Film Review: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Release Date: June 14th, 1991
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Written by: Pen Densham, John Watson
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Geraldine McEwan, Michael McShane, Brain Blessed, Michael Wincott, Nick Brimble, Jack Wild, Sean Connery (cameo, uncredited)

Morgan Creek Entertainment, Warner Bros., 143 Minutes (theatrical), 155 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“Locksley! I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!” – Sheriff of Nottingham, “Then it begins.” – Robin Hood

I remember seeing this in the theater and loving the hell out of it. But I think I’ve only seen it once or twice since then and those viewings were in the ’90s. So I kind of didn’t know what to expect from it, seeing it decades later. And sure, I remembered some of the more iconic moments and lines but that’s about all I remembered.

This film starts out interesting and gives Robin Hood a neat backstory that saw him held prisoner in a dungeon in Jerusalem, far from his home in England. He is able to escape and saves the life of a Moorish warrior in the process. This warrior swears a life debt to Robin and follows him back to England.

Azeem, the Moorish character, was created just for this film but I liked the character a lot and it was cool seeing Morgan Freeman bring him to life while also getting to partake in the action heavy parts of the movie. Also, he paired up well with Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have watched these two go on further adventures.

The story is your standard Robin Hood tale for the most part but it takes some liberties, as all interpretations of the legend do. This one also pushes the romance pretty hard between Robin and Marian but honestly, it doesn’t get in the way of the action or the larger story. This version also has a witch character, who gives advice and directions to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Alan Rickman plays the Sheriff and frankly, it’s one of his best roles. He gets some great lines in this and he came off as very formidable against Robin in their final battle. Rickman turned the role down twice but finally took it when he was told that he’d have the freedom to play the character in the way that he wanted. I think that his influence and creative decisions made the character unique and memorable and it takes a great villain to shape a great hero.

I also like that the Sheriff of Nottingham had Michael Wincott as his main henchman. I’ve dug the hell out of Wincott for as long as I can remember and he was a good addition to this cast.

I also liked Christian Slater in this even though I felt like he was a bit underutilized.

The only truly odd thing in the film is that Kevin Costner, as the legendary British hero Robin Hood, uses his American accent, as opposed to doing a British one. I guess this was decided during production, as there are some scenes where Robin sounds a bit British-y. However, the director thought that it might be too distracting and break the film. I guess the critics of the time felt the opposite, though, as they got really hung up on the American sounding Robin Hood.

While the accent didn’t bother me too much, the running time did. I just thought this was 20-30 minutes too long and there was a lot that could’ve been whittled down. Once Robin gets back to England, early on, it felt like it took awhile for the film to really get going.

I thought that the action was pretty good and the big battles were exciting and hold up well. However, the final swordfight didn’t feel swashbuckling-y enough. I think that the director wanted a more realistic fight but part of Robin’s appeal, at least to me, was his athleticism, playfulness and mastery of the sword. Furthermore, the Sheriff of Nottingham truly gets the best of Robin and the hero only wins due to a distraction and a dagger he had hidden. It just felt kind of meh and cheap.

Still, I did like seeing this again and it was an entertaining experience. Costner was fine as Robin Hood but Rickman stole every scene that they shared.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Untouchables (1987)

Release Date: June 2nd, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Mamet
Based on: The Untouchables by Eliot Ness, Oscar Fraley
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Billy Drago, Patricia Clarkson, Brad Sullivan, Clifton James (uncredited)

Paramount Pictures, 119 Minutes

Review:

“You just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement: make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.” – Malone

While this isn’t one of my favorite Brian De Palma movies, it was one of my favorite mob movies back when I was a teenager. As a De Palma picture, though, it’s stylistically very different than his other films, especially those that came before it.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I still love the hell out of this movie.

The Untouchables is full of great actors giving solid performances and telling a really compelling and tragic story, as many of the heroes die very violently while trying to bring one of America’s most violent criminals to justice.

