film

Rapid Fire Reviews #24 The Covid Binge

Well folks, it finally happened. I caught Covid-19 about a month ago and dove into movie after movie whilst dying on the couch. In that unexpected Movie Marathon I mostly relied on genre-heavy films that caught my eye, or completely random selections. Occasionally this yielded amazing results, other times, not so much. One end of this spectrum of cinema held thrilling and downright magical stuff from time to time, but there were also a few films that were less than satisfactory, and that’s quite a generous sentiment if I’m being honest. Below you’ll find a western, a Japanese heist flick, several seafaring tales, a Kaiju trilogy, a paranoid political thriller, a South Korean horror flick, a martial arts comedy, and a few black and white films- one of which is a silent era classic. Since there are so many films on this edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews, this article will operate almost exactly like the 25 Days of Zatoichi pieces. In those daily articles I reviewed each film in small bursts where I focused on a quick summary of the story, my favorite part of each film, and why its great. Though this time the last portion will be changed to whether or not I recommend the film. Hopefully you’ll find something to enjoy below, I certainly did, even if I had to sift through a few duds in the process.

The Quick and The Dead (1995)

Summary: Written by Simon Moore and directed by Sam Raimi, “The Quick and The Dead” is a western that focuses on a gun dueling tournament in the frontier town of Redemption. The town’s run by John Herod (Gene Hackman), a ruthless Outlaw who forces the tournament upon the townsfolk with gunslingers from all walks of life entering the contest. The story mostly concerns Ellen, or “The Lady” (Sharon Stone) as she’s most commonly referred to, as a mysterious gunslinger who enters the tournament initially claiming to only be interested in the high-dollar cash prize. Though, in truth she has ulterior motives of the revenge sort. Of course, that mystique can be extended to all of the tournament’s participants too. While all claim their only interest is in the money, everyone’s got their own goals. The young gun himself, solely called The Kid, (Leonardo DiCaprio) just wants recognition and respect from his father, John Herod. Cort (Russell Crowe) a former member of Herod’s gang who became a pastor to amend for his sins of the past, is dragged into the conflict quite literally by Herod and his henchmen. Herod keeps Cort Prisoner in-between duels, as he knows just how good Cort is with a gun, preacher or not. The cast itself was a real treat, I certainly didn’t expect Keith David or Lance Henriksen to be in this Western, and their presence was much appreciated!

Favorite Part?

While there are many standout scenes and moments throughout the film due to the eccentric cast of character-actors on hand, the key aspect of this film that I loved the most was the tournament structure in the storytelling. The whole film is centered on that most nostalgic and romanticized of Western tropes, the duel. Every character that enters the tournament must fight one of the other participants per day, each may challenge any other, no challenge can be refused, and the duel continues until one contestant either yields, or dies. This allows Raimi and Moore to squeeze the most dramatic potential from each duel and stylize it with Raimi’s signature flair with the camera.

Recommendation?

Personally, I highly recommend giving this one a shot. It’s all pure Western tropes with the genre shenanigans cranked to Eleven. You can certainly tell that it’s Raimi behind the camera, and the cast is *chef’s kiss* perfection. Gene Hackman has always had a great presence, villainous or not, and with Herod he brought to life a charismatic outlaw worth remembering. Every actor was a treat if I’m being honest, but Sharon Stone played the mysterious gunslinger role excellently. Her performance reminded me a lot of Clint Eastwood’s silent wryness from his Spaghetti-Western days, particularly the way The Man with No Name uses silence to their advantage. If you’re a fan of Westerns, or just Sam Raimi in general, this one’s worth your time.

Cruel Gun Story (1964)

Summary: Written by Hisataka Kai and Haruhiko Ôyabu and directed by Takumi Furukawa, “Cruel Gun Story” is a fairly by-the-book heist gone wrong film. Not that that’s a bad thing, the film is well handled by the filmmakers and cast throughout the runtime, and it’s a thoroughly entertaining romp into old school noir heists. Joe Shishido stars as Joji Togawa, a hired gun that’s released from prison a few years early thanks to his former criminal connections. Togawa was imprisoned for the revenge killing of the man that put his sister in a wheelchair for life. While he wanted to go straight and get out of the game after his release- the crime boss that released him, Matsumoto (Hiroshi Nihon’yanagi), had other plans for Togawa. Reluctantly, Togawa accepts his role as the lead of a heist trying to intercept an armored truck carrying 120 Million Yen in Racetrack holdings. After Togawa vets the team that Matsumoto set up for him, replacing a con that gave up their details immediately in one example, the film performs the usual genre tropes. We see the gangsters’ perfect vision of how the heist will go, crafting audience understanding of the characters’ expectations for the crime. Thus making their inevitable failure impact us all that much more as we see the gangsters realize events in real time. I won’t ruin exactly how everything falls apart for you, but it’s a serviceable entertaining romp in crime genre filmmaking.

Favorite Part?

The third act eventually turns into an all–guns-firing shootout with double crosses aplenty. Its nothing groundbreaking, but its certainly thrilling. Though the character work done by Joe Shishido throughout the film was solid and reliable as the cool tough guy forced into that ages old trope of one last job.

Recommendation?

If you enjoy a good heist film, this one should suffice. There’s just enough to make it unique, but it did remind me of two films I’ve reviewed here before, Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Bob Le Flambeur” (Bob the Gambler) and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing”, both of which I’ve linked below. All three films are doomed heists, but each one falls apart in their own ways. All three are certainly worth your time.

The Sea Wolf (1941)

Summary: Written by Robert Rossen and directed by Michael Curtiz, adapted from the novel by Jack London, “The Sea Wolf” is a thrilling nautical tale about the dangers of mad men in leadership roles on the high seas. While aboard a ferry just off the waters of San Francisco, Ruth Webster (Ida Lupino), a con avoiding the law, and Humphrey Van Weyden (Alexander Knox), a studious intellectual, are both cast into the open ocean when their ferry collides with another much larger ship. As fate would have it, the two are fished out of the sea by The Ghost, an aptly named seal hunting ship. Once brought aboard we’re met once again by the character that the film began with, George Leach (John Garfield), a man desperate enough to get out of San Francisco in a hurry that he willfully boarded The Ghost, knowing the ship’s reputation all too well. The star of the show however is the Captain of The Ghost, “Wolf” Larsen (Edward G. Robinson). The complex Captain is altogether brutish and cruel, but also incredibly well read and far more academic in nature than one would expect. Larsen leads his men by dividing them against each other through a hard fought competitive atmosphere where none of the crew have a higher value than their own personal gain. Larsen quickly sees Van Weyden as a fellow learned man and the two have intellectual battles throughout the film. While Larsen finds his cerebral match in Van Weyden, he also finds his physical match in Leach as well. After being brought aboard, Larsen and crew have the ship’s doctor, Louis J. Prescott (Gene Lockhart), tend to Ms. Webster’s apparent illness from their dip in the drink. The alcoholic Doctor finds purpose in treating Ms. Webster, and when he finds that she needs a blood transfusion, Larsen orders Leach be the donor even though they don’t know her blood type. Luckily, the punchy Leach’s blood matches and Ms. Webster is brought back to the realm of the living. It’s but one of many examples the film gives in Larsen’s iron fist rule aboard The Ghost. Barry Fitzgerald also gives a cheeky and motley performance as Cookie the chef, an informant whose loyalty to Larsen is rewarded by being thrown overboard. The film’s third act is particularly intense and entertaining as Larsen’s ideology and wits are ultimately outmatched by Van Weyden and Leach right as Larsen’s brother, “Death” Larsen attacks The Ghost, sending “Wolf” Larsen and Van Weyden to watery graves with a satisfactory finale.

Favorite Part?

My favorite part of this film were the debates between Larsen and Van Weyden. Larsen believes that the atmosphere he’s fomented on the ship with the crew will challenge and change Van Weyden into a man without civility, one who no longer abides by morality. Ultimately Van Weyden gets the last laugh by tricking Larsen into giving up the sinking vessel’s key, allowing Ms. Webster and Leach to escape with their lives in the end. Van Weyden’s self sacrifice to go down with Larsen and The Ghost, puzzles Larsen initially (He’s temporarily blinded by a migraine), thinking he missed Van Weyden with his gun, once Van Weyden no longer responds from being shot, Larsen acknowledges his fate.

Recommendation?

If you’ve got any interest in tales that take place on the high seas, this one was a fascinating little romp. I was also surprised to see the filmmakers behind the film, Michael Curtiz would be directing “Casablanca” just a year later while the screenwriter, Robert Rossen, would go on to write the exceptional Paul Newman breakout hit “The Hustler” roughly two decades later. You can see the broad similarities that both men would bring to their more well known films later on within “The Sea Wolf”. It’s certainly a film worth your time in my opinion.

*Below I’ve linked to the previous editions of the Rapid Fire Reviews that have my reviews of both “The Hustler” and “Casablanca” respectively. Enjoy!

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

Summary: Written by Larry Ferguson, Donald E. Stewart, and David Shaber, based on the novel by Tom Clancy, and directed by John McTiernan, “The Hunt for Red October” is a thrilling story of the geopolitical anxieties at the height of the Cold War in 1984. When the Soviet Union’s most decorated submarine captain, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), commandeers their new undetectable vessel and beelines towards the US coastline while the CIA and heads of the Military must determine whether this rogue captain is trying to start a war, or attempting to defect. This was a tightly constructed and efficient film that fully embraced the sweaty anxiety that nuclear Armageddon promised in the espionage era. From the thrilling cat-and-mouse scenes of several subs (both American and Russian) tracking down the behemoth sub to the scenes of each vessel’s crew trying to figure out what Ramius’ intent is and the motivations behind them, the film keeps tensions high at every corner. The cast of characters are nearly all recognizable big name actors, with some familiar faces from modern TV as well. With Sam Neill, Stellan Skarsgård, and Tim Curry all playing Russians on Ramius’ sub, The Americans have Scott Glenn (He portrayed Stick from the “Daredevil” series and Alan Pangborn in the short lived “Castle Rock” series- at least, that’s where I know him from), Alec Baldwin as the popular Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan, and James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer. There’s plenty to enjoy here!

Favorite Part?

The whole movie was a real treat, but the one scene that I thought was brilliant was the initial slow zoom in on the Russian sub while everyone is speaking in Russian, then on the zoom out everyone has been switched to English. In a time when subtitled movies didn’t exactly get a lot of American eyeballs, not to mention that the cast probably wouldn’t have learned a whole new language just to improve their performances, it was a very clever trick, and I applaud the creativity behind that choice.

Recommendation?

I highly recommend this one. While I wouldn’t say it’s Sean Connery’s best or most memorable performance, it’s certainly a good one. The fact that the whole movie around Connery is operating at such a high level of quality makes this one a worthwhile watch.

