By Adam Donato
Batman Returns is a good movie. While it wasn’t a commercial success to the extent of the first movie, it still made over three times its budget and was generally favored by critics. The controversy came in the form of the dark tone that parents felt was too much for children and McDonald’s threatening to drop out of the marketing for the third movie if Tim Burton was to come back to direct. Burton dropped out to do Ed Wood, so Joel Schumacher was brought on to direct. He had a vision for the movie that was also dark and drew a lot of inspiration from Batman: Year One, but Warner Brothers insisted on a lighter tone to have more of a wide appeal. Keaton didn’t care for this direction and was replaced with Val Kilmer. The history of how this movie was made says a lot about the final product of the film. Batman Forever was criticized for being the silly commercial product that it is, while simultaneously being a fun departure from the creepy and gothic previous installment in the franchise. Twenty-five years later, how does Batman Forever stack up in the strong history of Batman films?
As a movie, especially in comparison to most of the superhero films that would be released in the next decade, Batman Forever is a cheesy romp in the best way. The action is fun and shows off Batman and his gadgets in a fantastical way. The special effects are cartoonish which matches the tone, along with some amazing sets and practical effects. The colors and tone are a refreshing change of pace as the previous installment was fully saturated in Burton’s gothic style. Not to knock the previous films in any way, but they are not as fun as this movie. The cast is great and certain member really go for it. The story introduces Robin well and gives Bruce Wayne a decent arc. The villains are definitely memorable, which is one of the most important aspects of a superhero movie. Worst case scenario, it’s not Batman and Robin.
One of the most topical points to bring up when discussing a Batman movie is who plays the titular role. It’s a hard role to peg who is the best because it is essentially two characters. Some actors are good Batmans, but bad Bruce Waynes, and vise versa. Val Kilmer certainly isn’t the best at either, but he does a serviceable job at both. His Bruce Wayne is interesting to watch solve riddles and argue with Dick Grayson. He’s very serious and handles the scenes of internal conflict well as he struggles with the death of his parents (still) and the problems with his duality of self, but doesn’t reflect the suave, playboy facade that Bruce Wayne is known for. His Batman has weird lips and makes terrible one-liners. Kilmer does succeed in being stoic and does the best with the lines he was given. While this third installment in the franchise is meant to be somewhat of a reboot of the franchise, it does make an attempt to give a sense of finality in what was a trilogy at the time. It’s nice seeing Bruce Wayne embrace both roles in his life as a choice and overcome the nightmares of his past. This happens through his rehabilitation of Dick Grayson as Bruce sees him as a younger version of himself. It handles the dynamic between Batman and Robin with dignity in a way that feels like a natural progression in the series. Batman Forever succeeds from a character perspective with its titular character.
Robin is a tough character to adapt for the big screen. How does one justify Batman taking an orphaned child under his wing to fight crime with him? Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson seems to be a legal adult as the actor was 25 when the movie was released. His persistence to be partners with Batman is well developed and their relationship is one of the best parts of the movie. O’Donnell’s performance has no distinguishable faults, but fails to stand out, which is unfair considering the villains in the movie. Robin has his parents murdered by Two-Face and swears revenge upon him in the form of death. His arc finds him with the opportunity to kill Two-Face during the climax and he takes the moral high ground by saving him from falling off a cliff. Robin’s suit during his circus days call back to his original outfit in the comics, which is a nice nod that makes sense in the context of the story. His updated suit at the end is a muted version of the colors in the original suit and works very well next to Batman.
The most iconic superhero movies have memorable villains and if that’s the case, then Batman Forever is one of the all-time greats. This is very much so a matter of taste as the villains are both over the top and zany. Jim Carrey was one of the biggest movie stars of the nineties and really gave his all to the role of The Riddler. If you like Ace Ventura or The Mask, then you will love this movie because it’s just Carrey being an insane person. All of his mannerisms and speech are all done to hilarious effect. His costumes are inspired as he is constantly covered in question marks with the most obnoxious color of orange for hair. It’s cartoon-like in the best possible way, which matches the tone of such a ridiculous character. Not to mention, The Riddler found out the secret identity of Batman, which is cool because it hasn’t been done by many of Batman’s villains.
Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face is also an insane person in this movie. This is more of a shock as Jones is more often known for his dramatic work, even in his other blockbuster family movies, Men In Black, he plays the straight man. It’s great watching him really go for it as he tries to keep pace with Carrey. There’s a scene where Two-Face is repeatedly flipping his coin so that he can kill Batman, which totally defeats the point of flipping the coin, but watching him desperately fighting with himself for the right to kill Batman is a joy. The make-up and costumes are full of goofy contrast and works as a good visual metaphor for his character. The bromance between The Riddler and Two-Face is beautiful. The scenes where they go trick-or-treating and play Battleship will have you shipping them by the end credits. Batman Forever falls into the trope where if there are two villains, then one of them has to die. The Riddler rotting away in Arkham Asylum is great, but condemning Two-Face somewhat undercuts Robin’s character arc.
