The SUPER MARIO BROS. movie Is SO much better than you think.

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All pictures in this article: Super Mario Bros. copyright 1993  Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.

If you have an opinion at all about the  Super Mario Bros. movie, it’s either that you completely hate it, or you completely love it. There’s no middle road for this 1993 comedy adventure classic starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper.  This is understandable for many reasons. Die hard fans of any made-into-a-movie property are going to feel passionately about it one way or the other. You want to see the movie version of the thing you love “done right”. The problem is video game movies are notorious for “getting it wrong”.

This is not my school of thought, however. I believe that you have to look at the source material of any property that’s been made into a movie, or another form of media besides it’s original, as something completely different (and honestly, I think the same goes for remakes and reboots as well).

Just because the newest version of your favorite movie, comic, or video game, changed in it’s reinterpretation doesn’t mean it ruined your childhood. Just because it isn’t exactly what you had in mind, doesn’t mean it’s not an awesome experience in and of itself.

 

This brings me to Super Mario Bros.

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This movie has all of the perfect, weird makings of a great, early 90s, adventure movie. The premise that they… ended up with, was Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo) have to save Daisy (Samantha Mathis) from the evil King Koopa (Dennis Hopper). Daisy gets kidnapped by a couple of Koopa’s goons and taken through an inter-dimensional portal to a where the humanoid beings are descended from dinosaurs instead of apes. Mario and Luigi follow them through the portal and, naturally, get up to all sorts of high jinks.

The world that’s set up in the movie looks and acts exactly like a post-apocolyptic/future super-mario-bros-movie-004dystopian movie world. It feels like Bladerunner meets Mad Max meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (In fact the 1990 TMNT movie would be a great double feature with Super Mario Bros.). There’s retrofitted technology and strange, otherworldly customs that the Mario brothers must navigate, and which are the cause of any given comedic moment in the movie.

The action sequences are also so classically 90s too. There is minimal CGI so the majority of stunts and special effects are practical. If you replace the SciFi metropolis setting with 1930s Egypt, you’d basically have Indiana JonesAlls I’m sayin is no one complains about the Indiana Jones video games ruining the movies…

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w72780esgvfyI really enjoy the nods to the original source material. I liked how Mario’s super human jumping ability in the games is done with powered jumping boots in the movie. I like the little wind-up Bob-omb, and the fact that mushrooms are growing everywhere. I like the little easter eggs from the games like a sign in the background that says “Bullet Bills”. I like that it’s not a perfect interpretation of the Super Mario games.

If you want to watch a movie with a ridiculous, fun plot and ridiculous, fun action, Super Mario Bros. is the movie for you.

 

 

 

 

Wikipedia Article for Super Mario Bros.

IMDB Super Mario Bros.

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The Adventure of PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE

 

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Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, 1985 copyright Warner Bros.

This is quite possibly my favorite comedy movie of all time. It’s one of those movies that feels like a different movie every time you watch it, probably because it’s SO FRIGGIN WEIRD! It’s such a product of it’s time too. As revolutionary as the 60s were for America, so were the 80s in their own way. Art got weirder, comedy got weirder, and in 1985 we got Paul Reubens as Pee-wee in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

The tone of this movie isn’t the 80s that John Hughes depicts in movies like The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink. If ANYTHING it’s closer to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure– and by closer I mean the word “Adventure” is in both titles. As far as I’m concerned, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure has no peer in it’s tone, genre or writing.

 

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Tim Burton (left) and Paul Reubens as Pee-wee

You may be surprised to know, as I was, that this movie was actually Tim Burton’s first full length movie. Which, after I learned that, made complete sense. It has Tim Burton’s iconic Leave it to Beaver, everything-is-fine setting, contrasted with a sense that if you just peel back a couple layers, you’ll see the dark underbelly of society; the perfect mix of cute and creepy.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is about a man-child named Pee-wee Herman, played by Paul Reubens. Pee-wee’s absolute favorite thing in the entire world is his bike, which, to be fair, is a totally rad bike. His neighbor Francis, also a man-child, is rich and has everything except Pee-wee’s bike, so naturally he wants it. Pee-wee runs into town to “stock up on some supplies”: trick gum, headlight glasses, a boomerang bowtie, and a new horn for his bike–ya know, just some regular supplies.

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Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, 1985 copyright Warner Bros.

