Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl: “Yo-ho, Yo-ho. A pirates life for me!”

Hey Everybody! Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com. Sorry it’s been so long since my last review. Between work and the madness of the holidays there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for me to get these reviews out. However, I am excited for the next few upcoming months as I will be doing a series of retrospectives on some of my favorite movies and episodes of anime and TV shows so I hope you’ll tune in for those when they come out.

Today we’ll be taking a look back at a movie from the early 2000s in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It’s rather strange for me to review a movie that I saw as a kid as a “Golden Oldy”. Kind of reminds me how old I am now I guess. But here’s a bit of backstory on this movie: The year is 2003. Hollywood has just started to recover from the dark reign of disaster epics like Independence Day, Deep Impact, and Twister. Movies are starting to feel fun again with the appearance of fantasy epics like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises, and are starting to see hopeful characters in the form of Spiderman and the X-Men movies.
It is a time when ideas that Hollywood execs would have laughed out of the building on principle five years before are becoming the golden children of the cinema. Yet despite that, the idea that inspired this movie was so corny that even I would have had doubts about allowing it to be made. I mean really, a movie about pirates based off of an amusement park ride? Are you serious? To make matters worse, the pirate genre as a whole had not performed well up to that point. The most recent wide releases of the genre—1999s Treasure Island by Peter Rowe and Disney’s Treasure Planet, also 1999—did not perform well at the box office and the last one that did decently was 1996s Muppet Treasure Island (hardly a serious pirate movie). So it was generally assumed that this Disney movie based on a (rather boring if we’re being honest) amusement park ride, would be a flop just like all the others.

Yet somehow, amid all the naysaying, it managed to become the fourth highest grossing movie of the year in a year that included blockbusters like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Finding Nemo. And its success wasn’t just commercial but critical as well. Johnny Depp even received an Oscar nomination for his iconic performance as Captain Jack Sparrow.  How was this possible? Had popular culture just lost their collective minds to temporary insanity or was this film truly that good? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.

So what’s the plot? Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is a drunken wandering buccaneer who winds up in the coastal settlement of Port Royal while looking for his ship. In the process of searching for a vessel to stea- er…commandeer, he ends up saving the lovely daughter of Port Royal’s governor, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly), from drowning. Unfortunately, the locals don’t take kindly to pirates wandering around their town and in spite of his good deed Jack is arrested and sentenced to hang. Fortunately for him, the town is attacked shortly thereafter by a group of much less friendly marauders from the mythical and eponymous Black Pearl. The pirates, led by the savvy Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), kidnap Elizabeth who is in possession of a gold piece that seems to be particularly valuable to them. Jack pursues the seafaring raiders with the aid of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a childhood friend of Elizabeth’s, leading them across the sea in an adventure with swords, guns, and an undead curse for good measure.

There’s a common misconception in Hollywood and among storytellers in general, that if you make a story more complicated then it magically becomes a better story because they think they’re adding complexity. But the reality is that complicated and complex stories are two different things.  Imagine if you were packing up a box with ping pong balls until you completely covered the bottom of the box. But rather than fill up the entire box, you went to get another box and only filled the bottom of that box as well. That’s making things more complicated.

Curse of the Black Pearl is an example of the opposite case. It takes a relatively simple premise—cursed pirates wish to lift said curse—and takes full advantage of it by giving the different characters personality and conflicting motives. Jack’s desire to reclaim the Black Pearl at any costs butts up against Will’s simple desire to rescue Elizabeth and return home and Barbossa’s desire to be rid of the curse that has plagued him for ten years. Any competent storyteller will tell you that the core of drama is conflict. The more conflict there is between the characters, the more drama is derived. Of course, as is the case with later entries in the Pirates franchise, this principle can be used too much or used poorly. However, Black Pearl succeeds at hitting the right balance of drama between the characters and their personalities that made us all fall in love with the franchise when it first appeared.

And speaking of characters, this movie revels in creating fun characters with great personality. Some of them can be pretty rote—such as Will and an annoyingly stern Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport)—but their dryness is more than made up for by the other pirates. Standouts include Mr. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) the classic yarn-spinning seafarer, and Pintel and Ragetti (Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook respectively) a sort of pirate version of Laurel and Hardy. The other pirates don’t get as much screen-time but are equally memorable if only by virtue of their designs.

The real jewels of this cast though are obviously Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush’s turn as Barbossa. Seriously, these characters are so well written and acted that they own every scene they’re in. Much has been written and said about Jack Sparrow and Johnny Depp’s rather unique take on the typical pirate Captain, and there’s little I think I can add to that conversation so I won’t belabor the point. However, if a hero is only as good as his villain then Jack Sparrow was well served to have Barbossa as his antagonist. I’m personally of the opinion that Geoffrey Rush is one of the most underrated actors of his generation and Barbossa is a major reason why. He helps turn what could have been a rather cartoonish bad-guy (cough Lone Ranger cough) into a menacing, unyielding, yet strangely sympathetic villain who wants to feel the joys of life again. Also, he manages to say the classic pirate “Aaaarrrgghh” line and have neither himself nor the audience crack up at it. That takes some good acting to pull off.

