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.

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.

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.

In Pursuit of Honor (1995) Review

Director: Ken Olin

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 111 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Would you have the courage to defy an order from a superior that you considered immoral? That is the dilemma presented in the 1995 made-for-HBO adventure-drama In Pursuit of Honor. During the 1930s, the American cavalry is phasing out horses in favor of vehicles, and several American servicemen run off with horses targeted for mass-extermination by the higher-ups. This is an inspiring story of men of conscience fighting against the odds to do what they believe is right.

When describing In Pursuit of Honor, it’s probably best to just say that it’s a good story that’s told well. It’s not an action extravaganza, but there are a few nice moments of that sort of stuff. Characters (mainly the “good guys”) aren’t always as clearly defined as I would’ve hoped, but it certainly doesn’t sink the picture. Douglas MacArthur (played by James Sikking) is, more or less, the villain of the piece, giving the order to massacre the horses. However, even his portrayal here is not entirely unsympathetic, as he articulates his desire to see the United States prepared for war with the rising fascist states of the time.

There is a minor controversy over whether the events depicted in the film are a true story. The opening insists they are, but, with the exception of the suppression of the Bonus Army (a large group of World War I veterans who marched on Washington, D.C., during the Great Depression to demand benefits they were promised) at the very beginning, the story appears to be completely made up. I don’t hold this against the movie, since flicks are based on fictional stories all the time. However, if you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, pass this one by.

Fictional or not, In Pursuit of Honor shows that fighting for what’s right isn’t always as easy as following somebody’s orders. It’s a well-paced drama (with western elements) that animal lovers should want to check out. Okay, there’s some scenes that show simulated fatal violence against horses, but, if you can stand that, this one is recommended. Its message of standing up to immoral authority is still relevant.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Doctor Strange (2016) Review

Director: Scott Derrickson

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

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Does 2016’s Doctor Strange do enough to set it apart from the rest of its superhero film peers? Well, it’s not the best of its kind, but it has an identity of its own, which makes it feel like more than just another product off the Marvel assembly line. Okay, that was a low blow, but Doctor Strange is certainly more enjoyable than not. After an egotistical and ambitious surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) is wounded in a car accident, he travels to Nepal for healing, only to learn the mind-bending superpowers of a group of warriors protecting Earth from interdimensional threats.

Of course, the primary reason to watch this flick is for its oft-trippy visuals. The big set-pieces are filled with positively psychedelic special effects that occasionally resemble something out of Inception (2010) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on steroids. It’s a feast for the eyes, even if the action scenes still often boil down to people punching each other repeatedly.

Despite all of the spectacle, Doctor Strange is still a commercial product. It follows the traditional superhero origin story formula fairly closely and, although the main character is a bit of an asshole at first, he’s not that much of an asshole. Moments of comedy and drama (which are admittedly effective) seem to be added to the mix with cold calculation. The stakes of the action sequences are also sometimes a bit on the murky side.

One’s enjoyment of the highly efficient action-adventure film Doctor Strange will come down to what they want to get out of the picture. If you want action scenes driven by great special effects that haven’t been fully seen before on the screen or if you want to see an arrogant man of science get in touch with his spiritual side, you’ll probably like this picture. As a whole, I can’t say that it goes above and beyond the call of duty, but it’s still a fun superhero movie. It’s not as mind-melting or surreal as something along the lines of Un Chien Andalou (1929), but I still have to give some props to a big-budget blockbuster for attempting something similar.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 107 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Being an American, I wasn’t all that familiar with the character of Belgian comic hero Tintin growing up (although I do remember watching the cartoon series The Adventures of Tintin on television). I’m grateful for director Steven Spielberg for largely introducing audiences in the United States to the world of Tintin with the 2011 animated motion picture The Adventures of Tintin. Blending three of the classic Tintin stories (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure) together, the plot involves intrepid reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his dog, Snowy, going on an adventure after purchasing a model ship that everybody wants to have a part of. Okay, after using the word “Tintin” approximately 10,000 times over the course of one paragraph, let’s get on with the review.

After directing the Indiana Jones flicks, Steven Spielberg was a perfect choice to helm an entry into the almost equally pulpy Tintin franchise. Many (but not all) of the beloved characters from the comics make an appearance here, and there are several visual references to other Tintin adventures. As much as I loved the film overall, I am a bit disappointed with its depiction of Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). He shows a bit too much of his buffoonish side here, and not quite enough of his badass personality. All of the other characters seem to be on-point, though.

For this feature, the action in the comics was taken and pumped up to an eye-popping extreme. The film’s manic action sequences are astounding, featuring camerawork and choreography that would be near-impossible to pull off in a live-action movie. From a pirate battle to a wild chase through the streets of a Moroccan city, the big set-pieces really bring out the viewer’s inner child. Also worthy of mention are John Williams’ lively musical score and the fantastic opening credits scene.

The Adventures of Tintin is definitely one of my favorite animated movies of all time, and, as far as action-adventure pictures go, it’s up there, too. It has both the lovable characters and the jaw-dropping action scenes that those sort of features need to succeed. It’s terrific entertainment for most ages (there is some blood in one scene, after a man is shot) that’s bound to encourage viewers to learn more about the Tintin universe. Let’s hope that that sequel gets made!

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

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

Runtime: 141 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The finale of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) will always be my preferred ending to the Star Wars saga. Everything that came after 1983 is basically non-canon in my book. Entertaining, imagination-capturing, and fun to discuss? Definitely…but not canon. The movie concluding the “sequel trilogy” or “Disney trilogy” of the Star Wars franchise is Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, and your opinion of it will probably depend on if you accept it into your “headcanon” or not. Anyway, the plot’s about a certain villain from the series mysteriously returning and orchestrating a plot to turn Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the Dark Side of the Force, while conquering the galaxy in the process. You know the deal.

Doing lots of damage control as a result of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), this feature crams a ton of content into its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Fortunately, it’s the characters that come through to save the picture’s neck. Whether they be new or old, cute or badass, the characters mostly nail it. This is The Rise of Skywalker‘s biggest strength, even if the events that take place in the film don’t always make sense. Watching so many fan-favorites or to-be-fan-favorites working together to keep the movie afloat left me feeling ecstatic at times. The action is exciting (if ludicrously over-the-top at times…but I suppose that’s just part of the fun) and John Williams’ musical score is right on the bull’s-eye.

As I mentioned in the above paragraph, not every narrative choice pays off (how exactly does the primary villain of the picture, who we’ve seen before, return to the stage?). Due to this trilogy’s filmmakers not having an overarching plan, the flick sometimes feels rushed or sloppy. The primary reason I don’t accept these new films into my “headcanon” is the undoing of the ending of the aforementioned Return of the Jedi. This is a sore spot for many Star Wars fans, and I can’t blame them for being “salty” over it. Still, if you consider this trilogy to be some sort of alternate timeline or “what-if?” story taking place after the conclusion of the original three movies, it’s quite rousing.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that The Rise of Skywalker is just about as good a finale for the sequel trilogy as was possible after The Last Jedi largely tore apart the “mystery boxes” established in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) (and after the passing of Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia). It also works very well as a standalone sci-fi/action-adventure tale. However, how is it as an ending of the entire Star Wars saga, as was started all the way back in 1977? Let’s just say that Return of the Jedi will always be my official conclusion of the story.

My rating is 8 outta 10.