Pirates of The Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Summary: Written by Jeff Nathanson, from a story by Nathanson and Terry Rossio, and directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning, “Pirates of The Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the fifth film in the Pirates franchise and one that does little to reinvent the wheel. While not as painfully uninteresting as the fourth film, “On Stranger Tides”, this film felt similarly to “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” for me. Sure, there are some visually arresting set-pieces, but what’s the point? If you’ve seen the previous “Pirates of The Caribbean” films (I very much enjoyed the first three films), you know what you’re getting into. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is usually pirating about trying to steal either money, a nautically themed MacGuffin, or the Black Pearl itself (again). The antagonist is usually a larger than life figure from legends of the seven seas like Davy Jones, The infamous Pirate Black Beard, or a mythic sea creature like The Kraken. This time around that villain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) a Spanish pirate-hunter from Jack Sparrow’s earliest pirating days. After entrapping the Spaniards in some treacherous rock formations, also known as the Devil’s Triangle, they became cursed and trapped within the cave for decades until Jack Sparrow willfully trades away his magic compass for a drink after a hard day’s heist gone wrong. This, somehow, destroys the Devil’s Triangle and frees Captain Salazar to seek his revenge on Jack Sparrow. There are several other storylines running congruently to Jack Sparrow’s, and they all eventually get entangled. The other two new faces in the franchise (forgive me if they appeared in “Stranger Tides”, it’s been forever since I saw that film) in Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites). Henry is the son of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) from the first three films, and he’s dead set on reversing the Curse of Davy Jones and freeing his father. Carina gets caught up in Jack Sparrow’s aforementioned failed heist and escapes Saint Martin with Sparrow and crew. As a young woman interested in Astronomy in this era, naturally, she’d been sentenced to death for witchcraft and ends up trying to help Henry find Poseidon’s Trident (MacGuffin Ahoy!) by using her unknown father’s star charts to help them track it down. Cue the third act naval battle sequence!

Favorite Part?

Honestly, while most of this one wasn’t exactly the finest the franchise has to offer, I did admittedly enjoy the theme park ride aesthetic in full gear when Jack Sparrow and friends attempted to rob a bank in the first act. Everything else was… fine, but its mostly a case of “been there, done that“.

Recommendation?

I can’t truly recommend this one if I’m being honest. I don’t like accusing any filmmaking crew of laziness, making a movie is like waging a war, but when you end up wasting the talents of Javier Bardem and then having the gall to render his Spanish ship in the way that they did makes it seem like they were either cutting corners or experiencing an extreme lack of imagination. Salazar’s ship can reel back and lurch forward to devour other ships, which in theory sounds cool, but it’s not animated with seemingly any depth or detail. It was like they deliberately chose not to animate large portions of the ship, it was a strange choice any way you slice it. The story was garbled, the characters were either carbon copies of previous characters (but with a twist!) or veterans of the series that were merely going through the motions. If you’ll watch Jack Sparrow onscreen in any capacity, then hey, this might be for you, it just wasn’t for me.

Grand Illusion (1937)

Summary: Written by Charles Spaak and Jean Renoir, and directed by Renoir, “Grand Illusion” is a film set during the first World War wherein several French Pilots were shot down and taken as prisoners of war in Germany which resulted in cinema’s first real prison escape film under the all consuming backdrop of war. Maybe my disconnect with “Grand Illusion” is because the heart of the film included so many cultural aspects of the period piece, not to mention the sensibilities of audiences during the time of release in 1937 as well. Of course, I was also sick and loaded to the gills with all kinds of medicine during this binge of films, so that probably didn’t help. After some light internet research to remind myself of the film’s details, other than some recognizable genre heist elements that influenced the future of cinema in general, I realized I missed a lot of the intent of the film. Below I’ve linked a review by Roger Ebert regarding a re-release of this film in 1999 where he more skillfully details the film’s broader ideas. I actually did not know the connection between the title and the story elements after my initial watch, but it was about the notion of Europe’s upper class having an existential crisis in realizing that civility and order all go right out the door when the new age of war takes its place. Reflecting a bit on my time with the film, I have to agree with Ebert, the film is a meditation on the collapse of the old order of civilization. “And the ‘grand illusion’ of Renoir’s title is the notion that the upper classes somehow stand above war. The German cannot believe that his prisoners, whom he treats almost as guests, would try to escape. After all, they have given their word not to” (Ebert, Grand Illusion). Due to this, I must admit to requiring a re-watch of the film sometime in the future.

Favorite Part?

Honestly, my favorite part was seeing how the French prisoners escaped through digging a tunnel and hiding their excavated dirt in their pant legs, spreading the dirt out on the prison grounds while they were let outside. It got a chuckle out me, and maybe it’ll get you too.

Recommendation?

While I do recommend this film, it may help to read up about the context of the film a bit first. I think that would have smoothed things out for me and improved my initial experience with the film. I do highly recommend at least giving Roger Ebert’s review a read through, it’s what got me to consider a re-watch.

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-grand-illusion-1937

Safety Last! (1923)

Summary: Written by Tim Whelan, Hal Roach, and Sam Taylor, and directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, “Safety Last!” is a silent romantic comedy that’s quickly coming up on it’s one-hundredth anniversary! The story is a simple one, but as I can attest, it’s still quite thrilling to this day. Harold Lloyd, the actor and character share the name, opens the film by leaving his mother and girlfriend Mildred (Mildred Davis) behind at the train station as he heads to the city to make it big. Once there he gets a job at a department store and gets into a mishap between his roommate Bill (Bill Strother) and the local police. Harold recognizes a friend from back home as a police officer, then brags to Bill that he has pull with the local PD and tells Bill to give his hometown friend a good rousing- for old time’s sake. Unfortunately for them, Bill ends up trouncing the wrong Cop and escapes by turning a corner and quickly climbing up the side of the building. Later Harold overhears his oppressive boss saying he’d give anyone $1000 to get customers attracted to the store. He quickly gets an idea and tells his roommate Bill that if he can climb the skyscraper that the department store is a part of, he’ll split the $1000 50/50 with him. Bill accepts and they start putting up posters and flyers for the event. On the day of the climb however, the same police officer wronged by Bill is brought to the attention of the illegal stunt and suspects that Bill may be the culprit. He waits at the corner advertised and when the two decide they can no longer wait out the Cop, Bill tells Harold to take his hat and jacket so people will think it’s him and to climb the first story where they will switch places. Harold begins the climb as the policeman spots Bill running into the building but at every level Bill is plagued by the Cop who’s hot on his tail. He keeps telling Harold, just one more story, until Harold manages, through much strife and many life or death moments, to clamber to the top of the building.

Favorite Part?

Once Harold Lloyd starts climbing the building I was at rapt attention. The entire sequence isn’t a century old classic for nothing! As someone whose uneasy with heights and balancing on small footholds, my palms and feet were sweating at every turn and swivel as Harold’s lanky body stuck to the side of that building like glue. Obviously, the image of Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock hand is an iconic moment from silent cinema, and it maintains that staying power.

Recommendation?

It’s a very simple but highly entertaining silent film, and I highly recommend this one. It’s for everyone!

Paper Flowers (1959)

Summary: Written by Abrar Alvi and directed by Guru Dutt, “Paper Flowers” was the most surprising and compelling film that I watched during the Covid binge. I was casually scrolling through the Criterion Channel streaming service when I happened upon a new featured filmmaker, Guru Dutt. The description called him ‘The Orson Welles of Indian cinema‘, and that was enough for me to skim through the various films curated by Criterion (That and after having just seen “RRR”, the best movie of the year twice in theaters- I was ready for more Indian Cinema). I hovered over “Paper Flowers” for a few moments, it seemed remotely familiar somehow, so I went ahead and clicked through and I’m so happy I did. Guru Dutt not only directs the film and had a hand in the screenplay, but also stars as famous film director, Suresh Sinha. The story follows Suresh over some years beginning as a celebrity filmmaker with high demands when it comes to the integrity of his art, his popularity is so strong that he can use the threat of walking away from any film if he doesn’t get his way. In a turn of fate, Suresh happens upon Shanti (Waheeda Rehman), a young woman waiting out a rainstorm under a tree. Suresh ponders the girl, and then gives her his coat before heading back to the film studio. Shanti tracks him down after a while and accidentally walks into an active production set for one of Suresh’s films, she was just trying to return his coat to him. Once captured on film, Suresh realizes that Shanti has star potential and demands his crew find her and cast her in the film. The rest of the film is a turn of fate for both Suresh and Shanti as their fortunes reverse. Eventually Suresh’s career goes so far off track that his demands are no longer met, and he’s eventually so far run down that he’s not even optioned for directing films while Shanti’s stardom rises ever higher. It was an excellent commentary on the film industry of that time and place (and of all filmmaking in some capacity), where the industry can chew you up and spit you out before you know it. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve made them, if you can’t make crowd pleasing money makers, you’re nothing to them.

Favorite Part?

The whole thing. Every scene clicked for me and essentially every creative choice was one that I understood and connected with. Though the ending scene where an elder, gray haired, and slower Suresh sneaks back into his old studio and barely makes it into the director’s chair where he dies shortly afterwards. When the film crew comes in, someone recognizes Suresh, and they give him maybe a moment of silence and awe that such a once revered figure could slump so low before someone in charge barks orders to move the body and get back to work. Brutal.

Recommendation?

Films about the making of films, or that focus on famous cinematic personalities, are a sub-genre of movies that I’ve always loved. This one isn’t just for film geeks like me though! It’s a powerful critique of the film industry, sure, but there’s a whole lot of humanity squeezed into this one. The connections we have, the grudges we harbor, and how the trajectory of life can dive and weave in unexpected ways. I highly recommend seeking this one out, but especially if you have any interest in fictionalized tales of the film industry. I’ve linked below my review of one of my other favorite movies about filmmakers, “Ed Wood” Enjoy!

The Parallax View (1974)

Summary: Written by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr, and Robert Towne, based on the novel by Loren Singer and directed by Alan J. Pakula, “The Parallax View” is very much in line with the political paranoia thrillers that the 1970’s were known for. Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty) is your typical midwestern journalist working at a relatively smaller newspaper. After a Senator is shot dead Frady takes on the investigation with all the cynical aplomb afforded to a 1970’s Movie version of a journalist. No deadlines, Frady is funded for further investigating by his editor’s petty cash funds, etc. When others interested in the mystery involving the Parallax corporation start showing up dead everywhere Frady looks, the threat to those seeking the truth becomes ever imperiled. There are some really fascinating turns here and there by way of the script, but my issues with the film lie more in the execution of the ideas at play. I suppose the faceless, ambiguous, and slippery notion of the Parallax corp’s villainy is sort of the point of the film, but personally I would have taken a more direct approach, or at least done more with Beatty’s character. I mean, I can’t tell you anything about who Joe Frady is as a person if I’m being honest. Though I must say, the way the ending circles back around to the original killing of the senator to show you how mechanical and efficient the Parallax corp is at killing dissent was pretty neat.

Favorite Part?

So, I may have given it away already, but the ending was my favorite part of the film. It’s unsettling, and doubles down on the dark cynicism of the film’s nature. It won’t make you feel good, but it should elicit a a cinematic shiver or two from you… probably.

Recommendation?

