Captain Blood (1935) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Adventure, Romance

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1935 pirate adventure film Captain Blood established Errol Flynn as a major Hollywood star and was also the first of eight pictures that Flynn would star in with Olivia de Havilland. After being sold into slavery for tending to a rebel against the English government in the 1600s, physician Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) escapes from captivity to lead a motley crew of buccaneers on the high seas. It doesn’t quite live up to its promise, but this is still an able movie.

Let’s get something out of the way. Captain Blood is pretty slowly-paced much of the time. This isn’t The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), it’s something a bit less action-packed. Still, the action scenes are excellent when they do show their face. Whether it be a pirate ship bombardment of the port that Flynn’s character is enslaved in or a sword duel between Captain Blood and fellow pirate leader Levasseur (Basil Rathbone), the sequences depicting physical struggle are the highlights of the feature. Of course, the best, a naval battle complete with hand-to-hand boarding action, is saved for last.

Sometimes it can be hard to root for pirates, considering that they’re murderous marauders and whatnot. However, Blood’s followers here are a relatively benevolent bunch, sworn to share the booty they steal and not rape any women. Unfortunately, Flynn’s character’s pirate crew is a largely interchangeable horde, with few of these dudes standing out from one another. The special effects also deserve a mention, with the film having a few impressive miniatures in it. Erich Wolfgang Korngold provides a competent musical score.

Maybe I was just spoiled by watching another, superior Flynn swashbuckler, The Adventures of Robin Hood, first, but Captain Blood is hardly a high-octane thrill most of the time. Yeah, the action sequences are quite a treat when they do arrive, but there’s not enough combat to say that this is an action movie. Still, it’s not bad, so it is watchable if you’re curious.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Black Legion (1937) Review

Directors: Archie Mayo and Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 83 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Black Legion has one of the most intriguing plots for a film of its time period. After factory-worker Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) is passed over for a promotion that’s awarded to an Eastern European immigrant, Joe Dombrowski (Henry Brandon), the former decides to join an underground terrorist organization that resembles the Ku Klux Klan. This very good movie has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality to it, as there actually did exist a xenophobic Black Legion in the American Midwest in the 1930s.

It’s a fascinating (and relevant) story, told well with minimal fat (it is only 83 minutes long, after all). It carefully sets out everything you need to know and escalates tension and action from there. Perhaps the highlight of the picture is the scene where Bogart’s character takes his oath to join the Black Legion. Now there’s a creepy sequence for you! The main character clearly makes some very poor decisions over the course of the runtime, and it’s hard not to agonize over his choices.

Black Legion isn’t a subtle movie, which may turn off some viewers. The bad guys are very clearly evil and the forces of righteousness get a speech or two to explain the sins of lawless and prejudiced behavior. The courtroom finale doesn’t really feel like the most explosive way to conclude the story, and it goes on for a while (considering the runtime). Oh, well, it’s still a swell, little flick.

This motion picture features a nice message and efficient storytelling. It has a few interesting touches, like a behind-the-scenes look at a live news broadcast over the radio. Fans of Humphrey Bogart and anti-fascist cinema will want to rent a copy. Also, check out that whoopee cap that Bogie wears in the factory scenes! My, how fashion has changed!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Review

Director: James Gunn

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 121 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

When the sci-fi film Guardians of the Galaxy was released and became a hit, it seemed like Marvel could make a movie about any superhero or group of superheroes and it would end up a huge success. Had anybody outside of the comic book world actually heard of the heroes in this flick prior to its production? A talking raccoon? A walking tree? How could Marvel pull this off? Anyway, the plot of this picture is about a group of space criminals who find themselves in possession of an Infinity Stone and pursued by a murderous warlord named Ronan (Lee Pace) who desires the powers given by the rock.

Guardians of the Galaxy could’ve easily been a confusing mess, but it’s executed with skill and enthusiasm. Despite all of the fancy special effects and massive action scenes, it’s easy to see why these sorts of movies really appeal to so many people: the characters. The people inhabiting the galaxy of this feature are easily distinguished from one another and all have colorful and vibrant personalities. One actually cares about the struggles that they face.

Other important aspects of this movie’s appeal are its action, music, and world-building. The action scenes aren’t mind-blowing, but their choreography is clear and there’s a reasonable excitement value. The soundtrack is largely made up of classic pop and rock tunes, and has become one of the standout elements of the flick. The world-building here could’ve potentially been overwhelming, with lots thrown at the audience, but it’s handled gracefully.

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy does feel a little…Marvel-y at times. The action, dramatic, and comedic beats are carefully placed into the film in a calculated manner to maximize audience engagement. Make of that what you will. Still, this is a charming and funny movie with no slow spots. There have certainly been superhero pictures worse than this.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Taken 3 (2014) Review

Director: Olivier Megaton

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 108 minutes (standard version), 114 minutes (unrated version)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (standard version), Not Rated (unrated version)

IMDb Page

It’s hard to go wrong with thrillers starring Liam Neeson, but Taken 3 comes fairly close. This entry is very much the weakest of the action film trilogy, but it’s still better than many flicks I’ve had to put up with. In a The Fugitive (1993)-esque fashion, former government agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is framed for the murder of a family member and has to find the true killer while dodging the law. You could say the Taken franchise is starting to run out of steam.

Taken 3 is, of course, an action movie, so how does the physical chaos stand up? Well, it’s a mixed bag for sure in this department. Some of the action scenes are edited in a way that makes them almost incomprehensible. Good luck trying to follow the car chase. There’s also the, uh, iconic fence-climbing scene, where Neeson scrambling over a chain-link fence is shown from approximately two thousand different angles in a few seconds (do a YouTube search for “Taken 3” and “Taken 3 fence” will pop up as one of the first suggestions). Fortunately, the action does get more coherent (in terms of editing and cinematography) as the picture progresses.

