Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

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

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Falling Down (1993)

Release Date: February 26th, 1993
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Ebbe Roe Smith
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest, Tuesday Weld, Lois Smith, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond J. Barry, Steve Park, D. W. Moffett, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Alcor Films, Canal+, Regency Enterprises, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Is that what this is about? You’re angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? Hey, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn’t give you any special right to do what you did today. The only thing that makes you special is that little girl.” – Sergeant Prendergast

Being that Joel Schumacher just passed away, I wanted to watch one of his films that I really like that I hadn’t seen in a really long time. I saw a lot of people online talking about Falling Down and it immediately moved to the top of my list in my head of Schumacher films, I have yet to review.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Schumacher’s work. There’s a few films I’m not too keen on but the ones I like, I really like. This being one of them.

Also, with everything insane that’s going on in the world in 2020, this actually seems kind of topical, 27 years later.

The story, for those who don’t know, is about a man who just simply loses his shit in a world that always seems to be working against him. As his day rolls on, shit keeps escalating to a point where he ends up feeling like he has to have a legit Old West style showdown with a cop on a pier.

What’s great about this movie is that the main character keeps crossing the line but their is a weird nobility in his actions and when he comes across people who are worse than him, he doesn’t really hesitate on taking them down. He takes out a shitty gang, kills a Nazi piece of shit but ultimately causes damage to his loved ones and some people who just happened to get caught in the crossfire of his meltdown.

This is a smart, layered picture with a lot of angles to it. It’s superbly acted by Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall, who plays the cop trying to stop the main character. It’s also the cop’s last day as a Los Angeles detective.

While the story shows the main character do bad things, it does a great job of justifying these things in his mind and to the audience, as everyone can relate to the sort of bullshit and pressure he has to deal with in this movie. However, the film also checks the main character’s ass and challenges him to see through his rage and to actually look for the silver lining.

Movies don’t really do this anymore, as in current times, they seem to just focus on the one side of the story they want to tell, as opposed to trying to get the audience to relate to multiple sides. This is smartly written and masterfully directed.

Now it’s not perfect but it doesn’t need to be. It’s just about a guy pushed to the point of a mental breakdown, who has some deep seeded issues in his past, that we only get hints of. In the end, he gives up and pushes the forces challenging him to take him out. But even in that last act, he shows that he’s not simply a bad, madman.

Falling Down is a tragedy. It’s a story about a beaten down human spirit that tried to play ball by the rules but always felt like the world was coming down on him. At some point or another, I think we’ve all felt that way.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other drama and crime films by Joel Scumacher, as well as dramas starring Michael Douglas.

Documentary Review: Bloodsucking Cinema (2007)

Release Date: October 26th, 2007
Directed by: Barry Gray
Written by: Barry Gray
Music by: Don MacDonald
Cast: Uwe Boll, John Carpenter, David S. Goyer, Corey Haim, John Landis, Kristanna Loken, Leonard Maltin, Cheech Marin, Greg Nicotero, Joel Schumacher, Stephen Sommers, Stuart Townsend, Stan Winston, Len Wiseman, Marv Wolfman

Insight Film Studios, Vamp Productions, 56 Minutes

Review:

This has been in my Starz queue for a long ass time, so I figured I’d give it a watch to clear out some of the stuff that’s been there for too long.

Overall, this was a pretty boring documentary with a lot of talking head interviews edited together pretty sloppily.

There didn’t seem to be a clear direction or objective about this short documentary other than having a bunch of actors and directors talking about vampire films they’ve been apart of.

Frankly, this felt random as hell and features a slew of films that no one cared about when they came out and certainly don’t care about now. While they talk about some solid films like Lost Boys, From Dusk Till Dawn and Vampires, they also spend a lot of time talking about shit movies like Van Helsing, BloodRayne and Queen of the Damned.

I wouldn’t call this informative or entertaining. It’s a pointless, shitty production that only barely scratches the surface on the history of vampire cinema and would rather showcase Uwe Boll and Stephen Sommers rambling about their atrocious movies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: sniffing hobo farts.