Beyond this though, the movie is possessing of some really fun action, with swashbuckling sword fights that are very well choreographed and a ship to ship battle the scale of which is reminiscent of pirate films of yesteryear like Seahawk and Captain Blood. I especially love the attention to detail during these scenes. For instance, if you’re paying attention, you can see the trails of musket shot and cannon balls rocketing over the characters heads. Details like this help lend the entire film an atmosphere of excitement and thrills that is hard to find in movies today.

That said it’s not a perfect movie. For one thing, the character of Commodore Norrington isn’t interesting in the slightest. Granted it’d be tough for him to measure up against the likes of Jack and Barbossa but as a secondary antagonist he falls prey to severe blandness until the last five minutes and is a pretty stereotypical British (rolling the “r” there) Colonial type that Hollywood loves to portray as having zero emotions because he’s so “civil”. That kind of portrayal being a personal pet peeve of mine I didn’t care for him at all despite the potential he had to be an interesting character in his own right. He would get more interesting as a character in later movies but as far as this one is concerned he just fell flat.

A similar situation could be said for Will Turner, who definitely has a more interesting character arc through the movie but also starts out rather boring, and ultimately makes some really stupid decisions for the sake of advancing the plot, which Jack even points out as being stupid decisions at various points in the film. And just to be clear, when a film admits that something about itself is stupid or incompetent does not make it any less stupid or incompetent. Admitting it means the filmmakers knew it was stupid or incompetent and did it anyway! I don’t hold that against this film but it is an observation of films in general these days that I have no doubt I’ll be discussing again at some point.

Besides that I will admit that while the action sequences are still a ton of fun to watch, the CGI for Black Pearl has not aged well. With the technology we see in movies today, it’s hard not to look at this and see the proverbial strings. Still it was made at a time when the technology we see today was still evolving and to its credit the skeleton pirates in Black Pearl were probably instrumental as a stepping stone to such spectacles as Avatar and the Transformers movies. But it still looks like something you’d see in a PS2 video game cutscene at certain points.


Conclusion: I first watched this movie when I was about twelve years old and at the time my two favorite movies were Hook and The Lord of the Rings so I was the perfect audience for this film. When the end credits came on and the amazing theme song (an impossibly underrated score in my opinion) started playing, the first thing I wanted to do was run outside to the playset in the backyard and duel with my brother on the imaginary spars of a Spanish Galleon, I was so excited.

Fast forward fifteen years and watching it again with the cynicism of adulthood, I definitely see more flaws but the movie that gave me that sense of adventure and excitement is still there and in some ways I enjoy it more now that I am older. And that’s what great adventure movies are supposed to do. They carry you away on that adventure to a place and time where, for a little while at least, your own day-to-day problems don’t matter so much. At one point Jack says that what the Black Pearl means to him is freedom. Freedom to see what lies beyond the horizon that always seems to taunt us with our own curiosity.

For that, I’ll happily board the Black Pearl any day.


So, what did you think of the review? Did you agree or disagree with my analysis? What parts stuck out to you? Let me know all about it on Facebook or in the comments below. Thanks and as always, May the Flick be with You!

Willow: Champion of little people everywhere!

Hey Everybody!

Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com. I apologize for taking so long to write a new review but things have been absolutely crazy for me lately with a lot of moving around happening. When July hits I should be back to a more regular schedule. In the meantime, here’s a review of an old 80s classic, Willow.

To be clear, there won’t be any spoilers in this review beyond the basic plot synopsis and a few necessary details.

Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) is a simple Nelwyn (dwarf) farmer who only wants to look out for his wife and children, even though he aspires to one day be a great sorcerer like the High Aldwin of his village. However, his life is turned upside down when his children come across a Daikini (human) baby girl in the river nearby. It turns out the baby is the key to a prophecy and will bring about the downfall of the evil Queen Bavmorda. When Bavmorda’s agents come looking for her though, Willow sets off on an adventure to bring the little girl to safety with the help of roguish warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), so she can one day save the realm.

This movie does have a lot of problems. The effects are really dated, there are annoying side characters, some of whom make snap decisions without much prior build-up, and at times the movie can have a rather silly tone. With all that said, I still think that this is one of the most fun fantasy movies I’ve ever had the chance to see and a lot of that comes from the story and the world that you find yourself in when you allow yourself to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

A lot of that comes from the texture of the film. In modern movies, filmmakers seem to have a notion that in order for a movie to be classified as a fantasy it has to have unnatural and fantastic creatures that can only be created by CGI. But back in 1988 when this movie was made, the filmmakers didn’t yet have those same advantages. They had stuff like rotoscoping to make things glow (the same technique used for lightsabers) and they could make monsters seem to actually be there using animation, but for the most part they were limited to simple camera tricks and editing for their effects. This forced them to be more creative about how they built their worlds, instead relying on engaging writing and characters to draw the audience in.

Such is the case with Willow where the enjoyment and immersion come from our desire to see the humble, yet plucky hero accomplish his mission; a desire which is only possible because the character is unique and interesting. Warwick Davis, now an acting legend for his roles in such things as the Leprechaun and Harry Potter franchises, gets his first major role here as the titular hero and he makes the most of it, giving Willow Ufgood an everyman feel that many movie heroes wish they had. It’s easy to make your hero a paragon who can do no wrong but Willow feels like an actual person who has to make tough choices like leaving his family, all for an unknown purpose. This also applies to Madmartigan who starts as a rather untrustworthy character when we first meet him, but he’s not unlikeable. This makes his change into a champion of good (big surprise there) more convincing.