Rounding out the rest of the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman as Bruce Wayne's love interest in this movie. This plotline has her being indecisive on which of the two she wants to be with. This results in Kilmer making the creepiest smile while in the Batsuit. Schumacher was lucky to nab the now star actress as this movie came out right before she made it big. In the DVD commentary, the big debate over her casting between Schumacher and the studio was whether or not she was hot enough, which is as dumb as it is demeaning. Saying Kidman does a good job in Batman Forever sounds like a silly statement in comparison to the rest of her roles, but then again, it’s Nicole Kidman so she’s great. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle both return in this movie and do the same great job they always do. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar show up as Sugar and Spice, respectively. It’s weird seeing Barrymore in such a small role, but she makes a very good impression in her short time on screen.
Batman Forever is nowhere near the best of the Batman films, but it certainly is not the worst. It’s better than any time that Batman appears in the DCEU, but it doesn’t touch anything Nolan did with the character. It honestly just comes down to taste when putting it up against Batman Returns. The two are similar in quality, but have a stark contrast in tone. Schumacher made Batman fun and cartoonish like he was during the days of Adam West. One can say it’s disrespectful to the intended darkness of the character, or that it revels in the inherent silliness of a character who dresses up as a bat and solves riddles. Batman Forever has personality out the wazoo and deserves to be remembered fondly as one of the more delightful installments for one of the most iconic superheroes of all time. Thank you, Joel Schumacher.
By Sean Boelman
2020 has been an unprecedented year for the film industry, with theaters forced to close as a result of the pandemic and the industry mostly grinding to a halt. Still, thanks to some new at-home viewing options (virtual cinema has proven particularly effective in maintaining some life in the indie market), and the lucky few releases that got their chance on the big screen before the shutdown, there were some pretty noteworthy titles released in the first half of the year. Without further ado, here are ten of the best films of 2020 so far, in alphabetical order.
Note: This list does not include films that have not received some sort of public release between January and June 2020, including festival showings, virtual or otherwise.
Kitty Green’s quiet and meditative drama The Assistant, a direct reflection of the “TimesUp” era, came out right before Harvey Weinstein was convicted in February, and while there have been significant changes since the first allegations against him broke in 2017, there’s still room to go. This portrait of a young assistant facing sexual harassment in an unnamed production company is absolutely harrowing, using restraint as a tool to creep under the viewer’s skin. Julia Garner’s performance here is unforgettable, and Matthew Macfadyen also gives a memorable bit turn as the unwelcoming HR rep. This may be the most underseen pick on this list, and that needs to be fixed.
While the initial premise of a terminally ill teenager falling in love with a drug dealer might sound messed up, Shannon Murphy’s darkly funny directorial debut Babyteeth is also surprisingly sweet. Although Murphy’s visual style and the script by Rita Kalnejais are both great, it is the performances here that make the film stand out the most. Hot off her star-making turn in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Eliza Scanlen proves that she is a force with which to be reckoned, bringing a lot of humanity to her role. Character actor Ben Mendelsohn is also as great as ever here, with one of the most demanding performances he has had to give to date.
The sophomore effort from Thoroughbreds director Cory Finley, the crime comedy Bad Education was bought by HBO out of TIFF last year and made its way to the pay network earlier this year. This story of public school embezzlement is almost so crazy that it’s hard to believe. Aided by great performances from Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney and vivid direction from Finley, the script by Mike Makowsky is the MVP here. With witty dialogue, killer pacing, and some surprisingly good characterization, expect this one to make a big splash at the Emmys when they are able to occur this year.
One may wonder why they should care about some random dying mall in Alabama, but Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb’s documentary Jasper Mall makes an impressive statement with this seemingly local interest story. Exploring the shortcomings of the consumerist tendencies of America, this film has an unexpectedly human touch to it, especially as it explores the story of the endearing manager trying to keep his mall afloat. The film definitely cashes in on the nostalgia that a lot of people have for their days of shopping at the mall being a formative social activity during their youth, but it’s also very much a product of the moment.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Out of all of the films on this list, the one most likely to achieve year-end success (with critics and awards voters alike) is Eliza Hittman’s character drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. A timely exploration of the issue of abortion, it’s an emotionally devastating watch, but an important one at that, and it has been connecting with audiences of all ages as a result. Sidney Flanagan’s leading performance is absolutely amazing, but the gorgeous visual style that Hittman brings to the film is probably the biggest highlight here. It’s a restrained and low-key film, something of which the film industry is constantly in need.
On the Record
Following up their groundbreaking film The Hunting Ground with another exposé on sexual abuse, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s new documentary On the Record is one of the most hard-to-watch films of the year so far. After picking up some controversy when Oprah Winfrey and Apple TV+ dropped the film from their slate just prior to its Sundance debut, new streamer HBO Max gave this movie about the damning allegations against record producer Russell Simmons a new home. Incorporating elements of a music doc but packing a huge emotional punch, this doc isn’t one you’ll soon forget.
Sorry We Missed You
Although some would argue that British filmmaker Ken Loach may have peaked with his Palme d’Or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley, this year’s Sorry We Missed You proves that he still has it as long as his writing partner Paul Laverty has something to say. This time, Loach and Laverty conquer the issues of the modern gig economy with the heartbreaking tale of a delivery driver father and his struggling family. Like much of Loach’s best work, this is an absolutely draining watch, but its examination of how the economy is taking advantage of the lower class couldn’t be more timely than it is now.
Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s feature debut Swallow is the best horror film of the year, offering a socially-conscious entry into the body horror genre, Mirabella-Davis’s script is both disturbing and darkly funny. Following a young housewife with a (shockingly existent) condition that compels her to swallow increasingly dangerous objects, this is a bizarre film, but one that you can’t spare to look away from. Haley Bennett impresses here, finally being given the opportunity to do something other than to be eye candy. Mirabella-Davis’s visual style is also very idiosyncratic, particularly his use of color, cementing him as one of this year’s big talents to watch.
Weathering with You
Although his last film Your Name. got much more widespread acclaim, Makoto Shinkai’s newest anime feature Weathering with You is extremely impressive. Although it admittedly can be a bit of a tear-jerker at times, the tremendously beautiful animation and sense of fantasy and wonder that flows through it make up for its shortcomings. Even more shocking is the fact that this is the rare anime where the dubbed version almost works better than the subbed version, with an English voice cast including Allison Brie, Riz Ahmed, and Lee Pace (although the original language cast is great too). Sadly, the unusual release patterns of anime in the United States makes this the only entry on this list that is not currently available to watch in some form.
A White, White Day
Hlynur Palmason’s Icelandic thriller A White, White Day is very different from any entry on this list. It’s both a meditative drama about grief and a revenge thriller showing a man hunting down the person who has wronged him. Unlike most films of the genre, the violence is not the focus here, brutality only used in short bursts to accent the emotion, with more emphasis being placed on the characters and their feelings. Palmason challenges a lot of conventions, but his compelling story, cold but picturesque cinematography, and a brilliant performance from Ingvar Sigurdsson make this one of the best films of the year yet.
While some of the most anticipated films of 2020 were delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with theaters hopefully reopening in August, many of them should make their way to the big (or small screen) by the end of the year. Still, one can expect some of these great pictures to repeat on that later list.
By Dan Skip Allen
The '80s and '90s were full of campy comic book movies. Filmmakers and studios still hadn't figured out how to make great comic book movies yet. Yes, there was the occasional Batman, The Crow, or Blade to speak of, but mostly these films were overcooked with campiness and colors or just plain darkness and shadows. They overcompensated on the actual comics themselves.
Dick Tracy is meant to be a campy, colorful movie. It's based on the comic strip of the same name and later animated TV show. It's full of colorful characters like Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman), Flattop (William Forsythe), Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino), Prune Face, and The Brow. The streets and buildings are also very colorful and fit this movie. Even though it's set in a world full of gangsters and guns in the 1950s, it is all a big exaggeration. It's not meant to be taken too seriously. All of this adds to the overall feel of this campy comic strip turned big-budget summer blockbuster.
Warren Beatty has made a big name for himself over the decades. He's been nominated for Oscars and won one for directing Reds. He dabbled a bit in this genre before with Bonnie & Clyde in 1967. So he was right at home starring and directing in the period piece based on the famous comic strip of the same name. He is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the cast goes. He assembled an all-star cast that includes cameos by James Caan, Dick Van Dyke, Mandy Patinkin, Charles Durning, and Michael Pollard. This entire cast is terrific in the film. It's really cool to pick out all these great actors from scene to scene.
Madonna, of course, is not only known as one of the greatest pop singers of her generation but of all time. She is in a long line of singers-turned-actors over the decades. She might have been perfectly cast though as Breathless Mahoney. She has an aloof nature to her character. She's a woman who has a dark side to her. She the classic femme fatale we have seen in plenty of Hollywood films in the past — the perfect character for this kind of film. Dick is a man torn between his job and the lady he loves, but Breathless doesn't make his life any easier with her advances on him. She's dressed beautifully as well. Along with all the other actors in the film, her outfits were made by costumer Milena Canonero. Madonna also performed the original song "Sooner or Later" that won William Sondheim an Oscar for Best Original Song. He did all the musical numbers in the film.
Even though the sets and costumes are all colorful and bright, it doesn't mean the story is all light and fluffy. It's not! It's like plenty of gangster films before. It has a great script helped by the creator of the comic strip Chester Could, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. There is a lot of violence, explosions, and death in the film. It has a classic film noir nature to it. The story had some great twists and turns in it. Everything is in place to make a fun summer blockbuster. And that's what Dick Tracy was.
There were so many great pieces that came together to make Dick Tracy a memorable film. Even thirty years later it still stands up. The time it came out has nothing on the time it was set. Warren Beatty put all the pieces together to go back in time to this fictional world set in reality. WB knew what they had and ran with it. The acting and everything else was terrific. This film really played homage to the classic comic strip and to the movie of the time it came in 1990. I still love this film thirty years later.