 

Film Review: The Lost Boys (1987)

Release Date: July 27th, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joel Scumacher
Written by: Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, Jeffrey Boam
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Edward Herrmann, Barnard Hughes, Dianne Wiest, Alex Winter, Jamison Newlander, Kelly Jo Minter

Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach; all the damn vampires.” – Grandpa

The Lost Boys might not have been the biggest film of 1987 but it was still a pretty huge deal. Every kid and teen wanted to see it. It starred the two Coreys, both of whom were really hot commodities at the time, and it was a teen vampire movie that had comedy and charm.

When I was a kid, I thought David, the vampire played by Kiefer Sutherland was the coolest guy in the film and I was cheering for the vampires to win because who didn’t want to join an undead gang that looked like an ’80s goth band?

This was directed by Joel Schumacher, years before he put nipples on Batman’s suit. Say what you will about the man’s Batman films but this came out when he was at the top of his game and it’s probably his best movie, although I also liked Flatliners and Falling Down.

Schumacher mixed all the elements together really well but the decade of the ’80s sort of had it’s own cinematic magic too. But what you have here is a film that can tap into a child’s imagination, deliver amazement, wonder and still give us something that’s very adult in a lot of respects. This has a lot of lighthearted, funny moments but it also conveys a real darkness and dread that goes beyond other teen or kid horror comedies of the decade. There’s just something primal about this movie that puts it ahead of great films like Fright Night and Monster Squad.

I can’t say that this is a film that boasts great acting but it doesn’t need to. All the actors play their parts really damn well though and they all feel authentic. Unlike a lot of ’80s films featuring young people, this doesn’t try to lump its characters into archetypes or caricatures and I think that’s why this works so much better than other films like it.

The Lost Boys truly is a magical and fantastical experience. It might not play as well for modern audiences lacking the nostalgia for it but I’d much rather watch this than something like Twilight. Full disclosure, I don’t even want to watch Twilight to review it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: For ’80s teen horror comedy: Fright NightNight of the CreepsNight of the Comet and Monster Squad. For the Coreys: License to Drive and Dream A Little Dream.

Film Review: Batman & Robin (1997)

Release Date: June 12th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Jesse Ventura, Nicky Katt

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!” – Mr. Freeze

When I recently reviewed Batman Forever, I was really harsh on it. I also said that it is a worse movie than this one, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Watching these two films, back to back, after all these years, I still feel that way. This is the superior film of the two dreadful Joel Schumacher Batman pictures.

What makes this stand well above Batman Forever, for me, is the thing that most people like to trash about this picture: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. Sorry, I just love puns and Mr. Freeze’s awful and cheesy puns still make me smile. Sure, I’d prefer a more serious Batman film than this festival of hokey camp but if Schumacher insists on destroying something I love, I can at least appreciate Schwarzenegger’s performance for what it is, a beacon of utter hilarity in a sea of horribleness. And really, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is the best of the Schumacher Batman villains. The Riddler and Two-Face were just more insane versions of the Joker, Poison Ivy was terrible and Bane just made me want to cry.

Speaking of Ivy and Bane, this film’s other villains, one would have to be somewhat excited at the prospect of Uma Thurman playing Ivy. However, she gets completely Schumachered up and is a shell of the great character she should be. In fact, she’s not Poison Ivy at all, she’s a wacko scientist reborn as a plant that emulates over the top starlets of a bygone Hollywood era.

Now Bane, he’s even less Bane than Ivy is Ivy. In the comics, Bane is an intelligent and strong foil for Batman, a true equal with more strength and the advantage of not being bogged down by good guy morals. Here, he is a dumb hulking brute that spends more time dressed like Dick Tracy in a lucha libre mask than actually doing anything useful. Fuck Bane. Fuck Schumacher.

The film is also full of the Bat-nipples, Bat-butt and Bat-crotch shots made famous in Batman Forever but since they introduced Batgirl here, we also get a gratuitous Bat-boobies shot when she first throws on her costume. Schumacher likes his sexy Bat-bits being front and center in these more “family friendly” films.