In addition, the Nelwyn village only engrosses you further. Compared to something like the Munchkin town from Wizard of Oz, this pulls you into the experience because of how it feels like a living, breathing community filled with real people. And while it has some of the usual stereotypes (the bully, the faithful best friend, the wise old leader) it doesn’t delve into those so much that they become boring.

This extends to the rest of the world. Even though we only see so much of this place and it’s never shown on a map, it feels like a place you could believe in with a wide variety of climates ranging from forest, to icy mountains, to the black dead land where Bavmorda’s citadel is.

Admittedly there are some things that don’t work so well. Queen Bavmorda is not really that intimidating as a villain. Jean Marsh who plays her, does a perfectly serviceable job in the part but I personally never found her to be that frightening. She has a hulking henchman who uses a skull for a mask and he is much more intimidating. I think he would have worked better as the primary villain but that’s just me. Also her daughter Sorcha, who is set up as a major secondary villain for the larger part of the film, has one of the quickest heel-turns to the side of good that I’ve ever seen. Not saying that it’s a huge problem but it is a bit head-scratching.

Now we come to the two Brownies, little mouse sized men that talk in loud squeaky voices and travel with Willow after he is given his mission to take the little girl to safety. A word of warning, if you have a hard time with sidekick characters that exist only to provide comedy, then you are going to really, really, reeeaallly hate these two. They were Jar Jar Binks before Jar Jar Binks. They add nothing to the plot, their characters never change, and every time they show up you will likely be counting the seconds until the movie cuts to the more important stuff. Fortunately, their moments don’t last long enough to ruin the movie.

Conclusion: I’d heard about this movie via my mom for a long time. She really likes it. But for whatever reason, I only just discovered it in the last few weeks. And let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fun fantasy adventure with unique interesting characters and a story that provides a nice twist to the ‘chosen one’ storyline. If you like 80s fantasy, or just enjoy fun popcorn flicks with an edgier feel than Disney, I’d highly recommend giving this one a look.

For those of you who’ve already seen this movie, what did you think of it? Did you like it or were you disappointed? Let me know in the comments section below or let me know on twitter or facebook. Have a great week and as always, May the Flick be with You!

Batman and Robin: The Trainwreck to end all Trainwrecks

Hey Everybody! Welcome to another review at Flickmuncher.com. I apologize for getting this review up so late. Things have been particularly crazy this last week. I will be putting up my Jungle Book review tomorrow at the usual schedule.

Today I’m going back in time to look at the movie that singlehandedly changed an industry and is widely recognized among movie-goers as a singularly unusual achievement and will forever be remembered both by those who worked on it and those who watched it. So without further ado, I give you Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.

Hmhmhmhmhehehehaheeheeehahahaha ohohohohoho heheheeehehehe, ahah-hah-hah!

Excuse me while I catch my breath [wheezing].

My apologies for that opening line of hideously written laughter. I have a tendency whenever I watch this film to fall into episodes of Jokerish insanity. For the sake of all of you out there I will try to avoid this happening again. But I make no promises!

So what about this film inspired me to become a full-blown psychotic(which, for those who know me, doesn’t take that much doing)? Well, let’s take a look at the story first.

The film surrounds the adventures of our titular duo as they fight crime throughout Gotham City, whose artists seem strangely obsessed with neon paint for some reason. A new supervillain appears, calling himself Mr. Freeze(Arnold Schwarzenegger) who plans to freeze Gotham and hold it for ransom. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a botanist by the name of Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman) appears with a desire to eliminate all living animals [read: people] from first Gotham “and then THE WORLD!” As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that Batman’s faithful butler Alfred (Micheal Gough) is dying from a degenerative disease right as his niece Barbara shows up on Wayne Manor’s doorstep. On top of all this Robin(Chris O’Donnell) has decided he is tired of living in Batman(George Clooney)’s shadow which leads to a division between our dynamic duo.

I first saw this movie in 1998 while on a trip to Washington D.C. with my Grandpa. I was six at the time and my exposure to film at that point was largely limited to Disney flicks, old World War II films, and Westerns. So I was watching television after a long day of seeing the sights and Batman and Robin was on. Being a young, impressionable lad I completely ate it up. I loved the neon colors and semi-gothic CGI sets even though I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening on the screen. Looking back on it now almost twenty years later though, I appreciate this film in an entirely new manner.

Batman and Robin has a reputation among many movie-lovers as an abomination that should never have come into existence and has no redeeming features whatsoever and helped to ruin a much beloved franchise. It is a film that is so terrible, sooo glorious in how bad it is that, strangely enough, it can actually be entertaining at times. But first lets look at the stuff that is legitimately terrible.

Let’s start with the action. As a super-hero movie you can expect a fair amount of action and boy is the action in this movie terrible. Batman and Robin fly around the screen like amateur trapeze artists. You can even see the wires in several shots. Now I’ve seen wirework in action movies done quite well. The X-Men franchise is a great example. Another thing is how, in the opening sequence of the movie, the Dynamic Duo is fighting Mr. Freeze and his goons in a museum that has been completely iced over. What starts as a rather mundane action sequence turns into a bizarre—yet no less violent—hockey game that uses a ridiculously large diamond as the puck. I feel sorry for Canadians everywhere who probably had to pick their collective jaws off the floor from the absurdity.

