Film Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Also known as: Kaze no tani no Naushika (original Japanese title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1984 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Sumi Shimamoto, Gorō Naya, Yōji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Iemasa Kayumi; English Language: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Frank Welker, Mark Hamill, Tony Jay

Nibariki, Tokuma Shoten, Hakuhodo, Studio Ghibli (unofficially), 117 Minutes

Review:

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!” – Nausicaä

This wasn’t officially a Studio Ghibli film, as that studio didn’t exist yet, but many consider it to be the first and it helped pave the way for that studio’s creation and it becoming the standard barer for what was possible with classic, hand-drawn, 2D animation.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is also the first Studio Ghibli-associated movie that I ever saw. When I fired this up, I didn’t think I had seen it but once certain scenes came on, it flooded back into my memory from childhood. But I’m not sure if I saw this in the theater in the ’80s or if it was on VHS or premium cable. The version I saw would’ve had a different dubbing track than the version that exists now.

Anyway, I absolutely loved this movie from beginning to end. Sure, the story is a bit convoluted and I found some of the details hard to follow, although I am getting older and I partake in edibles in the evening on most nights. So I don’t want to pound too heavily on the plot. Also, some things may be lost in translation, which is common with anime and usually due to how well or poorly the translation and dubbing are.

I felt like the dubbing was pretty damn good, though, and I enjoyed the English voice cast quite a bit. I especially thought that Chris Sarandon’s work really stood out and provided some solid laughs at points, because of how pompous he made his character.

The thing that blew me away, which typically blows people away with Ghibli films, is the animation. It’s just beautiful and smooth and for 1984, I can’t think of any other non-Ghibli movies that looked better.

As I said, this helped pave the way for Studio Ghibli being born. Without this film, we may not have ever gotten all their other iconic work. While I can’t say that this is Hayao Miyazaki’s best feature film, it might very well be his most important.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Dune – Extended Edition (1984)

Release Date: December 3rd, 1984 (Washington DC premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch (credited as Alan Smithee in the Extended Edition)
Written by: David Lynch
Based on: Dune by Frank Herbert
Music by: Toto, Brian Eno
Cast: Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Silvana Mangano, Everett McGill, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Nance, Siân Phillips, Jürgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, Alicia Roanne Witt, Sean Young, David Lynch (cameo, uncredited)

Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Dino De Laurentiis Company, Universal Pictures, 137 Minutes (theatrical), 190 Minutes (Special Edition), 177 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will let it pass over me and through me. And when it has passed I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where it has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Paul Atreides

I noticed that I hadn’t reviewed this yet, which surprised me. It’s actually one of my all-time favorite movies, even though most people absolutely do not feel the same way about it.

Granted, I should state that the Extended Edition is one of my all-time favorites, as it fleshes out a lot of story and is more coherent and easier to follow than the original theatrical cut that left those who didn’t read the book, baffled and irritated.

David Lynch, the director, also hates this picture and I find that a bit funny, as I think it’s his second best behind The Elephant Man. In regards to this edition and any of the other versions, he requested his name be removed from the film and it has since been replaced by “Alan Smithee”. Lynch has also refused to do a director’s cut and doesn’t like to talk about this movie in interviews.

Before I saw this longer cut of the film, Dune still had a pretty profound effect on me when I was a kid. While I found it somewhat hard to grasp, the story of a messiah figure rising to challenge the powerful elite in an effort to eradicate their tyranny and corruption still shined through. I definitely got that part of the story and beyond that, fell in love with the look of the film from its truly exotic sets, costumes and cultures. Visually, this is the version of Dune that I still see in my mind when I read any of the books in the series.

The Extended Edition has the same major issue that the theatrical cut did and that’s that this story is kind of hard to follow if one doesn’t know the source material. Although, the Extended Edition isn’t as bad in that regard, as it allows room for more details and character development.

I used to love this film so much that it eventually inspired me to read the Frank Herbert books in his Dune series. Having read the first book and really loving it even more than this film, it kind of opened my mind up to the movie in a bigger way and I saw this as a visual companion piece to the literary novel. But I understand why that probably doesn’t work for most people, who won’t read the first book because it is pretty thick and dense.

