The Sign of Zorro

The Sign of Zorro.
Walt Disney Pictures 1958.

Before watching the movie:

I previously reviewed The Mask of Zorro, but where that is a reboot, this appears to be the actual origin story. I can kind of see now that maybe the other movie didn’t want to reintroduce audiences to a hero who can do the things he does mainly because he’s wealthy. We accept it in Batman because Batman has never been that far away from popular culture, but Zorro’s time in our collective imagination has mostly passed. So instead of a Bruce Wayne story, the reboot gave audiences Terry McGinnis. But I’m not here to talk about “Mask”.

I’m expecting a pretty straightforward classic adventure story, where the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, and right is restored in the end.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: The Rescuers Down Under

While not as embedded in the landscape of my media childhood as Lady and the Tramp or The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under was always there as far as I can recall. I associate a very youthful spirit of adventure with it that I think predates the time in my adolescence when I was defining my own tastes for what seemed like the first time, the “hit me at the right time” years.

While the original The Rescuers probably more deserves the appreciation of a mature reviewer, I don’t have the same fondness for it. The two movies came from different eras of Disney animation and have a very different look and feel. The first came from the time of The Fox And The Hound and 101 Dalmatians, but it’s almost as obscure as The Black Cauldron and hits a lot more of the same notes. Sensibilities had changed at Disney in the time between the two Rescuers movies and the latter is part of the upward trend moving toward the Disney Renaissance.

The Rescuers Down Under. Walt Disney Pictures 1990.

Cody, a very American sounding Australian boy, is a friend to the animals of the Outback, and rescues a giant Golden Eagle from a poacher’s trap. She gives him one of her golden feathers as a keepsake, and then on his way home, Cody finds a mouse tied up as what turns out to be bait in a trap sat by ruthless poacher MacLeach. MacLeach finds the golden feather and realizes that Cody knows where the last Golden Eagle is, so he kidnaps him in order to try to get him to divulge the location of the bounty. The rescued mouse reports Cody’s peril to the Rescue Aid Society, and soon Bernard and Bianca are on their way through the Outback to him with Australian Jake as their guide.

Where the first was likely modeled after a pulp adventure novel, this feels more like an action adventure movie. It has modern pacing sensibilities, but I think the first is stronger in that as I recall, Bernard and Bianca spend most of the story trying to find a way to get Penny out of her situation, this one doesn’t have them get to Cody until the climax. There’s not much for them to do but ride more Australian animals across the landscape while Jake tries to flirt with Miss Bianca and Bernard tries to find a moment to propose to her. It’s a comic relief subplot, but moreso Wilbur and the hospital mice fixing his back with extreme force.

Two things make this movie feel epically sized: the music and the sweeping three dimensional camera moves. Disney shopped out many backgrounds to Pixar, and while sometimes they’re obviously very primitive CG by today’s standards (I’ve seen previsualization renders more convincing than the city skyscrapers and cars), they do bring to life the camera perspectives and the Outback. People talk a lot about the clock gears in The Great Mouse Detective and the Ballroom in Beauty and the Beast, but I think this is the best demonstration of what cel animation can do with CGI backgrounds as a tool in the kit.

If this had Ashman/Menken songs, it would be 20 minutes longer, but it would also be at least at the level of the actual Renaissance Disney movies. The plot structure makes a lot of the returning or pseudo-returning (Wilbur is allegedly Orville’s brother despite how very different they are aside from being airline albatrosses) characters redundant, but it’s a fantastic adventure for the whole family, and it should be remembered as fondly as Disney’s biggest hits of the 90s.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Limelight Entertainment 1990.

Before watching the movie:

I am broadly aware of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, but I was never all that into it. I briefly thought I was going to watch the cartoon series, but I was given a parental directive to choose one violent show between TMNT and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and I chose the latter. Then a few weeks later I abruptly decided the whole premise of MMPR was silly and dropped it.

Apparently there’s a well-known easter egg that in one telling of the Turtles’ origin story, the radioactive ooze that made them was also involved in making Daredevil. That’s pretty neat. That will not be relevant to this movie.