By Sarah Williams
It's not that LGBT stories have been completely absent from film history, but they're often buried or have gone without restoration. Whether censored by their home countries and subsequently lost as so many in Germany were, or censored before production like many in the United States to become merely subtext, it's a struggle to piece together an accurate early queer cinematic landscape. In recent years as interest has risen, many of these films have slowly returned to public consciousness, letting film history fill in the gaps of what the so-called ideals of decency tried their best to hide. Now available through virtual cinemas, Kino Lorber presents three "Pioneers of Queer Cinema", three new restorations of should-be classics are packaged
Carl Theodor Dreyer's Michael came in a particularly prolific era for the renowned filmmaker. Unlike later years when the auteur was creating a film for every ten years, the early part of the roaring twenties was a time of frequent releases. 1924's Michael is one thought to have been lost for years, and the new restoration is stunning. The silent gay romance isn't any less sweeping than it would be in sound, and it's eerie to see an explicitly gay film this early on but with so little reputation to its name, especially with the silent era having been filmmaking at it's most innovative technically, while only the beginning of narrative innovation. An artist falls for his model, but the young man posing falls in love with a woman, and the artist struggles to fight how he feels. While it does fall into the vein of melodrama, it's as balanced as a later Sirkian melodrama, letting its ambiguous ending gently send off the characters while still feeling real for the time. Male homosexuality was criminalized instead of ignored or looked upon as insanity due to men being seen as the sole active sexual being, and though the power dynamic is clearly unbalanced by their places in society, Dreyer is searingly honest in showing how passion fights against loneliness and later wanes, and his depiction of a gay man shut off from society never feels less than truthful.
Mädchen in Uniform comes as a first for lesbian film, a first to distinctly show romance between two women. Like all firsts, it sets a precedent for tropes prevailing in lesbian cinema, specifically the outline of the boarding school film. Produced in Germany during the rise of Nazism, it's a miracle the 1931 film still exists past censorship to be spoken of today, and even besides its radical existence as a piece of representation, it maintains a fantastic film. The intimacy between the leads in the story of a young woman in boarding school struggling to adjust to discipline as she falls in love with a teacher is wonderfully performed, and the tenderness between the characters is stunningly realized in Leontine Sagan's gentle forbidden romance. Like any love between women, this romance is forbidden, and the threat of being forced to leave the school is palpable, yet never feels overly cruel. The later American remake is far more chaste, and shies away from much of the love aspect, but the 1931 original is groundbreaking, especially as the start of the tropes of the school girl romance and the age gap that have been prevalent in lesbian cinema since.
Unlike the other two that fit more neatly into easy definition as LGBT cinema, Victor and Victoria blurs both sexuality and gender boundaries. The lightest of the three, and the weakest for the lack of emotional weight, this gender-bending comedy twists its characters enough times that it covers nearly all the ground for decency code-breaking. Reinhold Schünzel's 1933 story of a woman in disguise as a man, and the man she plays who must disguise himself as a woman to take her place is an outlandish one, and though being hard to believe at times, has enough heart for the cross-dressing humor to land. The two on drag as one another are cleverly disguised, and while the audience can clearly see the woman in masculine clothes, which is played for comedy, it's a wonderful early idea that gender roles are a set of performances one puts on. For years, largely in Hollywood, gay representation was largely indicated as subtext, and the common way to do so was through wearing the opposite gender's clothing as to indicate the idea of being "improper" for one's sex. Here this trope is played as the plot, and though it never gets as clearly gay as many expect of the Weimar Germany era, the play on gender tropes is more than enough of an established "queerness" for early cinema.
Kino's Pioneers of Queer Cinema collection is now streaming online in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.
By Adam Donato
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is a child’s masterpiece, literally. Robert Rodriguez wrote this movie based on the story from his son, Racer Rodriguez. The main character is named Max, which is Racer’s middle name, and follows his adventure through the dream world with the help of his two favorite superheroes. Sharkboy and Lavagirl was a flop at the box office (maybe due to the fact that it was competing against Madagascar and Revenge of the Sith) and was absolutely panned by critics. Why is such an innocent movie made by a father for his son so reviled?
The father on trial for making this movie is Robert Rodriguez, as he appears a whopping fourteen times in the credits. He was the writer, director, producer, visual effects supervisor, director of photography, editor, camera operator, composer, and performer. Who says the days of the auteur are over? The big gripes with this movie are about the story and the special effects, which is honestly surprising. The story was written by a child and it really feels that way. As a kid, this movie feels extremely genuine. A child would have crazy dreams with an overactive imagination where he defeats his bully with his superhero friends while eating cookies along the way. It’s pure pre-adolescence and if you can’t enjoy that as an adult, then sorry, but The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is not the movie for you, obviously.
Self-awareness is critical for a movie and Sharkboy and Lavagirl has it in abundance. It recognizes how juvenile the concept is and how ridiculous literally everything in this movie is. The movie really thinks it’s cute as it's packed to the brim with obvious metaphors for Max’s life in the dream world. Also, in case you didn’t know the movie is about dreams, the word “dream” is said 188 times in the movie. The themes are likewise very obvious; so much so that the film starts with a quote saying “Everything that is or was, began with a dream…” which is of course from Lavagirl. Dreams are good and it’s important to be selfless.
The best part of the movie is the cast and they really go for it in this movie. Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley play Sharkboy and Lavagirl, respectively. All of the stunts done by Lautner in the movie were improvised as he grew up as a martial arts expert apparently. His musical number, affectionately titled “Dream, Dream, Dream, Dream (Dream, Dream)” is an absolute bop. He plays the role with so much intensity, which would feel out of place in the movie if he didn’t randomly do a superhero pose every five minutes. Dooley is absolutely insane in this movie. The amount of close-ups of her creepily smiling is sure to give kids nightmares. She’s still the most badass of the group as she has the coolest hero shots. Cayden Boyd plays Max, the protagonist, and is easily hateable in this movie. It evens out as he’s constantly being hit in the nuts and zapped with electricity.