It doesn’t get much better going forward. There’re only three other major action sequences all of which feature the same boring wire-work and fake punches that are uninteresting to watch.

Then there are the subplots. Oh, the many, many subplots. I’ve already given a rundown on some of these in the story summary so I won’t waste time by repeating myself. To be clear, I’m not against subplots on principle. In many cases they can be quite useful in enriching the overall narrative and adding moments of characterization that the main story wouldn’t normally allow for. However, too many subplots can cause your story to lose focus and become less engaging for the audience. Such is the case with Batman and Robin. The subplot with Alfred is understandable because of how it ties back into Mr. Freeze and his attempts to find a cure for the disease afflicting both his wife and Alfred. But the Robin, and Batgirl subplots really add nothing to either the plot or the characters. In fact, I’m pretty sure Robin’s subplot makes him look worse as he ends up acting more like a petulant child than the Batman’s reliable partner. And as for Batgirl, why was she in this movie again? I’m serious, I honestly can’t think why she would be in this movie.

It doesn’t help that Alicia Silverstone’s is barely given anything to do beyond look cool and be Batgirl which is no fun for us as an audience. Speaking of acting though, that’s another thing that’s terribly lacking throughout this movie. Most of the cast knew how bad of a movie this was and so most of them just sound like they’re reading lines from a script and that’s because…they are just reading lines from a script. This is the movie where George Clooney famously quoted after filming wrapped, “Well, that was a disaster.”

The one bright spot in all of this is Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. His puns in this film are the stuff of legend. Remembered by movie-goers long after the movie is over.

Yes they are absurd and corny to listen to but Schwarzenegger delivers them with such conviction that I’m personally convinced he was the only one having fun filming this movie. He’s like that kid who thinks, “Oh my gosh, I’m actually in a Batman film” and then makes the most out of everything he’s given. He just wants to enjoy himself in spite of how terrible the part was written.

Contrast that to Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. She has arguably as many puns as Freeze does but she just looks bored in her delivery. On top of Thurman’s delivery is the notion of Poison Ivy as a character which basically makes her into a pretty eco-terrorist with little to no motivation for actions like attempting to kill Nora Freeze or seducing Robin or Batman. It’s similar to my issue with Batgirl. Why is Poison Ivy in this movie? What does she add that couldn’t have been accomplished with just Mr. Freeze? I will admit though that I was glad she was admitted for one reason:

John Glover who plays Dr. Woodrue is AMAZING! When I rewatched the movie for this review I had to pause the video because I could not stop laughing at his psychotic scream when he kills Pamela Isley. He falls into the category of being so over-the-top crazy that if this was a comedy, he would be the funniest character in the entire film. For that matter, he is the funniest character and he’s only in the film for two minutes.

Then there’s Micheal Gough as Alfred. I feel bad for the poor man. He was with the Batman franchise right to the end when Joel Schumacher drove it straight off a cliff. He’s since passed away, but I can only imagine what it must have been like watching something that he put so much time and effort become a parody of itself. In any event he still attempted to bring a modicum of dignity to his performance as Alfred and I respect his tenacity if not the results.

Finally, there’s the set design and to be honest some of it actually looks quite interesting with the gothic underpinnings that Gotham became famous for with Batman ‘89. However, this was done at a time when studios were doing everything, especially backgrounds and environments in complete CGI, probably resulting from the success of Independence Day which came out a year before this. And to be honest, there are some shots that are so terribly rendered that they are almost painful to look at because you can tell right off the bat(hahaha, bat-pun, heeheehee. Ahem, excuse me) that everything on screen was generated in a computer. The big deal with this is that CGI is dependent on you as an audience member accepting what you’re seeing on screen even when you know it isn’t real. It’s a visual type of “suspension-of-disbelief”. That’s why movies like Avatar work so well. When you cease to accept it, then the CGI is completely pointless because you’re no longer engaged in the experience.


So is Batman and Robin a terrible film? Absolutely! But I don’t think that means its entirely without merit. No movie is completely terrible just as no movie is completely perfect. Citizen Kane, widely regarded among movie critics as the best movie ever written has a major flaw. The titular Kane says his final word, “Rosebud” on his deathbed. Everyone spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out what that last word meant. The only problem with this is that if you watch the movie, no one was in the room to hear him say that last word, making the entire story a moot point.

Batman and Robin is an awful film but I think its biggest crime is that it is just boring. Beyond a few bright spots that I mentioned earlier, it just is uninteresting. Yet those bright spots still exist, just as the flaws in Citizen Kane still exist.To deny that fact would be completely hypocritical when deciding what makes a movie worth our time.

Also, I think fans and casual movie-goers alike owe this film a debt of gratitude. Its well known that Batman and Robin was a box-office bomb that killed the Batman franchise as well as superhero movies in general for the next five years. But people forget that at the time Superhero franchises weren’t about the movies; they were about how many toys they could market from those movies. This movie effectively killed the idea of superhero movies as large toy commercials and when they did come back, we got the X-Men, Spiderman, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Would any of those have happened if Batman and Robin had been a hit? I don’t think so. At least, not as we know them today.