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The Final Days

The Final Days.
Multicom Entertainment Group 1989

Before watching the movie:

Long ago, in another time, a corruption scandal went all the way to the top and there were consequences. This is the story of what was happening in the White House as Nixon’s power and psyche crumbled.

As interesting as the intrepid reporting profiled in All The President’s Men was, it’s a story told from the outside. It’s a mystery, but one where every reader will know who did it, just not the path the sleuths took to figuring it out. As I watched that movie, and more so as I read the book, I was more interested in the legal and political processes that, as the story went on, seemed increasingly out of focus as Woodstein followed the money. So I was glad to find that their followup book was a reconstruction of what was happening in the Nixon White House as everything fell apart, put together from interviews with basically everyone involved except Nixon himself. The Happily Never After of the political fairy tale.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Howard the Duck

This is a little later than most My Yesterdays selections, but it’s still formative. I first saw this movie shortly before starting Yesterday’s Movies and I had Opinions, and at the same time I was looking for an internet project I could add to on a regular basis. And now it’s been ten years of putting my unsolicited thoughts about movies people have forgotten about into the void.

Howard the Duck. Lucasfilm 1986.

On one night of his perfectly ordinary life in a world run by humanoid ducks, Howard is suddenly sucked into space by an interdimensional portal, and lands on our Earth. Stuck in a world that finds him weird, freakish, and otherwise a magnet for harassment, Howard quickly gets mixed up with Beverly, singer for a great girl band with a bad manager, and helps her out. As romance kindles, suddenly a group of scientists arrive and explain that Howard was brought here by an accident with a “laser spectroscope”. Before Howard has a chance to get them to reverse the beam and send him home, there’s another accident with the machine, the police show up and arrest Howard, and the lead scientist, Dr. Jennings, has a Dark Overlord of the Universe taking over his body.

This still seems like two incompatible movies to me. The first act and the epilogue are a very upbeat music-filled story that’s almost a romantic comedy, but once Howard and Beverly are starting to settle into a relationship, an entirely different movie, and not a better one, crashes the party and takes the plot in a completely different direction. It felt like half and half originally, but the space alien section seems much longer now, mostly due to the action scenes that last three times as long as they need to.

I guess the point of that turn was to spend some time establishing a status quo before getting on with a surreal adventure, but Howard still just got there and wants to leave. Nothing is normal for him and Beverly. They’re just interrupted as they’re beginning to figure out what to do with themselves.

The swift escalation of a lot of confrontations between Howard and people who don’t get him is still cartoonish. There are the people who assume he’s a human in a costume or some kind of puppet, and the people who think he’s a deformed human or animal, but somehow, way too many of them, when they find out he’s not what they think, go straight to “picking a fight”. To the point that he practically almost gets lynched at least once. If duck people were common and a lot of humans knew them as a race they wanted to subjugate, that would make more sense than “thing I can’t identify is giving me some lip”.

The filmmakers wanted to “have fun with it”, but the main part of the movie is not much fun. There are some scenes that are trying to be comedic and muddying the tone, but the overall way the Dark Overlord story is handled is a slog of bad to mediocre ideas. It’s not a complete travesty of a movie, but it really doesn’t have much understanding of how to handle itself.

Loophole

Loophole.
Brent Walker Productions 1981.

Before watching the movie:

I think it was Martin Sheen leading the movie that caught my attention, but I’m interested in seeing his character accidentally fall into helping a crime gang, as well as Albert Finney as the mastermind.

I thought this was going to be more comic, but it seems to be listed as heist drama.

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Day of the Triffids

Day of the Triffids. Security Pictures 1963.

Before watching the movie:

The Triffids are an iconic piece of science fiction. Any locomoting plants in sci-fi stories will inevitably be compared with them.

The full-color alien invasion horror movie aspect makes me think about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but there doesn’t really seem to be much in common between “anyone near you could have been replaced by an alien” and “run from that twenty-foot tall walking plant”. If there’s an allegory for something in the public consciousness in the 60s here, I’m not sure what it would be.

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