Superman III (1983) Review

Director: Richard Lester

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

Runtime: 125 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I think most people who’ve seen the Superman series would agree that Superman III is a step down from the first two. It’s not bad, but parts of it are a bit of a chore by superhero movie standards. Evil businessman Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) is obsessed with cornering the market for certain commodities, so he decides to eliminate Superman (Christopher Reeve) with some artificial kryptonite to prevent the Man of Steel from interfering with his plans. There’s an interesting idea or two to be found here, but, overall, it feels routine.

Superman III is a lot more comedic than Superman (1978) or Superman II (1980), not that those films didn’t have plenty of comic relief. Much of the humor is provided by the character Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), a down-on-his-luck dude who turns out to be a whiz with computers. Speaking of computers, they’re all over the place here, in all their bulky, 1980s-looking glory. The technology is mighty dated, as is the picture’s campy aesthetic, but it serves as a cautionary tale about the powers of new-fangled gadgetry.

On the action front, things are…adequate. There’s a nice punch-up involving Superman in a junkyard that I won’t spoil the details of, but the finale feels fairly lethargic at times for the conclusion of an action-adventure flick. The special effects are actually on the impressive side, but what good are they when the story is undercooked? It’s cool and all seeing Superman constantly saving the day, but he needs a tighter plot to back him up.

Although the musical score is done by Ken Thorne, John Williams’ classic themes make a return. Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) does too, but the main romantic subplot here is between the titular character and his hometown high school sweetheart, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole). Okay, this one isn’t essential viewing, but it’s not torture. It has a few enjoyable moments, but it sort of takes a while for the actual plot to kick in.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

FDR: American Badass! (2012) Review

Director: Garrett Brawith

Genre(s): Comedy, War

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Warning: If you have any dignity, taste, reverence, self-respect, integrity, class, culture, or decency, turn off your DVD/Blu Ray player right now and avoid this film like the plague. However, if you lack those traits, you’ll probably enjoy this ultra-low-brow comedy about U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Barry Bostwick) preventing Axis werewolves from taking over the world. Yes, there will be polio jokes.

The humor in FDR: American Badass! ranges from Airplane! (1980)-esque silliness to randy, raunchy punchlines, including a couple revolving around taking a dump in a flower vase. This comedy certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but there is a great deal of joy to be had from the anachronistic swearing and dialogue. The hammy acting and the horrible, low-budget special effects only add to the “funny factor.”

Yeah, a couple of the “sketches” that make up the movie may last a little too long, and not every joke lands (of course, there’s so many that some duds are expected). The introductory sequence is pretty cringe-inducing, but, if all you want are cheap laughs and obscenities aplenty, it’s smooth sailing after that. It’s not an action picture, despite some claims, so don’t expect the titular character’s tricked-out wheelchair to be used as much as you might hope.

FDR: American Badass! is perhaps the first film that pops into my head when I hear the phrase “dumb comedy.” It’s pretty undemanding and “politically incorrect,” and will probably end up a personal classic for those who watch it and don’t expect anything more than gags about polio, promiscuity, pot, and poop. I laugh a lot at it, despite its trashy aesthetic, so I’m going to give it a thumbs-up for certain audiences.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

There It Is (1928) Review

Directors: Harold L. Muller and Charles R. Bowers

Genre(s): Comedy, Fantasy

Runtime: 19 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Charles R. Bowers is sometimes considered one of the forgotten comedic actors of the silent era of cinema, and 1928’s There It Is is probably one of his more famous works. In this short, silent surrealist comedy, Scotland Yard detective Charley MacNeesha (Charles R. Bowers) is called upon to investigate a mansion in the United States that’s apparently haunted by the Fuzz-Faced Phantom (Buster Brodie). Think of it as a more overtly-humorous version of Un Chien Andalou (1929) with an actual plot and you’ll have a great time.

The laughs in There It Is are mostly derived from the slapstick nature of the proceedings. Like any surrealist motion picture, it’s certainly random and bizarre, but it’s hard to beat something like somebody getting hit by another person wielding a table. Being so old, it’s hard to tell what was meant to be intentionally surreal and what was just the style of silly comedy at the time of its release.

The impressive special effects are inventive and top-of-the-line for 1928. One of the scene-stealers is the main character’s partner, a tiny, stop-motion, Greedo-looking, insect-like, kilt-wearing Scotland Yard detective named MacGregor (who lives in a matchbox, of course). No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s a cute touch that adds to the insanity of the flick and contributes to its adorable ending.

Running only nineteen minutes, there’s no reason not to watch There It Is if you enjoy crazy silent movies like the aforementioned Un Chien Andalou. It’s not as off-the-wall bonkers as that Luis Buñuel-directed masterpiece, but it’s still an odd trip. There It Is is not the most dream-like/oneiric film I’ve ever seen but I still love it anyway.

My rating is 8 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 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 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.

Knives Out (2019) Review

Director: Rian Johnson

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 130 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Now this is the kind of film that director Rian Johnson should be making, instead of “subverting [the] expectations” of Star Wars fans with Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) (which is still a movie I enjoy on some level). After famous murder mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his mansion, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) brings in the writer’s family to see if foul play was involved. This is an excellent whodunit murder mystery picture that made me want to see more adventures of Daniel Craig’s character.

The plot of Knives Out is intricate, but, by mystery movie standards, it doesn’t feel convoluted. I’m no good at following flicks that are like the latter, so if I could understand what was going on, you, almost certainly, will be able to as well. Fortunately for the audience, the various characters in this feature are mostly well-defined and played by an all-star cast. Despite all of the twists and turns, the film doesn’t really try to confuse the viewer or make following the details difficult.

Knives Out, in addition to being a mystery/thriller movie, is a comedy. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s definitely the murder-related elements that keep it afloat. It’s certainly self-aware, but that doesn’t become a hindrance to enjoyment (Knives Out isn’t as cheeky as critics of The Last Jedi may have feared). It’s interesting to note that Christopher Plummer’s character’s home is filled with knick-knacks that seem to stare back at the audience and the people within the film. This may be a reference to Sleuth (1972), which did something similar.

This work left me wanting more…in a good sort of way. It doesn’t really matter if it would be other murder mysteries or another picture or two featuring Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. I suppose that’s a sign that something went right. Knives Out is an admirable flick, largely thanks to a well-told plot and a cast of characters that the viewer can keep track of. Oh, yeah, it’s pretty funny as well.

My rating is 8 outta 10.