes and gripes:

Watching the film, I was bombarded with a lot of WTF moments, these are the ones I remember. Maybe I should’ve taken notes.

-The opening crawl, immediately revealing Palpatine’s “resurrection” was cringe and the worst written opening crawl in the franchise.

-Who the fuck is manning all of Palpatine’s Star Destroyers?

-Why would the Star Destroyers break through thick ice to reveal themselves? There are hundreds of them and this seems like it would cause a lot of damage? And they’re already on a very hidden planet to begin with.

-Since Palpatine’s appearance isn’t explained but cloning is implied, am I just to assume that there’s only one Palpatine and not like 364?

-Lightspeed skipping? Really? And they land safely within a different planet’s atmosphere with every skip? Really? I’m no astrophysicist but I’d assume a planet’s atmosphere is a small percentage of a planet’s total structure and that planets themselves take up an insanely small amount of actual space in the universe, as a whole.

-“Hey Rose… you coming on the mission?” “Nah… I’m good, bro!”

-The group goes to outer space Burning Man… really?

-Don’t get me started on the jetpack trooper scene. That’s a clusterfuck of cringe and stupidity.

-I’m alright with the healing power but shouldn’t it drain Rey, even just a little bit. I mean, it fucking kills Kylo like two hours later.

-The Rey v. Kylo’s TIE Fighter scene was absolutely, unequivocally stupid. Just crush that shit with the Force, hoe!

-I guess Abrams views Droids as abused house pets.

-Gurl 1: “Not that you care but I think you’re okay.” Gurl 2: “I care.” Girl power! No lesbian kiss.

-So did C-3PO have red LED lights installed this whole time? Where were they when he was attempting to murder Jedi in Attack of the Clones?

-Rey doesn’t feel Chewie “die” on a ship that’s right in front of her. But then Rey feels that Chewie is alive when he’s much further away.

-Where’s Phasma? Is she really dead now? I thought she was Star Wars‘ version of Kenny from South Park.

-Are the Knights of Ren just laser sword thugs who don’t actually answer to Kylo Ren? Sith in training? Palpatine super soldiers? What the fuck are they?

-How does a billion year-old dagger line up with the wreckage of a Death Star that was built well after the dagger. And how was Rey lined up at the right angle and altitude to make it work? This was just a ripoff of the medallion from The Goonies and it was just stupid.

-I’ve lost count of the number of MacGuffins. I think there were five… maybe six? Is this a G.I. Joe miniseries from 1983? Nah… those were much better written.

-Weak as fuck lightsaber duels. Maybe the weakest in the entire franchise.

-Did Leia die because she called out to Kylo or was that just a perfect timing plot convenience?

-Harrison Ford? Why?

-Luke in 30 seconds was the Luke I wanted in the previous movie.

-Rey in a tiny X-Wing had to navigate through tight, dangerous, moving space corridors to reach the Palpatine planet but the Rebels’ big ass warships simply followed her path? It’s space, can’t they fly around that shit? What about the massive fucking armada of “regular people” that just shows up conveniently to win the war?

-Also, a militia of citizens overthrows a corrupt government by force. When did Hollywood become so blatantly pro-Second Amendment? I kid, Hollywood is just stupid.

-When they’re riding horses on the deck of a Star Destroyer, why doesn’t the ship just turn fucking sideways? It would’ve ended the war. One simple maneuver.

-The teleporting physical objects Force power is another lame plot convenience.

-What’s this random fucking Force Dyad thing? Abrams still thinks he’s making up stories with his toys in the bathtub.

-If Palpatine created Anakin and Anakin created Luke and Leia and Leia created Kylo Ren, all the while Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, isn’t their attraction kinda incest-y?

-I’d watch a Lando & Chewie in the Falcon movie.

-Why bury the lightsabers? A safe would be more secure.

-Why even take the Skywalker name and why did it take her so long to say it? Maybe because a part of her knew it was wrong to just take their name, their personal shit and Luke’s childhood home. Bitch, you ain’t in the will, that shit all goes to the state!

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other Disney era Star Wars movies.

Documentary Review: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004)

Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title)
Release Date: September 12th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker
Written by: Ed Singer
Music by: John Williams
Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite

Prometheus Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, A&E, 151 Minutes, 120 Minutes (TV Edit)

Review:

“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford

I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.

Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.

Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.

If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?

Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.

Film Review: Superman III (1983)

Also known as: Superman vs. Superman (original script title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Lester
Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne, John Williams (themes), Giorgio Moroder (songs)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Gavan O’Herlihy, Frank Oz (scene deleted)

Cantharus Productions N.V., Dovemead Films, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one, simple thing.” – Ross Webster

Out of the original four Superman movies, the first two were good, the last two were not so good. However, Superman III is still much better than Superman IV. And it does actually work as a film depending upon your perspective. But I’ll get into that.

The producers of this film series did some really bizarre stuff with this chapter.

First off, they had some issues with Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Hackman was completely written out of the film and replaced by Robert Vaughn as a very Lex Luthor type of character named Ross Webster. He had an evil sister and a girlfriend that was probably supposed to be Miss Tessmacher in the original version of the script.

As far as Margot Kidder went, she was limited to just two scenes and the producers brought in Annette O’Toole to play Lana Lang, a new love interest for Clark Kent. Oddly enough, O’Toole would go on to have a ten year run on Smallville where she played Clark Kent’s mother Martha Kent.

The strangest change of all was the inclusion of Richard Pryor. As great as the man was, this took Superman and turned it into a straight up comedy movie. The producers had heard that Pryor was a fan of the series though, so they threw a bunch of money at him and got him in this picture. Pryor later said that he didn’t like the script but he couldn’t say “no” to the money.

The big shift in tone works against the film series and it turned things into a joke.

However, if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie that just happens to have Superman in it, it works in that regard. Now it isn’t Pryor’s best and it is probably one of his worst, as his comedies are all pretty damn good, but as a comedy film this isn’t a complete waste. Frankly, this is how I have to perceive the movie in order to enjoy it.

In fairness, getting past all the weird creative choices, I did like the additions to the cast. I thought O’Toole was nice and sweet and I liked her. Her ex-boyfriend, played by Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk from Willow) was a fun character and a solid ’80s douche. It’s the villains that really stood out for me though. Robert Vaughn is fantastic in this cheese fest and is arguably better as a Luthor character than Gene Hackman. Annie Ross, who played his evil sister was a convincing witch of a lady and Pamela Stephenson was more than satisfactory as this film’s stand in for Miss Tessmacher.

I liked this movie a lot more as a kid but the two sequences I enjoyed most are still enjoyable for me today. Those are the two big battles: Superman vs. Superman and Superman vs. the super computer. I do have to point out that the scene where Annie Ross gets sucked into the computer and turned into a killer cyborg scared the crap out of me when I was four. Now it’s silly as hell but silly in the best way. I also feel like this was a real missed opportunity because the super computer possessing people could have been a good Brainiac story. Originally, Brainiac was supposed to be a villain in this, as was Supergirl.

A lot of people hate Superman III and I understand their frustration with it. But a lot of time has passed and if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie with Supes in it, it’s not so bad.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films in the Superman series with Christopher Reeve. Also, the Richard Pryor films of the ’80s.

Film Review: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Release Date: December 9th, 2017 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Frank Oz

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 152 Minutes

Review:

*Warning: there will be spoilers!

“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power… and beyond that, something truly special.” – Supreme Leader Snoke

Well, it’s been two years since Episode VII – The Force Awakens and while I wasn’t a huge fan of that film, I hoped that its derivative nature was just to set things up for a new generation and that this chapter in the franchise would feel wholly original and tread new territory. So does it? And did I leave this film feeling as satisfied as I did with last year’s one off tale Rogue One?

The Last Jedi, for the most part, is pretty humdrum. There are a few things I like but let me run through it all.

To start, we have an okay movie with a shaky story but at least it’s not a rehash of stuff we’ve seen. Rian Johnson pretty much made this film the anti-The Force Awakens, as it doesn’t need to copy what’s been done already. Sure, there are some similarities with other Star Wars plots but nothing on the level of the grand plagiarism that was J.J. Abrams’ film, two years prior. I actually wrote about that at great length in my review about that film.

However, original or not, that doesn’t mean this is automatically great. In fact, it really isn’t.