Max’s parents, played by David Arquette and Kristin Davis, are weird. They’re very clearly going through a divorce, which might explain Max’s overactive imagination as a coping device. Arquette plays an out-of-work writer, which if this movie is about Rodriguez’s kid, then way to paint yourself in such a negative light. He’s played as childish and sometimes pathetic, which just comes across as sad. There’s a scene where Max is complaining to his mom about how he doesn’t want to go to school because he gets bullied and his mom responds by telling him that his parents are not compatible. As if to say “Don’t worry about getting bullied, your father and I are getting a divorce.” At the end of the movie, they realize how much they need each other when they both get sucked away by tornadoes. Of course this is resolved by Sharkboy and Lavagirl saving them.
George Lopez plays one of the greatest villains of all time. Mr. Electric has so many quotable one-liners and more bad puns than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. The decision to make him a robot ball with just a close up of his face is gold. Anyone who grew up with Lopez’s sitcom knows that the size of his head is a comedic target. He also has a daughter who is a nerd like Max, but when Max tries to befriend her, Mr. Electricidad gets upset because that’s his daughter. It’s as if he is upset because he thinks Max’s intentions with her are romantic, which is weird because Max is ten. If George Lopez is Darth Vader in this movie, then Jacob Davich is basically The Emperor. Davich’s character of Linus is like if Draco Malfoy could actually get things done. Linus does so much more than tatle on the Max. He actively runs the most effective bullying syndicate in the school. Max gets bullied from the exact moment he steps on the school campus. The scene where he directs the bullies to surround Max on the playground really shows the true might of his ruthless dictatorship. Not to mention, the scene where Mr. Electricidad calls the bully “Minus” instead of Linus is true poetry in action.
The backstory for Sharkboy and Lavagirl is absolutely insane, which fits the tone very well. Seeing the CGI shark talk in that deep voice is nightmare fuel, but it’s immediately counteracted by seeing Sharkboy feel his new gills, which are very clearly not real. While the movie goes in-depth with Sharkboy’s backstory, Lavagirl just shows up, while Sharkboy is swimming in the shower (you read that right). Their stories are wrapped up in equally as insane fashion. Sharkboy searches the depths of the ocean for his father, while Lavagirl realizes that she is light? There’s a robot named “Tobor”, which is just “Robot” spelled backward, that’s also voiced by George Lopez for some reason. If one was to pick apart the story of this movie, they wouldn’t be understanding the point.
The CGI is terrible... or is it? Obviously, it doesn’t look realistic, but was it trying to be? It’s a ridiculous children’s movie. It’s fair to say that it was going for a cartoonish feel. If one was to complain about the color of the movie, that’s more of an issue with the 3-D, which is a whole different thing. If you’re fortunate enough to own this movie on DVD and have a couple of pairs of custom Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D glasses, then you’re in for a treat. Not only are they stylish, but the movie directs the audience when to wear the glasses. The scenes in the real world are in 2-D, while the scenes on Planet Drool are in this disgusting 3-D that turns everything kind of grey. It’s worth it as the 3-D gags in this movie are top-notch. Move over Avatar, this is the real cinematic experience.
It’s very fair to say this movie is dumb and cast it into the pit of obscurity. It’s a mid-2000s flop that relied on the cheap 3-D trend. There is a small cult following for this movie as it’s ridiculousness puts it up there with the likes of The Room when it comes to movies that are so bad it’s good. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is the type of movie you watch late at night with a group of friends and make fun of how crazy it is. Call it nostalgia, but watching a young Jacob from Twilight fight the guy from the show that plays the “Low Rider” song is true bliss. Would a child watching this movie for the first time enjoy it? Yes, it’s filled with imagination and characters with personality. Remember how Will Smith made After Earth just so his son could star in a big summer blockbuster? This is the less cynical version of that. This may be a minus of a movie, but it was a child’s dream, so just enjoy the innocent insanity.
By Adam Donato
Disney took its first step into the computer-generated world of animation with its first blockbuster of the 21st century: Dinosaur. This movie was almost directed by the man who made Robocop, Paul Verhoeven, and was supposed to have a much darker tone with practical effects. Dinosaur was thrown off course due to the successes of other dinosaur movies — The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park. What audiences received is exactly the kind of dinosaur movie that would be expected from Disney. Is that such a bad thing?
Dinosaur is undeservingly forgotten in Disney’s animated film history. The special effects are beautiful, especially for its time. The landscapes are live-action as they were taken straight from gorgeous countries like Venezuela. With the dinosaurs being animated in such a lifelike fashion, they feel like they belong in the world they inhabit. Seeing how these larger than life creatures move around is worth the cost of watching alone. Due to the limitation of non-animated backgrounds, the shots do get repetitive. Take a drink every time a dinosaur runs at the camera or shoves its head into the foreground of a shot. It’s easy to nitpick two decades later, but this was a technical achievement at the time. Almost makes you happy they didn’t use practical effects for the dinosaurs. Funny how Disney was inspired to go fully animated after seeing how well it worked in Jurassic Park. The best looking parts of that movie aren’t computer-generated. Still, very impressive for what it is.
