The Iron Giant: The Best Superman Movie? (Review)

Note: This movie was recently covered on our podcast, Media Obscura, which is linked at the end of this post.

Oh boy, do I love The Iron Giant. Look, I’m not gonna waste anyones time with this post. Watch The Iron Giant. Stream The Iron Giant. Crush The Iron Giant into a powder and mix it into a protein shake. This movie is fantastic.

And honestly, most people know this. While it was initially slept on upon it’s release in 1999, The Iron Giant has since gone on to become a cult classic due to the popularity of it’s home release, as well it’s expanded/remastered Signature Edition, and for good reason; the film is a dynamite story with themes of pacifism/coming of age, which manages to tell its story without resorting to preaching or superfluous, long-flowing scenes of dialogue. It’s also gorgeously animated, using a mix of cel and CGI techniques and features a gorgeous color palette, a classic-as-all-hell soundtrack and all the nods to 1950’s culture and the cold war a man could hope or dream for.

Unless you like to add metatexual references to every movie you watch, of course. If so, you’ll also love The Iron Giant for a whole other reason (see below, spoilers and all that stuff).

A lot of the praise that The Iron Giant gets is over how it handles it’s titular character, an alien visitor that is quickly depicted and pinned as being an allegory for Superman. Much like The Man of Tomorrow, The Giant is shown to be a kind hearted and immensely powerful being. And, much like Zach Synder’s 2013 effort Man of Steel, he’s also greeted by a confused and concerned US Government that believes that he’s a weapon of mass destruction. Comparisons like these (which were bound to happen, given the fact that the movie itself compares The Giant to Superman) have since led to the movie being, perhaps somewhat jokingly, referred to as “The Best Superman Movie,” by its fans.

And honestly, while I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment, I feel that it glosses over a huge point of the movie itself.

See, for all the good that the Superman comparison does for the movie, I can’t help but feel like it undervalues the fact that The Giant chose to be a hero. While Superman also made this decision at some point of his life, especially if we look at the DCEU’s interpretation of the character, Superman’s decision to be a hero was never the focal point of the character. Superman’s MO, to my understanding, has always been that he’s been the ultimate immigrant story. Superman’s about coming to a new world and adopting it as his new home. While he ultimately represents being the purveyor of what’s good/just in humanity, he has always held onto his Kryptonian heritage.

And it’s with that in mind that I feel like considering The Iron Giant a “Superman movie” falls flat. If we want to look at it in terms of being a movie about a being with incredible power using it to protect those around him… Well, wouldn’t Spider-Man be the better analogy? I mean, that sounds an awful lot like that franchises mantra of “With great power, comes great responsibility,” doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we, like, get The Iron Giant in the next MCU Spider-Man movie? After all, The Iron Giant was an adaptation of a book that was originally titled The Iron Man… Just saying.

I’m not the only one to ever point that out, by the way. Movies With Mikey actually brought this up several years ago in a phenomenal video essay he produced on the film, and I’m sure this interpretation of the movie has come up before. While I am genuinely okay with interpreting the film as a take on Spider-Man (or even Superman for that matter), I think it’s important to remember that the film *isn’t* an adaptation of either of those characters or their story. Yes, Superman and him being a hero factors into the story of the film, but that hardly means it’s trying to be a Superman story.

If anything, I view The Iron Giant as an incredible story that uses the Superman reference due to the bold timelessness that one gets out of bringing the character up. Simply put, Superman is universal. He’s been around since the early 20th century and, for better or for worse, the publics perception of the guy has hardly changed over the years. The reference is a simple act of plot utility as far as I’m concerned. The movie wanted to define what a “hero” is and Hogarth used Superman to do so. This was perfect because it cut out a bunch of monologuing about what defines good because everyone already understands who Superman is. The climactic peak of the movie isn’t saying that The Giant wants to be Superman himself, it’s saying that he chooses to be a Superman-type. You know, a good person. It’s just kinda hard to see that when you get all the other Superman references that are in the movie and then hear The Giant’s last words are “Superman.”

Then again, it would’ve been weird to have him articulate that he really meant that he wanted to be a hero that lives in the mold of superman. I dunno, I would’ve been here for it personally but I see how it would’ve killed a very emotional moment in the movie.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that The Iron Giant isn’t a Superman movie, nor do we need it to be. It’s just a really, really, really good movie in general that has climbed its way to cult status and deserves that title.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! If you wanna hear more of my thoughts on The Iron Giant, perhaps consider checking out my podcast, Media Obscura? We did an episode on the movie there and you might learn a few additional things about the movie! You can listen to it on every major podcast player!