Personally, I don’t recommend this one. It’s not bad per se, but it just wasn’t for me. The middle portion of the film gets muddled down by a lack of clear direction with a protagonist fighting against a threat that’s mostly unknown, and hopelessly oppressive. If you’re looking for a political paranoia thriller from the 1970s, Alan J. Pakula would go on to direct “All The President’s Men” just two years later. It’s a far better film that more clearly and crisply operates in the same creative headspace- but with much more success. Below I’ve linked one of the earlier editions of the Rapid Fire Reviews in which “All The President’s Men” is featured:

Ape (2012)

Summary: Written and Directed by Joel Potrykus, “Ape” follows Trevor (Joshua Burge) a fairly awful stand up comedian whose life slowly begins to unravel around him. Amongst the chaos of financial problems, some poor life choices, and an egotistical world view that only reinforces Trevor’s own victim mentality- our protagonist turns to pyromania. Instead of tackling his problems head on, or even working towards the potential goal that the film sets out (a talent scout is going to visit the comedy club that Trevor frequents in a week), the listless protagonist lets his addiction to arson carry him through the script’s wandering pages. There are some half-baked attempts at larger ideas, Trevor trades a bad joke to “The Devil” for a golden apple. He eventually eats the apple onstage, gets some pity laughs for another bad joke, and then a small branch erupts from his bleeding side and he freaks out on stage. That’s about it.

Favorite Part?

Honestly, this film wasn’t for me. The closest thing that comes to a favorite part of this one is when Trevor gets slightly unpredictable and swings a mic stand at a heckler he brings onstage. That moment woke me back up from the uninterested malaise that the film itself initiated. Unfortunately, not much else of note happens.

Recommendation?

If you couldn’t tell, I did not enjoy my time with this film. I don’t want to go too hard against this one though as I chose to give it a shot as the filmmaker shoots his films in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Which I live near and wanted to support a fellow native West Michigan filmmaker. Its his first feature, and movies are hard to make, I totally get that. This style of indie film has never really been my forte though if I’m being honest. I’m pretty easy to please with movies overall, just tell me a good story, or even a bad story just hook me with an interesting premise, or a moody atmosphere, or I don’t know, have a score? This film does not have a score, just a few generic sounding Metal songs that the character also hears alongside us. This film reminds me most of “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” by John Cassavetes, or any number of Jim Jarmusch films (I’ve grown to enjoy a few of his films, but the listless and directionless energy in this film did remind me of Jarmuschs “Dead Man”- but “Dead Man” has more going on). I would however give Joel Potrykus another shot, I’m just not particularly excited about it.

The following link will bring you to the edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews where I write about “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” among other (better) films. Check it out:

The Wailing (2016)

Summary: Written and directed by Na Hong-jin, “The Wailing” is a superbly dark horror film from South Korea. On the surface this film follows a lackadaisical and befuddled rural policeman, Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won), who gets caught up in the supernatural plague that sweeps over his village. Jong-goo begins the story by arriving at the crime scene of a mysterious double murder. In this small and slow-paced community, such violent crimes are a rarity, but even the truly eerie part of it all is that the killer was at the scene of the crime. Husband and father of the two victims, apparently the man went mad before slashing apart his family. They find him barely breathing on the stoop, covered in a horrific rash and reddened boils. More murders with the same details keep popping up all over the town as Jong-goo swings between genres of buddy cop shenanigans and gory murder mysteries. Though even with those drastic shifts, the film is stylishly executed with ease all while maintaining an ever increasing sense of dread throughout the runtime. There’s also an older Japanese man living in the mountains nearby and a lot of the villagers naturally distrust him (Japan and Korea have quite the violent history with each other). At first Jong-goo dismisses these notions as pure ignorance, but the film ends up barreling towards those suspicions. As the story progresses, it’s becomes difficult to pin down the fabric of reality. Jong-goo even starts getting nightmares involving the Japanese man that are straight up terror inducing in the right environment. So, what’s real? Who do you trust? How do you solve a murder if the devil did it?

Favorite part?

Reality gets a bit… loose in the second half of the film, but the true unraveling really begins when a Korean Shaman performs a blisteringly trippy exorcism. It’s right at the crux of Jong-goo’s story arc when he’s most lost. When reason fails to make everything right and save his young daughter from the same affliction ravaging his town, Jong-goo gives in to trying the Shaman. Unfortunately, he falters during the exorcism and stops the ritual before the Shaman can complete the process. It’s a wild and weird high point of the film!

Recommendation?

This film is just another excellent addition to South Korea’s film library, and one worth watching if you can stomach the gruesome things that happen onscreen. I’ll definitely be looking up more of Na Hong-jin’s films because of this, it’s a damn good supernatural horror flick. Highly recommended.

*Below I’ve linked to a few other articles I’ve written here on the blog. The 13th edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews includes short reviews of Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother” and Kim Jee-woon’s “I saw The Devil”. Both are excellent thrillers, but my favorite film that I’ve seen from South Korea so far is Bong Joon-ho’s “Memories of Murder”, an excellent police procedural about a string of real life murders in South Korea during the 1980’s.

The Paper Tigers (2020)

Summary: Written and directed by Quoc Bao Tran, “The Paper Tigers” is a martial arts comedy that focuses on three middle-aged men who were obsessed with Kung-fu in the late 80’s and early 90’s. When their former teacher is found murdered they re-form the The Three Tigers, the only known disciples of Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan). Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan), and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) are all at different places in their lives when Sifu’s death reconnects them. Danny’s a divorced dad who’s all but given up the idea of Kung Fu and Jim runs a Mixed Martial Arts gym. Hing still loves Kung Fu and actively tries to retain his youth, but he’s also got the most physical limitations of the three at this point. With a bad leg, but decent toupee, Hing was also the last of the three tigers to stay with Master Sifu after Danny and Jim went on a trip to Japan in the early 1990’s to compete in a Kung Fu tournament where some drama broke out between the two. The Three Tigers must confront their past and each other’s vulnerabilities that come with age. Together they have to learn to trust each other despite the past they share, and to trust themselves once again. Between the fights with some new kids on the block and an old opponent they knew back in the day, this film was a nostalgia fest for The Karate Kid in all of us.

Favorite Part?

Honestly, the whole movie was the throwback charm that I needed in my life. In my youth my friends and I were obsessed with Kung-Fu movies, namely anything with Jackie Chan starring in it, but we’d go out of our way for the old school Shaw brothers films too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Drunken Master 2” (also known as “The Legend of Drunken Master” for the American release in 2000) but that film is burned so far into my brain that it’s basically a core memory at this point. So, naturally, the fight scenes between the new kids (punks) on the block and eventually Sifu Cheung’s murderer were the high points of the film. Each new challenge the trio find themselves in moves the story forward and reveals character development and clears up the context of their shared past as friends and fellow kung-fu disciples of Master Sifu.

Recommendation?

If you’re into films like “The Karate Kid” or the “Cobra Kai” series that’s been out for a few years now, this film should be just what you’re looking for. I certainly enjoyed my time with this one!

The Rebirth of Mothra (1996)

Summary: Written by Masumi Suetani, with a story by Kazuki Ohmori while the original concept was from Tomoyuki Tanaka, and directed by Okihiro Yoneda, “Rebirth of Mothra” is the beginning of a trilogy featuring a new Mothra design that feels straight out of the pages of a Japanese Manga. Leave it to the Japanese to make three films in as many years for a series like this. There’s a few things to note going into these last three films. First off, yes, this was a Kaiju trilogy clearly made for Japanese children in the mid to late 1990’s. Secondly, holy hell those kids got some decent monster movies, but I’m willing to bet more than a few got some good old fashioned nightmares from these films. If you’re familiar with the Showa era Kaiju films out of Japan in the 1960’s then you’ll know that Mothra, the giant Moth Kaiju featured in many of Godzilla’s most famous films, protects the inhabitants of Infant Island, and also usually has two miniscule twin priestesses that can call for Mothra’s aid through song. In this trilogy, they are called The Elias, but the twins have been given various other names and designations over the years. This series introduces the idea that these typical twins actually have a sister whose gone rogue and frequently aims to ruin the twins’ plans and thwart Mothra’s protection over the Earth. The main two sisters are Moll (Megumi Kobayashi) and Lora (Sayaka Yamaguchi), while Belvera (Aki Hano) is the comically evil sister. I was getting major Rita Repulsa (from Power Rangers) vibes from Belvera in all three films. As the story threads from this film carry over into the other two, with major character development between all three sisters mostly happening in the third film, I’d recognize the trilogy as one throughline for these characters as I believe they are the only ones that carry over- besides Mothra, obviously. In this film, the original Showa Mothra is called upon to fight off Desghidorah, a three-headed space dragon, with four legs, that devours the lifeforce of nature. However, Showa era Mothra had just laid an egg recently and isn’t in fighting condition. While the old Mothra battles Desghidorah, the unborn larva senses it’s mother’s pain and hatches early to support her in the fight. Due to this advanced speed during Mothra Leo’s (That’s it’s name until later transformations take place) gestation, alongside it’s intense need to save it’s mother, Mothra Leo’s tranformation process was powered to new heights. Despite being unable to save the original Mothra, Mothra Leo cocoons in the ocean while Desghidorah wreaks havoc on the plant life in the area. It’s not long until Mothra Leo emerges with all kinds of energy beams and lasers in a great end battle sequence that was top tier Kaiju stuff. Which I did not expect based on how much of the first half of the film is devoted to kids’ shenanigans. Mothra Leo takes out Desghidorah through a prolonged fight sequence that earned it’s place, for me at least, among the Heisei Kaiju films. It’s not the best the era had to offer, but certainly not the worst either.

Favorite Part?

Desghidorah was my favorite part of this one because of how ominous it’s presence made the film feel. It’s roar is also clearly an elephant’s trumpeting that’s been altered so sound quite alarming. Initially the foul beast only stomps around on it’s four legs while emitting red beams akin to King Ghidorah’s golden gravity beams, but all that changed once Mothra Leo entered the fight. As if sensing that it would be outmatched on the ground versus a flying enemy, Deghidorah powers up by growing huge wings instantaneously in a humorous fashion if I’m being honest. It felt just like the scene in “Pacific Rim” when one of the Kaijus in the third act adorns wings just to amp up the battle.

Recommendation?

If you can get past the silly kids stuff in the first act, this was surprisingly entertaining. I also didn’t expect any of the Mothra films to feature the twins as heavily as this series does. They ARE the main characters and drive much of the film’s plot (and exposition). If you enjoy giant monster movies, this one’s unique and potentially a good way to introduce kids to the genre.

*Here’s the link for an article I wrote over at Films Fatale where I ranked the Showa era Godzilla films:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/9/27/ranked-the-showa-era-godzilla-movies-1954-1975?rq=Godzilla

The Rebirth of Mothra 2 (1997)

Summary: Written by Masumi Suetani, from an original concept by Tomoyuki Tanaka, and directed by Kunio Miyoshi, “Rebirth of Mothra 2” is the next adventure with the newest Mothra tackling a familiar foe in the Godzilla adjacent Kaiju world: Pollution. Moll (Megumi Kobayashi), Lora (Sayaka Yamaguchi), and Belvera (Aki Hano) all return alongside Mothra Leo to battle another enemy of nature. This time around the threat is from Dagahra, a long dormant Kaiju awakened by rising pollution levels. Dagahra produces thousands of small poisonous starfish-like creatures called Barem that threaten the sea and all creatures that live in it. When Mothra Leo attempts to fight off Dagahra the first time, he’s almost successful- but is overwhelmed when it drags him down into the ocean where he’s nearly suffocated by the swarm of Barem at Dagahra’s control. It’s a similar structure to the first film in that Mothra Leo goes charging into a big fight only to get knocked down and then has to rejuvenate before rejoining the fight with newfound abilities. Once the kids, alongside Moll and Lora, activate the secret treasure after the temple has risen from the ocean depths (this one does a lot of things), Mothra Leo transforms into Rainbow Mothra which allows him to expel the barem and turn the tide of the fight in his favor. This forces Dagahra to the depths of the ocean, which prompts another transformation of Mothra into Aqua Mothra. This version is a streamlined, faster, and more agile version to glide through the water to his enemy’s position even faster. Aqua Mothra can also split himself into many tiny versions of himself that enter Dagahra’s bloodstream and murder the Barem from the inside out. Obviously, this causes Dagahra to self destruct. Day saved, wrap it up for the next one!