So the next time you see a super-hero movie that you’re really enjoying and then see someone bash Batman and Robin you might want to remember that you owe the existence of that good film to a movie you might hate. I certainly will, and for that I will always hold a special spot for this candy-colored trainwreck of a movie.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see a therapist for these psychotic episodes!

What do you think of Batman and Robin? Let me know in the comments below or contact me on twitter @Lightwielder524. Have a great day and, as always, May the Flick be with You!

The Mask of Zorro Review: A Film out of its time

Antonio Banderas stars as Zorro, the gallant bandit-turned-hero who saves his people from the hands of the evil Don Rafael Montero in the TriStar Pictures presentation, The Mask of Zorro. Distributed by Columbia TriStar Films (UK). Motion Picture Artwork & Photography 1998 TriStar Pictures Inc. All rights reserved. Copyright Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.1998. All rights reserved. Permission granted for reproduction in newspapers and periodicals only. Use of this photograph in books, retrospectives or biographies, or in connection with the sale or advertising of posters or any other production or service, or in any other manner not expressly permitted herein, is prohibited except with the written permission of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. Photo credit: Rico Torres The Mask of Zorro will be released by Columbia TriStar Films (UK) on Friday 11th December 1998 across the UK. UK.

Hey, everyone! Welcome to this review of The Mask of Zorro (1998). For the sake of those who’ve not seen this movie I will avoid giving away any spoilers for the movie so you can enjoy it for yourselves.

To give some background on this movie, Zorro is a character who was created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley. Set in California and Mexico during the 1840s, Zorro stories detailed stories of the young, foppish, bumbling nobleman Don Diego de la Vega as he fights for the common folk of his land against their corrupt governors as the dashing and daring black-cloaked outlaw, Zorro.

Taking obvious inspiration for the character from such literary legends as Robin Hood, The Scarlett Pimpernel, and others, Zorro first appeared in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. Pulp magazines were an inexpensive form of enterainment back in the early 20th century, operating similarly to how television works today, and were often heavily serialized.

Flickmuncher MoZ image 8

What made Zorro truly famous however, was his first film appearance in The Mark of Zorro, a silent film in 1920. Made by the great Douglas Fairbanks it showed off and action rogue who had charisma, mystery, and was fun to watch and audiences loved it. The Mark of Zorro is often credited as setting the standard for action films throughout the remainder of the century. So why is this important?

Well, like all great characters and properties, Zorro has had his ups and downs. He saw much popularity through the 20s and 30s as Fairbanks continued to play the character but after 1940 he disappeared from the public eye (possibly due to the culture of World War II that had been established in America at the time) and a new Zorro movie was not released until 1958. From there through the 60s and 70s, the Zorro franchise only saw middling reception from audiences who had moved on from him to anti-heroes like Dirty Harry. Zorro was no longer cool. He was a cliché; a relic.

By the 1980s, Zorro had become little more than a punch line, inspiring a parody of the character by George Hamilton called Zorro, the Gay Blade. From that point it looked as though Zorro was fated to ride off into the sunset to be forgotten. But in 1996 the film rights for Zorro were picked up by Steven Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment.

Working with TriStar they started working on producing a film that would make Zorro more of a down-to-earth hero where Don Diego would pass the torch to a new generation. The new film went through a number of production hiccups and several directors (including a young Robert Rodriguez) before settling on Martin Campbell, with Anthony Hopkins [fresh off of Silence of the Lambs and Amistad] as Don Diego and mexican actor Antonio Banderez as the new Zorro. The result of their efforts was the film called The Mask of Zorro, released in 1998.

Let me make this absolutely clear. I. LOVE. THIS FILM. It is one of my personal favorite action movies of all time, mixing a dramatic and heartfelt revenge story with exciting sword-fights and horse chases that keep you invested straight from the get go. Is it perfect? No, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

The movie starts with Zorro’s(Anthony Hopkins) quest to defeat his sworn-enemy, Governor Don Rafael Montero(Stuart Wilson), seemingly over as Montero is forced to leave California. Zorro returns home to retire his mantle and live out the rest of his days as Don Diego de la Vega with his wife and their child, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Montero however, refuses to leave without a parting shot that leaves Don Diego’s life in ruins. Twenty years later, Montero returns with some new design for California. Determined to stop him and claim his revenge and his long-lost daughter, Don Diego escapes and enlists the help of a young former thief named Alejandro Murrieta(Antonio Banderas) who he trains to become his successor as the new Zorro.

Flickmuncher MoZ image 9

The characters in this movie are amazing, especially Alejandro and Don Diego. Banderas is great as the well-meaning buffoonish thief who still has an edge to him that makes him human. His comedy chops are impressive and help to lend a good deal of levity to a film that has a lot of very dark elements. Anthony Hopkins is terrific as always playing the tormented Don Diego, though he’s not given as much room to work with as Banderas. He goes from rage when facing Montero, to calm control as he’s training Alejandro, to subtle regret in his scenes with Elena. It’s a very well done performance and gives and understanding of the mindset of a man who has had his whole life torn apart after giving years of his life to helping the people.