Pee-wee finishes his shopping to find that his bike has been stolen. Pee-wee goes crazy trying to find out what happened to it. He confronts Francis who claims he didn’t take it (which is only technically true because Francis paid someone else to do it for him). Pee-wee doesn’t let up trying to find his bike though. Francis, exhausted by the ordeal, has his man “get rid” of the bike. Still unable to find his bike, Pee-wee goes to a fortune teller (an obvious fake) who tells him, arbitrarily, that his bike is in the basement of the Alamo. So Pee-wee sets out on his Big Adventure to find his bike.

The movie was co-written by Paul Reubens, Phil Hartman, and Michael Varhol. Both Hartman and Reubens were masters of tongue-and-cheek, satirical humor. My favorite line from the movie (skip to next section now if you are spoiler sensitive) is after Pee-wee takes a tour of the Alamo hoping to see the basement where he was told his lost bike would be. At the end of the tour he asks the tour guide to see the basement, the guide laughs and says that there is no basement. Pee-wee is understandably devastated. In the next scene, he sees his friend Simone (Diane Salinger) and they have a brief exchange:

Pee-wee: Guess what? The Alamo was built without a basement.

Simone: Oh,  I didn’t know that…

Pee-wee: Neither did I. They don’t tell you that stuff in school. It’s something you just have to experience.

Now, arguably…it’s not the funniest line in the movie… like, at all. But it’s my favorite, dammit! It’s my favorite because, first of all,  it’s hilarious absurdist humor; and second, I can absolutely see Hartman and Reubens sitting there writing the script, riffing about the story and the Alamo, and the line comes out and they decide to put it in the script. Who knows if that’s how it went down, but I love the line because it feels like a little glimpse into the, I’m sure, really bizarre, creative processes that went into making this movie.

There are so many absolutely genius sketches and jokes in this movie, but I can’t talk about Pee-wee’s Big Adventure without talking about one of it’s most famous scenes: Large Marge. when I was a kid I would always close my eyes during this scene. Pee-wee gets picked up by a truck driver named Large Marge, who immediately begins telling Pee-Wee about a bad accident that happened years ago. At the climax of her story she makes a scary face, which is done with a classic 80s stop motion special effect, clearly designed by Tim Burton. It used to creep me out somthin’ fierce. And it looked like…THIS!”

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Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, 1985 copyright Warner Bros.

My Theory That Kurt Russell’s Characters Are Actually All The Same Person

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Big Trouble in Little China copyright 1986 20th Century Fox

Kurt Russell is one of my favorite actors to watch. His plucky charm seems to radiate from his somehow perfectly round, and perfectly sharp at the same time, face. Even in roles like MacReady from The Thing, or Snake Plissken from Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., roles where he plays hardened men with no love for the world, Russell still brings that tongue-in-cheek element to them, peppered with a spice only he has.

One of the fun things to watch an actor do, for me, is to use their roles to explore different sides of themselves. In this way, with some actors, each role they play becomes essentially a different version of themselves; the same character reacting to a different set of circumstances.

So, I submit to you, some of Kurt Russell’s characters are actually all the same person. He changes his name and moves from place to place or time to time, but he is the same character. This doesn’t line up with every single movie Kurt Russell has done but more than a few of them line up for me. (Spoilers to follow) Here’s how I see it:

The Thing (1982) Dir. John Carpenter

Kurt Russell, a helicopter pilot, stuck at Outpost 31 in Antarctica has quite a day fighting off a John Carpenter alien that can assume any organic form. After the alien kills everyone but two people, Kurt Russell ostensibly blows it to hell with dynamite. Needless to say, Kurt Russell had seen some shit at this point.

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The Thing copyright 1982 Universal Pictures

He watched all of his friends die brutally and is now most likely questioning his reality. Kurt Russell needs a break. So he mangages his way back to the States and picks up a job as a truck driver.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986) Dir. John Carpenter

After going a little insane because of the event in Antarctica, Kurt Russell has donned a new attitude towards life.

“I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.” – Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BTILC

Kurt Russell ends up “leading” a group of rag-tag do-gooders to rescue his friend’s fiancé from an ancient, evil, mystical, Chinese sorcerer. He somehow, manages to keep his cool throughout all of it.

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Big Trouble in Little China copyright 1986 20th Century Fox

“I’m not saying I’ve been everywhere and I’ve done everything. But I do know this is a pretty amazing planet we live on here. And a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we’re all alone in this universe.” – Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BTILC

After Kurt Russell’s experience with aliens and sorcerers – not to mention his tactical experience and his problem solving skills, Kurt feels that maybe he has a future in law enforcement…

Tango and Cash (1989) Dir. Andrei Konchalovsky, Albert Magnoli, Peter MacDonald, Stuart Baird

…So Kurt Russell becomes the greatest police officer that the west coast has ever seen. Contested only by Sylvester Stallone’s character in Tango and Cash, a really excellent 90s buddy cop movie. Kurt Russell and Sly are oil and water when it comes to crimefighting, but they have to learn to work together when they’re framed for murder.