Favorite Part?

I enjoyed all of the little oddities of this one. An underwater temple rises from the ocean? That’s pretty neat. Two Mothra transformations for the price of one? Paired alongside a tried and true Anti-pollution narrative? Yup, this one does a lot of things right. There is still some cringey kid stuff to pad out the runtime- but it was negligible compared to everything it did right.

Recommendation?

Again, I do recommend this one, and the trilogy as a whole. It’s pure genre goodness with excellent practical effects! Not to mention the actresses for Moll, Lora, and Belvera give it their all despite how silly it all is.

The Rebirth of Mothra 3 (1998)

Summary: Written by Masumi Suetani and directed by Okihiro Yoneda, “Rebirth of Mothra 3” is the culmination of the trilogy and easily the best film of the three. This one ditches almost all of the kids’ activities, but more directly involves hundreds of kids under the threat of King Ghidorah- yes, Godzilla’s arch-nemesis. As a longtime Godzilla fan, I expected maybe a cameo from Gigan or Anguirus, but certainly not King Ghidorah. His presence alone raises the stakes by an order of magnitude. This one changes things up a bit, Lora is portrayed by a different actress this time around with Misato Tate, but Moll and Belvera are still portrayed by Megumi Kobayashi and Aki Hano respectively. This one also has the craziest plot out of the three. In order to save hundreds of children from King Ghidorah’s wrath the three sisters finally unite, each obtaining a colorful sword with their very own macguffins, and they send back Rainbow Mothra to the ancient past when dinosaurs ruled the land. Confused? That’s because in this timeline King Ghidorah was what made the dinosaurs extinct as he ravaged the lands and ate Tyrannosaurus Rexes left and right. So, we’ve got a time traveling Mothra that defeats a weaker version of King Ghidorah (which is somehow more terrifying than the OG version because it runs on the ground at a anxiety inducing speed for how big he is) by knocking him into a volcano. This one is bonkers and all over the map, but it’s good fun!

Favorite Part?

I quite enjoyed the battle Mothra had in the past with the younger version of King Ghidorah. Because he was seemingly more agile and stuck to the ground more, his speed and ferocity was easy to scale and understand visually. Ghidorah devastating regular dinosaurs was a neat idea, but Mothra dragging him into an active volcano made the sequence complete! Very strange, great job!

Recommendation?

You know it by now, but yes, I do highly recommend this very silly trilogy of Kaiju movies. Especially as a whole because a lot of the third film does pay off what the other two set up. Check them out!

*I’ve also got a few more film reviews up over at Films Fatale, check them out at the links below:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/6/2/top-gun-maverick

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/6/3/the-bobs-burgers-movie

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Rapid Fire Reviews #20 A Mishmash of Movies!

After the Holidays I settled into a steady stream of random films, we may still be in the midst of a global pandemic- but some things never change, and January is still the dumping grounds of all major movie studios. Thus, I’ve taken to the Criterion Collection for a good chunk of the month’s film watching. In fact, of the ten films listed below, only one isn’t from the collection. It’s also the newest film to date by a wide margin, with only a streaming exclusive documentary getting near it. These films have no connective tissue other than the fact that I’d never seen them before and needed to fill in some of my film history gaps. Hopefully you’ll find something worthy of a watch for you, I enjoyed most of the following films.

Vertigo (1958)

Written by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, based on the novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Vertigo” is one of Hitchcock’s most well known thrillers of the 1950’s. “Vertigo” deals with obsession, fear of heights as the title implies, and an amalgamation of other more burrowing fears that emerge from our main character over the course of the film. While this one doesn’t rank as my favorite Hitchcock film that I’ve seen so far, it’s still pretty damn good. James Stewart stars as Scottie, a detective in San Francisco that’s retired early after a harrowing rooftop chase. In the opening scene Scottie’s in pursuit of a criminal on foot with another officer, but looses his balance and barely holds onto the ledge, the other officer attempts to reach out and save him- but falls to his death instead. This opener sets the tone for the rest of the film. Scottie carries his guilt with him, but soldiers on. An old colleague of Scottie’s calls him up after he’s mostly recovered from injuries related to the opening scene. Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) has a proposition for Scottie, follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) and try to see what she’s up to while he’s at work and cannot keep track of her. He quickly follows up the request with a waving away of the normal assumptions, not a story of infidelity but of potential madness? Gavin is beginning to believe that a ghostly spirit of one of Madeleine’s ancestors is possessing her, perhaps towards an untimely demise? So Scottie follows Madeleine, but the mystery only becomes more opaque as he collects information, and curiously, he begins to fall for her. I won’t reveal the twist of the film, granted it’s been over sixty years since it’s release but just in case you haven’t seen it as I hadn’t until just recently, it’s a good one that’s worth preserving for yourself. Hitchcock here utilizes brilliantly bold color schemes that further instill the dreamlike atmosphere of Scottie’s dilemma. His camera work is cerebral and inventive while keeping audiences guessing as to what comes next, it’s a real treat. I highly recommend this one, it’s definitely among the director’s best works.

Topaz (1969)

Written by Samuel A. Taylor, based on the novel by Leon Uris, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Topaz” is a film that feels like Alfred Hitchcock’s answer to the popularity of the James Bond franchise. This Cold War spy thriller may be associated with the famed director’s “creative decline” but I think that depends on your disposition for cinema overall- and the context of Hitchcock’s time at Universal studios at this time as well. The director was boxed in by Universal’s parameters of acceptable violence and restrained sexuality at the box office, given the films he was attempting to make at the time versus what he was pushed toward adapting. I have a lot of ground to cover with Hitchcock yet, but getting to the later period of his work and understanding the position he was in as an auteur was a fascinating detour. This isn’t a bad film, it’s just nowhere near as good as Hitchcock’s best work, not an easy task to outdo yourself constantly and consistently when you’ve got hits like “Psycho”, “Vertigo”, and “North by Northwest” in your oeuvre. The plot of the film is focused on the ramifications of a Russian spy ring that has infiltrated the inner circle of Higher French Government, stealing NATO secrets and spreading disorganization across the Atlantic. While the film overall lacks a certain tension that usually runs throughout a Hitchcock thriller, there are certain sequences that showcase the British director’s firm grasp of how taut a scene can be. The opening sequence of Russian family escaping Soviet boogeymen in a ceramic shop in Copenhagen with the help of CIA operatives is certainly thrilling and memorable. As was the later scene in New York when our main character, French Spy Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), enlists the help of another French colleague in Harlem to do some intelligence gathering when a group of Cuban revolutionaries are in town. I ended up watching the two hours and five minutes cut of the film with the ending that implied the villain’s death by suicide. Apparently there were multiple endings based on audience reception and the studio’s reticence towards an ending the French Government would not accept for distribution purposes and aptitude for eyeing profits over quality. While not the best Hitchcock film, it’s certainly watchable and I give it a hearty recommendation.

Rodan (1956)

Written by Takeshi Kimura and Takeo Murata, based on a story by Ken Kuronuma, and directed by Ishirô Honda, “Rodan” is the second Kaiju character from Toho studios, and the first Kaiju movie to be filmed in color! If you’re familiar with the Kaiju genre of films from Japan, a lot of the usual story beats and themes are present here as well. Presented alongside the original “Godzilla” and the standalone “Mothra” flick, “Rodan” excels in it’s own right as an entertaining story about gargantuan monsters besieging humanity. In a small mining town in southern Japan, two miners go missing. It’s well known that these two had been quarreling for some time. After the mines get flooded and one of the miners’ lifeless body is found torn to shreds, it’s not long before large burrowing insects make their way to the surface and cause more chaos forcing the mining community to flee the area. It’s later revealed that the insects were disturbed from their earthly bungalows by the mining company, and when we get the reveal of Rodan’s birth we discover that it’s nuclear testing that’s rocked the giant Pteranodon’s egg, causing the winged creature to burst forth in an underground cavern. This is witnessed by the other lost miner that had been swept away by the flooded mineshafts. The filmmakers wisely had large larva insect monsters attacking the miners early on, which gives Rodan’s birth excellent scale as the awakened Kaiju snatches up the comparatively smaller creatures to snack on. After this point the film ditches the small scale storytelling as Rodan stretches it’s wings and takes flight across the waters surrounding Japan. It isn’t long before the military are getting reports of an unidentified flying object flying at supersonic speeds all across the hemisphere. Reports of British airliners going down, buildings being torn asunder by screaming winds in China, the Philippines, and even Korea- all within mere minutes of each other. Eventually the Military forms a plan to drive Rodan to the base of Mount Aso, an active Volcano, and bury it in rubble from an assault of missiles. They also discover, quite late into the game, that there is a second Rodan that follows the first to the Mount Aso. The Military follows through with their plans but accidentally trigger an eruption from the Volcano. This works out in their favor though when the first Rodan is hit in the wing by the flying lava. The second Rodan dives into the lava, not being able to bear life without a mate. The final images in the film are kind of brutal for the Kaiju genre, especially knowing the kid friendly route that Toho studios would take a decade later. End Credits hit as the lifeless bodies of the Rodans are melting into nothingness from the lava. This one is just different enough from it’s predecessors and future titles in the Kaiju genre to make it a fun detour in an otherwise Godzilla heavy sub-genre. Recommended, but especially for monster movie fans the world over.

*For more Monster Movie goodness, check out my ranking of the entire Showa era of Godzilla films over at Films Fatale:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/9/27/ranked-the-showa-era-godzilla-movies-1954-1975?rq=Godzilla

Branded to Kill (1967)

Written by Hachiro Guryu, Mitsutoshi Ishigami, Takeo Kimura, Chûsei Sone, and Atsushi Yamatoya, and directed by Seijun Suzuki, “Branded to Kill” is supremely strange among the legion of Yakuza gangster films. It’s so weird and wild in fact that the Seijun Suzuki was immediately fired from the studio after submitting this oddball flick. It’s plot is fairly straightforward, but the secret spice lies in it’s execution. The main plot point is that a hitman goes on the run after botching a hit and unintentionally killing the wrong person. There’s so much more that happens beyond that though. Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) is the third ranked Hitman in Japan, there’s a few scenes of Goro successfully murdering his targets in strange ways, usually with even weirder exit strategies, to drive that point home early on. Goro is hired by Misako Nakajô (Annu Mari), a woman obsessed with death, who wants a foreigner killed. Goro immediately falls head over heels for the uninterested Misako, she eagerly awaits her own death as well, but when the time comes to kill his target, a butterfly lands in front of the scope and he misses- killing an innocent bystander. After this transgression the number one ranked hitman in Japan sets his eyes on Goro- for he has offended the guild’s rules, and the two become entangled in a life or death cat-and-mouse scenario. The film is very experimental in nature, with absurdist story logic, animated inserts occasionally, heaps of violence and sex, and a surreal sense of time and place. There are double crosses (and I believe triple crosses if I’m remembering correctly), and everything about the production is filled with unique choices. The sound design, for example, is incredibly inventive for the time signaling certain characters without musical cues. There’s also a lot of random sex within the love triangle of Goro, Misako, and his wife, Mami Hanada (Mariko Ogawa). Goro’s also, distinctively, got a fetish for the smell of freshly boiled rice. Yep, this one’s weird, but if you’re into the history of Yakuza films from Japan, or just gangster style crime movies to a degree- it’s worth a watch. Strange indeed, but a worthwhile endeavor!