This is a balls out, unapologetic movie that doesn’t shy away from some onscreen carnage and while that’s what made me think this was cool as a teen, it’s actually what makes it so effective and real.

Granted, Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone is inaccurate, as the real man wasn’t as publicly careless as he appears to be in the film. That’s not De Niro’s fault, that’s the script’s fault but at the same time, I don’t mind it, as it is used artistically to convey who Capone was beyond the public facade.

I love the camaraderie between the four heroes in this film, as they all felt truly chummy and it transcended the picture and made their sacrifices come across as even more genuine. You feel it in your gut when Sean Connery is gunned down and it doesn’t really matter how many times one has seen this picture.

The real standout in the cast to me is Billy Drago, who plays Frank Nitti, the sadistic and blatantly evil henchman of Capone. Drago has been a favorite actor of mine since he played the villain, John Bly, in the grossly underappreciated television series The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Since then, I’ve taken note of everything Drago has been in but then, he’s really hard to miss. Drago takes control of every scene he’s ever been in and can convey chilling villainy like no other actor. That being said, this is probably his greatest and most prolific role.

The movie also has a really unique score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Even for Morricone, it’s a strange soundtrack while also still sounding like his patented style. I like that this movie allowed Morricone to experiment in a way that he couldn’t when he was doing spaghetti westerns and Italian dramas.

The Untouchables holds up pretty well. It’s not a run of the mill, typical gangster picture. It certainly feels like it’s own thing and I feel like that’s why it still stands out, years later. While I can’t consider it as great as De Palma’s Scarface, Coppola’s Godfather movies or Scorsese’s Goodfellas, it’s still in the upper echelon of the genre.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Brian De Palma crime films, as well as other Robert De Niro starring crime flicks.

Film Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Also known as: Superman: Man of Steel (working title), Autumn Frost (fake working title)
Release Date: June 10th, 2013 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe, Carla Gugino (voice)

Syncopy, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 143 Minutes

Review:

“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.” – Jor-El

I was pretty disappointed with this film when it came out and honestly, I’m still pretty disappointed in it, watching it seven years later.

My biggest takeaway from the movie is how good Henry Cavill is as Superman. It just kind of sucks that this is the script and the film that he was given to play that role.

Sadly, the movies with him in them didn’t get any better and this whole DCEU is like a wet fart when compared to Marvel’s MCU, which this was designed to compete with.

Zack Snyder seems like a nice enough guy but his films just never really seem to speak to me. He has his fans, he has his critics and while I want to like the guy’s movies, I can’t give them a free pass because he’s a great guy that does come into his projects with actual passion for the material.

The big issue with this film more than anything is the writing. It’s just a drab yet exhausting story where it feels like a lot happens but nothing happens. It also features so much over-the-top mass destruction that it breaks the movie from top-to-bottom.

General Zod, a human-sized alien dictator comes to Earth and causes more destruction to a major city than all of the Godzilla movies combined yet Superman won’t kill him until Zod’s just about to laser eye a few people to death?

One, this guy already killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Two, why the fuck didn’t these people run while Superman had Zod mostly subdued in a read choke?

Three, couldn’t Superman have just poked Zod’s eyes out Three Stooges style?

Whatever.

When you think about it, this is a really dumb movie.

Hell, you don’t need to think about it. I watched this the first time in the theater baffled by half of it and annoyed by the other half. And man, I really wanted to like it because I loved Cavill, as well as Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon. I also liked seeing Laurence Fishburne play Perry White. Although, Amy Adams was just another actress that didn’t feel like Lois Lane.

Ultimately, this wasn’t the worst DCEU movie but like most of them, it was still a wet fart.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Zack Snyder DCEU films.

 

Film Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Based on: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge

Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films, 20th Century Fox, 127 Minutes

Review:

“There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself! And I can’t use one of the handy bikes. Picture that, Mr. Harrisson. My uniform, skirt below the knees and my heels. And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.” – Katherine Johnson

I was really looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures. It is a film that tells the true story of the black women who were instrumental in helping NASA get John Glen into space and eventually, getting a man on the moon.