We also get more of Elliot Goldenthal’s awful Batman theme except it is even louder and more unrelenting in this picture than it was in Batman Forever. It literally never stops. Sure, it may have the volume dropped a bit here and there but it is just two hours of violent horns blowing right up your ass. By the time you get to the final shot of the movie where Batman, Robin and Batgirl run towards the screen with the theme blaring louder than ever, you want to scream, “Oh my god! Fucking enough already!!!”

This film isn’t as ugly as Batman Forever but make no mistake, it is still really friggin’ ugly. It’s like some random person walked up to Joel Schumacher and asked, “How are your Batman films going to look?” And he realized he hadn’t thought about it yet but since he was buying black light posters for his niece at Spencer Gifts, he pointed to the poster rack and hissed, “Just like thiiiiiissssss!”

Other than Schwarzenegger trying his damnedest to be fun here, there is nothing in this film that is worthwhile. I could get into the lousy script, how George Clooney was like a fish out of water, the horrendous wire work in the action sequences and about 900 dozen other things but this movie is a massive failure. Still… not as bad as Batman Forever, which wasn’t even mildly fun or entertaining. Schwarzenegger saved this movie from itself, even if it still turned out worse than a sawdust enema.

So it should go without saying that this needs to be put through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Rating: 3.75/10

Film Review: Batman Forever (1995)

Release Date: June 9th, 1995 (Mann Village Theater)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar, René Auberjonois, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, En Vogue, Ed Begley Jr.

Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?” – Alfred Pennyworth, “I’ll get drive-thru.” – Batman

People like to trash Batman & Robin as one of the worst films ever made. It’s far from one of the worst ever. But most people haven’t really dug as deep into the shit barrel as I have. And truthfully, this movie is much worse.

People also love trashing the Schumacher Batman films as a whole but typically say that Batman Forever is okay. No, it absolutely is not okay. It is one of the worst comic book adaptations of all-time. It doesn’t understand the source material at all and it is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions capped off by horrible characters, horrible acting, ugly as hell sets and a hefty helping of several awful ’90s tropes.

Generally I like Val Kilmer. He’s horrible in this and either severely miscast or had such a bad script and direction that he just showed up, read his lines dryly and went back to his trailer to bang babes. I’m going to say that it is both of those things. It’s like no one that made this movie gave a shit about it at all and they just did a bunch of cocaine and then took a shit ton of downers before going on set.

Well, except for Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, they acted like they were on cocaine mixed with speed. And really, their versions of Two-Face and the Riddler made no sense within the context of who those characters are.

Tommy Lee’s Two-Face was like a crazier version of the Joker and turned up to 11. He was a coked up gorilla dressed like a circus performer. Carrey’s Riddler was another crazier version of the Joker mixed with his Fire Marshall Bill character from the sketch comedy show In Living Color. But I’m also someone that never got Jim Carrey’s appeal and always thought of him as an annoying asshole, excluding Dumb and Dumber and his dramatic work after the ’90s.

Nicole Kidman is completely wasted as the overly horny psychiatrist trying to get into Batman’s head and pants. Chris O’Donnell wasn’t necessarily a bad Robin but the character is a kid, not a thirty year-old. It’s like they took their casting cues from Beverly Hills 90210, a show synonymous for trying to pass off thirty year-olds as high school students.

Well, at least Pat Hingle and Michael Gough are back as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred but really, I just feel bad for them. Hopefully they got paid well.

The film also features nipples being added to the Bat-suit, I’m not shitting you. Plus, it has gratuitous Bat-butt and Bat-crotch action shots.

Lastly, the beautiful Danny Elfman score has been replaced by an awful brassy explosion that never lets up, courtesy of Elliot Goldenthal, who was apparently trying to destroy our eardrums. The Elfman theme and scores were a magnificent part of the Burton films but I guess if Warner Bros. wanted to distance themselves from quality and align themselves with a foot long double meat shit sandwich, than this was a necessary change.

This movie is a steaming pile of neon accented bear droppings. It most certainly needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 3.25/10