Pickpocket (1959)

Written and directed by Robert Bresson, “Pickpocket” is a stripped bare look into the life of a pickpocket, and what makes him tick. I’ll be honest, while I was impressed with several scenes showcasing the technical precision of effective pickpockets in action on heavily crowded streets, or later on a train with multiple participants- the majority of the film left me wanting. The main character of the story at hand is Michel (Martin LaSalle), a lonely type who becomes less interesting once he espouses his thief’s philosophy. In short, he essentially believes that those who take what they want when they want it are superior beings who should be respected as such. Okay, not only do I not buy his philosophy, but the way the performances are directed even Michel feels as though he’s not really in it for the ideology, but rather that it’s just something to say to feel powerful when people ask about it. I know the story is supposed to be about redemption through love, but the ending felt unrealistic for the character as he’s been shown to us. I suppose if it’s considered by many to be great, it probably is on some level- but other than the technically impressive scenes of the illicit act itself, I could care less. Not recommended from me, but feel free to give it a shot and see whether or not the film works for you.

5 Card Stud (1968)

Written by Marguerite Roberts, based on the novel by Ray Gaulden, and directed by Henry Hathaway, “5 Card Stud” is a thoroughly entertaining old school Western. Maybe it’s because I was initially becoming more acquainted with films and filmmakers through Westerns as a teenager that I always find the technicolor standard of Westerns in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s as something familiar and comfortable. That’s the case with this film as well. Even though it was a first time watch for me, the rhythms of the old west were instantly recognizable, and heartily welcomed. Here Dean Martin stars as the lead of the film in Van Morgan, a restrained, yet genial gambler who’s the only voice of reason once a cheatin’ cardshark is revealed among his usual card group. The other players have their hearts set on brutal vengeance though, and immediately drag the sorry newcomer out of town and hoist him up high. After the dust settles, one by one the members of that card game start mysteriously showin’ up dead. As the gamblers try to reckon with which card player is the killer among them, a new preacher comes to town after the gold rush starts. Rev Rudd (Robert Mitchum) has a hellfire and brimstone take on his sermons, short, sweet, and heavy on accusing the townsfolk of being derelict sinners. He’s also got a twitchy trigger finger, he’s prone to punctuating his points with bullets. The film isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a well made, professional, movie. It’s also incredibly entertaining thanks to the two leads in Martin and Mitchum, though the cast surrounding them isn’t too far off. Roddy McDowall as Nick Evers is a fun, if a bit mustache twirling at times, villainous role. Henry Hathaway had already filmed a few action Westerns by this time and knew the right ingredients for the recipe. Shootouts, an ensuing mystery, barroom brawls, and swaggering gunslingers with a penchant for walloping one-liners. This one’s a good time, and I highly recommend it.

Copshop (2021)

Written by Kurt McLeod and Joe Carnahan, from a story by Mark Williams, and directed by Carnahan, “Copshop” is a simple but explosively fun action thriller. This sort of film doesn’t get made all that often anymore. It’s a small, nasty, one-location shootout that evolves throughout the runtime. The hook of the film is that con artist Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) has a hit put out on him, so he punches a small town cop and gets tossed in their holding cell for the night. Unfortunately for him, a grumbly and cerebral, Gerard Butler appears in the cell across from him as the first hitman to find Murretto’s hiding spot. One of the best roles in the film also goes to Alexis Louder as the rookie cop on the force, Valerie Young. She holds her own against some darkly violent characters and pursues justice as best she can amongst the chaos. The surprisingly excellent role of secondary Hitman, Anthony Lamb portrayed by Toby Huss, is the shot of adrenaline that the film needed. Lamb’s skill as a Hitman is immediately showcased in his own dark and comic way, and I absolutely adored this performance. Huss plays the character as if he were a merge between the Joker and the Punisher from the big two comic publishers. He’s aces with a gun, but absolutely off his rocker and having a great time doing it. The whole film is a rough and tumble, guns-a-blazing, survival of the luckiest crackshot style romp, and I loved it. If you’re looking for a dark comedy action thriller with loads of style, Carnahan has just the film for you, and it comes highly recommended from me.

No Way Out (1950)

Written by Lesser Samuels, Philip Yordan, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and directed by Mankiewicz, “No Way Out” is a film about racial tensions in America and how quickly things can unravel when wrong-headed assumptions take root. After Sidney Poitier’s recent passing, I made it a point to go back and get into some of his more well known films. I have a ways to go yet, but I figured why not start closer to his beginnings than his end. Poitier stars as Dr. Brooks, one of only a few Black Doctors in the Hospital and wider city. His first day on the job brings him face to face with the very real racism of the day (We’ve gotten better since then but clearly have a looooooong ways to go) in two young white men who’ve robbed a gas station, gotten shot and caught. These scoundrels are the Biddle brothers, Ray (Richard Widmark) and George (Harry Bellaver). George seems to be worse off than his scheming loudmouth brother, and when Dr. Brooks attempts a spinal tap to assess the cause of George’s deeper pain, Ray objects. It isn’t long after this that George dies, and Ray accuses Dr. Brooks of intentionally killing him. Filled with indignant rage and a lost heart, Ray continues to make matters worse for Dr. Brooks when the Doctor asks to have an autopsy to assess what went wrong. Ray also fuels the flames of racial tensions in the area when he gets his side of the story out to the low income white community of Beaver Canal through a lip reading friend. Things escalate from there, but the film does a decent enough job for it’s time when showcasing the institutional racism and the social structures that could foster such hatred throughout the city. Eventually Dr. Brooks turns himself in amongst a literal race riot with tempers raging about, a turn that would require the Hospital to perform an autopsy which ultimately proves Dr. Brooks right. George did have a tumor that exacerbated his gunshot wounds to an untimely death. The film is most certainly of it’s time, but it attempts to rise above and tell a story about perceived assumptions and how the truth must be sought after, not merely assumed. It’s worth the watch folks!

King of New York (1990)

Written by Nicholas St. John and directed by Abel Ferrara, “King of New York” is a crime drama that doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be- other than “Cool”. The film has it’s fair share of fun action beats and snarling gangster criminals that pop and sizzle with memorable performances. That’s mostly due to Laurence Fishburne and Christopher Walken though. Everyone else is just kinda there. Giancarlo Esposito has a minor role, but they don’t give him anything to do within it. Walken’s role as Frank White, a big time drug kingpin who is released from prison in the film’s opening, is the anchor of the story as White and his men go about trying to take a bigger slice of New York City while also attempting to give back to the community through funneling drug money into children’s hospitals and helping the poor more generally. The film lacks precision, as the plot drunkenly wanders from cliché to cliché, and at times the gunfights and character work can be fun, but it never feels in service of the story. Moderately recommended.

The Ghost of Peter Sellers (2018)

“The Ghost of Peter Sellers” was directed by Peter Medak. This documentary was a bit underwhelming if I’m being honest. It follows the production of the 1973 pirate comedy, “Ghost in the Noonday Sun”- which Peter Medak himself directed. The doc details all of the aspects of this doomed film production, from the context of pre-production to the unraveling that would come to take place late in the production. There are some interesting bits about Peter Sellers in general, and the idea of the film, but after awhile all of the ingredients seem to pile up to a fairly clear answer as to why this film didn’t work out, all while Medak is constantly venting his frustrations some forty-five years later. The director himself didn’t have a handle on the production, didn’t know the details of what he was trying to do, and had a flimsy and wandering script in which Medak simply decided to put all of his faith in the project’s success in Sellers worldwide comedic fame. Sellers at the time had just been dumped by his girlfriend Liza Minelli, this was just after his third wife had divorced him, and was entering the project in a dark state. Hardly a good footing to begin with for your major star. After a few modern scenes with Medak wandering around old shooting locations in Cyprus with one of his fellow producers of “Ghost”, one gets the impression that Medak was easily one of the major inhibitors of the project. As the director he should have had a much stronger grasp of the story, the details of the production, and to be perfectly honest, he should have better assessed his own skills as a director for such a project. He gives off the air of a stuffy history professor, someone that maybe should not have attempted a comedy. There are some bits that are worth seeing, but more often than not the doc is repetitive therapy for the director with Medak equally cursing and praising Peter Sellers, among the many other issues of the production. It was a bit dour and depressing if I’m being honest. Barely recommended.

*I’ve continued to write film criticism articles over at Films Fatale as well, here are a couple of my most recent articles from there. Show them some love and check out what Films Fatale has to offer!

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/12/31/the-best-films-of-2021-by-cameron-geiser?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2022/1/14/22-movies-to-see-in-2022?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

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Old School Review: “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955)

Written for the screen by Millard Kaufman, and adapted by Don McGuire, from the short story “Bad Time at Honda” by Howard Breslin, and directed by John Sturges, “Bad Day at Black Rock” has elements of both noir and western as an inquisitve one-armed man comes to the small desert town of Black Rock in search of answers. Admittedly, when hitting play on this movie, I had fully expected a nineteenth century western to appear before my eyes mostly due to the title alone. What I got was an unexpected delight, as those assumptions had eroded fairly quickly as the opening of the film was following a train that was far too modern to be of the old west. The first hint of something odd afoot is when the train station telegrapher, Mr. Hastings (Russell Collins) seems surprised, and maybe even a bit worried, that the Train is slowing down to stop, the first time it has done so in four years.

After watching the complex and daunting (yet very impressive) “Tenet” earlier in the week, I was left wanting something slower and simpler. Which is exactly what I got with this film. At an hour and twenty minutes, this film offered me both something old and something new. I was very engaged by the mystery that the film wraps you in almost immediately, but it also has just enough of that Noir flavor sprinkled in to really set this one aside as slightly elevated nostalgia genre fare. For me, this film was comfort food. For about a third to the first half of the story, we really don’t know the intentions of either the townsfolk or this stranger, John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy). All we know is that he’s searching for a Japanese American farmer named Komoko, and that everyone in town is suspicious of him once he starts asking around. At first I thought that the townsfolk might actually be protecting Komoko as one of their own from this Macreedy, possibly a government stooge? He had the suit for it, but as it turns out I wasn’t even close on first impressions as it became evidently clear what the truth of the situation was. Everyone in town tries to stall Macreedy at every turn, from not offering him a hotel room, physically getting in his way, to curt and aggressive social tactics. After awhile a young woman in town, Liz Wirth (Anne Francis) allows Macreedy to borrow her jeep to the disdain of Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), the unofficial ruler of this small town. Macreedy makes his way out to Adobe Flats, where he finds the remains of a charred house, a well with water deep in the bottom, and strangely enough, wildflowers growing.