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Tango and Cash copyright 1989 Warner Bros.
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Modified 88’Chevy Silverado in Tango and Cash, copyright 1989 Warner Bros.

The movie ends is a fiery explosion with, what I would call, an apocalypse mobile: a modified 88′ Chevy Silverado.

Now that Kurt russell has even more tactical experience and, arguably, some paramilitary experience…why not join the U.S. military…?

Stargate (1994) Dir. Roland Emmerich

Kurt Russell becomes a Colonel in U.S. Air Force. Because of his encounters with aliens and the generally unexplained, Kurt Russell is put in charge of a special team that will travel across the galaxy, through a wormhole machine, to another planet, get into a fight with more aliens and save the local proletariat from their overlords.

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Stargate copyright 1994 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

If you’ve ever watched and episode of Stargate SG-1, then you know that shenanigans can happen with a Stargate. You could be sent to a jail world. You could end up (back) in antarctica. You could be sent back in time because of a solar flare…

Escape from New York (1981) and Escape from L.A. (1996) as episodes of Stargate, Dir. John Carpenter

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Escape from New York copyright 1981 AVCO Embassy Pictures

…You could be sent to a jail world, where all of your crazy experience helps you survive and escape the post-apocalyptic island of New York and then a not-this-again episode where the same thing happens in L.A.

Tombstone (1993) as an episode of Stargate Dir. George P. Cosmatos, Kevin Jarre

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Tombstone copyright 1993 Buena Vista Pictures

…You could be sent back in time to the old west and became a lawman because you can’t get back to your own time and being a lawman is all you know…

This is where Kurt Russell finally gets stuck; in the old west. He lives out his life as a lawman and eventually becomes a bounty hunter in…

The Hateful Eight (2015) Dir. Quentin Tarantino

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The Hateful Eight copyright 2015 The Weinstein Company

Okay, granted, the Stargate thing sort of breaks everything, it’s not a perfect theory, OKAY! Kurt Russell’s roll as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 would also allow a blanket theory that he is, in fact, the same character in every Kurt Russell movie. Honorable mention to Death Proof (2007, Dir.  Quentin Tarantino) which probably fits in just after Tango and Cash somewhere on account of Kurt Russell’s new found love for extreme automobiling after his ride in the apocalypse mobile. 

 

I’m Gonna Talk About YOJIMBO

 

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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961

Honestly…I don’t know if Yojimbo is best samurai movie to start with. I don’t even know if it’s my favorite of the samurai genre, made popular in the early 60s. But got-damn is it a good one. There are so many layers to it. Want some violent samurai action? It’s got that. Want some artistic metophor? It’s got that too. Shoot, even the score echoes the plot of the movie. AND, arguably, Yojimbo is responsible for making the Western genre popular in America. Fist Full of Dollars (1964) was an almost shot-for-shot remake of Yojimbo, except set in the American old west, and with Clint Eastwood as a gun slinger instead of a samurai.

All this to say that Yojimbo is an awesome friggin’ movie!

The movie was released in 1961 and directed by Akira Kurosawa. It stars Toshiro Mifune, who was the Humphrey Bogart of Japan in the 50s and 60s. Seriously, look at this guy:

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Toshiro Mifune

Yojimbo (bodyguard) is about a wandering ronin (samurai with no master) who happens upon a small town, home to two rival factions. The leader of each faction has declared himself to be mayor of the town. The nameless ronin sees this as problematic for the town. He comments that’s it’s not good when there are two quarreling leaders, and that the town would be better off without them. Seeing an opportunity to make a little money and help the townsfolk, he hashes a plan to get rid of the two gangs by making them kill each other off.

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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961. The ronin considers his plan.
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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961

He does this by offering his services as a bodyguard to one of the gang leaders. The gang leader, after some hard negotiation, will pay the ronin handsomely if he can prove his skills. The ronin heads over to the rival gang’s place and cuts down a few of their guys with no problem. Later that night he overhears his employer’s wife planning to kill him after he kills the rest of the rival gang. This way they won’t have to pay the ronin the large amount that was promised.

Obviously the ronin isn’t too happy about this. So when his employer, with his new, skilled swordsman, moves to attack the rival gang, the ronin declares that he no longer works for him. Leaving the gangs to fight each other without him. Oh, that Yojimbo, always stirrin’ up trouble. 

