Monday Morning Movie Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

Those of us who were children in the early 1990s will remember Super Mario Bros. (1993).  It was the first time a video game had been adapted for film—ever, and, sure, WarGames (1983) was about playing a computer game, but Super Mario Bros. was the first time an actual video game IP had been made for the big screen—-and we were all super (no pun intended) excited to see our favorite 8-bit (well, 16-bit, by that point) heroes, Mario and Luigi, on film (note—there was a WarGames video game, but it was released in 1984 and was based on the film, not the other way around).  I was eight when the movie was released, so I was old enough to be aware of the hype surrounding the film.  The schoolyard was abuzz with anticipation.

Unfortunately, you probably know how the rest of the story goes:  it was an abysmal failure.  The film bore little resemblance to the 2D platformer we all loved, and while Dennis Hopper certainly makes for an intimidating antagonist, he bore little resemblance to Bowser (he was “King Koopa” in the film).  I remember watching the movie as a kid (we rented it) and being baffled by what was happening.  Why was everything so dark and dystopian?  It was a far too impressionistic endeavor to work as an adaptation of a beloved video game that captured the imagination of children.

The film was such a disaster, critically and financially, that Nintendo shied away from any more forays into cinema for thirty years.  Other than some cartoons on television, Nintendo did not go near Hollywood for three solid decades.

Now, when movie-going is struggling to revive itself after The Age of The Virus, Nintendo has reentered the ring with The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023), a film that may very well save Hollywood from its penchant for wokery and poor box office receipts.  More importantly, it’s the Mario Bros. movie we should have gotten thirty years ago.

Better late than never, eh, Nintendo?

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Monday Morning Movie Review: Two Mexican Horror Films

Last Friday Americans got blitzed celebrating the short-lived victory of Mexican forces against the invading French army on 5 May 1862 at the First Battle of Puebla.  Cinco de Mayo enjoys greater observance here in the United States than in Mexico due to a.) the strong ties between the United States and Mexico dating back to the nineteenth-century (ties that are increasingly fraying as Mexico becomes a failed state) and b.) major marketing campaigns by American alcohol manufacturers.  Now we invoke the spirit of the Puebla and General Ignacio Zaragoza with tequila and tacos, a sort of Mex-American Independence Day.

To commemorate the occasion, streaming service Shudder has uploaded some Mexican horror films to their lineup, and I managed to squeeze a couple of them in over the weekend between The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023; review coming soon), a second screening of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. III (2023; I enjoyed it more the second time), Mother’s Day, and recovering from last week.

I’d never heard of the two films before, but both were enjoyable.  The first was Darker than Night (1975; sometimes “Blacker than Night” or “Blacker Than the Night“; Más Negro que la Noche in Mexico); the second—my favorite of the two was Poison for the Fairies (1984; Veneno para las hadas in Mexico).

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Monday Morning Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Friday night I went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) on a whim.  I hadn’t realized the flick was already out, as I’ve been knee-deep in end-of-the-school-year responsibilities.  After celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Thai food (the Thai place was a lot less crowded than the Mexican restaurants), my companion proposed we check out the latest Guardians flick, so on a whim we made it to a showing that had just started rolling the previews.

I’m a big fan of the first two films.  When I first saw the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) nine years ago (has it been that long?), I was hooked.  I compared it favorably to the Star Wars trilogy, and in the wake of the disastrous sequel trilogy in that franchise, the Guardians trilogy serves as an excellent alternative for Star Wars fans slavering for more intergalactic hijinks.

The elements are there in both sets of films:  a group of immature misfits get tossed together into an ad hoc group of unlikely heroes, who, despite their shortcomings and inexperience, grow together to defeat a greater evil.  Along the way, they forge friendships together, and come to learn more about themselves and each other.

The original Star Wars trilogy pulls this off better than Guardians, especially in the wake of this third installment.  Just as Star Wars has its Return of the Jedi (1983)—a fun conclusion to the story, but not quite as weighty as its predecessors, Guardians has its Vol. 3, which is full of bizarre creatures, but is actually much heavier and darker in tone than its predecessors.

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Monday Morning Movie Review: Train to Busan (2016)

In a comment on last Monday’s review, Audre Myers asked if I would write a review of Burnt Offerings (1976).  I’ve seen the film and intend to fulfill Audre’s request posthaste, but I a.) need to rewatch it and b.) I wanted to get this review of 2016’s Train to Busan out while it’s still fresh in my mind.  That said, I always encourage requests, so if there’s any film you’d like me to review, leave a comment below!

That disclaimer aside, on to the review!

The first couple of decades of this century saw a renaissance of sorts for zombie films.  Myriad thought pieces and cultural analyses have been written exploring why, and the mass cultural appeal of zombie flicks is certainly a fascinating topic.  There is a sort of fantastical, apocalyptic element to zombie films, television shows, books, and comics that speak to the fundamental questions of humanity and civilization.  Why are we here?  How do we handle stressful, life-threatening situations?  Is civilization a shield against our baser urges?  When it collapses, do we give into those urges, or do our higher moral beliefs prevail?  Are those moral beliefs merely a mask that life in a stable, prosperous society makes the wearing of easier to achieve?  Or do we really believe in these higher ideals, even when they are battered and threatened on all sides?