While the plot does borrow from the aforementioned masterpiece The Fugitive, I think that this one is competent enough in terms of story. Sure, nobody really gets taken (despite the title), but I like a picture about an innocent man being hunted for crimes he didn’t commit. Yeah, the action sequences are all over the place, but the storytelling is satisfactorily engaging.

I’ll be honest: Liam Neeson is just about the only thing that makes Taken 3 worth watching. Without him, it would feel like a forgettable direct-to-video movie or something. Despite a handful of ridiculous moments and some hard-to-follow action, I’ll give this flick a passing grade. I’ve seen much worse, and seeing Neeson beat up people is too hard to pass up. Still, if you’re on the pickier side when it comes to your actioners, you’d probably be better off watching the original Taken (2008) again.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Halloween II (2009) Review

Director: Rob Zombie

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 105 minutes (standard version), 119 minutes (unrated version)

MPAA Rating: R (standard version), Not Rated (unrated version)

IMDb Page

Director Rob Zombie continues his reign of terror over the Halloween series with 2009’s Halloween II. In the tenth movie in the series, killer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to kill again. Wait, isn’t that the plot of every Halloween film? Yyyyyaaaaawwwwwnnnnn. I’ll get straight to the point: this picture is abysmal.

This feature opens with a sequence that reminds you of the original Halloween II (1981). Remember how great that one was? [Sigh], those were good times. Anyway, as I was saying, this hunk of junk opens with Michael Myers, who resembles a hillbilly mountain man, stalking Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) around a hospital. That’s something we’ve never seen before. Little stands out here from the rest of the franchise.

Well, the flick’s ultra-gore is more noticeable than any of the other entries in the Halloween series. This one also has some surrealist touches, because why the Hell not? Myers here constantly has hallucinations of his late, stripper mother, Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie), and of himself as a child (Chase Wright Vanek). There’s also a white horse. Make of it what you will.

2009’s Halloween II is a nasty, tasteless piece of cinema that goes on forever (by Halloween standards). Myers is seen too often without his mask, and – holy shit! – is that “Weird Al” Yankovic? Okay, okay, okay, I just have to make some sort of “Weird Al” joke here. After Halloween (2007), this one should’ve just been titled “Even Worse.”

My rating is 3 outta 10.

The Simpsons Movie (2007) Review

Director: David Silverman

Genre(s): Comedy

Runtime: 87 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The Simpsons, along with Futurama (another Matt Groening creation), are my favorite television shows of all time. Fortunately, 2007’s The Simpsons Movie largely does justice to the iconic series that it’s based on. Here, the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield becomes so polluted that the Environmental Protection Agency decides to place a giant glass dome over the city. Naturally, it’s up to the community’s most famous family to save the day.

The humor found in The Simpsons Movie is perhaps broader than the comedy found in a typical episode from The Simpsons‘ classic era. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the laughs here come with surprising frequency. The satire’s not as brutally laser-focused as it is in some of the show’s golden age T.V. episodes, but it works well enough. Moving to the big screen hasn’t made the filmmakers push the boundaries of what jokes they include too much, although somebody finally gets to say “goddamn,” among another thing or two that I won’t spoil here.

Being a full-blown motion picture, the animation in The Simpsons Movie is more dynamic and eye-popping than it is in the television series. There are some neat moments of action because of this. The universe that The Simpsons is set in has a tremendous wealth of characters and locations, and these are put to good use in the film. Most of the fan favorite inhabitants of Springfield get a moment or two to shine, but the focus is generally on the Simpsons family, which is perfectly understandable, considering the 87-minute runtime.

Is The Simpsons Movie as delectable as the classic era of the show that spawned it? I’m not sure if I can answer that question, as the golden age of that show lasted eight or nine seasons. Still, fans of the series will almost certainly fall in love with this picture. Almost every joke lands and the characterizations appear to be consistent with what was established in the early years. That’s enough for me to recommend a comedy.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) Review

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, and King Vidor

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Musical

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: G (2D version), PG (3D version)

IMDb Page

The hype exists for a reason. There’s little I can say about this endlessly iconic 1939 feature that hasn’t been said before. The charming story is about a Kansan farmgirl named Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her dog, Toto (Terry), being whisked away to the magical Land of Oz during a tornado. Even if you feel like you’re too old to be watching a family film like The Wizard of Oz, I highly recommend it anyway.

How was this made all the way back in 1939? The songs are still as catchy as ever, the special effects just as stupendous, the characters just as lovable, the flying monkeys just as frightening, the visuals just as splendorous, the action just as exciting, the drama just as moving, the humor just as amusing, and the pacing just as swift as ever. Those who say films were merely “proto-movies” prior to Citizen Kane (1941) can take a hike!

Holding this timeless masterpiece together is the message of there being no place like home. Sepia-colored Kansas may not be a roller coaster ride of excitement, but that’s where the heart is. To find their way back to the heartland, Dorothy, Toto, and their new friends must put their inner courage, compassion, and smarts to the test and defeat the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). Who couldn’t love a story like that?

The Wizard of Oz is just about as close to perfection as motion pictures can get. What? Are you actually going to criticize the painted backgrounds for not looking realistic enough? Anyway, this is a true classic that hasn’t aged with time. From the yearning for a better tomorrow displayed in the opening to the crazily imaginative adventures in Oz to the tear-jerking finale, this is the real deal.

My rating is 10 outta 10.