Alternatively, you could listen to our episode (with Full Video!) from the comfort and glory of the good ol’ YouTube:

Dragons Forever: What a Sendoff (Review)

There’s a rule when it comes to 80s Kung Fu movies; If the “Three Dragons” (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao) are in it, it’s probably a good time. These actors, who had grown up and attended the Peking Opera school in China together starred in a handful of films together, were known for being able to blend comedy and actin in a way that worked its way into the hearts of millions of adoring fans. With movies like Project A, Wheels on Meals, and several Lucky Stars movies under their belt, they decided to end things on a high-note with 1988’s Dragons Forever.

The basic plot is as follows: Jackie Chan plays a lawyer that has been hired to defend a factory owner (who is secretly manufacturing narcotics in his factory) in an environmental lawsuit. While courting someone that’s going to testify against his client, Jackie sends two of his friends, played by Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, to help tip the scale in his favor in court. What results from this is several fights between them that are spawned from misunderstandings, an excellent rematch with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez (who had previously been in Wheels on Meals, and the Three Dragons playing against type for a change…

Which brings me to my biggest gripe with the movie. Because he’s playing a scummier character than usual, it can be a bit hard to get into Jackie Chan’s character until partway through the movie, when his character starts to change his ways. I think it’s mostly the shock of seeing Jackie’s character defend a rapist in court, as well as the shock of him being a manipulative lawyer, but something about his character didn’t sit right with me for most of the movie. And while Jackie’s character does absolve himself of his behavior throughout the movie (such as when he beats up the rapist he had been defending in court, immediately after the case was closed, it really doesn’t do much to change how I perceived the character.

That gripe aside though, Dragons Forever is a lot of fun The plot is honestly paper thin and the characters do ultimately start to act more like the roles their actors are known for by halfway into the movie, but what really carries the film is it’s action sequences. Watching the Three Dragons go toe to toe after repeated misunderstandings is a lot of fun to watch, and so is Jackie and the gang going up against rival drug manufactors and the group Jackie was hired to defend in court. The action, and the brutality of it, makes this one well worth the price of admission.

Dragons Forever was the last movie made that featured the Three Dragons on screen at the same time and it’s honestly a great sendoff for the group. After this, Jackie Chan would go on to focus on his solo career, making sequels for his Police Story franchise, as well as breaking out in America with the help of Rumble in the Bronx, Rush Hour, and Shanghai Noon. There were also a few lesser, but also fun, movies like Around the World in 80 Days and The Tuxedo in there too, for good measure.

Wanna hear more of my thoughts on Dragons Forever? Feel free to check out my podcast episode on the film!

Cyborg Cop II: “We Have Robocop 2 at Home” (Review)

Hot off the heels of Cyborg Cop, a direct-to-video action movie with a title that screams “we heard you liked Robocop but thought it was too good a movie, comes Cyborg Cop II. DEA Agent Jack Ryan has captured his arch-nemesis Nightraven, only to find out that he has been stolen away by an anti-terrorist taskforce in order to be turned into a cyborg. Because that’s a great idea, am I right?

Cyborg Cop II is a briskly paced action movie that has a few alright action scenes and totally skimps on anything even approaching characterization. You know those Lethal Weapon sequels that were made in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia? Imagine those, but completely devoid of a likable cast, and with an even more outrageous plot.

I mean seriously, a crazy drug dealer that has been turned into a cyborg law enforcement unit that goes rogue? That’s not only the dumbest premise for a movie that I’ve ever heard of, it’s also a rip off of the plot to Robocop 2!

The biggest problem that this movie has is how much it tries to get done on, what I can imagine, was a shoe-string budget. I counted no-less than 5 major set pieces in this movie (the opening drug bust, the reveal of the Cyborg Cops/them going haywire, the battle at a gas station, the battle in someones garage, and the final showdown between Jack and Nightraven) and all of them suffered from a lack of scale. These scenes were supposed to be the biggest moments in the movie and I can’t remember a thing about them. While I know dumb action is sorta the point of these movies, I can’t help but feel like cutting one or two of these sequences from the movie would’ve done a lot to improve the flow/scale of the film. As is though, it’s a disjoined and over the top mess.

I tend to recommend straight-to-video mockbusters whenever I get the chance to. I think that movies like these are usually the source of good, disposable fun and that they’re the kind of entertainment that’s ripe for having a few drinks and pizza with friends over. But can I recommend Cyborg Cop II? Not really. I don’t think it’s that bad, but it doesn’t really do anything to justify its existence. Is it over the top? Yeah. Silly? You bet. But it doesn’t do anything that wasn’t done in the original Cyborg Cop (slightly) better than it was done here.

As it stands, I’d pass on Cyborg Cop II. Who knows though, maybe Cyborg Cop III is a step better than this?

I hope you enjoyed this review! If you wanna hear more about what I think this movie failed at on a fundamental level, feel free to check out my podcast episode on the movie! You can watch it over on YouTube or from your favorite podcast player!

Class Action Park: Come on in, the [Questionable Nostalgia] is great! (Review)

Class Action Park is a, strangely nostalgic, trip down memory lane for anyone that has ever visited the infamously dangerous Action Park in Vernon New Jersey. It’s also a fun, too-light-for-it’s-own-good, revamp of a lot of material that has already been covered elsewhere in just as much detail (though admittedly with less flair).

For those unfamiliar with Action Park, it was a bit of a right of passage for people living in the NJ/PA/NY area in the late 70’s through the 90s, as well as for subsequent generations that knew it under its rebranded title Mountain Creek. For what it’s worth, the park did revert back to being known as “Action Park” for a brief spell in the 2010’s, before going back to being known as Mountain Creek.

The doc, an HBO Max Original, follows several former Action Park employees and actors as they reminisce about their experiences at the park and everything it became infamous for. It also serves as an overview of the life of its founder, Gene Mulvihill, and his numerous efforts to get around the sort of basic safety regulations an amusement/water park would be subject to.

Prior to writing this review, I decided to take a look at what the critical response to this doc was. What can I say? I was curious about what people thought of the doc, especially as a person that grew up visiting it’s Mountain Creek/Action Park revival incarnation every summer as a kid. And upon doing so, I was actually pretty shocked with how much people liked this documentary! Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked it too, but one thing caught me as being a bit particular about the critical response to the doc.

Based off of the reviews Class Action Park is getting, you’d be led to believe that it’s a solid documentary that didn’t have any glaring issues or places that it could improve. And like, yeah, the documentary we got was fine for what it was. But it also could have been more than that.

As is, Class Action Park is a fun, mostly light look at the notoriously unsafe amusement park. A lot of the film is spent reminiscing about the park and the “good old days” of unsupervised fun spent there. That in itself is all well and fine, I suppose, but it kinda feels dirty once the film starts to dive into the details of some of the parks more morally bankrupt aspects.

The final chunk of the documentary dives into the stories of people who were injured/killed at the park and shows how devastating their injuries were for their families. And once this comes up, the documentary’s tone completely flips from the playfulness that punctuated the rest of the film. It genuinely starts to feel like a different movie once this happens too and honestly, I’m not unconvinced that a more serious look at Action Park would have made for a better movie.

What’s divulged in the final act of the documentary feels a lot loftier and more akin to a true crime series. And with the popularity of true crime (both in podcasts, film, and television) these days, I can’t help but feel like using this tone for a full documentary about the Vernon water park would have been a great idea.

Again, it’s not that Class Action Park was a bad documentary. In fact, I quite liked it and it brought me back to my own misadventures at the (safer) park after it had been rebranded as Mountain Creek/Action Park. But while I could have accepted the film we got as is, that tonal shift in the last act of it showed me that there was a much more interesting movie waiting to get made here.

There’s also, like, a vague dirtiness to the way that transition happens in the movie for me. Right before it happens, we get an explanation that Action Parks reputation had a counter intuitive effect on its popularity. Essentially, the more people got hurt at the park/the more vocal people got in the press about how unsafe it was, the more teenagers and its clientele deitized the place. Which is true; I actually have a lot of memories of my friends and I (stupidly) hyping the park up to each other each year while we were planning a trip there. The reputation of the park did make going feel like a huge adventure for us. But… The film’s mentioning of this feels somewhat fake/like a forced transition into the series side of the parks history. After all, it had just spent a bit over an hour glorifying the park and how straight-up incompetent almost everything about it was… Wasn’t it guilty of the very thing it was condemning?

In a perfect world, I think Class Action Park should have been 15-20 minutes of nostalgic hype, followed by an hour of serious investigation into the issues behind the park. No laughing, no “that’s crazy! He created his own insurance company” hype; just some straight/clean reporting.

I still enjoyed this documentary a lot but as far as it’s content goes, it has about as much interesting information as a 15 minute Defunctland upload about the park, albeit with some primary sources and higher production value.

Do I recommend Class Action Park? I guess?

Mazes and Monsters: Tom Hanks, Roleplayer (Review)

Wow. This is the kind of movie that sounds too fake to really exist, and yet here it is. 1982’s Mazes and Monsters is an example of how the media reacted to the rising popularity of Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970’s and 1980’s and was inspired by the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III.

Long story short, a bunch of people pinned D&D for being a source of occultist/satanic beliefs in kids and was convinced that kids playing it would become incurably insane and lead them to either murder people, commit suicide, or get lost in the fantasy worlds they were playing in. You ever see Reefer Madness? It’s like that, but with dice.

Mazes and Monsters, naturally, takes this paranoia and tries to run with it, resulting in an uneven TV movie that has some great atmosphere in the third act, performances that are fine (and nothing more) and a theme/opening credits sequence that feels like the intro to Cheers smushed into the intro to The Golden Girls.

The most notable part about this movie is that it stars a young Tom Hanks in his first starring role, though you wouldn’t know about his incredible skills as an actor here due to an overly simplified and quick moving script. In a lot of ways, there are several missed opportunities in the film to explore mental illness and how trauma can affect people in different ways. Hanks’ character has some potential to be a genuinely great role for him, but Mazes and Monsters (foolishly) decides to scapegoat roleplaying games for Hanks’ problems, as opposed to discussing how the fictitious roleplaying game was actually an outlet for the character’s many repressed issues. While a game of M&M may have set Hanks’ character on a self-destructive path, his problems were there from the start and could have likely been taken care of by a psychologist/psychiatrist.

Ultimately, Mazes and Monsters is a fine/perfectly watchable movie. It doesn’t really excel at anything, nor does it outright fail at telling its story. This makes it somewhat hard to recommend to anyone outside of fans of roleplaying games that are looking for something to poke fun at with friends, or to diehard Tom Hanks fans. Even then, it’s dicey (no pun intended). While none of its scenes stuck out to me for being particularly good, there was some fun to be had in being able to talk about it with other people. The best part of watching this movie and getting to discuss it with my friends was how it served as the perfect segue into us trying to get into D&D ourselves.

Wanna hear more about Mazes and Monsters? Feel free to check out our podcast episode on the 1982 movie from your favorite podcast player! Alternatively, you could also watch/listen to our episode on the movie on Youtube!

Dr. Cox – My Cautionary Mentor

Anyone that knows me knows that I love Scrubs. It’s one of those shows that I tend to always be in the mood for and that I rewatch at least once or twice ever year. And a lot of why I think Scrubs is such a great show is because of how it’s creator and show-runner Bill Lawrence manages to mix pathos (the emotion-drive Socratic mode of persuasion) with raunchy and creative humor in a way that services both my stupid human emotions and my funny bone.

And while the show has a number of characters that I regularly quote and relate to, one of the characters that I’ve always had an affinity for was Perry Ulysses Cox, the gruff/tough/push-has-come-to-shove Doctor who starts in Scrubs as an attending. I can’t get enough of John C McGinley’s portrayal of the character and his tough-love mentorship over Zach Braff’s JD.

I’m definitely not alone in this either, as Dr. Cox is easily one of the most popular characters in Scrubs and is probably just as, if not more popular and beloved than it’s main protagonist JD. While JD is a whimsical and somewhat effeminate lead, Cox works as his counterpoint. Another way of putting things is that JD is Bambi and Dr. Cox is… I don’t know, the battered and weathered husk of a deer that hits the gym every day?

Does that work? That works right? I haven’t seen Bambi in a while.

Simply put, Dr. Cox is the strict disciplinarian and role model in JD’s life. He serves as a surrogate father for our character and helps take him from being a meek intern, to being a successful Doctor. And today, I’m going to explore what I think is the centerpiece of Dr. Cox’s character and what made him successful in being Newbie’s mentor, as well as a bit of a cautionary tale for him.

But first, let’s discuss Dr. Cox himself. We all know that he can be a little hard to deal with and that he tends to butt-heads with the other Doctors at Sacred Heart, which stems from his very cynical world view that people are ostensively bad/evil.

It’s a bit of a narcissistic take to have on humanity, but it falls perfectly in line with who Dr. Cox is as a person and how his life experiences shaped him into being the person that he is. For example, we know that he had a pretty abusive childhood, thanks to a season 5 episode where we meet Perry’s sister Paige. So, to keep things simple, we know that Dr. Cox is both jaded and tired of being a doctor, we also know that he’s cynical and doesn’t exactly hold people in high regard, and we can assume that part of this is due to his experiences growing up and how he never had a mentor of his own. Except that he actually did have a mentor of his own, as we saw in a Season 1 episode. Although his mentor was a bit of a dick, so that’s actually a moot point.

However through knowing JD, Dr. Cox actually starts to change a bit over the course of Scrubs, which is what I’ll be getting into right about now. When JD starts at Sacred Heart, it doesn’t take long for him to cling to Dr. Cox for moral support. And while Dr. Cox seemingly doesn’t want anything to do with JD, he continues to keep an eye on the young doctor. It’s mostly so that JD doesn’t accidentally kill someone while he’s on the job, but it’s repeatedly established over the course of season 1 that Dr. Cox genuinely likes JD and wants to see him succeed, even if he’s too emotionally constipated to admit it. As for why Dr. Cox accepts JD as his pupil, season 1 also manages to hint towards a possible answer. In the first episode that features Dr. Cox’s ex-wife Jordan, she mentions that JD reminds her a lot of Perry. When we meet Jordan’s brother, we even see that Perry and Ben have a relationship that, in a lot of ways, mirrors Turk and JD’s bromance. In my opinion, I think this is why Dr. Cox’s relationship with JD is different from the one that he has with, say, Elliot or any of the other medical interns and Doctors. He probably sees a lot of himself, or the person he either used to be or could have been, in JD and wants to make sure that JD doesn’t lose that. Sure, JD annoys the crap out of Dr. Cox, but he also recognizes his potential as a doctor and his capacity for empathy, which is something that Cox struggles with personally.

But, conveniently enough for “Welcome Back Coxer,” his relationship with JD also manages to help refine his ability as a doctor too. Through spending so much time with JD, and watching him grow from being an intern to an attending, Dr. Cox learns how to relate to his patients, fix his relationship with Jordan, and how to stop getting in his own way all the time. Essentially, being a mentor allows Dr. Cox to help himself through helping JD. It’s kinda counter-intuitive, but it asserts that Dr. Cox is a smart and capable person who knows the answers to his problems, but just needed some help recognizing that he did. JD’s just the rock that Dr. Cox needed to ground himself in the professional world and to help him keep it together.

But what makes him cautionary? Well, Dr. Cox tends to get in his own way a lot and, when we’re first introduced to him in Scrubs, he’s a little rough around the edges. He lives in a sterile/impersonally decorated apartment, he drinks excessively, and he uses his difficult/hard-to-handle demeanor as a means of distancing himself from the other Doctors. Only, as we get to know him over the course of the show, as well as watch him grow as a person, we see that none of this is really who Dr. Cox is. Yes, he still lives in an apartment that is clearly a retrofitted OR and he still drinks a lot, but we see him engaging in less behaviors that are designed to keep people away from him. When Jordan leaves to visit her mother, we actually see Dr. Cox in a vulnerable place for once, when he’s shown being actively lonely. And in season 8, after becoming the chief of medicine, we see that Dr. Cox actually misses spending time with his patients, and is equally disappointed to miss out on spending time with his son Jack.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, because Dr. Cox sees so much of himself in JD, he represents what could have happened to JD if he hadn’t served as a mentor to him. Without Dr. Cox’s guidance, or had he failed to be a good role model/secondary father figure for JD, he probably would have ended up a lot like the Dr. Cox we met at the beginning of the series. And I think Dr. Cox knows this or at least comes to know this after his second encounter with JD’s brother, who tells him to stop JD from becoming another cynical doctor.

At the end of the day and whether you agree with my assessment of the character or not, Dr. Cox is a great character. He’s one of the funniest and most memorable characters on the show and I genuinely believe that deserves to go down as one of the great TV characters of the 21st century because of how flawed and human he is. He’s also just a great example of a character that has a great capacity and desire to feel, even if the act of feeling terrifies him as much as it clearly does.

Hope you enjoyed this article on Dr. Cox! If you wanna check out more Scrubs related stuff, I’d definitely recommend checking out my podcast episode on the show! You can listen to it below, or from your favorite podcast player!

Rocky IV: A Delightfully Watchable Deviation (Review)

Oh man, Rocky IV… This is when the series really got out there. I’ve long held the belief that this is not a good movie, even though it’s such a delightful moviegoing experience. And after rewatching it the other night, after reading about Sylvester Stallone’s intention to recut the movie (without the totally realistic, common household appliance Robot), it’s safe to say that my opinion on the movie hasn’t faltered.

Can you blame me though? Like, this movie is big, dumb and sticks out like a sore thumb in the franchise. It just does. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is the reigning heavyweight champ of the world and gets embroiled in the Cold War when his best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is killed in the ring by a stone cold/roided-out fighter from the Soviet Union named Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). What happens after that is a couple training montages, the most one sided fight in boxing film history, and a surprising (in the context of the film and not in the context of watching it) upset victory. Oh, and Rocky ends the Cold War.

This movie simply doesn’t fit in with the rest of the franchise in damn near every way possible. The plot is overblown and injected with a health dose of Reagan-era patriotism (is there a bigger “Reagan film” than this? Death Wish III maybe?), Vince DiCola’s original score is heavily synthesized and barely resembles the iconic themes/motiffs used in literally every other Rocky film by Bill Conti, and the nuance/characterization of the Rocky characters that made them so endearing and real is gone. Paulie dates a robot, need I say more?

It’s easy to point at those aspects of the movie and call this the worst Rocky movie ever. And honestly, I kinda think it is if we’re talking about Rocky movies. Rocky V was definitely worse than this, as far as films themselves go, but Rocky IV does a worse job of fitting in with the franchise as a whole to me. Does that make it a boring or bland movie? Well, maybe a little bland, but certainly not boring! There’s no way a movie with Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” and John Cafferty’s “Hearts on Fire” could be considered boring!

This movie is filled with laughs, memorable dialogue, incredible music (Drago’s suite is fitting of a future sequence in a Terminator movie and I would pay hand over foot for an albums worth of this kind of brooding music that was done by Vince DiCola and Brad Fidel), and a pretty brisk runtime of around 90 minutes, making it the shortest Rocky movie. Again, this is all actually pretty great, even if it doesn’t make sense for a Rocky sequel.

And that should be a pretty big dealbreaker for me. A franchise needs to feel cohesive after all, right? Well… I honestly don’t think so! In the same way that Marvel movies allow themselves to deviate into being closer to genre exercises (With Captain America: The Winter Soldier being an espionage thriller, Iron Man III being a classic Shane Black story, etc), I kinda like that Rocky IV is the series’ “big dumb 80s propaganda film.” It suits it well and, if you’re working through the series, makes for a pretty good way to switch things up a bit. And after roughly 6 hours of Rocky movies, you could probably use that change in tone, don’t you think?

I’m ultimately glad that Stallone tried to course correct after Rocky IV (even if he didn’t truly succeed at it until Rocky Balboa in 2006), because a franchise like Rocky can only really survive one movie as off-base as this one. But man, what a great way to kill an hour and a half, am I right? And what a time capsule for the 80s and all it’s cool and totally real robots/gadgets.

Like this review and wanna hear my thoughts on another definitively 80s Stallone movie? Cool! Feel free to check out my podcast Media Obscura on your favorite podcast player! We actually did an entire month of Stallone movies last year on it, like the episode embedded below about his Cannon film “Over the Top!”

Bill & Ted Face The Music: Surprisingly Triumphant (Spoiler-Free Review)

I love Bill & Ted. I saw both of the original movies when I was in high school and was going through some stuff. Connecting with one of my, then, casual acquaintances over them really did a lot to get me through what I was going through and it also led to him becoming one of my best friends. Oh, it also got me into rock. So that’s cool.

Almost 30 years after 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the Wyld Stallions are back to finish unifying the world (and saving existence itself) in Bill & Ted’s Face the Music. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Wow. I can’t believe I just typed that. Seriously. If I had a time machine and could go back in time a year or soo to when we were seeing our first images of this movie, I’d immediately run up to my other-self, grab him by his shoulders, and say: “Dude! You aren’t going to believe this but Bill & Ted 3 is like, most triumphant!”

I genuinely think my other-me would try to have me committed on the spot.

It’s easy to look at the (many) revivals of cult properties from yesteryear and immediately write them off as being unnecessary before we’ve ever given them a chance. And honestly, who can blame us for being a bit exhausted by the nonstop cashing in on nostalgia? It’s simply everywhere and, for the most part, hasn’t been done well often enough to justify why people keep making this stuff. While some of these revivals/blasts from the past have been good, a lot of them have honestly just sucked… And yeah, some of those bad ones are still a lot of fun to watch, but it’s never for the right reasons.

Thankfully, Face the Music isn’t one of those cases. I genuinely had a great time with this movie. Was it necessary? Nah. Was it stupid? Absolutely. But aren’t those two things already sown into the fiber of the Bill & Ted franchise? I mean, we’re talking about a series that revolves around two California rockers that use time travel and try to save the world through the power of song. While I was confused as to how this movie would justify its existence, I also recognize that it probably wouldn’t have had to try that hard to come up with a reason for why it exists.

Without jumping into spoiler territory, all I can say is that this movie has something for fans of both of its predecessors. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure fans will find that the movie has enough time-jumping shenanigans that are equal parts throwback and new, while fans of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey will find enough references to that movie with similar execution.

A common problem I have with a lot of revivals is an over-reliance on stock footage and nostalgia to make up for, what’s more often than not, a lack of content. Thankfully, I don’t think that’s the case here; this movie doesn’t overdo the nostalgia, nor does it lack in content. Instead, it uses the past as a stepping stone to take the story in a new direction, while using the basic premise of both of the original movies to help keep the tone familiar for fans of the franchise.

Ultimately, Bill & Ted Face the Music is a great time. None of its scenes overstay their welcome, the celebrity cameos are fun and don’t feel shoehorned, and the cast clearly had a great time returning to their characters after so much time away. And the new characters? Great. I won’t spoil anything but, as far as I’m concerned, Billie and Thea stole the show in every scene they were in for me and I genuinely wish could have worked in at least another 30 minutes of them and their Dad’s adventuring. As it stands though, this movie was a delight to watch, even if it did kinda leave me wanting more.

Either way, I definitely recommend this movie to fans of the Bill & Ted franchise and to anyone looking for fun wholesome-but-still-kinda-macabre/rock humor in their lives! It’s message that music can unite us fits right in with its predecessors and it’s humor is dorky and playful in all the right places. What else can I say; it was way better than I expected it to be and is a welcome addition to the series!

Hope you enjoyed this review! If you wanna hear more of my thoughts on Bill and Ted, why not check out one of my two podcast episodes on the Bill and Ted TV shows? They’re both called Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures, and that’s very confusing! You can check them out by listening to my podcast, Media Obscura, from your favorite podcast player!

Cobra Kai Season 1: Good Fun or Toxicity Incarnate? (Review)

The first two seasons of Cobra Kai just hit Netflix and, to mark the occasion, I thought I’d revisit the Karate Kid franchise to see how well its aged over the years. I’d checked out Cobra Kai a few years ago when it first debuted on YouTube Premium (or YouTube Red or whatever it’s called this week) and at the time, I thought it was good fun with some strange/toxic messaging and a bit too much of an emphasis on the past.

Several years later, I think it’s safe to say that my opinion of the show hasn’t changed much. Cobra Kai is a really, fun show, but it’s just one that can’t decide whether it wants to push the Karate Kid franchise forward or whether it wants to rehash the movies as much as it can, albeit with drone footage in its training sequences.

For those unfamiliar with Cobra Kai, here’s a basic rundown of the plot: Some 30 years after The Karate Kid, former high school bully Johnny Lawerence is depressed and living a sad, solitary existence in a run down apartment. After saving his new teenage neighbor Miguel from some high school bullies, he decides to open a new Cobra Kai dojo in order to teach Miguel and some of his classmates karate. Meanwhile his old high school rival, Daniel LaRusso, catches wind of this and (in a seemingly PTSD induced rage) does everything in his power to make sure Cobra Kai leaves All-Valley forever.

Cobra Kai is an interesting inversion of the original series. By primarily following Sensei Lawrence, it adds a lot of nuance to a character that was painfully shallow in the original movie. Cobra Kai’s Johnny Lawrence is still everything he was in The Karate Kid but, to this shows credit, he’s also played played for laughs a lot. This Johnny Lawrence acts like he never got out of the 80s; he doesn’t believe in allergies, is skeptical about the dangers of concussions, and doesn’t know what Facebook is. In a word, he’s ignorant. But all of this is played for laughs in the series; Johnny’s ignorance is never glorified and is very much a running joke. It’s a great movie, honestly, and works wonderfully at humanizing a character that had spent over three decades being paper-thin. It’s also interesting to see how (over the course of the first season), we see the beginnings of Johnny coming of age as a person, as he tries to get back onto his feet and grow into being a (slightly more) considerate teacher for his students. All of this is balanced really well by William Zabka, who has a lot of fun with the role’s comedic needs while also playing the character with a lot of pathos. Johnny can be a little hard to handle sometimes, but he’s usually a bit of a scene stealer for me, as much as I hate his project bad-ass (for all those Always Sunny fans) ideology.

Because Johnny is the main focus of this series Daniel LaRusso, the former protagonist of The Karate Kid, takes up the mantle of being his counterweight/the closest thing to an antagonist in the first season. Daniel, now happily married and with two kids, basically goes out of his way to try and ruin Johnny’s life. Now granted, that’s not to say that Daniel is totally unlikable in this series (he gets a lot of leeway, given how many times Johnny and his friends nearly killed him in high school), but he does act painfully irrationally towards Johnny for opening a dojo. I mean, Daniel literally has flashbacks to stock footage of Johnny and his friends beating the crap out of him every time someone mentions Cobra Kai. And, while I’m not blaming the guy for having trauma, some of the stuff Daniel does to Johnny throughout the first season definitely comes across as cruel. Even his wife agrees with this sentiment, often calling out how out of his mind Daniel is acting. Ralph Macchio is great as an adult Daniel though and doesn’t miss a beat in his return to the iconic character.

Surrounding Johnny/Daniels bickering and feuding is a roster of students/teen characters that are… honestly? Kinda annoying. For all of the over the top fun that Johnny and Daniel bring to the table, a fair amount of the good-will they generate is lost on cliche and poorly written teen plots. I understand why it’s there and appreciate that it’s there with some function to the story, but also need to call out weak storytelling when I see it. Of the teen characters in this show, the only ones I could stand were Miguel (for at least half of the first season) and Robbie. For a lot of the characters, you aren’t really supposed to like them; they’ve been actively militarized by a bunch of Cobra Kai nonsense, after all. But for the characters you are supposed to like, there’s so much writing that oversimplifies being a teenager that it’s hard to do more than roll your eyes at them.

Speaking of that Cobra Kai nonsense; it’s kinda crazy how much fun this show is to watch when several of its characters are basically being dropped into an arc of learning how to be a bunch of jackasses. Without diving too deep/far into this (especially because I get that this is a the first time a lot of people are seeing this show, thanks to Netflix), I know that this is being done to set up a larger story, as well as to justify future seasons of the show, but with no end in sight for this show, I can’t help but hope that the payoff will eventually be worth the wait.

My biggest complaint with Cobra Kai though is how much it leans into the original movies. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia/pandering, it’s simply giving the people that have stuck with The Karate Kid for 30 years a bit of what they want. But it’s the way it leans into the original movies, as well as too often it leans into them that’s a problem. I can’t help but be bothered by the seemingly constant cutting to the original movies in the show, there’s something that feels (and I hate to use this word) lazy about it. One of the great lessons I was taught about storytelling (thanks degree that I don’t use enough!) was to show, don’t tell. And while the show is literally showing us glimpses of the past in a bid to explain its character’s motivations, it’s using it as a way of telling something. Does that make any sense? I suppose I’m trying to say that I would’ve preferred less flashbacks and more of a focus on characters showing how their experiences shaped their worldview back in the present.

Overall, Cobra Kai is totally worth a watch. There are a ton of moments that I found laugh-out-loud funny in first season and, if my memory holds up, the second season is more of the same. If you, even remotely, have any nostalgia towards The Karate Kid, then Cobra Kai is definitely worth your time!

If you liked this review and wanna hear our thoughts on the original Karate Kid, feel free to check out our review of it, as well as our podcast episode on the movie!

We also have a full episode version of our episode about The Karate Kid over on our YouTube channel, if that’s more your speed:

The Karate Kid or: that thing they keep cutting to in Cobra Kai (Review)

The Karate Kid is iconic. There’s no beating around the fact that most of you reading this have already seen this movie before; it’s a staple of anyone who grew up with a VCR, DVD Player or Cable TV’s film watching experience. But, since Cobra Kai is crane-kicking it’s way onto Netflix next week, and because I wanna go into rewatching the under-rated YouTube Premium series with a fresh memory, I figured a review of the original series was only appropriate.

I’ll also be covering The Karate Kid on our next episode of my podcast, Media Obscura, so be sure to tune in on your favorite podcast player if you’re jonzing for more Karate Kid content!

The original Karate Kid follows fish-out-of-water Daniel Larusso (played by Ralph Macchio) after him and his single mother have moved from New Jersey to sunny California. Once there, he befriends and falls for a girl named Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue). Unfortunately though, this puts him on the radar of her ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and his Cobra Kai being-kickass-is-a-personality friends, who quickly make his life a living hell. Thankfully, Daniel befriends his apartment’s handyman Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), who teaches him how to defend himself/fight just in time for a local karate tournament.

It’s a classic underdog story with an 80’s high school twist. And I mean a classic underdog story. In fact, this movies blueprint very closely matches Rocky, wouldn’t you say? An Italian-American has to earn the respect of someone with way more training/fights under his belt while balancing a burgeoning romantic relationship and training under an older mentor. It applies to both movies pretty well, don’t you think? It certainly doesn’t help that this movie was directed and scored by John G Avlidsen and Bill Conti respectively, two names that also graced the original Rocky. Even Survivor has a song in this movie, Moment of Truth, which was originally written for a Rocky sequel!

And I only bring this up because, and this might be a hot take, I think I actually prefer The Karate Kid to Rocky. I think Rocky is the better, more important, movie between the two (and the Rocky franchise has certainly had a bigger impact on my life for the record) but The Karate Kid is definitely more charming and fun to me.

The Karate Kid comes packed with a fun, bouncy soundtrack (Cruel Summer, You’re The Best, Bop Bop (On The Beach) and Feel The Night are all iconic as far as I’m concerned), as well as a light and playful tone that makes it extremely easy to watch. And, much like in Rocky the highlights of this movie for me have always been the scenes outside of the fight at the climax of the movie. For example, Daniel using a hose on Johnny during the Halloween party and running away from them to New Wave music is incredible and reminds me of when Biff and his Goons chased Marty around Hill Valley in Back to the Future. And Daniel/Ali’s date scene is, I kid you not, one of my favorite date montages in any movie ever. It may actually be tied for the top spot there with the “Just Like Heaven” scene in Adventureland, honestly.

And that’s not to say that the action in this movie slouches either. The fighting definitely serves its purpose here and was probably responsible for a lot of TV’s getting kicked over the last 35 years. But movies like The Karate Kid have always been more about the journey than the actual confrontation and, honestly, that’s just the way it should be. More than anything, this movie is about Miyagi and Daniel’s budding friendship and how Miyagi instills discipline in his life. The best comparison I can make (outside of Rocky/Mickey’s relationship in the Rocky series, obviously) is that their friendship is a lot like Doc and Marty in Back to the Future.

So is The Karate Kid worth watching today? Well, yeah! Watching it is still a delight and it’s an insanely charming movie! Daniel is a mostly likable protagonist and him and Miyagi’s chemistry is a lot of fun to watch.

Definitely check this one out if you haven’ seen it before/haven’t seen it in a while! It’s worth your time!

Check out Media Obscura on your favorite podcast player for more retro movie/TV reviews. And check out our episode on The Karate Kid when it’s out next week if you wanna hear us get into detail over why this is such a fun movie!

We also have a full video version of our podcast episode on The Karate Kid over on our YouTube channel!