On his way back into town Macreedy’s assailed by one of Smith’s goons, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine), as he rams the small jeep around the uneven dirt road and eventually smashes Macreedy off the road with a laugh and a glare before beating him back to town. Eventually Macreedy puts enough clues together to get a good idea of what happened to Komoko, but he goes out of his way to confirm that before he and several good townsfolk acknowledge the real danger that Macreedy’s gotten himself into. I was particularly entertained by the exasperated, but good natured, Doc Velie (Walter Brennan) as he tries his best to help out Macreedy in his search for truth, and justice for Komoko. This was a quick delight of a film, and it’s wondrously anti-racist at it’s core. In fact the film almost didn’t get made as the subtle rebuke of Mccarthyism gave studio executives a myriad of problems on the matter, but it eventually got made in spite of this pushback. During my watch I was charmed by the old school mentality of an able-bodied actor with two working limbs trying to fake a lame one throughout the film production. They don’t make movies like that anymore, and while it could be a partial limb that the character was hiding, it’s pretty clear that Spencer Tracy’s just got his hand in his pocket the whole movie, but hey, it still gave the character more mystique initially. We eventually discover that he was a platoon leader in Italy during the war, which is fresh in everyone’s minds as this film is set in late 1945 after the war had just ended mere months ago. We eventually discover the humility and morality behind Macreedy’s reasoning in seeking out Komoko, but I’ll leave that one for you to discover on your own. There’s also a surprising and explosive scene in which Macreedy performs defensive judo moves on Coley Trimble under threat of intimidation tactics, and that alone would cover the price of admission for me. I found this one on the Criterion Channel, but it’s one that will be leaving at the end of the month, so check it out there while you can!

Final Score: 1 Molotov Cocktail

film

Quarantine 2020 Catch-Up: Rapid Fire Reviews #7 VHS Roundup

This may end up being my longest article on this blog. I didn’t exactly intend that at the beginning- but it evolved as I was writing it. Ironically, there aren’t really any “Rapid Fire Reviews” in this one. Every time I thought of wrapping the analysis on a film I’d think of another point to add and discuss. So, each film has a bit more analysis than expected. It’s also, probably, the most diverse selection of films that I’ve grouped together (though the Netflix Gems may be close). The films are grouped into four categories with four in each. There’s “Summer Blockbusters”, “Westerns”, “Spies, Thrillers, and Mystery!” and “Science-Fiction”. Some selections are films I’ve seen before and just wanted to write about, and others were older films that I just needed to finally sit down and watch. Anyways, here’s a bunch of reviews on some VHS tapes I unearthed, hope you have some fun and find something entertaining to watch! (There’s also a LOT of related YouTube content linked throughout the piece, enjoy!)

Summer Blockbusters

Jaws (1975 – Previously Watched)

Written by Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley, and directed by Steven Spielberg, “Jaws” is an adaption of the book by the same title- also written by Peter Benchley. “Jaws” is one of my all-time favorite movies. It originated the idea of a “Summer Blockbuster” in 1975 and forty-five years later the film stills stands as a Goliath of filmmaking that changed the course of cinema. It’s smart, thrilling, haunting, and enrapturing. For the few who have not seen this pillar of thrillers, the film is about a small Northeastern American island called Amity that becomes besieged by an abnormally large great white shark. The film opens with a bonfire by the beach where a young, inebriated, couple head out to the water for some skinny dipping by the moonlight. The guy doesn’t quite make it to the water though, too drunk for a dip in the drink. The woman however, happens to be the first victim, and her death is one of the best openings of a creature feature to date. Her screams are bone chilling as she flails through the water, and not long after she’s dragged into the deep. It’s a heart pounding and visceral opening that perfectly establishes the threat beneath the waves. Thus, the next morning Amity Island newcomer, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), is alerted to the threat after a medical examiner looks into the remains that washed ashore. Naturally, the good-hearted small town cop wants to close the beaches after such a grisly attack, but the business owners and local politicians push back immediately. How can they afford to close the beaches right before the fourth of July weekend in a tourism-backed economy? The Mayor swiftly overrules Brody after the medical examiner changes his ruling to that of a boating accident rather than death by shark. So, the waters remain unchecked, that is until a young boy is killed in broad daylight once the beaches are re-opened. Which brings me to my favorite character, Quint (Robert Shaw). During a town meeting to discuss what to do about the shark, the lone Captain makes his introduction, and an offer, $10,000 and he’ll catch that shark. The room of local leaders and business owners nebbishly acknowledge the local fisherman as he sees himself out. A bounty is put out for the shark and Brody sends for an expert in the field. The last piece of the puzzle arrives in the form of oceanographer Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) as he navigates the heavily populated chaos of the Amity docks. The three principle characters of Chief Brody, Quint, and Hooper are the perfect trinity of character work in my opinion. Brody moved from New York to Amity so he could actually make a difference in people’s lives- even if he was afraid of the water. Quint is the epitome of a shark hunter with a past deeply connected to the man-eaters of the deep. He’s funny, deadly serious about his work, and a bit of a mad man at heart. Hooper is the rich kid obsessed with the ocean and the life in it. He’s also a sarcastic, science utilizing, smart alec. Hooper is the upper class expert to Quint’s working class expert. Theory versus practice in the flesh. Chief Brody is just the everyman in the middle trying to put a stop to the bloodshed. Once all three men board ‘The Orca’ and set out to track and kill the menacing great white- the film takes on a different nature. One of my favorite scenes in all of film history begins with Quint and Hooper drunkenly comparing scars. It’s here where Quint and Hooper finally achieve a mutual respect for each other- but it’s when Brody pipes up to ask about another scar of Quint’s that the tone of the scene turns. Quint’s retelling of his experience aboard the USS Indianapolis, the ship that delivered the Atom bomb in WW2, is both harrowing and horrific. After the bomb was delivered, the flagship was sank a few days later by a Japanese submarine. Quint and the survivors, some hundreds of men, floated together adrift for four days before the rescue began in earnest. His tale of the shark attacks on his fellow sailors is brutal and telling, he has a reason for never wearing another life jacket. However, I don’t want to take too deep of a dive into “Jaws”, but it is a much beloved classic that I hadn’t taken the time to review until now. Obviously- if you still haven’t seen this one, I highly recommend it!

*Below I’ve posted a YouTube video from Dan Murrell, a film reviewer and internet personality that I respect and recommend, he too loves Jaws, and went in depth on the film recently. Check it out!

The Rock (1996 – First Watch)

Written by David Weisberg, Douglas Cook, and Mark Rosner, and directed by Michael Bay, “The Rock” is a stellar action thriller following Bay’s first first feature “Bad Boys”. Sporting a bigger budget, bigger stars (for the time), and the introduction of more elements of Bay’s repertoire that would come to be synonymous with the cavalier director, “The Rock” completes Bay’s one-two punch after “Bad Boys” affirming the director’s sense of style and flair. The plot sets in motion when a group of rogue Marines led by disenchanted Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) steal a stockpile of deadly nerve gas. This alerts the Pentagon and the F.B.I. to the situation, which introduces us to the best chemical weapons specialist in the F.B.I. Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) in a quick but effective scene that establishes his skill with dangerous chemicals when he stabilizes a deadly scenario in the lab. After this the rogue marines storm Alcatraz Island, take eighty-one hostages, and make their demands to the government, namely One-Hundred Million dollars from a slush fund that Hummel is aware of. He plans to compensate his men and the families of those lost to blacklisted missions. If he doesn’t receive the funds before a set time, San Francisco will be bombarded with the nerve gas via missiles. The Pentagon and the F.B.I. then formulate a plan by offering a pardon in exchange for information from prisoner John Mason (Sean Connery), the only man known to have escaped Alcatraz and lived. While being held at a Hotel, Mason escapes (Surprise! The escape artist is really good at escaping.) which results in a thrilling chase sequence throughout San Francisco with Goodspeed in a yellow Ferrari chasing down Mason in a black Humvee. Carnage, disregard for human life and property, bright primary colors- yep, this is Bay fine tuning those sensory instincts. Anyways, they successfully enter Alcatraz from beneath in a series of underground piping and caverns. Unfortunately the marines discover them and take out the invading force that accompanied Mason and Goodspeed- leaving the them as the only men left to complete the mission. This one was a damn fine surprise. You never know with Michael Bay, sometimes you get “Bad Boys” and “6 Underground”, and other times you get “Transformers” two through five or “Pearl Harbor”. Luckily- this one is among his best, it’s my personal new favorite from him. Highly recommended.

*Below this there’s another video from YouTuber Patrick H. Willems. In this video the scrappy video essayist takes on the man, the myth, the maker of ridiculous explosions, Michael Bay himself. It’s a fun analysis of the filmmaker that strives to point out that Bay is pretty good at what he does and no one can do it quite like him. The video is a two-parter, but this is just the first piece, check them both out!

Face/Off (1997 – First Watch)

Written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, and directed by John Woo, “Face/Off” is an incredibly over-the-top Action film with a very silly sci-fi premise. Nicholas Cage stars as Caster Troy, a homicidal sociopath and terrorist in his free time. The film opens with Troy taking aim at FBI special agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) as he rides a carousel with his young son. Troy shoots Archer in the back- but the bullet goes right through him, killing his son. Fast forward six years and we’re engaged in Archer’s painstakingly prepared mission to catch Caster Troy. The FBI successfully ambushes Troy and his crew at the L.A. Airport in an action packed sequence that perfectly sets the tone for this madcap crime caper. Archer and Troy engage in some rivalry-edged dialogue where Troy taunts Archer with some new information, namely, that a bomb has been hidden somewhere in Los Angeles. Unfortunately Troy’s knocked into a coma before they can interrogate him for the bomb’s location. The F.B.I. did manage to catch Troy’s brother though, and since he was the brains behind his brother’s plans, they plan to extract the information from him. After they find out that Troy’s brother doesn’t know the bomb’s location, Archer is approached for an extremely experimental and secretive project. The plan is to remove Caster Troy’s face, graft it onto Sean Archer’s head, and have him put into the secretive super prison to trick Troy’s brother into divulging the location of the bomb using Archer’s intimate knowledge of Caster Troy as leverage. As you might expect, things go awry when Caster Troy awakens from his coma after the experiment. So, of course, he uses his many connections to round up the scientists, has them attach Sean Archer’s face to his head, and then burns down the lab with the only people that knew of the project’s existence. Things get pretty dicey in the super prison where the real Archer makes attempts to extract the bomb’s location. Once Troy-with-Archer’s-face waltzes into the prison to let Archer-with-Troy’s-face know that he’s blown up the lab and stolen his life. The tension and absolutely insane action only increases from there. If you’ve seen John Woo’s other films (American or Hong Kong) his usual staples are there in spades. Chaotic Gun Fu action sequences? Check. Slow motion and Mexican Standoffs? Check and check. There’s plenty of style all over this admittedly bonkers action film. There’s also a pretty great boat chase in the finale- possibly the best boat chase of the 1990’s! It’s bloody, feisty, and a hell of a good time if you know what you’re getting into. Definitely recommended.

