Film Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Release Date: September 25th, 2012 (Part I) and January 29th, 2013 (Part II)
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Bob Goodman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley, Paget Brewster, Grey DeLisle, Michael McKean, Bruce Timm, Frank Welker, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Tara Strong

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 76 Minutes (Part I), 76 Minutes (Part II), 148 Minutes (Deluxe Edition)

Review:

“You don’t get it, son. This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.” – Batman

When I see that there is a new DC Comics animated adaptation of a famous comic book story coming out, I usually don’t get too excited. The reason being, most of them take tremendous liberties and just sort of do their own thing, ignoring the story they’re “based” on and making the whole thing nothing more than a bullshit marketing scheme to sell more Blu-rays.

I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this film, a true adaptation that really captured the spirit of Frank Miller’s most famous Batman story.

I put off watching this for a very long time and I only gave it a shot because a friend of mine that actually reads comics told me it was definitely worth my time. He wasn’t wrong.

This film does a fine job of capturing the magic of Miller’s story and it also has some solid homages to the imagery of the famous comic.

I guess my biggest gripe is that even though the animation is really good, it sort of just looks like the other DC Comics animated features. DC has a specific style to its animated films and this falls in line with it. For what this project is and what it represents, I fell as if the art should have been closer to the style and tone of the actual comic. This took a big step forward from a narrative standpoint but the visual style really should have been unique, grittier and more in line with Frank Miller’s art.

I also wasn’t crazy about the length of this but that’s really my own problem, as I start to tune out when watching animation for too long. I don’t really know how this could have been edited down and because it adapts a very rich story in a really great way, I’d leave it alone. It fills the time well and there really isn’t a dull moment.

The voice actors were all superb. Peter Weller was perfect as an old Batman and Ariel Winter, who had to have been really young when this was made, was very convincing as the Carrie Kelley version of Robin.

I’ve watched a lot of DC Comics animated stuff since the ’90s and this is certainly in the upper echelon of the things they’ve put out.

If you love The Dark Knight Returns in comic book form, this shouldn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other recent DC animated Batman and Justice League films.

 

TV Review: X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men (1989)

Original Run: 1989 (first-run syndication, 1 episode)
Created by: Lee Gunther, Margaret Loesch
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Larry Parr
Based on: The Uncanny X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Michael Bell, Earl Boen, Andi Chapman, Pat Fraley, Ron Gans, Dan Gilvezan, Alan Oppenheimer, Patrick Pinney, Neil Ross, Susan Silo, Kath Soucie, John Stephenson, Alexandra Stoddart, Frank Welker, Stan Lee (narrator)

Marvel Productions, New World Television, Toei Animation, Baker and Taylor Entertainment, Metrolight Studios, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 1 Episode, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Pryde of the X-Men was a pilot for a proposed X-Men animated series in the late ’80s. As far as I know, only one episode was ever produced.

The episode appeared on television in 1989 but I never got to see it until the VHS was available to rent in my local video store.

While the failure of this pilot eventually led to the development of the spectacular X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992, it’s hard to say which version of an X-Men cartoon would have been better because this pilot was damn good.

Also, the great X-Men arcade game from the ’90s was modeled after this cartoon and not the better known 1992 one.

I loved the style of this, as it was very similar to the early seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers. All three of these shows were made by Marvel and Toei. The animation is basically done in the same style and this show even uses some of the same voice talent that were featured in G.I. Joe and Transformers.

This show, at least this one episode, is centered around the arrival of Kitty Pryde to the X-Mansion. The X-Men team here consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Dazzler. Lockheed, the dragon, is introduced in this too.

The episode also features the villains Magneto, Emma Frost, Juggernaut, Pyro and the Blob.

Pryde of the X-Men hits all the right notes and is a really cool experience if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and had a love for X-Men and the other Marvel/Toei animated shows. Man, I really wish this would’ve at least gotten a full season run because this setup was well done and left me wanting more.

I’m glad that we got the 1992 animated series but this could have been good and maybe even great. We’ll never know but this show certainly started off on the right foot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: X-Men: The Animated Series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers.