The big knock on Dinosaur is said to be the story. This must be a result of the “Disney-fication” of the movie. It’s said that the original concept for the movie was to be much darker and end with a battle between the humble iguanodon and the ferocious tyrannosaurus rex. The outcome did not matter due to a meteor wiping out all life besides the lemur who was to evolve into mankind. There was also a great deal of religious metaphors with Aladar initially being named Noah, the bad iguanodon named Cain, and the lemur sidekick being named Adam. It’s hard to defend the studio for playing it safe with what is now the ending of the movie. Even the television sitcom Dinosaurs had the guts to have a realistic ending. It’s safe to assume that children know the dinosaurs went extinct. Ignoring what the story could’ve been, what was actually adapted is an uninspired and generic tale. It’s entirely functional as a movie, but pales in comparison to even other Disney animated fare.
When it comes to a Disney movie, it really does come down to the supporting cast to give the movie its personality. The Lion King is iconic in part because of characters like Timon and Pumba. Even if one had just walked out of seeing Dinosaur, it would be impressive if they could remember Eema and Baylene. Aladar is virtuous and unchanging as a protagonist, which would be okay if the impact he had on the supporting characters was more impactful. The characters who opposed Aladar died regardless of whether they changed and the characters being given hope by Aladar continued to embrace said positivity. Kron, the antagonist, is mean and continues to be a jerk up until he is unceremoniously killed by the carnotaurus. Speaking of the carnotaurus, what a terrifying monster. Literally just a t-rex, but red and with devil horns. That’s nightmare fuel, kids. It’s also weird how some dinosaurs just don’t speak, like the carnotaurus. It would’ve probably been weirder if the carnotaurus did start talking at the end, which apparently almost happened. Aladar has a love interest in Neera, but their relationship feels rushed, much like everything in this movie. Also, Zini is supposed to be the comic relief. The keyword in that sentence is supposed.
All these complaints about the story and characters are half-hearted. If this was a Dreamworks movie, it would be in their top five, easily. It just sucks that this is Disney’s entry in the dinosaur genre, but even Pixar had trouble. The journey to the nesting grounds is very rewarding. After trekking through the desert for the majority of this movie, it feels nice when you’re finally reimmersed in the lush beauty of the nesting grounds at the end. The themes about sticking together and finding a new family in people that are different than you is nice. When the herd confronts the carnotaurus together, it’s a nice payoff following the cruel “only the strong will survive” attitude the herd had prior.
The best part of the movie is hands down the opening sequence labeled by the soundtrack as “The Egg Travels”. It perfectly encapsulates the tone that the original concept was going for. Holding onto the darkness originally intended with the terrifying carnotaurus stomping on the poor mother iguanodon’s eggs. The scene follows the only surviving egg as it is passed from dino to dino, allowing the audience to experience the beautiful landscapes that they call home. None of the dinosaurs speak in this sequence as all we hear is when they roar and the music. The score for this scene, and the rest of the movie, is phenomenal. James Newton Howard is a pro and really brought it to this project. This scene really sets the stage for the rest of the movie and presents how grand these creatures really are. The trailer was comprised mostly of this sequence, which maybe gave audiences higher expectations for this movie. This could’ve led to disappointment, for nothing in this movie quite compares to this sequence.
Maybe if another studio would have made Dinosaur, it would have retained the dark tone and lack of dialogue that the feature was intended to be. Then again, what we got wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Disney delivered what was their darkest movie to date, if you go by death toll. Still, the movie is breathtaking with its score and special effects. There’s also a badass ride at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom that’s definitely worth checking out. It goes without saying that it’s in the top ten dinosaur movies of all time. If you’re wondering if there are more than ten dinosaur movies, The Land Before Time franchise has 14 installments that went straight to DVD. Dinosaur is a mature children’s flick that’s sure to stand the test of time. Just like dinosaurs themselves, this movie should not be forgotten.
By Sean Boelman
Culminating with the release of Lynn Chen’s directorial debut I Will Make You Mine, the Surrogate Valentine trilogy stands out as one of the highlights of the indie film scene of the past decade. Each movie having its own merits, these three short but sweet dramas are definitely worth checking out.
The films really ride on the charisma of its star Goh Nakamura. In all three of the movies, Nakamura plays a fictionalized version of himself, serving as the protagonist in Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings and a supporting character in I Will Make You Mine. Yet even though his role in the newest film is smaller, his arc is still very compelling.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the first two movies and I Will Make You Mine is that the latter is directed by Chen, who previously played Nakamura’s love interest in the other two films, and her voice is tremendously interesting. By switching the perspective from Nakamura’s to that of the women in his life, Chen has made the story feel more modern and relevant.
The first two movies center around Nakamura’s struggles as a musician, first in trying to get into the industry and then in trying to maintain his success. While this does carry over a bit into I Will Make You Mine, there’s a lot more on Chen’s mind in that film. At times, this makes it feel a bit overstuffed, but it’s also more thought-provoking.
That said, what stands out most about this series is its authenticity. Even though Daylight Savings does lean a bit into convention at times, each of the movies is rooted in very real emotion. The dialogue is often very poignant, especially in Surrogate Valentine and I Will Make You Mine, which are very thoughtful.
Of course, Nakamura’s intensely personal brand of indie music plays a large role in the film. The middle entry, Daylight Savings, is perhaps the most musically-oriented of the three, but his songs provide an excellent undertone for the entirety of the trilogy. It’s hard not to feel moved by some of the beautiful lyrics Nakamura has written.