Getting back specifically to this film, it still should have been crafted in a way that it could’ve been more palatable for regular moviegoers. I think that this would have been a pretty big deal and a more beloved film had it not come out after the original Star Wars trilogy. People wanted more of that and Dune wasn’t an action heavy space adventure, it was a “thinking” movie and featured concepts that needed more exploration.

I think it’s pretty well directed, honestly, even if Lynch was unhappy with it and the whole experience was miserable for him. It did actually establish his relationships with many actors who would go on to be featured in a lot of his work after this, most notably Twin Peaks.

I also think this is well acted and it was my introduction to Kyle MacLachlan, a guy I’ve loved in everything he’s done, ever since. And beyond MacLachlan, this truly features an all-star cast.

The big issue with this film and adapting Dune in the first place, is that there just isn’t enough room in a single movie to tell this story. I think each of Frank Herbert’s original six novels should be adapted and told over an entire season of a series. It’s really the only way to do it right.

A new Dune adaptation is just a few weeks away from releasing in the United States, though. While the first book is going to be split over two films, I still think that it’s going to be hard to properly adapt it. We shall see and I’ll review that once I’m able to view it.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Masterminds (1997)

Also known as: Smart Alec (working title), Trouble Border (Japan – English title)
Release Date: August 22nd, 1997
Directed by: Roger Christian
Written by: Floyd Byars, Alex Siskin, Chris Black
Music by: Anthony Marinelli
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Vincent Kartheiser, Brenda Fricker, Brad Whitford, Matt Craven, Annabelle Gurwitch

Pacific Motion Pictures, Dunlevy Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Enjoy the show, Maloney.” – Ozzie

Man, oh, man… this movie started out really bad. However, I was really enjoying it by the third act and as goofy and stupid as it was, some of the performances were entertaining as hell, even if they were extremely over the top.

You really have to suspend disbelief with this movie, as thinking too hardly about plot details makes the whole thing fall apart.

Granted, it’s hard to dismiss some of the stuff that’s so blatantly stupid like a private school getting a multi-million dollar, high tech security package just to stop one troublemaking, prankster, hacker teen.

And don’t get me started on the actual hacking in the movie because like Hackers and Weird Science, the filmmakers, here, think that online security resembles some sort of adventure video game. But hey, I get it, we need exciting visuals and real hacking isn’t exciting to look at for the regular Joe.

The plot is basically “Die Hard in a private school” or more correctly, a ripoff of 1991’s Toy Soldiers but with only one teenage hero fighting terrorists. And I guess they’re not terrorists, as much as they are just Patrick Stewart and a gang of militarized thugs trying to extort the school’s president for money by holding the kids hostage.

As the plot rolls on, the kid fights back, using secret passageways and tricks to outwit the dimwitted militarized force. Eventually, he has his showdown with Patrick Stewart and we’re treated to an armored golf cart race through the catacombs under the school and nearby city.

Overall, the finale was pretty decent, even if the golf carts moved too slowly and the whole thing dragged on for too long.

Masterminds is a forgettable film, mainly because it recycled a formula that people had seen a few dozen times before it came out. But Stewart is enjoyable, as always, and it was weird seeing Pete Campbell from Mad Men play a skateboarding, douchey, hacker teen from the edgy boi ’90s. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Toy Soldiers and other Die Hard clones.

Film Review: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Also known as: X-Men 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (working titles), X3, X III: The Last Stand (alternative titles)
Release Date: May 22nd, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Powell
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Dania Ramirez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, R. Lee Ermey, Ken Leung

The Donners’ Company, Marvel Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.” – Magneto

From memory, this was the worst X-Men film of the lot. Well, after about a dozen movies with spinoffs and whatnot, this one still takes the cake in that regard.

This really killed the film franchise, at least for its time. It wouldn’t bounce back until First Class rolled around and gave the series a bit of a soft reboot.

Here, we see the original trilogy of films come to an end and unfortunately, that end is a very unsatisfactory one. Granted, none of these films have aged particularly well and they actually feel quite dated now.

That’s not to say that some of the performances aren’t great or iconic, a few of them are. Specifically, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. This is probably also why they tried to find ways to include these guys in the X-Men films that followed during the reboot era.

The plot for this is pretty fucking atrocious and the film spends more time killing off beloved characters than trying to tell a good story. It’s like it went for shock and cheap emotional grabs but it failed in generating any real emotion because it all felt soulless and cheap.

I think the biggest issue with the film was that Bryan Singer left to make that big bust, Superman Returns. While Brett Ratner probably wasn’t a bad choice, the final product makes me feel like he was sort of just inserted into a movie that was already well into production and found himself in over his head.

The film is also pretty short when compared to the two chapter before it. It makes me wonder if a lot was left out of the final movie. It certainly feels like it’s lacking story, context and depth.

In the end, this is okay if you want to spend a little more time with these characters and if you turn your brain off, it has some neat moments, but overall, it’s a sloppy misfire.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: X2: X-Men United (2003)

Also known as: X2 (original title), X-Men II (working title), X² (alternative spelling)
Release Date: April 24th, 2003 (UK premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Daniel Cudmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 134 Minutes

Review:

“You know, outside the circus, most people were afraid of me. But I didn’t hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why? Because most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.” – Nightcrawler

When this came out, I was pretty much blown away by it. Seeing it seventeen years later, not so much.

X2 is a film riddled with problems but it’s still good for what it is and for its era. It’s slightly better than its predecessor but after having just watched the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, it pales in comparison to the first two films in that series. In fact, I like the wonky Spider-Man 3 a hair bit more than this.

That being said, this does still have one of the greatest sequences in comic book movie history and that’s the part where the military squad attacks the X-Mansion, abducting the children and sending Wolverine and a few of the younger mutants fleeing into the night. I especially liked the inclusion of Colossus in this scene but that also made me wonder why he didn’t come back into the picture because he would’ve been helpful during the final battle. But I guess someone’s got to protect the kids hiding out who knows where.

Anyway, this is a film that is too driven by plot convenience and poor execution of those conveniences.

For instance, Storm can unleash dozens of tornadoes on military fighter jets but no one is worried about the innocent people living on the ground? And she does this while flying a high tech jet. Where was this immense wind power when the jet was going to be hit by raging water?

Which brings me to another poor plot convenience moment that saw Jean Grey have to push back a raging river while trying to lift the parked jet in an effort to save her friends. She’s powerful as fuck, why couldn’t she have just lifted the jet? An hour earlier, she stopped a missile with her mind. And getting back to Storm, where’s that wind power in this scene? Did you not pick up your power-ups in the final level?

I know I’m being pretty nitpicky here but these moments could’ve been shot better, explained better and just not been as stupid and devoid of logic. It seems like really lazy writing and if you needed to kill off Jean for the story, there are better ways to do it and they still could’ve had her sacrifice herself for those she loves. It just felt cheap and baffling.

This also must’ve been made in the era where they didn’t sign actors to multi-film deals because they spent so much time developing Nightcrawler but then he’s nowhere to be seen in the third film. His arc from the original X-Men trilogy is left incomplete. That just adds to the overall sloppiness of this film franchise. And it sucks because Alan Cumming was great as Nightcrawler and he was one of the high points in this trilogy.

The overall story in the film is pretty good though. I thought that the big finale was too long and could’ve been whittled down somewhat but it moves at a good, brisk pace.

Also, the set design, cinematography and overall look of the picture was a big step up from the previous one.

Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman kill it in just about every scene but Jackman really is the scene stealer, which is impressive when you think about where he was at in his film career in 2003 versus Stewart and McKellan.

In the end, this is still a decent way to waste a few hours but it’s not the great, epic film I saw it as when I was young and didn’t have such refined taste. Also, its since been overshadowed by the Raimi Spider-Man pictures, Nolan’s Batman movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: X-Men (2000)

Also known as: X-Men: The Movie (working title), X-Men 1.5 (longer cut)
Release Date: July 12th, 2000 (Ellis Island premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: David Hayter, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore

Marvel Enterprises, Donners’ Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[to Senator Kelly] You know, people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child.” – Mystique

This was the movie that really got modern superhero films off the ground. It became the launching pad for several sequels, spin offs and what eventually became the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched this one though. Compared to what is the norm today, twenty years later, this one feels really small and you can immediately tell that it had a smaller budget than what similar films today have.

That’s because this movie was a big risk in 1999 when it was filmed. Comic book movies other than the two Tim Burton Batman films and the first two Christopher Reeve starring Superman pictures just didn’t have a great track record and most of them were made deliberately cheesy and campy. The sequels to the films I just mentioned also fell victim to this creative misstep.

X-Men, however, took itself seriously and it succeeded because of that.

Granted, it’s a pretty flawed film with a lot of creative choices I wasn’t a fan of. These choices would actually go on to hinder the rest of the X-Men movies that Fox made but I think it was probably hard to see anything beyond just this movie when it was being made.

The acting is pretty solid for the most part but the heavy lifting in this chapter is primarily done by Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Anna Paquin. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t bad dialogue and bad acting, there is, but the high points greatly outshine the low ones.

Still, this is a weak adaptation. It chose a strange mix of characters to start with and by choosing these characters, the series sort of fucked itself going forward. It also altered the origins of most of the characters pretty drastically and it set some things in stone that would later lead to the film series’ continuity getting really screwed up. Some of these problems became even more clear after revisiting this.

The general plot is also wonky and weird and I’m not a big fan of it. The whole MacGuffin machine that Magneto wants to use to turn people into mutants was goofy as hell and it sabotaged the initial realism that this picture seemed to have. Well, it was as realistic as a film about superhero mutants could be before we got a hokey old timey comic book superweapon introduced.

From memory, but I’ll find out in a week or so, the sequel was much better. It delved deeper into the lore and tried to get past some of the missteps here.

In the end, this isn’t bad, by any means, it just isn’t as great as I felt that it was in 2000. Sure, it has issues but it also opened the floodgates for the superhero genre to enter the cinematic medium in a more serious way.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Vids I Dig 264: The Critical Drinker: ‘Charlie’s Angels’ – A Perfect Storm

From The Critical Drinker’s YouTube description: So with the news that Charlie’s Angels has bombed at the box office, I figured it would be a good time to take a look at the movie and try to figure out why. Grab your drinks, and join me as I explore the anatomy of this failure.

Film Review: The Wolverine (2013)

Also known as: Wolverine 2 (working title), Wolverine: Inmortal (Spanish language title), Wolverine: Samurai (Japan)
Release Date: July 16th, 2013 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Based on: Wolverine by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Patrick Stewart (cameo), Ian McKellan (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 126 Minutes, 138 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“Your grandfather called me a ronin, a samurai without a master. He said I was destined to live forever, with no reason to live.” – Logan

The Wolverine did a pretty good job of making up for the mostly terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Also, it was the film I wanted instead of Origins because when I first heard that they planned on a solo Wolverine film, I immediately hoped that they would tap into his Japan stories. I just had to wait a few more years for that, I guess.

Everything about this film is really good, except two things.

The first, is that it was drawn out a bit too much. I felt like it could have been whittled down by twenty minutes or so and had a much better flow to it.

The second, is the villains. I loved the story but the baddies were weak as hell and really uninteresting.

Viper has never been a character that’s been a big deal in the comics and I’ve never really cared about her. In this, she just never felt like a real threat. She spits acid but in a film where the hero is Wolverine, who heeled from a nuclear bomb blast in the first five minutes. So now I’m supposed to worry about him getting acid spit in his face?

The other villain is a more well-known character from the comics, the Silver Samurai. However, he isn’t really the Silver Samurai here, he’s just an old dying Japanese billionaire wearing a mecha suit. Sure, the suit is adamantium but whatever. Tear that shit open like a tin can and squash the dude’s head like a grape. And again, he’s just not the real Silver Samurai.

Getting back to Viper, she stuck out like a sore, disfigured thumb. The reason why is because her acting was abominable. Everyone else in this film gave great performances. I don’t think it’s her lack of experience in acting that’s the issue, it’s just that her poor performance is greatly contrasted by how good everyone else is in this. She would blend in to a lesser film but every scene that she is in here, is bogged down by her performance. It really hindered key moments in the film.

Getting to the positives, there are more of those.

The story is great and I do love how it develops and evolves. It could have used better pacing but once you get to Japan, things really pick up and there is just a bit in the middle that could have been edited down because I didn’t need as much attention given to the romance story as this film felt it needed.

All of the action sequences are executed superbly, most of the CGI is pretty good and Hugh Jackman proved that he is perfect as this character, even if hardcore fans still complain that he’s too tall.

I also really enjoyed Rila Fukushima’s Yukio. She kind of made a good sidekick in the movie and I wish she had carried over into Logan, even though it was set well into the future.

James Mangold did a fine job resurrecting this franchise. This was a good first outing for him with the character, which only helped to make his Logan pretty close to a comic book movie masterpiece.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other films starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.