It starred a very capable cast, had a director that impressed me with St. Vincent and really looked to be a film that had all the right things going for it. There really could be only one major thing that might disrupt what should have been a solid film. Sadly, it is that one thing that holds this picture back: heavy handedness.

Going into this film, you know it is about black struggle and not just black struggle but the struggle of women in Civil Rights era America. The whole film itself is the point, the premise is the point. However, the film, as is so common with pictures with similar themes as of late, has to remind you at every single turn that these women are persecuted against. I get it. We all get it. But every single time a white person walks into frame doesn’t mean that there needs to be some sort of hostility towards these black women. Not every single white person was an asshole. If they were, the Civil Rights movement couldn’t have happened. Lots of people were more than just tolerant of blacks and it was those people that helped to usher in Civil Rights. I hate to be all soapbox-y but I feel like films that use this tactic, which is all too common, kind of dismiss the fact that there were good people on all sides of the racial spectrum that wanted equality and respect for all people.

Frankly, this film also cheapens the importance of the work that Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did at NASA by harping most specifically on the race issues. Hidden Figures actually takes some narrative liberties and just makes some shit up to enhance its need to focus on the racism in the film.

One example that I’ll give is Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is actually three different people pushed together into one character. He’s the “nice yet still casually racist white person that needs something to open his eyes” archetype that these sort of films all have. I guess Kirsten Dunst is the same thing too. Anyway, Costner’s Harrision is smacked in the face by a truth bomb from a very frustrated Katherine (in a tremendous moment of acting by Taraji P. Henson, mind you) about the racist bullshit at NASA. So Harrision walks down to the Colored Women’s Bathroom and violently knocks down the sign in front of a crowd of whites on one side and blacks on the other. Then he proclaims that there are no more colored toilets and no more white toilets at NASA. It’s a great feel good moment in the film but it never really happened and the whole subplot about Katherine having to run a half mile with mountains of files just to pee a few times a day, isn’t accurate. Segregated bathrooms at NASA were abolished in 1958, this film takes place in 1961.

I don’t want to be the asshole that just dwells on this shit but the point is, this had the makings of a beautiful and great film had it stuck to solid truths and focused on these women’s actual contributions and their incredible minds. Yes, that stuff is in this film but it doesn’t seem to be the most important statement. This is a picture trying to make a political and social statement about Civil Rights America and the racial divide that still exists on a level even today but there are already dozens, if not hundreds of films that have been tackling the subject for decades.

Point being, if you are an American, you know all of this. You don’t need it spelled out to you every second like your getting your first history lesson. And if you are a decent person, which I believe most people are, you already reject racism and bigotry against all types of people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or what have you.

The acting in this movie was pretty damn good. Especially from the three female leads but none of them have really disappointed me in anything that they’ve done thus far. I also loved Mahershala Ali in this and he’s becoming one of my favorite actors working today. He’s just got this electric charisma and he’s a stunning looking man with a powerful presence.

It was weird seeing Jim Parsons in this because I have never seen him in anything outside of The Big Bang Theory. I’d like to see him get other work, as his character of Sheldon Cooper is already one of the most iconic characters in television history. While I liked him in this, his NASA engineer character just seemed like an unfunny and bigoted version of Sheldon.

Despite my criticisms, I definitely liked this film more than it may appear. It was well made, well acted and was about science and history. I just wish that it would have been more accurate and focused on telling a story instead of feeling the need to make a statement we’ve all already seen countless times over and are very well aware of.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: For similar themes about the black struggle leading up to and through the Civil Rights era: A Raisin in the SunThe Great DebatersMalcolm X… there are so many.

Film Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Release Date: March 19th, 2016 (Auditorio Nacional premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Scoot McNairy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohan, Patrick Wilson, Kevin Costner, Carla Gugino

DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2016.