The series is also identifiable for its very distinctive look. Presented black-and-white, these movies have an undeniably indie feel about them that is absolutely gorgeous. Simplicity and emotion are the name of the game here, and directors Dave Boyle (Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings) and Lynn Chen (I Will Make You Mine) emphasize these elements.
The Surrogate Valentine trilogy will undoubtedly join the ranks of indies with a dedicated following. At under an hour and twenty minutes long each, fans of music will certainly want to sit back and enjoy the journey of this fictionalized version of Goh Nakamura.
I Will Make You Mine is now available on VOD.
By Adam Donato
Video game movies are infamously bad, and Disney is no exception (Wreck-it Ralph doesn’t count). Prince of Persia is a very notable video game franchise about, to put it simply, a Prince going on adventures in Persia. The series of games has a long history with a supposedly large fanbase. Disney sought to replicate the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Jerry Bruckheimer producing the film. Indie darling Jake Gyllenhaal stars with Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Doctor Octopus himself, Alfred Molina. The film was given a budget of $200 million, not including marketing, and didn’t make its money back. Is this another good movie going criminally unseen or did it follow the trend of video game movie that would be better if you had a controller in your hand?
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is fine. It’s a big, dumb blockbuster wannabe that is perfectly digestible. There’s a lot of reasons to root for this movie to be a success, while also having so much going against it. That’s usually the recipe for a controversial movie that everyone is sure to have an opinion on, but nobody saw it. Even if one did see Prince of Persia, it’s so unspectacular that it’s hard to have an opinion on it in general.
On one hand, It’s a video game movie in the best way. People who played the game have noted how a lot of the action is very reminiscent of the source material. Speaking of action, this movie is full of it. If you like parkour, then this is the Casino Royale of video game movies. The budget is very high so of course the action is quite the spectacle. While it may look too animated at times, it gets away with it thanks to its video game roots. The cast is full of talented actors. Gyllenhaal headlines the cast and they couldn’t have picked a more likable leading man. He makes Dastan, this one-dimensional hero, into a somewhat interesting protagonist. Needless to say, you’re rooting for him. Arterton, also starring in the Clash of the Titans movie in the same year, was very hot at the time (pun intended). Kingsley is always a pro. Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, and Richard Coyle all do well in the movie, but none of them steal the show quite like Molina. Sheik Amar is the most memorable character in Prince of Persia and it’s not even close. He would’ve been the Jack Sparrow of the movie, but his character was not given nearly enough screen time. It’s a very light movie that’s fun for the family and is graciously just under two hours.
Literally everything else is not good. The cast, while great, does not fit the movie whatsoever. This is Ghost in the Shell level white-washing and it’s just sad. Indy Mogul questioned why the movie didn’t go full Bollywood and it’s not a bad idea. Gyllenhaal wasn’t even a bankable star at the time and honestly still isn’t. The main gripe that people have about the movie is the script. It’s not terrible, but it is very standard. At least it has themes, despite how shoved down your throat they are. We get it, the movie is about destiny and brotherhood, but the movie still puts “destiny” on the screen at the beginning and end so that you get the message. It’s one of those scripts where if you ask any questions about the internal logic of the story, it falls apart. The romance is whatever. It’s hilarious watching the main couple kiss while the world is crumbling behind them. The villain is fine. Have you seen literally any other movie ever? Then you’ve seen this movie.
Prince of Persia did have the disadvantage of being put through development hell through the 2000s. It had to maneuver through the Writers Guild of America strike and the Screen Actors Guild strike. It’s also fair to say that Bruckheimer has a fifty percent success rate and his Disney family films are more often than not bad. During an interview for Spider-Man: Far From Home, Gyllenhaal jokes about how Dastan may not have been the best role for him to take on. It honestly might be for the best as Gyllenhaal has one of the best track records during the 2010s. It’s not hard to see how Disney would think Prince of Persia would be a big success with its recognizable franchise, notable talent involved, and $200 million budget. The poor movie was up against Sex and the City 2 and Shrek Forever After. It never stood a chance. Maybe if it had better word of mouth.
It’s sad to say, but chalk this box office bomb up as yet another video game movie that just didn’t translate to the big screen. The 2010s had a small string of video game movies that seem to be trending the genre upward, but only ever so slightly. One could make a solid argument for Prince of Persia as the best video game movie. Alas, it feels like a cross between the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the worst Mummy movie. Look at the bright side, if it was a success, then Gyllenhaal would’ve been too busy doing tired sequels instead of starring in critical successes like Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and (maybe the best of them all) Nightcrawler. Don’t watch Prince of Persia, but if you do, maybe you won’t hate it. It’s definitely a movie.
By Dan Skip Allen
Mel Gibson made his name in the 1980s with mainstream hits like the Lethal Weapon franchise and the Mad Max films. In the 1990s, he made the greatest film of his career when he chose to direct and star in Braveheart. Braveheart came out in 1995 and won Gibson his first and second Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director respectively. He would never reach such heights as a filmmaker or actor ever again. He would be ostracized from Hollywood after a drunken tirade, but would later be accepted again when he directed the WWII epic Hacksaw Ridge, albeit not to the same level.