The Fugitive (1993 – Previously Watched)

Written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy, and directed by Andrew Davis, “The Fugitive” is a streamlined crime caper with thrills aplenty. Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a well respected vascular surgeon in Chicago, who’s wrongly accused of murdering his wife. The film opens at the crime scene with Kimble being walked out of his house by the police while a reporter gives us a few key details of the crime. There was a frantic 9-11 call made by Kimble and that the couple were at a fundraiser for ‘the children’s research fund’ earlier in the night. With no evidence of a break-in and an extremely high dollar life insurance policy on his wife, suspicion arises quickly. After the cops hear Kimble’s version of events, he’s brought before a judge and swiftly convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to death row. While on route to prison, some of the other inmates on the bus stage an escape. One of the guards is attacked and one of the prisoners shot dead, but before you can blink the bus is sent careening through guardrails and tumbling down a hillside straight onto some train tracks with one approaching fast! Kimble quickly saves one of the injured guards before leaping off the carnage of the bus crash as the train smashes into it sending all manner of train cars awry in a cascade of explosions. Which brings us to the introduction of U.S. Marshall Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) the chief antagonist for most of the film. This kickstarts the majority of the film’s focus; Kimble narrowly escaping the Chicago Police and U.S. Marshalls while trying to figure out who killed his wife, and why. This is a film that I had seen ages ago, but it was a fun re-watch that I thoroughly enjoyed! Between Harrison Ford’s ‘cool under pressure’ intensity and affable ‘everyman’ nature set against Tommy Lee Jones unyielding ‘top cop’ bravado, this movie embodies everything you’d want out of a ‘man on the run’ action film. Though there are some key notes that would clue you into this being a very 1990’s movie. Obsession with a one-armed man villain (who isn’t the real villain anyways)? Check. Scenes taking place in the sewers? Check. Ridiculously large practical effects explosions? Check. I’m here for all of that. It’s a movie that keeps the pace constantly moving, and it’s endlessly re-watchable. If anyone wanted to know what a Summer Blockbuster used to look like, this is a prime example. Highly recommended.

Westerns

Once Upon a Time in The West (1968 – First Watch)

Written by Sergio Donati and Sergio Leone, from a story by Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, and directed by Sergio Leone, “Once Upon a Time in the West” is the next ‘Spaghetti Western’ he directed after his successful “dollar trilogy” had ended with “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” two years prior. While this film may be an hour shorter than that legendary western, and it most certainly has its moments of brilliance, it simply cannot outdo it’s predecessor. However, it is an excellent Western in it’s own right. The premise is simple, but Leone’s skill in direction and squeezing tension out of every shot goes a long way to amplify this plot. A family living in the outskirts of wilderness has a ranch on some land that the railroad company wants to purchase- but Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) refuses. This results in Frank (Henry Fonda) arriving with his gang to take out the McBain family at the behest of Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti), the crippled railroad Baron. Notably, Frank was given orders to dress as the recognizable local outlaw, Cheyenne (Jason Robards) as a diversion for any possible witnesses. Then there’s the wild card of the film, ‘Harmonica’ (Charles Bronson). The mysterious gunslinger is known only by the instrument he plays before he guns down anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves at the wrong end of his pistol. The land’s ownership becomes complicated once Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives at the ranch. Secretly wed to Brett McBain weeks prior, the plan was for Jill to arrive and then they’d hold a ‘formal’ wedding. Since things didn’t go as planned, the two outlaws Cheyenne and ‘Harmonica’ decide to help the widowed McBain, partly for their own unique reasons. ‘Harmonica’ has a longstanding feud with Frank- one that has bits and pieces of information doled out to us along the way. As for Cheyenne, despite his reputation, he’s become a middle-aged outlaw with a ferocity that’s been mellowed by time. It’s a process that allows hints of his true morality to sneak out from behind his rugged exterior throughout the film, if you’re paying attention. I chose to watch this Western the day after Ennio Morricone passed away last month, I knew many of his western scores already- but the chance to bask in a “new” ‘Spaghetti Western’ score was my way of remembering the legendary composer. The most memorable part of the score belongs to ‘Harmonica’, whose theme lingers like an echo of sadness and loss. Which makes his eventual revenge on Frank all the more powerful once the full reasoning behind ‘Harmonica’s quest for revenge is revealed. I also really dug Henry Fonda’s performance as Frank. Here, Fonda is playing completely against his well-crafted “Good Guy” persona, and it’s a fascinating turn for the Hollywood star. Charles Bronson was an entertaining choice for the nameless gunslinger- but the role does feel personally crafted for Clint Eastwood. Eastwood, not wanting to become typecast as his infamous “Man-With-No-Name” character, turned the role down, and while Bronson is an adequate stand-in for the archetype, Eastwood’s absence here is palpable. While this one may not be for everyone, the gargantuan runtime and slow-burn atmosphere will turn many away, there is enough here to give this one a recommendation from me.

The Searchers (1956 – First Watch)

Written by Frank S. Nugent and Alan Le May, and directed by John Ford, “The Searchers” is an infamous Western known for it’s beautiful shot composition and complex characters (for the time). John Ford was a fascinating American film director, and his pairings with John Wayne were always guaranteed to be worth your time- this is one of those films that’s lauded as a monument of the genre. Perhaps because of it’s location in cinema’s history, precariously perched between the Westerns of old with their black and white morality and clear cut “good guys” and “bad guys”, or because of the shifting morality of the new era of anti-heroes and tales of ambiguity- “The Searchers” is part of that trend. Especially because Ford and Wayne were the trailblazing duo that helped to create the Western genre just seventeen years earlier with “Stagecoach”. This film, is … tricky to discuss and analyze in the year 2020. The year is 1868, our lead, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), is a confederate soldier returning home to Western Texas after fighting in both the Civil War and the Mexican Revolutionary War as well. Ethan is no apologist for the South- and he’s an outright racist to the Comanche Native Americans. The film centers around Ethan’s five year quest to track down the Comanche tribe that burned down Ethan’s family’s home, kidnapped his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood), and killed the others. Really, the film is about two men’s quest to save Debbie, but the other man involved brings about the other- less interesting half- of this film. That man is Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), a young man that Ethan had saved after another tribe that had burned down his home as a child as well. Being “One-eighth” Comanche, Martin is always on Ethan’s bad side for most of the film- and he’s used as the audience stand-in during Ethan’s quest. You see, Ethan plans to kill Debbie once he finds her, as becoming one of “Them” is worse than death to him. Martin, we’re led to believe, is the only thing standing in the way of Ethan committing to his creed. Eventually, Ethan decides against the violent solution and does indeed return Debbie home. Though, I have to admit the weakest point of the movie for me was when he came to save her, in an earlier scene Debbie had already told Martin that she was with the Comanche now. She didn’t want to be rescued. The film does not wrestle with this potential point of conflict- perhaps too much complexity for 1956? Once Ethan grabs her to take her home- she has instantly changed her mind with ultimately no rhyme or reason. Overall, this film did not grab me as anticipated. It feels its age in many ways throughout the film. There is some truly thematic imagery with Ethan, but the ‘other half’ of the film that I mentioned involves a romantic B-plot for Martin that’s played for laughs several times throughout and I felt like you could cut most, if not all, of that plotline and tighten up the “Ethan and Martin on the obsessive quest” part instead. Below I’ve posted a link to Roger Ebert’s review of the film, he said it better than me, but he also enjoyed the film more than I. “The Searchers” is somewhat recommended for Western purists who want to see all of the landmarks of the genre- but not much else.

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-searchers-1956

The Sons of Katie Elder (1965 – Previously Watched)

Written by William H. Wright, Allan Weiss, and Harry Essex (based on a story by Talbot Jennings), and directed by Henry Hathaway, “The Sons of Katie Elder” is a ‘feel good’ Western starring John Wayne and Dean Martin in prominent roles. The term ‘feel good’ is an incredibly subjective term, I concede, but this Western has all of the elements that would indeed culminate in such a labeling, at least for me anyway. The story is fairly straightforward, and it begins on the day of Katie Elder’s funeral, with her sons returning home. The two eldest, John (John Wayne), a well known gunslinger, & Tom (Dean Martin), a high stakes gambler, aren’t exactly welcomed home by the sheriff and community. The two younger brothers however, Matt (Earl Holliman) an unsuccessful hardware store owner, and Bud (Michael Anderson, Jr.) the youngest and still in school, aren’t quite as despised by the locals. After the funeral, the three eldest decide that they’d like to do something to honor their late mother. They all regret not living up to her expectations and agree to find a way to send Bud to college so he can better his life in the way their mother would have wanted. Enter, Morgan Hastings (James Gregory), local gunsmith and antagonist of the story. You see, Hastings claims to have won the ownership of the Elder family’s ranch and property from their deceased father, Bass Elder, in a game of cards. The thing is, Bass died mysteriously that same night after the card game and no one knows who the killer was. After Hastings, who isn’t too subtle with his displeasure at the Elder boys being around, notices their suspicions about the affair- he kills the sheriff and pins the murder on the Elders. There’s more, but I don’t want to give the whole thing away. Between a fun ensemble cast, a rousing score, and a particularly nasty villain for the Elders to fight against, this one has a lot of what I look for in a good Western. This is my favorite John Wayne movie, and I definitely give it a recommendation.

*Below I’ve linked an article that Roger Ebert wrote about John Wayne years ago. Ebert had the luxury of meeting and interviewing the legendary actor several times and can, perhaps more eloquently, describe why he was an important figure in cinema. Hope you enjoy it!

https://www.rogerebert.com/roger-ebert/shall-we-gather-at-the-river-2

A Fistful of Dollars (1964 – Previously Watched)

Written by Víctor Andrés Catena, Jaime Comas Gil, Adriano Bolzoni, Mark Lowell, and Sergio Leone, and directed by Sergio Leone, “Fistful of Dollars” is an American Western adaption of Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai film “Yojimbo” (which I highly encourage you to see). It holds the same structure as “Yojimbo”, in which a nameless Samurai (or gunslinger) encounters a town in the midst of a feud between two factions with an opportunity to make some cash from their dispute. Once the-man-with-no-name (Clint Eastwood) arrives in San Miguel, he heads to the inn where he hears about the town’s issues at the bar from Silvanito (José Calvo), the innkeeper. The Rojos and The Baxters are the two families that’re vying for control of the town, and ‘the stranger’ (as we shall refer to him from now on) takes the first step by establishing his deadly speed and accuracy with a gun when he shoots dead the four men insulting him upon entering the town for all to witness. There’s some back and forth of trading information for cash, initiating shootouts between both families, and even some danger for ‘the stranger’ once one side catches him in the act of sabotage. Eventually our poncho wearing, sly, squinty stranger outsmarts the Baxters and the Rojos and even earns himself a profit in doing so. Though, he does save a woman and her family by freeing them in the night and giving them some money to survive on whilst on the run. So, he’s not entirely motivated by greed- just mostly. “A Fistful of Dollars” is important for several reasons. It created the sub-genre of the ‘Spaghetti Western’ and it was tonally a sharp rebuke to the “ten-gallon white hat” Westerns of old. Granted, there’s a time and place for all shades of morality in any good western in my opinion- but this is the one that blew the doors off of the genre and suggested that audiences were indeed ready for a lead character of dubious morality- just so long as they were interesting. Clint Eastwood’s “Man-with-no-name” may now be a legendary figure in cinematic history- but before this Eastwood was mainly known for his role as the young cattle driver ‘Rowdy Yates’ on the TV Western show ‘Rawhide’. If you’re familiar with “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the transition from Rawhide to “A Fistful of Dollars” for Eastwood, would be like Wil Wheaton, who played whiz-kid and genius youth Wesley Crusher on TNG, evolving into Action-Star Bruce Willis in the original “Die Hard”. A strange, but welcome development. This film is also the second film on this list to have been scored by Ennio Morricone, and that alone makes it worth a watch. “A Fistful of Dollars” is the first film in what is commonly known as “The Dollar” trilogy, and each one is pure cinematic joy, I highly recommend all three.