Of course, our heroes are only as good as the villains they face. While Stuart Wilson as Montero is an enjoyable, he sometimes feels like a bit of a Bond villain that does things simply because he wants power and because he’s the sworn enemy of Zorro. Fortunately, this is made up for by Matt Letscher as Cavalry Captain Harrison Love. He brings with him a brutal menace and a dark sadism that makes him very intimidating and a great opponent for the new brash Zorro.

Flickmuncher MoZ image 3

That brings me to another great thing about this movie: the action. The sword choreography was done by a man named Bob Anderson, a swordsman who trained movie fighters for everything from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back to eventually training the fighters in The Lord of the Rings. It has a dance like quality to it that still feels real based on the energy of the characters and the situation. In addition to the phenomenal sword-fights, there’s a really fun horse chase that harkens back to the old days of movie stunt-work where stunt-men were continually risking life and limb to get the best shot on camera, and it shows a great deal of how much of this movie was done practically with live sets instead of CGI. This is significant because when Mask of Zorro was made, movies were in a period of time during the late 1990s where entire films all about the special effects. Disaster movies such as Independence Day, Godzilla, Armageddon and many others were created around the computer generated imagery, thinking that all they had to do to make a profit for their movies was to give the audience what amounted to a glorified light show. You can make the argument we’re seeing that again with movies like the Transformers films but that’s a conversation for another time.

By using largely practical stunt work and effects—including the largest actual explosion ever filmed at the time—The Mask of Zorro felt, for lack of a better term, more real. The stuntwork is such that you believe a guy in a black cloak and mask could do the things that you’re seeing. That’s the key to a successful illusion; what filmmakers and storytellers refer to as ‘suspension of disbelief’.

All of this is complemented by the authenticity of the set design and a beautiful score by James Horner (known for his work on movies such as Titanic, Apollo 13, and Braveheart). The score has a Latin-esque feel to it that sounds like an homage to the romantic delusions of the old school heroes that Zorro often personified.

So now that I’ve gushed about how great this movie is, what problems could it possibly have?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, Montero as the main villain lands with a bit of a thud, often being outdone by his more menacing lieutenant, Captain Love. This is further complicated by an evil plan that is not entirely clear beyond how our villains intend to fulfill their plot.

The other major problem with this movie lies in Catherine Zeta-Jones as Elena, Don Diego’s lost daughter. She’s the obvious love-interest for our hero and she plays a very vital role in the plot that I won’t spoil for you. However, she’s never given much development as a character. That is to say, she doesn’t make choices because of who she is, but rather because the plot says that’s what she was supposed to do. This is not a slight against Zeta-Jones’ acting ability—she has several scenes that she manages to convey a lot of emotion—but more the script she was given. It feels as if the writers didn’t have enough time to properly flesh her out when the project was in the cutting room for editing.

Flickmuncher MoZ image 7

Also, remember how I went on about the score earlier? Well, the end credits don’t have the score on them. Instead they have a “hip” lyrical soundtrack in a way that was very popular back in the 90s, especially after Celine Dion did her number on Titanic. I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way, but whenever I watch a movie from the 90s, I always cringe whenever the titles start and one of those soundtracks starts. It’s become like a reflex action.

Overall, as a film, The Mask of Zorro is a flawed but fun action-adventure movie with exciting sword-fights and interesting characters that I would wholeheartedly recommend for anyone who hasn’t seen it. For those of you who have seen it, do you agree with me? What is your opinion on this movie?

Next Week: We shoot into the current popular dystopian young adult fictional adaptation where you’re entire future is determined by your Meyer’s-Briggs test with The Divergent Series: Allegiant 

What do you guys think of the reviews so far? Is there an older movie you’d like to see me review? Let me know in the comment section below or find me on Twitter @LightWielder524

Have a great week and as always, May the Flick be with you!

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Flickmuncher DaF poster

WARNING – If you havent seen this movie there will be SPOILERS in this review.

Soooo…here’s a bit of a disclaimer before I begin this review.

I don’t believe I’m an inherently negative person. I attempt to approach each review with a balanced view of what I think works while acknowledging—but not dwelling too heavily—on the things in every movie that don’t work so well. As I’ve stated before, the purpose of this site is to promote conversation about the value of movies that we love in a fashion that showcases their strengths and flaws equally.

That having been said, this was a tough movie for me to review. It is a slog to get through and though it has many cool, intriguing parts composing it they are completely wasted in the film as a whole.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s the story?

The film starts with James Bond (Sean Connery) following up leads rather violently as he hunts for his arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), culminating in a short scene where Bond shoves Blofeld into a pit of boiling-hot mud before the opening credits roll. Then Bond is off on his next mission, infiltrating a South African diamond smuggling ring in which key members are being systematically killed off. On the way, he comes into contact with one of the members of the ring, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), who agrees to help Bond find out who is killing off the ring members. They embark on a trip involving casinos, gangsters, reclusive billionaires, and orbital death-rays. Just another day on the job for 007.

Oookay, where do I start with this? How about with the things that I genuinely liked about this movie.