William Wallace (Mel Gibson) sees that his father and brother have died when they don't come home from war with England. After their funeral, his uncle Argyle Wallace (Brian Cox) comes to take him away from his home in the Scottish hills. Later he comes back home to be a farmer and ends up rekindling a friendship he had when he was a kid with a beautiful young woman, Murron (Catherine McCormack). This ends up getting him into a scuffle with English soldiers, which starts off a new war with England and King Edward I. William Wallace would end up becoming the leader of a Scottish revolution on the English rulers. This war would be a bloody violent war, and Gibson didn't hold back on the blood and gore in this epic.
Historical movies can be sentimental, but inspiring. They usually have some good performances such as Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, and Ben Kingsley in Gandhi. Rarely do you see a director/actor combination such as Braveheart. Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven come to mind as two of the only other exceptions. Both won Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood the Academy Awards for their respective films. What elevates Braveheart to a different level is that it has a great performance from Mel Gibson that is arguably one of the greatest of all time. Famous quotes like "Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our lives, but they'll never take our freedom," are truly iconic.
Along with the great performance from Mel Gibson, many other performances help rank this film among the greatest of all time. Sophie Marceau, Angus Macfadyen, Patrick McGoohan, James Cosmo, and Brendan Gleeson are all great. The epic battle scenes also make Braveheart one of the greatest war films as well as period piece films. There is not much CGI in Braveheart, but the beautiful hills of Scotland lend themselves to some breathtaking cinematography from Jon Toll.
As far as epics go, Braveheart is in the conversation as one of the greatest of all time. Spartacus, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and Gladiator are the ones I think of when great epics are brought up in conversation. Epics are like bigger than life films. Braveheart is the biggest of the big. It has a level that dwarfs almost every other film. Add in the great performance from Gibson and you have one for the ages. Remembering this film twenty-five years later brings back nostalgia on why it's such a great film. It stands the test of time. Even fifty or a hundred years from now, Braveheart will stand up as one of the greatest of all time.
By Dan Skip Allen
Coming off of Star Wars, George Lucas, had to do something out of this world with the sequel. He did that and more, introducing some new and interesting characters such as Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, and Yoda helped make it very different. New music from John Williams proved he was one of the greats already. The huge twist at the end makes it one of the all-time great films. Forty years seems just like yesterday to me. Where has the time gone?
Star Wars was a passion for me as a kid and The Empire Strikes Back hit me as not many films have before or since. I owed all the toys at one point when I was very young. The thing is I never saw Star Wars in the theater. I saw it on HBO when I was 6 — the same age I saw The Empire Strikes Back in a theater. So this sequel had that much more relevance to me. It hit home for me much more that way. Seeing that twist for the first time was like getting a punch to the gut. I have had my share of issues with my father of the years. That moment was just unbelievable to me. How could the evilest guy in the galaxy be the hero's father? No way could happen, but it did.
One among many things I love about Star Wars is the seedy side of a galaxy far far away. And the Mos Eisley Cantina. It was like eye candy to me because of all the strange and exotic characters. I would later learn about these aliens from reading books about them. When those four crazy bounty hunters showed up in Empire, I felt the need to know more about them as well. Of course Boba Fett rose to be one of my favorite characters in the whole franchise. He had so much mystery about him back then. His story has since been expanded upon in years later.
Yoda was a very different character for me because he was this little green guy in a swamp. I was a huge fan of his early on, but as years have gone by I have had more respect for those training scenes. "Do or do not", and "That is why you fail" are some great quotes that I remember. He grew on me. Coaches and mentors don't always have to be your friend to prepare you for what you need to do in your life. They do need your respect in the end.
John Williams has been my favorite conductor ever since I was a little kid. I grew up watching him conduct the Boston Pops for many years. He created music for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course Star Wars. He had to do something great for Empire to live up to those other three films. He did just that with "Imperial March". I knew something bad was about to happen when that music came up. Usually escorting Dark Vader on screen. It was such menacing music. I can't recall any movie villain having such great music to accompany them on screen.
In a film with so much darkness there is a glimmer of hope and happiness. Even though it happens on the ice planet of both. Han and Leia have a love-hate relationship when he's not being called a "scruffy-looking nerf herder" by her that is. The scene where she finally professes her love to him is one of the greatest scenes in movie history. "I love You, I know" is such a powerful moment in the film because Han is about to go into carbonite freezing. She doesn't know if he'll survive, or not. It was so emotional for me as a six-year-old watching it for the first time. I am still affected by it to this day.
Nothing affected me like that twist where Darth Vader says that he's Luke's father though. Me having such issues with my father made it very difficult for me to watch. I didn't want that for Luke and I don't think anyone watching did. It just says even bad guys can have children and have family issues just like me or anyone else for that matter. Luke just wasn't ready for that encounter yet. He paid the ultimate price when he lost his hand. That moment almost caused him to go to the dark side. As we've seen in future movies he did not.
The Empire Strikes Back touches on so many great topics. Love, hate, betrayal, and innocence lost are just a few of them. Everything about this film ups the game from its predecessor. That is almost inconceivable to me. Star Wars was so great but The Empire Strikes Back stands the test of time. Forty years later it holds up like no other film. The music and special effects are all first-rate as well. There are rarely any films that have the impact that this one does on society. Even though it's a sequel, it stands on its own as an achievement in filmmaking. I can't say enough how much this film means to me. Even forty years after I saw it for the first time.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.