Movie Reviews

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Zorro Rides Again (1937)

 Back during the Golden Age of Hollywood, there was an unique form of the cinematic experience that came to an end during the 1950's. This was the movie serial. Serials differed from regular movies in that they were shown at the rate of a chapter every week as opposed to all at once which is what most folks expect from movies. These chapters were generally in the 10-20 minute range with most serials being in the form of 15 minute chapters. There were usually 12 chapters to a serial with every chapter except for the final one ending in a cliffhanger. The serial chapters were usually shown as part of a matinee bill that included film shorts and cartoons as well as a feature that usually about an hour long, give or take 5-10 minutes.


One good example of a movie serial is the 1937 Republic Pictures effort, Zorro Rides Again starring John Carroll as the masked man in black. However, this Zorro is not the Zorro that many of you grew up with. This Zorro is a direct descendant of the Zorro who defended the peasantry of Southern California against the evil overlords (the Capitan and Sergeant Garcia) in the 1820's. As such, this was a Zorro who lived in the Great Depression where there was Six-Guns, airplanes, machine guns, railroads, automobiles, radios and other forms of weaponry and gadgetry that the original Zorro could only dream about. Another difference is that James Vega aka Zorro is the main investor in the California-Yucatan Railroad that the evil "financial pirate" Marsden is attempting to take over by hook or by crook. Yet another difference is that the mask worn by this Zorro covers his entire face.


Zorro Rides Again takes you back to the days of fun-filled shoot them ups and buckaroo cowboys. This movie also features the stunt work for which Republic productions were famous for including the incredible work of veteran stunt man Yakima Canutt. This movie was an unusually well written serial with the first 11 eleven chapters all ending in thrilling cliffhangers, many of which were pretty innovative. John Carroll makes a great modern day Zorro. There is also great location photography and a good cast of supporting actors. One of these, Duncan Renaldo, is a great co-star in this movie in a role that is highly similar to the Cisco Kid character that he played on TV in the 1950's. This movie is a rousing action movie on par with many of the best action flicks of today.


The only real drawback to Zorro Rides Again is the fact that Marsden (Noah Beery, Sr.) is not a particularly effective villain. Marsden is basically a mild mannered sort who keeps to his office and only appears in the scenes where he transmits instructions to his chief lieutenant in the field, El Lobo (Richard Alexander). It is unclear why Marsden goes to the lengths that he does to sabotage the California-Yucatan Railroad when it would be much cheaper to buy it from its investors. Considering the fact that he has some two dozen or so men in the field, it must have been quite a financial burden on Marsden to try to sabotage a railroad being built in the middle of the Depression.

Still, despite this drawback, Zorro Rides Again is a good movie well worth your time. 

Gone With the Wind (1939)

 Some time back, the American Film Institute released its list of the 100 best American films of all time. Not surprisingly, Gone with the Wind placed in the Top 10 finishing at #4. This was a well-earned showing giving the sheer quality of this magnificent major motion picture.


Gone with the Wind was very closely based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling 1936 book, that has enjoyed vast popularity among the book buying public ever since its original publication. The huge popularity of the original novel, combined with the producer's decision to keep the movie faithful to the novel ensured its everlasting poplarity with the audience. 


The heroine Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) secretly loves Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) who is about to marry the very nice Melanie Hamilton (Olivia De Havilland). When Scarlett tells Ashley that she loves him, Ashley admits that he loves her to, but believes that Melanie will make a much better wife. Soon after this meeting, Scarlett meets the irrepressible Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), the hero who eventually falls in love with her. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara are two similar characters who simultaneously repel and attract one another. For instance, when Scarlett remarks, "You, Sir, are no gentleman," Rhett's smiling, easy response is, "And you're no lady."


While most Hollywood romantic films are about love triangles, Gone with the Wind goes them one better by being about a romantic quadrangle for most of the movie's length. Scarlett loves Ashley whiel Melanie loves both Ashley and Scarlett. Melanie is so blind to the reality of the relationship between Ashley and Scarlett, that she becomes Scarlett's best friend. Rhett loves Scarlett and she loves him yet she does not realize just how much she really is in love with him.


At its core Gone with the Wind is an exercise in nostalgia for the mythical Old South. The film's opening title states: "There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind." 


The surprising thing about Gone with the Wind is just how effective it is over 75 years after its initial release. This is a movie that looks much better than many movies that were made recently. THe dialogue, particularly the exchanges between Scarlett and Rhett is often brilliant. 


Both Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were perfectly cast in their roles. Leigh was just starting out in show biz while Gable had been a big time star for years. 


There were a number ot noteworthy supporting roles with memorable acting performances to go with them. The most significant are Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes and Olivia De Havilland aa Melanie hamilton. Both of them play their roles just right in that they both make a strong impression without stealing the show.