I will freely admit that I’m a huge Sean Connery fan, for more than just his work in the James Bond series. His turn as Captain Marco Ramius in Hunt for Red October is one of my personal favorites and he’s a scene stealer in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as Jones Sr. He is arguably the best thing in this movie despite being saddled with a somewhat stilted script and an ultimately uninteresting plot. Over the years people have talked about who played James Bond the best in his astounding twenty-five appearances on the silver screen. Whether it’s the suave, cavalier attitudes of Pierce Brosnan, the adventursome antics of Roger Moore, or gritty, flawed intelligence agent of Daniel Craig, everyone has a version of the character that they prefer. Connery is my personal favorite because in my opinion, he has all the qualities that made Bond such an established character. He was the suave international man of mystery, spouting one-liners at every turn. He was the cold intelligence agent who would shoot a man in his bedroom and not give it a second thought. And as his time went on, he showed Bond to be a man dealing with a great deal of anger. Why this is, I’ll get into later.

Flickmuncher DaF image 3

Regardless, Connery is the man who makes this movie work, so far as he is able, and its a credit to his skills as an actor that he can do so without much support from the rest of the cast and crew. One exception to this, however, is Jill St. John as Tiffany Case. Her chemistry with Connery is a lot of fun to watch as they get in and out of trouble together. Sadly, there isn’t enough time in the film where the two of them are together. Plus, the last fifteen minutes of the film make what had been an engaging female lead into a complete dunderhead who can’t do anything right. At one point Bond even calls her a “twit” for a particularly frustrating mistake.

That leads me to the climax of the film, which really impressed me. Not that the climax itself is anything special, even as Bond films go. It isn’t. But what impressed me was what they did for their climax. The final battle takes place on an oil rig somewhere in the Pacific ocean that ends up getting blown sky high. “That’s not so impressive,” you say. “I’ve seen entire cities destroyed on film. I watched INDEPENDENCE DAY!!” True, much bigger things have been blown up on the silver screen but in 1971, they didn’t have CGI where they could blow just about anything up and make it look real. They either had to do it with scale models—which they often did for the bigger explosions—or they had to do it for real. In the case of Diamonds are Forever it looks like they actually blew up an oil rig which isn’t something that I could see a studio going to the expense to do in today’s era. For that, I have to give them major credit.

Flickmuncher DaF image 5

Also, the premise of Bond infiltrating a diamond smuggling ring to find out who is taking out the members is a rather intriguing one that I would have liked to see explored. Unfortunately, that brings me to the movie’s biggest problem, it’s plot.


I could go on for days about the problems with this movie’s plot and my specific frustrations with it. But for the sake of brevity and my own personal sanity, I’ll do my best to be concise.

The movie suffers from a plot that is unnecessarily complicated and adds little to the overall experience. I realize that intricate plots are par-for-the-course in the spy movie genre but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the watching experience. While some movies are intentionally confusing for the audience—such as psychological thrillers and horror movies—in order to evoke a more emotional response, this is the type of confusing narrative that takes you out of the experience. It was genuinely challenging to figure out what each character was after and who they were connected to and how. Half-way through the film, I wasn’t even sure what Bond was after besides the vague “find the bad guy and stop him” cliché. Getting thrown out of the experience like that is something that should never happen in a good film.

In addition, the villain’s plot is so silly as to be cartoonish: holding the entire United States for ransom using an orbital death-ray powered by diamonds. That sounds like something Doctor Claw from the Inspector Gadget series would come up with. For a film that starts with a very down-to-earth premise, the evil plot feels like it doesn’t belong in the same movie.

Flickmuncher DaF image 4
Yes, that is the actual death-ray in the film.

Furthermore, many elements that would be great if they were handled in the right way feel awkward or out of place here. For example, in the opening with Blofeld, the film sets up that he’s been working on creating a set of doppelgangers for himself. After Bond seemingly kills him in the opening, Blofeld then reappears later, revealing that he was successful in creating doubles for himself including the “Blofeld” killed in the opening.


The possibilities of this are quite exciting. How does our hero kill a man who has multiple copies of himself? Even if he kills them both, they could both be doubles doing Blofeld’s will and the real one is still out there. It makes him a much more dangerous villain.

Flickmuncher DaF image 2

But the filmmakers get rid of the concept as quickly as they introduce it. Bond kills the double and the real Blofeld flees to his secret location for the climax.

Speaking of locations, the James Bond series has always showcased a wide variety of fabulous locations in its films. It’s sort of like watching a sight-seeing tour through the eyes of a secret agent. Unfortunately, the locations in this film are bland and uninteresting. First we’re in Amsterdam briefly, then we go to Las Vegas and the Nevada desert, then a non-descript oil rig in the Pacific. Hardly the most exciting locales to see 007 navigate. Compare this to Macau and the Scottish Highlands in Skyfall and you can see what I’m talking about.

All of these points, good and bad, make for an uneven film that is too difficult to fully enjoy and while the performance and chemistry of the leads is certainly enjoyable, there isn’t enough of them to offset all the other problems that the film has. Which is a shame because it had been set up so well by the films that had preceeded it.

Flickmuncher DaF image 6

Prior to this movie, the conflict between Bond and Blofeld had been set up as far back as Thunderball, the fourth movie in the series. This conflict came to a head in You only Live Twice and On her Majesty’s Secret Service, the two movies prior to this one. In Her Majesty’s Secret Service Blofeld delivers to Bond the worst hit he takes in the entire series up until Casino Royale three decades later. He kills James Bond’s wife right after they’ve been newly married. That moment is the impetus for the entire opening sequence of Diamonds Are Forever and informs much of Bond’s behavior throughout the rest of the film. Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen the previous two movies, you won’t know any of this because it’s never mentioned in the actual film itself.