So other than this story feeling new and fresh, I liked that Luke and Leia were both at the forefront and not just side characters. Being that this was Carrie Fisher’s last outing as Leia, I was happy to see her get to be more pivotal to the overall story in this chapter. Although, the bit where she is floating in space and uses the Force to float back to her damaged ship was damn bizarre. There were other bizarre uses of the Force in the film that kind of irked me too but this one really stood out. It just didn’t fit.

Luke was shit. I didn’t care for this older version of the character so much. I get his reasoning for why he checked out on the universe but the greatest Jedi ever shouldn’t have the emotional maturity of a nihilistic teenager. So what, his nephew lost his shit and Luke feels guilty about it. That doesn’t mean that Kylo Ren can’t be saved and that Luke doesn’t have the responsibility to try and bring him back.

Getting to the mysteries that people were speculating over for two years, I’m glad that they went the route they did. While most of my friends were entertaining every fan theory since The Force Awakens came out, I just assumed Rey and Snoke were both nobodies and their origins weren’t connected to anything significant to the overall narrative. I was right. Still, with Snoke, at least, I’d like some backstory, even if it’s just in a book or a casual mention of his connection to the Dark Side.

Snoke was also a red herring, in that he was just there for misdirection and to be a pseudo-Palpatine. His real purpose was just to be someone powerful for Kylo Ren to wipe out on his quest to rule the galaxy. And I’m glad to see him out of the way so Ren can toss General Hux, the First Order’s ginger Hitler, around like a dime store rag doll.

I did like Kylo Ren’s evolution and how he is still very much effected by things from his past and it’s his mission to annihilate those things while just looking forward. The dynamic between Ren and Rey was good and they have some solid chemistry, which will only add to the struggle of both characters’ growth in the next picture. Ultimately, when these two do have their final showdown, it should be interesting enough thanks to the seeds that were sown in this chapter. But really, this was just about the only real strength that this picture had.

Finn was a waste. His adventure was a waste and ultimately proved to be absolutely pointless. His section of the film could be removed entirely and the overall narrative and fluidity of the movie would have been much better. If they had nothing for Finn to do, they should have left him in his coma. If I were John Boyega, I’d be kind of pissed.

Poe is still here and at least he gets more to do than he did in The Force Awakens but he still doesn’t feel as pivotal to the plot as he could be. I like Oscar Issac a lot and hope that he essentially becomes the Resistance’s lead commander by the next film. He needs to be more like Han Solo in his General Solo role. But he’s not on a great trajectory when all the women constantly emasculate him for… reasons. If I were Oscar Issac, I’d be kind of pissed.

A lot of people also speculated on the returns of other characters but out of all the theories, only the Yoda one came true. He appears for a short bit just to remind Luke about the bigger picture. Sadly, he wasn’t sitting at a ghost table with ghost Kenobi, ghost Anakin and Ghost-Gon Jinn playing poker. I feel like the Yoda scene may have had more impact if the other three ghost Jedi were there too. But at least we get to see Yoda burn the ancient Jedi tree and cackle like a crackhead about it.

So a big part of the story’s premise has to deal with how the First Order are able to track the Resistance through hyperspace jumps, which was impossible before. So Snoke’s command ship and a massive fleet are trailing the Resistance, who are running out of fuel. I’m not super keen on this being the crux of the story’s framework, as it doesn’t work well for a lot of reasons.

However, the film sort of just ignores the already established physics of Star Wars hyperdrive travel. In this film, the travel feels way to quick and convenient. While this hasn’t been all that consistent in other movies, comics and books over the years, it just feels sloppily handled here. Also, the First Order’s device that tracks the Resistance looks like a giant Flux Capacitor.

There are two really fun showdowns here. One is when Kylo Ren takes Rey to Snoke. The other is when Luke shows up to stand between the First Order and the Resistance. Both were pretty unique confrontations and weren’t just simple lightsaber battles. Johnson did a decent job in writing those sequences in a way that made them different. And each one comes with a good curveball or two. The moment where Luke, all alone, stands before the First Order’s might is pretty friggin’ chilling. But then Luke is just a Force apparition and the coolness of that moment is like air seeping out of a balloon: deflated.

One thing that may create confusion is that half the time characters say “Resistance” and the other half they say “Rebels” or “Rebellion”. They still use the Rebellion logo, so why did they change to the Resistance in the first place and really, why the hell isn’t the First Order just called the Empire? That’s like admitting defeat. Just say, “Screw you, Rebels! We’re the Empire! We’re still here! You didn’t kill us with your teddy bear friends!”

I know that I am being nitpicky about some stuff but ultimately, the film has major problems.

Unfortunately, J.J. Abrams is returning to direct the still unnamed Episode IX, the final chapter of this trilogy. I really hope that his tendency to borrow entire movies is behind him and that he takes cues from… I don’t know… anything other than past Star Wars movies. No more superweapons! At least not for a really long time.

Update:

The more I think about and reflect on this film, the more I dislike it. It just has so many problems and really, it feels like the magic of Star Wars died a long time ago. Maybe it was gone when the prequels came out and I couldn’t accept it but at least those films had imagination. The Disney films rely too much on what has been established and are just cheap and nearly soulless attempts at trying to replicate the magic of the originals. I never thought that Star Wars would let me down as massively as the live-action Transformers movies did but Disney has made it so that Star Wars doesn’t feel special anymore. And frankly, I’m losing interest in this franchise that, at one point, was the biggest pop culture thing in my life.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The other Disney Star Wars films.

Film Review: An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Release Date: August 21st, 1981
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: John Landis
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Sydney Bromley, Frank Oz

PolyGram Pictures, The Guber-Peters Company, Producers Sales Organization, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“How could there have been witnesses? It was so dark. We were running, and I fell and Jack went to help me up, and this thing came from nowhere. I don’t know what they’re talking about.” – David

The 1980s were populated with horror movies from indie studios and a lot of straight-to-VHS fare. Sure, the major studios were in on the game too but they turned out only a few real gems compared to what the indie filmmakers were churning out to fill the mom and pop video stores and the remaining drive-in theaters. An American Werewolf In London is one example of a big studio film that really hit the mark for horror aficionados.

It was a co-production between the United States and the United Kingdom and was filmed in the UK with a mix of American and British actors.

This was John Landis’ second attempt at a horror picture after his directorial debut, 1973’s Schlock. That movie was a horror comedy that saw an apeman fall in love with a blind girl and terrorize a Southern California suburb. Between Schlock and An American Werewolf In London, Landis directed the cult comedies The Kentucky Fried MovieAnimal House and The Blues Brothers.

While this film is more serious and has a lot of dark humor, as opposed to slapstick and parody, it is still quite funny and hits its mark well. The stuff with David talking to his undead friend Jack are some of the best bits in the film, as they bring humor into a really dark and disturbing situation.

I loved this movie when I was a kid and the main reason was because of Rick Baker’s magnificent special effects. In the day of practical effects, this picture really set the bar at a new level. The werewolf transformation scene is still the best in the history of cinema. Sure, you can do more with CGI effects today but they don’t look as cool and certainly don’t have the same sense of realism that real life physical effects have on camera. Now these effects may look dated today but there was nothing better than this in 1981. While I love the effects in The Howling, which was another 1981 werewolf movie, Rick Baker upped the ante with this picture and he would take this experience and go on to wow audiences for years.

The animatronic werewolf puppet still looks cool as hell and this beast was huge. Frankly, this is my favorite werewolf in film history. The design was absolutely perfect.

The special effects makeup that was applied to Griffin Dunne’s Jack was also stupendous. Each version of Dunne’s character was great, as he rotted away with each appearance until he was mostly just an animatronic corpse in the movie theater scene at the end. His makeup in his first appearance as the undead Jack was just brutal.

The film also benefits from great dream sequences, the best one being the hoard of Nazi monsters that shoots up David’s family.

There is also a brief cameo from Yoda himself, Frank Oz.

It also doesn’t hurt that Jenny Agutter is in this because she was a woman I was crushing on hard when I was kid, between this film and Logan’s Run.

An American Werewolf In London is a perfect storm for an 80s horror movie. It would go on to inspire a slew of other great 80s horror pictures and without it, the world just wouldn’t be as cool.

Rating: 9.25/10