It’s been written before, and I’ll write it again:  the real threat in zombie movies are not the zombies themselves, but the surviving humans.  Yes, the zombies are dangerous—and in Train to Busan, they’re quite deadly, and move with astonishing speed—but many of the film’s deaths are due to human ignorance, fear, callousness, and selfishness.  Sheer panic does much to end lives and lead to poor (and wicked) decisions, while levelheaded thinking and restraint—coupled with astonishing courage—often, though not always, lead to better outcomes.

By this metric of zombie-movies-as-movies-about-ourselves, Train to Busan succeeds wildly.  But the film is much more.

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Monday Morning Movie Review: The Fog (1980)

Regular readers will know I am a big fan of John Carpenter.  He is, perhaps, my favorite director, and one of my favorite film composers and musicians as well.  Big Trouble in Little China (1986) was my #2 pick for the best flick ever, and would have likely been #1 if I weren’t had I not been trying to troll Ponty.  My #3 pick was 1982’s The Thing, which is actually better than Big Trouble objectively, although that’s the definition of comparing whiskey to wantons.

Naturally, readers would be correct in thinking that my assessment of his 1980 release The Fog would be similarly rosy (and rose-tinted, perhaps).  While I don’t think it’s a masterpiece like the other two films—not the lightning-in-a-bottle amalgam of genres that make Big Trouble more than the sum of its parts, nor the nihilistic and terrifying, claustrophobic experience of The Thing—it is quite good.  It’s not particularly scary for a horror film, but it is quintessential Carpenter.

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Monday Morning Movie Review: The Haunting (1963)

Last week I reviewed Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which prompted several readers to recommend the 1963 film adaptation, The Haunting.  I rented the flick on YouTube for about three bucks, and found it to be a mostly faithful adaptation of the book.

Indeed, beyond a few changes to some of the characters (Dr. Montague is now Dr. Markway, and his wife is not an insufferable Spiritualist but instead scoffs at the idea of ghosts) and the elimination of Arthur, the overbearing boys’ school headmaster, it does a great deal to enhance the book, a rare case where the movie, if not necessarily better than the book, is at least a worthy supplement to it.

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Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: #1: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Here we are—the end of the long countdown of best films of all time.  Ponty delivers, as always, with his clear, detailed analysis.

Boy, did he pick a great film.  This flick was a perennial favorite on cable television in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  You can pick up with the story pretty much anywhere and it is gripping.

I won’t dilute Ponty’s review further with my commentary.  He has done it so well, I cannot add anything of additional value.

With that—and at long last!—here’s Ponty’s #1 pick:

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Monday Morning Movie Review: Portly’s Top Ten Best Films: #1: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

As far as I can tell, the very first installment of Monday Morning Movie Review—simply “Monday Movie Review” back then—was a review of The Empire Strikes Back (1980).  I wrote it on 28 September 2020, which seems like just a few days ago.  Pretty crazy to think it’s been almost three years since this blog started running movie reviews on Mondays.

Indeed, in the interest of saving time (today is my school’s big Spring Concert, and I’m chaperoning a trip to Washington, D.C., later in the week, so time is at a premium), I’m quoting extensively from that original review.  Work smarter, not harder, eh?

Growing up as a chubby kid in the 1990s, I was a huge Star Wars fan.  That was long before the new trilogy retconned/soft-rebooted everything and destroyed the legacy of classic Star Wars, and even before the prequels made the flicks even more cartoonishly ridiculous.  I’m not even a huge critic of the prequels—they were never going to live up to the perfection of the original trilogy—and I enjoyed some of the fun world-building and thorny trade blockades of Phantom Menace (1999; although that’s all a bit too technocratic for a space opera).  But the magic of the original trilogy is more than the sum of its parts, and it’s based on rich storytelling and exceptionally strong character development, with nearly every major character growing and evolving over the course of the three films.

So it is that I would argue that The Empire Strikes Back is not just the best Star Wars film, but the best film of all time.

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Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: Hono[u]rable Mentions, Part III

A quick blurb before getting to Ponty’s incredible post:  I’ve released my second book, Arizonan Sojourn, South Carolinian Dreams: And Other Adventures.  It’s a collection of travel essays I’ve accumulated over the last four years, and it’s available now on Amazon.

Here’s where you can pick it up:

Pick up a copy today!  Even sharing the above links is a huge help.

Thank you for your support!



Ponty wraps up his extended honorable mentions with this third part, and it’s the biggest one yet.

In reading through his lists, I’m struck by how many incredible films have come out in my lifetime.  The 1980s through the early 2000s were surely a golden age for engaging storytelling on the big screen.  Even crummier films from those decades are far more enjoyable (and significantly less “woke”) than much of the garbage coming out now.  I’m not suggesting there are no good films these days—quite the contrary—but those years were sprinkled with fairy dust.

Ponty leaves no cinematic stone unturned.  He told me he had spent four hours writing this list—and at that point, he wasn’t even finished!  I don’t think I’ve ever spent four hours on a blog post.  Kudos to him:  this list is a true labor of love, and we’re all the beneficiaries of his pen.

With that, here is Ponty’s third and final installment of honorable mentions:

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