For that reason, I would say that this is only a necessary watch as the last part of what I refer to as “The Blofeld Trilogy”, and that only as a completion of the overarching conflict between Bond and Blofeld. Otherwise, unless you’re a huge James Bond fan, I’d consider On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to be a better use of your time.

Next Week: We go to ancient Egypt in a tale of great deities, brave heroes, fierce monsters, and lots and lots of shiny CGI in Gods of Egypt!

Flickmuncher GoE poster 2

As always I’d love to hear your thoughts on this or any movie. What James Bond movies do you like and why? Do you disagree with my review? Are there any movies you would like to see me review? Let me know in the comments section or find me on twitter @LightWielder524. Until then, have a great week and May the Flick be with you!

Pirates of Penzance (1983) Review

Flickmuncher image PoP poster
So, I first discovered this movie back in the summer of 2015. I was with my Mom and few of my brothers and sisters looking around the local library, and I happened to come across a copy of it on the shelf. Since I didn’t have anything else on my plate and I like musicals I thought it might be fun.
I took it home and watched it with some of the family. And was almost in tears of laughter by the time it was over. Granted, I’m a guy who likes to laugh a bit more often than is probably good for me—I have frequent cases of euphoria-induced hypoxia, or lightheadedness and headaches due to lack of oxygen from laughing too hard—but still it was a genuinely funny movie.
By now you might be thinking, what exactly is Pirates of Penzance? Well, most of you have probably heard the names Gilbert & Sullivan at some point but for those of you who haven’t here’s the basic 411. W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were two English composers that worked on a series of comedic operas back between 1871 and 1896, right at the height of the Victorian Era. Pirates of Penzance was one of their most popular musicals and chances are that you’ve heard some form of their music in your life. Example: “I am the very model of a modern Major General” is a major music piece from this musical.
There have been a couple adaptations of the Pirates of Penzance musical, including one simply titled The Pirate Movie! (1982) and a german version made in 1968 called Die Piraten. However, I know little about these earlier versions and so my review will not involve them.
The Pirates of Penzance follows a pretty simple premise. A pirate apprentice in Victorian England has just been released from his duties to the titular pirate band, now that he has turned 21. Having been apprenticed to the band accidentally, he resolves to them that once he returns to shore, he will see that they are hunted down as all pirates should be. However, upon his arrival he comes upon the seven daughters of an utterly incompetent major general and falls in love with one of them. The pirates, on a raid, come across them and hijinks ensue.
Flickmuncher image PoP coast
The film itself is very silly and is based on a 1980 broadway play. Part of what makes it so funny, I found, is that even for a film based on a play that was intended to be a comedy, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It simply revels in the ridiculousness of what is going on and allows you to relax without trying to follow it too closely. Even the designs of the sets give the impression of being filmed on a broadway stage and while it’s not a cinematic masterpiece, that’s not what it was trying to be. The whole thing has a silly whimsical attitude that you can find in everything from the acting to the lighting and set design, and makes for a much more easy-going watching atmosphere.
That said, it does follow a certain brand of humor that is more implied than outright stated. Many of the jokes and lines are straight from the original play and will likely have you scratching your head trying to figure them out if you’re not familiar with that humor. For that reason I do recommend watching it with subtitles, especially for the songs, as many of the jokes in them come and go extremely fast.
Speaking of songs, some of them do tend to overstay their welcome a bit, dragging on much longer than I would personally have liked(Yes, I’m looking at you Linda Rondstadt). However, the filmmakers seem to realize this and do manage make a bit of a joke out of it. Overall though, the songs are very entertaining and witty and’ll have you running for google in most of them.
Flickmuncher image PoP songs
Acting wise this film does have some real great talent—at least for an 80s movie—and the entire cast pulls off some monumental singing bits with such energy that they will have you wanting to cheer by the time those numbers end. Angela Lansbury—Mrs. Potts from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—is also present for some fun numbers but doesn’t get as much to do as I might have liked. The real star of the show though, is Kevin Kline as the Pirate King.
At the time this was only his second major movie but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. He embodies the energy of the cast that I mentioned earlier. Even when he isn’t the focus of a scene, he still manages to make you laugh simply because of the glee with which he does everything in this movie.
Flickmuncher image PoP pirate king
All in all this is a fun movie. Is it silly? Yes. Is it corny and ridiculous? Definitely, but that is all part of its charm. Many movies are silly and corny and don’t work because they want us as audience members to believe that they are supposed to be taken seriously when they don’t believe seriously in their own product. Pirates works because it knows it’s silly and everyone in the film embraces the silliness, making it easier for us as the audience to embrace it as well.
Is it the funniest movie ever? No. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. I’d even go so far as to say it requires a second viewing if you want to get the most out of the experience. If you like some old-school humor in a stage-play package with some fun well-written songs as an entrée I’d recommend checking this one out. You can probably get it from Amazon or rent it from Netflix if you don’t want to keep it.
Next week: We take a look at the “merc with a mouth” and just what exactly he plans on doing with that mouth of his, with 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool.

Flickmuncher image deadpool poster

Have a great week and may the flick be with you!
%d bloggers like this: