Film Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Film Review: Young Mr. Jazz (1919)

Release Date: April 20th, 1919
Directed by: Hal Roach
Cast: Harold Lloyd, ‘Snub’ Pollard. Bebe Daniels

Robin Films, 10 Minutes

Review:

Hal Roach may best be known as the producer of the Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang (The Little Rascals) comedy film series. However, before all that, he directed some short silent comedies in the 1910s and 1920s. Young Mr. Jazz is probably one of the most well-known.

The film is quick and simple but it is really amusing. It is only ten minutes but it uses that time wisely and gives us a fun and energetic look at the popular culture of Roach’s era.

The plot sees a young couple running away from the girl’s father in their car. The car breaks down in front of a dance hall. The establishment is run by crooks, which leads to the couple trying to stay one step ahead of the girl’s father while also evading the criminal element in the club that is trying to swindle them for all that they have.

It’s a cute and fast paced movie. While it obviously feels dated, it’s 99 years-old, the humor still works and the picture is quite hilarious.

The film stars Harold Lloyd, who was a pretty prolific actor in these sort of films and a regular collaborator with Roach. Lloyd would also go on to direct and produce like Roach and he carved out a nice place as one of the comedic giants of his day, alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

The collaborative efforts of Roach and Lloyd were pretty influential on comedy as a whole and they really helped set the stage for what would come after.

If you want to get into either the work of Roach or Lloyd, this is a good place to start and it is a short and sweet sample of what the two greats could do.

Film Review: White Lightning (1973)

Also known as: McKlusky (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1973
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: William W. Norton
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Laura Dern (uncredited)

United Artists, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I was tryin’ to save these two buddies of mine from getting knocked up by a homosexual.” – Gator McKlusky

White Lightning is a decent movie but not anything exceptional. Yet it still holds a special place in history because it’s popularity would help it to kick off a new type of film genre in the 1970s. Without this, we might not have had all those other car and trucker movies. Hell, who knows what Burt Reynolds would have done had he not carved out his place in history with this sort of role.

This took that ’70s whitesploitation shtick and made it mainstream. This was a film put out by a major studio and had some semblance of a budget compared to the similar grindhouse pictures of the time.

Burt Reynolds, himself, referred to the film as “…the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon Line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy. It was a well done film. Joe Sargent is an excellent director. He’s very, very good with actors. And it had some marvelous people in it whom nobody had seen before. Ned Beatty for example. I had to fight like hell to get Ned in the film.”

The film had a pretty good score done by Charles Bernstein, who would make that famous A Nightmare On Elm Street theme a decade later. The score here may sound familiar to fans of Quentin Tarantino, as he reused some of it for his Kill Bill films.

Reynolds was pretty good as Gator McKlusky and he would get to return as a character in the sequel Gator, three years later.

The plot sees Gator initially try to breakout of an Arkansas prison but his attempt is foiled. He then works out a deal to bring down a crooked Sheriff, who is responsible for murdering his brother. Gator wants revenge, the system wants justice and everyone loves moonshine and fast cars.

White Lightning isn’t my favorite film in the genre it helped popularize but it is still worth revisiting from time to time due to its cultural significance and because well, Burt Reynolds is cool. Although, I prefer him alongside Jerry Reed.

Film Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Mr. Freeze

I’ve been reading these Batman Arkham trade paperbacks, as they are collections of tales featuring famous Batman villains that cover their earliest stories up to their most modern. This volume on Mr. Freeze was pretty enjoyable, even if he was a fairly weak character until he was reinvented in the ’90s for Batman: The Animated Series.

Reading these collections that span decades also shows you how a real hokey character can actually become quite compelling. Plus, it’s cool to see how different generations have rewritten Freeze’s origin. Granted, I will always see his origin as the one that was established in Batman: The Animated Series, which was adapted into the comics shortly after. The newer twist to his origin isn’t nearly as good, where Nora wasn’t his wife but was his long dead mother.