I finally got around to seeing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I wasn’t in a rush to see it and I was debating if I was going to check it out in the theater at all. The trailers did nothing for me and Zack Snyder has a pretty lackluster track record. However, after seeing it today, in a nice quiet theater, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.

It wasn’t as bad of an experience as I had anticipated. But then again, it is more of the same if you have already witnessed Zack Snyder’s mostly awful Man of Steel. Sure, it has new stuff added in and it is that new stuff that gives this mostly dull film some life but once the big battle with Doomsday starts, it becomes Snyder style destruction porn to the tune of mediocre special effects and overly stylized dirty shots. I don’t think Snyder will be satisfied until he destroys the universe ten times over.

Let me point out the positives before I turn into a total dick, however.

Ben Affleck IS Batman. Okay, maybe Michael Keaton still has the edge for me but Affleck represents the Caped Crusader in a way that the previous Batman, Christian Bale, just couldn’t. The growly voice is gone and replaced with a much more plausible voice changer. His facial expressions and demeanor are just on point and I feel like I am watching a angrier, more mature version of the Dark Knight from the perfect Batman: The Animated Series. There are weird and uncharacteristic things that Batman does, but I will get into that later and it still doesn’t diminish what Ben Affleck did with this character.

Gal Gadot is pretty good as Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman. She isn’t in the film enough to guarantee that she is made for the role but from what I saw, I think she’s a good choice. Although she was overly sexualized with armor that gave her bigger boobs and a few perfectly timed crotch and ass shots of glory. But Zack Snyder is kind of a “lowest common denominator” director, so tits and ass for the masses!

Henry Cavill is a fine Superman, even though he has to portray the role in these incredibly flawed films. His Clark Kent is passable but you never see very much of Clark and therefore aren’t able to get a sense of the character’s two sides. In fact, his two personas are mostly pointless in this film, other than having Clark meet Bruce at a Lex Luthor shindig and to have someone for Perry White to wonder where they ran off to again.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane is okay. I feel like we got the most we were going to get out of her in Man of Steel and she doesn’t feel like a true Lois to me. I think the director just went for the biggest name he could get at the time and she does come with critical acclaim.

Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth is kind of intriguing. I liked the chemistry between Alfred and Bruce and it will be interesting to see him have more time to play the character when a solo Batman film comes out.

The film’s score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL was pretty damned good. Wonder Woman’s theme was especially bad ass.

Another big positive for me, is that the film starts twenty years into Batman’s legacy. He is already well established and his rogue’s gallery is out there causing havoc in Gotham City. It’s refreshing to not have to sit through another two and a half hour origin story for the umpteenth time.

Now on to the bad.

Lex Luthor is fucking shit. This isn’t a knock against Jesse Eisenberg for what he did, it is a knock against the filmmakers for casting him in the first place. And shaving him bald in the end doesn’t make up for the unpainted Nolan Joker-esque look of the character. He is whimsical, crazy and too bizarre to ever become the future President of the United States. His plot was idiotic, his execution was terrible and there was nothing even interesting about him. In fact, he reminded me of Lex Luthor’s annoying nephew Lenny from the horrendous Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. You know, the character played by Ducky from Pretty In Pink as an amped up more strange version of Ducky. I’m hoping, that in a future film, it is revealed that he was just Lenny Luthor playing with his uncle’s empire until his uncle gets back from where ever he is – maybe hanging out with Darkseid.

Speaking of Darkseid, it is obvious he is coming due to Batman having visions about it. But when the hell did Batman become a psychic with special visions? Is this Batman a metahuman with special powers? It’s weird and it doesn’t fit the character unless he’s been huffing gases from Scarecrow’s evil warehouse or spending too much time around Axis Chemicals.

Also, Batman murders the fuck out of people. Zack Snyder defended this in an interview by pointing out that Batman has killed before. Well, yes, he has. However, it’s never been his intention and he’s never been so reckless and careless about it. It is kind of Batman’s code not to kill. Zack Snyder, between this, Batman’s mystic eye, Batman branding criminals with his logo – giving them a death sentence – and the fact that he has to shoot a gun every time there is one on the set just proves that Snyder doesn’t give a fuck about source material and has probably never read a Batman comic other than the Frank Miller stuff he claims he based this off of. And even then, it still doesn’t fit the Frank Miller Batman mold.