Film Review: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Also known as: Elvira (Philippines English title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1988
Directed by: James Signorelli
Written by: Sam Egan, John Paragon, Cassandra Peterson
Music by: James B. Campbell
Cast: Elvira (Cassandra Peterson), W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Jeff Conaway, Susan Kellerman, Edie McClurg, Kurt Fuller, Frank Welker (voice)

NBC Productions, New World Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Please, I don’t think we need to resort to name calling. I think what Calvin is trying to say is that this Elvira is a person of easy virtue, a purveyor of pulchritude, a one-woman Sodom and Gomorrah, if you will. A slimy, slithering succubus, a concubine, a street walker, a tramp, a slut, a cheap whore!” – Chastity Pariah

This film hasn’t aged well. But I used to love it as a kid. And really, I think this only works if you’re already a pretty big fan of Elvira. If that’s the case, you should definitely give this a watch.

It kind of has a similar vibe to the Pee-Wee and Ernest movies from the ’80s. It’s a cheaply made comedy based on a fictional character that was super popular at the time. I liked the trend of these types of pop icons getting to try out film as a new vehicle for their careers, even if Ernest was the only one that achieved real cinematic longevity.

Lumping this in with those other films, it’s the best of them all after the original Pee-Wee movie, 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. But that was also directed by Tim Burton in a time when the guy could do no wrong.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark does a good job with the pieces it had though. Cassandra Peterson is truly a comedy master. She owns the Elvira character, delivers her lines like a champ and is willing to really put herself out there to let Elvira flourish. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Peterson and how she performs her craft. She absolutely was the best horror host of all-time and could perform at a level that other horror hosts couldn’t. That may be a controversial statement to some but I stick by it.

This movie was a great vehicle for her because she got to spend 90 minutes, hamming it up in her unique style, uninterrupted by bad movies and commercial breaks. I wouldn’t call this the highpoint of her career, as she has continued on for decades, but it is the one body of work that best showcases her talent in the most complete way.

I thought the story was decent, the acting didn’t really matter and you just sort of have to roll with this and enjoy it for what it is.

Edie McClurg was perfect as the small town busybody trying to make Elvira’s life hell. I’ve loved McClurg in so many different things but I liked that she wasn’t just a small character in this.

This film is goofy, funny as hell and it’s hard to feel down if this is on the TV. But it won’t be for everyone, not that it needs to be. Elvira fans should be pretty satisfied with it, though.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other oddball comedies of unique people stranded in podunk communities: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Son In Law.

Film Review: Mortal Kombat (1995)

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

Threshhold Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 101 Minutes

Review:

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

This is the epitome of poorly aged films.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: Slither (2006)

Release Date: March 31st, 2006
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Tania Saulnier, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer, Frank Welker (voice)

Gold Circle Films, Strike Entertainment, Brightlight Pictures, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to a mutated Grant] He looks likes something that fell off my dick during the war.” – Tourneur

Slither is a movie that came out in 2006 and felt like something from a bygone era. It’s better than the vast majority of terrible PG-13 horror pictures from the ’00s and beyond and gives you something that feels like it is straight out of the ’70s and ’80s in how it channels elements of Night of the CreepsThe ThingShivers and From Beyond.

This also really brought James Gunn into the mainstream, after starting his career at Troma Entertainment. Oddly enough, I revisited this movie on the same night that all this weird James Gunn stuff exploded on social media. But I’m not going to let that sway my opinion of his directorial abilities or this film.

Gunn did a solid job creating this unique and gruesome world that he gave us here for 95 minutes. This film is terrifying, horrifying and yet, pretty f’n funny and entertaining. I can see why this lead to him getting more gigs like his anti-superhero flick Super and his hiring by Disney and Marvel to helm the beloved Guardians of the Galaxy film series.

If you are into the old school horror films that I mentioned a few paragraphs back, as well as darker humor, than there is no reason why this movie wouldn’t be for you. Gunn does a great job balancing his brand of pure unadulterated dread and humor.

I also love that this cast Nathan Fillion and gave him a real platform to show his talents outside of Firefly and Serenity. Additionally, Elizabeth Banks was really sweet and lovable in this and Michael Rooker nailed his role, as well. We even get to see a small part for Jenna Fischer, as she was just becoming known as Pam Beesly on the American version of The Office.

The special effects on this film were pretty good for the scant budget and Gunn, using what he learned about being frugal at Troma, was able to craft something that looked much better than the sum of its financial parts.

This is twelve years old now but it has aged really well. It still feels like a throwback to a better era of horror and certainly doesn’t feel like a horror movie from 2006.

To be completely honest, this is a film that I was hoping Gunn would build off of for either a sequel or something else set in the same universe. Now that he has been fired by Disney, maybe he can go back to making films that are closer to this one and where he has more creative control.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet, The Thing (1982), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The FacultyThe StuffFrom Beyond and Shivers.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Erick Avari, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.

TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.