The ronin weaves his plan throughout the movie, playing one side off the other- very Sun Tzu. Kurosawa, genius that he was, foreshadows this theme from the very beginning using music. The second scene of the movie is the ronin approaching a house where a woman is actually weaving at a loom. You realize that the music that’s been playing since the credits, has almost the exact same rhythm as the loom. Here’s a link to the main score of the movie. Skip to about 00:40 to hear the music I’m referring to. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a clip of the loom scene for comparison. Guess you’ll just have to watch the movie!

 

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Yojimbo, copyright Toho 1961

IMDB page for Yojimbo 

Wikipedia article for Yojimbo

Top Three for Twenty Seventeen

But weren’t actually released in 2017…

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Arrival, Swiss Army Man, The Witch

I have no idea what this blog is going to look like, or what the point is, other than for me to talk about movies that I love. So I guess I’ll just get it going with the best three movies I’ve watched in 2017 so far.

It’s been a pretty good couple of years for movies. Plenty of silly, high budget blockbusters that act like a fishing rod on my wallet. Seriously, I can see a Marvel Studios executive casting a line to cartoonishly hook the twelve bucks out of my pocket and say “I’ll take that…” as they reel it in. Curse you Marvel Studios for continuing to make movies that I like.

But I digress. Not only have there been money-sponging movies that generate their own gravity, but also plenty of movies that fall into a more [insert pretentious word here] category. The three best movies I’ve seen this year, I would say, fall under this category. They are, in no particular order: Arrival, Swiss Army Man, and The VVitch (I’m a sucker for that double ‘V’). Each of these movies sort of blew my mind in a way.  Each was wonderfully fresh and original.

 

Arrival (2016) Dir. Denis Villeneuve

Arrival is an extremely important movie right now. It advocates communication and understanding on an entirely basic level. When aliens land on earth with no explanation, the world’s governments scramble to learn why they’ve come and what their intentions are. They employ a linguistics expert to attempt to make contact and initiate a dialog with said aliens. I was sold on this movie when the military industrial complex character charged the linguistics/scientist characters to get these questions answered, and the linguistics/scientist characters answered the MIC character with- we need to make sure these aliens understand the concept of what a question is first.

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Arrival, Photo Copyright Paramount Pictures 2016

We’re living in a time when it seems like people are struggling to understand each other- an environment that germinates fear. Arrival offers us an example of a patient path to communication, and by virtue, a path to world with less fear.

 

Swiss Army Man (2016) Dir. Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan

I wish I had seen this movie when I was 16. Swiss Army Man explores ideas about people and our relationships with them and the rest of the world in a hilariously unapologetic way. It asks questions like: why can’t we talk about life openly? Why can’t we talk about farting and sex? The answer is, obviously, we can. But there are so many convoluted taboos in society that it’s often difficult, on a micro and macro level, to talk about stuff like that.  A good movie, I think, reveals some truth in a way. Swiss Army Man nails what it means to fit into society, relationships, and your own heads.

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Swiss Army Man, Photo Copyright A24 2016

Daniel Radcliff playing a dead guy is friggin halarious and the movie is  worth watching just for that. But what sold it for me was the incredible soundtrack, that has sort of an Animal Collective meets Radical Face sound, and the quirky, found material set design.

 

The VVitch (2015) Dir. Robert Eggers

It can be difficult to find well made horror movies. So many of them these days rely on shallow jump scares and creepiness for creepiness sake. Which, don’t get me wrong, I love those things too. Plenty of movies that I’ll probably end up talking about in later posts use these methods. But The VVitch taps into a deeper, shiver-inducing, psyche. It’s set in 17th century, puritan New England. So already there’s the off-putting, heavy-handed, religious society aspect about everything. Maybe it’s just me, but religious oligarchies wig me out, so already I’m on edge with the setting. The film continues to create a fantastically unnerving setting when the main characters are shunned from the town and isolate themselves on a farm by the edge of a forest- where dwells, you guessed it, the witch.

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The Witch, Photo Copyright A24 2015

This movie is ALL about atmosphere. There really aren’t any jump scares and when there is gore, the gore has value beyond shock. The cinematography was perhaps my favorite thing about it (other than the fact that I love witches). Each shot was reminiscent of an old Dutch painting, where light is just as much of a character as any of the people in it. The director doesn’t skimp on metaphor either. The character of the father chops away ceaselessly at a pile of wood. The movie contextualizes this to show that with each piece of wood he stacks, he is stubbornly authoring his own ending.

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The Witch, Photo Copyright A24 2015

And speaking of endings…horror movies with good, let alone great, endings are few and far between. But the ending of The VVitch  is peeeerrrfect.