The Batman versus Superman showdown is pretty awesome when it happens but it just doesn’t get to where you hope it would. Ultimately, Batman decides not to kill Superman at the last second, because his mom is also named Martha. “You’re mom’s name is Martha?” “Yep!” “Did we just become best friends?!” “Yep!”

Doomsday is a pile of shit whose sole purpose is to destroy the entire world, which he nearly accomplishes until Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman beat him. Superman gets mortally wounded and dies. But it’s obviously an homage to his comic book encounter with Doomsday, who killed him. Superman will be back, just like in the comics and his death in the film is neither a shocking moment or anything that you feel will be permanent. It plays more like “Oh, they did that? Whatever. See you next movie, Supes.”

And why was everything so dark and depressing throughout this entire film? Where is the yin to the yang? This was just yang and yang. Superman and Batman are great in the comics together because there is a clear difference between them. There was no real difference in this film. Both are vigilantes, both take the law into their own hands and both are tortured depressing characters hellbent on destroying each other. Superman is the all-American good guy. Batman is the antihero. In this film, they’re both just angry, damaged forces of nature destined to collide and there is no real contrast between them.

I will say that the film is more refreshing than the cookie cutter Marvel-Disney shit lately. I wouldn’t call it a better film than the Marvel stuff but it is different and not trying to emulate it too much.

I don’t have much excitement for what’s next but I hope I am pleasantly surprised. There was more good than bad in this film. I just hope that Zack Snyder is never allowed to direct again but he’s attached to direct the follow-up to this picture. Ultimately, I’m more interested in the solo hero films than the big Justice League movies coming first.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Draft Day (2014)

Release Date: April 7th, 2014 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Rajiv Joseph, Scott Rothman
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Tom Welling, Sam Elliott, Ellen Burstyn, Chadwick Boseman, Terry Crews, Kevin Dunn, W. Earl Brown

Odd Lot Entertainment, Montecito Picture Company, Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, 110 Minutes

draft_dayReview:

*Written in 2014.

Being that tomorrow is the real 2014 NFL Draft, I figured that I should finally get to the theater to see the film Draft Day. Being a fan of Kevin Costner and sports movies in general means that I am a really big fan of sports movies starring Kevin Costner. Plus, this film also stars Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Terry Crews, Sam Elliott and a multitude of other stars I like in addition to countless cameos. It’s also directed by Ivan Reitman, who’s work filled my youth with joy – most notably Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Twins, Stripes, Kindergarten Cop and Meatballs.

Now this is hardly Reitman’s best work and certainly not Costner’s best sports movie. That doesn’t mean that this wasn’t a worthwhile and enjoyable film. It was a fresh angle on football films and showed that the action behind the scenes is just as tough, heavy and stressful as it is on the filed, if not more so.

The film showcased the difficult job of being the general manager of a major sports franchise and the level of responsibility that comes with such a position. Kevin Costner did a great job with the material he was given and his presence added a level of respect and charisma to the role that a lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to bring.

Leary was great as the coach. I especially enjoyed the bit where he pretty much dissed the City of Cleveland for being a shithole compared to the wealthy lifestyle he had in Dallas – his previous coaching gig. Leary, along with Langella and Jennifer Garner, added some good depth to the cast. Chadwick Boseman who starred as Jackie Robinson in last year’s 42, did a good job as one of the potential draftees in the film. He was a natural fit and it was nice seeing him move on into a new role after his great performance in 42.

Overall, the film wasn’t great but it was fun and entertaining and certainly not dull or redundant. Sports films are a dime a dozen but this is one that stands a little bit above the average films in the genre. It’s no Rudy but it also isn’t The Replacements.

Rating: 6/10