Gone with the Wind was the personal project of legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick. Selznick was the persson who recruited all the talent in this movie, both before and behind the camera. Selznick's passion and drive proved decisive in creating Gone with the Wind and making it the masterpiece that it is.


No movie has ever sold anywhere near as many tickets as Gone with the Wind. Given the current lack of originality that reigns in Hollywood today, its doubtful if any movie will ever break its record. 

300 (2007)

 300 is based on a "graphic novel" aka pretentious and over priced comic book that was done by Frank Miller. Miller is an old hack in comic books who has managed to screw up practically every project that he has ever handled. During the 1980's, he did a graphic novel of Batman calling him "The Dark Knight." Miller's Batman more resembled the kind of person that Adolf Hitler would have had in the Gestapo than the classic comic book character. Miller was also responsible for a series of Daredevil stories that basically trashed one of the more venerable comic book super heroes. Needless to say, whenever Frank Miller is involved in a comic book project, the results are certain to be disappointing to all those who appreciate great comic books.


Such was the case with the original 1999 hardcover comic book aka graphic novel version of 300 . Not only was it poorly drawn and colored, it was extremely vulgar in a homosexual way. Real life Spartan soldiers wore full armor as opposed to running around half naked like they did in Miller's creation. If the Spartans really went about warfare with as little clothing and armor on, as Miller would have you believe, then they would have been slaughtered like cattle. Instead of being synonymous with bravery, the word Spartan would instead be synonymous with stupidity.


300 is equally abysmal in its presentation of the Persian enemy. The Persian Empire was the largest country of all antiquity. Slavery was abolished under Cyrus the Great several decades before Persia attempted to conquer Greece. Meanwhile, for all the talk of "freedom" in 300 , in Greece it was perfectly lawful to own people in bondage. Also, Persian warriors were not the freaks depicted in the movie, nor did their "King of Kings" Xerxes go around with numerous body piercings like some grotesque freak.


The movie version of 300 was made in much the same way that movies such as "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and "Sin City" were made. The flick was filmed at indoor movie studios and in front of green screens. Once the acting was finished, the special effects technicians took over and they inserted the film footage of the actors into a digitally created world. The end result looks just like a Computer Graphics Interface (CGI) movie. In other words, it looks more like a glorified cartoon than a real movie with real actors.


Another problem is that 300 seems like it was planned to have a video game spin off. The battles depicted in this movie are the kind of battles that fit right in on a video game format. The elephants, rhinoceroses and the chained giant look more like video game characters than movie characters. The members of the Persian Army all look like clones of one another.


When you consider that one of the characters is a deformed hunchback ogre who has arms that look like lobster claws, it is impossible to take this grotesque flick as being anything better than a piece of garbage. 300 is truly an ugly movie and is about as involving as watching a video game demo. 300 is a movie to avoid like the plague. 

Damsel (2018)

 There exists a movement that is called "independent cinema" that consists of ultra low budget movies that are mostly released on DVD. Many of these films are supported by grants from foundations that were originally founded to support the arts. All too often, these foundation grants are basically wasted on showy, pretentious projects. Typically these flicks are released movie theaters so that they can avoid getting the "direct to video" label placed on them by reviewers. However, for all practical purposes, they are no different from movies that proudly wear the Direct to Video label. Its all just a matter of marketing. One such flick is the 2018 Western Damsel.


All too often independent Westerns have generally been poorly made affairs that are generally uninteresting. So, what the producers of Damsel did was to promote their movie as being a "Weird Western." Typically, these movies are weird movies that are set in the Old West. Only problem is that there is hardly anything weird going on in Damsel. If anything what you have is sheer boredom.


Damsel is the story of Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson), a wealthy Easterner who travels westwards to marry a lady named Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) who had gone westwards long before him. This was an interesting beginning since in real life, it was common for men to go westwards to become successful and then later on either engage in correspondence with females back East who wanted to come westwards to just simply get a mail order bride. Or the whole family would travel together, It was practically unheard of for females to go first. 


For all their endeavors to make Damsel interesting, what its filmmakers have actually done is create a really boring movie. To be sure, there is a plus side to this movie in the form of both its beautiful cinematography and evocative score. However, the characters in this flick are all poorly drawn and as a result, you just simply do not care about them. The screenplay was written at the middle school level and the direction is simply lacking.


Damsel is part of a pattern in independent Westerns that have been produced during the past several years. There have been a number of grant-supported Westerns that seemed to be in a race for the title of Most Boring Western. Basically, Damsel is an example what might be called a "Twitter Western" that was made solely to get praised on social media by people who have absolutely no idea what a genuinely good Western would actually be like. 


Damsel is a movie that mixes in great cinematography and music with a boring script to create a pretentious motion picture that is boring to behold. As such it cannot be recommended here. 

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