Most of the stories here are pretty entertaining. I like reading the really old school classic stuff and it is cool seeing where the character came from and how he originally burst onto the scene. Mr. Freeze was originally called Mr. Zero but that was changed after his first appearance.

The best Freeze stories are the ’90s ones, though. The story in here that was done by Paul Dini, who also worked on Batman: The Animated Series, was by far the best tale in this collection.

Mr. Freeze is an interesting villain that has changed a lot over the years. While he isn’t as iconic as the Joker or the Riddler, he is still one of Batman’s toughest foes and a collection of his top stories was long overdue.

Documentary Review: Particle Fever (2013)

Release Date: June 14th, 2013 (Sheffield Doc/Fest – UK)
Directed by: Mark Levinson
Music by: Robert Miller

Anthos Media, Abramorama, BOND360, 99 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Particle Fever is kind of a necessary documentary. Not that it will be watched for its necessity, as those who should learn about this subject, would prefer to remain ignorant and be fearful of the misleading and scary headlines regarding the LHC (Large Hadron Collider – the big particle accelerator in Switzerland). They would also probably prefer to stay offended over something called the “God particle”.

Anyway, it is still an entertaining and engaging documentary nonetheless, as it follows the story of the LHC and the stories of the people who work on it.

The documentary is well-edited, well-organized and made pretty simple to understand – even when it covers the more complex stuff about particles and the whole point of this giant machine’s existence.

If this film does anything, it goes to show the importance of this kind of research and really, the importance of science in general. Our world is becoming more and more ignorant to these things and this has lead to politicians and others standing in the way of scientific progress.

If you don’t walk away from this film somewhat excited about science and the work that these people are doing, you probably just need to fire up your DVR and catch up on Dr. Oz.

Film Review: Child’s Play (1988)

Also known as: Blood Brother, Blood Buddy (both working titles)
Release Date: November 9th, 1988
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland
Music by: Joe Renzetti
Cast: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Hi, I’m Chucky. Wanna play?” – Chucky

I remember the first time that I saw the Child’s Play trailer in the theater. I was nine years-old and it looked pretty terrifying. Now I wouldn’t see the movie in the theater but I did get to check it out as soon as it hit video store shelves in 1989. I was immediately hooked by the film and was always pumped whenever a sequel was coming out. Well, at least the first two sequels, both of which I also really enjoyed.

This is the original though and I didn’t really know what to expect when I first saw it. in modern times, people know Chucky as a killer doll that has great one liners and a sick sense of humor. In this original film, he’s pretty much just sick and blood thirsty, focused on two things: revenge and possessing young Andy’s body. What’s scarier to a kid than your toy coming alive and wanting to possess your body with voodoo? Okay, maybe if that toy was a clown.

The film was directed by Tom Holland fresh off of his success with Fright Night. It also re-teams Holland with his Fright Night star, Chris Sarandon. While this isn’t quite as fun and exciting as their previous movie, it did create a larger franchise, as Chucky has had seven movies to date while Fright Night had two and then a another two with a reboot series. But Chucky, as a character, deservedly had more longevity than Jerry Dandrige, the villain from Fright Night.

The first Child’s Play is scary and dark in a way that the others aren’t. Okay, the first three are really dark compared to the titles with “Chucky” in the name but this first film has a much more serious tone. Maybe after coming off of Fright Night, Holland wanted to put the comedy to the side. Also, the filmmakers probably weren’t aware at just how hilarious the character could be with Brad Dourif’s genius behind the voice.

The film is pretty well acted between Chris Sarandon and Catherine Hicks. Alex Vincent was really damn young but he was less annoying than most child actors and he did well with the dark material. I liked that he would go on to be in the first sequel and that he would return for the two most recent installments, where he is now an adult.

Child’s Play wasn’t the first killer doll movie but it popularized that tale, as many knockoffs would come out shortly after. None of them really have the same quality and sense of dread that this film has though.

This was a solid foundation for the franchise. Granted, I think I like the second film a little bit more but that’s because of that incredible final battle in the toy factory.