Below is my review on “Yojimbo” that I wrote on this blog a few years back, it’s a classic Samurai film, and generally one of the best films out there! If you want to see where the man-with-no-name’s inspiration came from- check it out!

https://spacecortezwrites.com/2018/02/02/old-school-review-akira-kurosawas-yojimbo-1961/

Spies, Thrillers, and Mystery!

Dr. No (1962 – First Watch)

Written by Berkely Mather, Johanna Harwood, and Richard Maibaum, and directed by Terence Young, “Dr. No” is an adaption of Ian Fleming’s sixth Bond novel, but the first screen appearance of the cinematic legend that is Agent Double-O Seven, James Bond. Personally, I was truly looking forward to the next current James Bond film “No Time to Die” and with it’s delay (and the rest of Hollywood’s 2020 schedule) I decided to turn to the past for my Bond fix with the other big film in the franchise with a ‘No’ in the title, “Dr. No”. Especially once I’d considered the fact that I’d never seen the first in the series. One of the most striking sensations that came from my viewing of “Dr. No” was how small and quaint it feels when thinking of the films and legacy it would come to inspire. I also did not expect so many of the recurring staples of the series to be introduced in this first outing. The gun barrel view of Bond, highly stylized musical opening, the villain’s lair being incredibly sleek and ‘modern’, hell he even orders his signature drink pitch perfectly. I was really surprised that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) was introduced this early- I thought that was a later invention of the film series. Anyways, we’re introduced to James Bond at a game of cards, how perfect, before he’s brought to M (Bernard Lee) for a briefing. Agent Strangways has been murdered at his post in Jamaica and MI6 wants an explanation. They only know that he was recently co-operating with the CIA on a case concerning possible disruption of rocket launches at Cape Canaveral with radio jamming. Q (Peter Burton) gives Bond a quick gun upgrade before he’s sent off to Jaimaica to sort out the issue. As soon as he’s arrived Bond is already surrounded by spies and people trying to kill him. It’s the perfect cold war scenario- yes everything might look like a welcoming, sunny, tropical island- but there is unseen danger around every corner. Bond investigates locations and suspects as he nears closer to Dr. No’s headquarters, dodging death by tarantula and armored tanks with mounted flamethrowers in his pursuit. Needless to say, the film is still classically entertaining, even if the stakes seem minuscule compared to where the character will be taken in the cinematic future- but it was a welcomed nostalgia for simpler villains for me. Sometimes, you just want a capable hero and a power hungry villain to clash ideologies- and fists! Highly recommended.

North by Northwest (1959 – First Watch)

Written by Ernest Lehman and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “North by Northwest” is one of the most famous films of the twentieth century directed by one of Cinema’s icons, who ironically would be on ‘Mt. Rushmore of film directors‘ if there was one. Cary Grant stars as Roger Thornhill, a New York City advertising executive caught up in an elaborate case of mistaken identity. One afternoon at a New York City restaurant, Roger Thornhill is, well, politely kidnapped from the establishment by some thugs that mistook him for George Kaplan. Thornhill is then brought to an estate in Long Island where he’s interrogated by spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) posing as Lester Townsend. Vandamm doesn’t believe one second of Thornhill’s constant protest of innocence, and promptly has his goons stage an accidental death by drunk driving. They funnel a whole bottle of rye whisky down his gullet and throw Thornhill in a car in neutral near a seaside drive. This results in a blistering sequence where Thornhill narrowly escapes death and speeds along until he’s caught by some local police who also don’t believe the accounts of his estate interrogation. Thornhill tries to prove his innocence several times until he gets further, and further involved in the cover-ups and conspiracies surrounding George Kaplan and Phillip Vandamm. If, somehow you also hadn’t yet seen this thriller, I will refrain from spoilers in this review. Just know that in the skillful hands of Alfred Hitchcock, the story is constantly getting ratcheted up in tension and unpredictability. Before you know it Vandamm and various other forces at work have landed Thornhill as the lead suspect in the murder of a U.N. diplomat as he flees across the country to solve the mystery of who this George Kaplan is and why Vandamm wants him killed. I cannot leave this review without mentioning Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall, girlfriend of Vandamm and undercover spy herself. Eva Marie Saint adds just the right amount of intrigue to the thriller, and she plays off of the perplexed and flabbergasted Cary Grant with distinction. I’m glad I finally crossed this one off my list, it’s one of those pillars of cinema that I just never got around to sitting down and giving it a watch, but quarantine offers the time- you just have to use it correctly. “North by Northwest” lived up to my expectations, and I highly recommend it.

Casablanca (1942 – First Watch)

Written by Howard Koch, Philip G. Epstein, and Julius J. Epstein, and directed by Michael Curtiz, “Casablanca” is an adaption of a play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” which was created by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Possibly the most quoted film of all time, “Casablanca” is one of those films that has stood the test of time through generations of audiences and will long be remembered for it’s place in cinematic history. Set before the events of Pearl Harbor, the film is very much an analogy of the state of the war through an American perspective before our involvement. “Casablanca” is a romantic thriller set in the infamous French-Moroccan town where wealthy Europeans congregate to flee the hemisphere from the violence consuming the region. While under the neutrality of North Africa, but ultimately the thumb of Nazi-controlled France, many deal in secrecy, making hushed arrangements with cocktails anxiously held in hand at “Rick’s Café Américain”, a luxurious nightclub ran by Rick (Humphrey Bogart). The quick rundown of this incredibly well known film is that Rick used to be in a relationship with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) in Paris before the Nazi Occupation. Eventually, everything went south (literally), and Rick was left waiting at the train station without her. Scorned and sunk into a cynical depression, Rick wound up in Casablanca where he’s well known for allegiances to no one but himself and his employees. One day, Ilsa walks through Rick’s doors with her husband Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a prominent figure in the Resistance. With Nazi representatives closing in on all fronts and Rick ultimately holding the key to the couple’s escape- tensions arise, love is questioned, and priorities are reassessed. Everything about this film is outstanding. The direction, acting, pacing, soundtrack, writing, editing, everything is excellent! I wouldn’t change a single beat of this masterpiece. Ultimately the message of the film is to reject personal gains over the moral choice. To shed cynicism and embrace the moral imperative for the greater good. It’s a rallying cry to give a damn because giving a damn matters, in a time when everything seemed at it’s worst, it’s those with true character and principle who rise above the chaos to do the right thing. That’s a message that I personally needed to hear this year in particular. It was incredibly nourishing to watch a film where peril looms around every corner, paranoia and hysteria rampant, and yet- doing the right thing proved to work, to be worth the risk. There have been a thousand reviews and endless discussions about this film and there’s good reason for it, but I could go on all day writing about this one, at some point I have to end by simply saying, “Don’t wait forever like I did to watch this classic film.” Highly recommended.

*Below I’ve listed an article from the Guardian that details how filmmakers are being asked to look to Old Hollywood classics like “Casablanca” on how to film sex scenes that adhere to social distancing guidelines back when the Studio system had a morality code and could be censored for even the slightest indication of anything sexual. It may be for entirely different reasons, but “Casablanca” is still having an effect on the film industry.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/aug/20/filmmakers-told-to-ditch-sex-scenes-to-protect-actors-from-coronavirus

*But also, here’s another video from YouTube that further dives into the film’s greatness. Enjoy!

Mulholland Drive (2001 – First Watch)

Written and directed by David Lynch, “Mulholland Drive” is a gloriously strange mystery soaked in dream logic with tinges of horror sprinkled throughout for good measure. It’s also my favorite David Lynch film. I’ve always had a Love/Neutral relationship with David Lynch as a filmmaker and creator in general. I haven’t always loved his movies- but I absolutely adore all of “Twin Peaks”. This is the first film of his that I’ve seen and enjoyed as equally as “Twin Peaks”. I didn’t love “Blue Velvet” or “Eraserhead” or even “Inland Empire”, but this one was my jam. “Mulholland Drive” is a mystery first and foremost, but I’d go so far as to call it a neo-noir in it’s stylization and structure. The story begins with a woman in a limousine getting hit by a speeding car when stopped on the side of the road in Los Angeles. After emerging from the wreck, mostly unscathed, the woman then haphazardly walks towards the city lights in a daze. She clambers through the brush and into the city where she passes out under some bushes just outside an apartment complex. When she awakens as residents walk past her to a taxi, she quietly enters the plaza and wanders into an unlocked apartment. Then we’re introduced to Betty (Naomi Watts) as she exits the airport, entering sunny southern California with a beaming face and hope in her eyes. Betty then arrives at that same apartment, which is her aunt’s as she’s allowed Betty to use it while she’s out of town. Betty’s an aspiring young actress in town for an audition and awaiting her turn to ‘make it big’. After Betty discovers the hidden woman showering at her aunt’s, she assumes it’s one of her aunt’s friends and when Betty asks her name, the stranger replies “Rita” (Laura Harring) when spotting an old Hollywood poster. Eventually Rita and Betty discuss Rita’s memory loss, she only remembers the car wreck and nothing else about herself. Betty takes up the mantle of Detective and they try to figure out who Rita really is and what random forces brought them together. My favorite aspect of this film is the flip that takes place near the third act, I really don’t want to spoil what that flip is for anyone, but it is so earth-shatteringly strange that it will make even the most sober and unmoved critic cry out “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat is happening?!” There is reason behind the flip though, and that’s what I love about it. Similarly to some of the best parts of the third season of “Twin Peaks”, the curveball of this narrative twist is delightfully absurd. I also adore the dream logic applied to the nature of reality in the film. My favorite scene in the film is one that is almost completely removed from the entire plot of the film. It involves the diner, “Winkie’s“, used for several scenes- but it is the one where two men decide to meet there because it is the exact location of a nightmare one of them had where he describes the events of the nightmare- and then… it happens. I’ve never seen nightmare logic so perfectly put on film, and one where Lynch conveys atmospheric tension and unsettling horror in broad daylight, behind a Diner, on Sunset Boulevard. Complete mood perfection. I could go on, but I most certainly recommend this one. Though, I have to admit- it’s the most unsettling film on this list and will MOST DEFINITELY not be for everyone, and that’s okay. I encourage you to check it out regardless.

Science Fiction

Star Trek: Generations (1994 – First Watch)

Written by Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Rick Berman, and directed by David Carson, “Star Trek: Generations” is the first Star Trek film from “The Next Generation” series and it takes place after the end of the seventh season. After having watched and enjoyed much of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” recently, I thought I’d give the films that came from it a shot. I didn’t know much about them, only that they were released after the series ended. So, I started in chronological order with “Generations”. I mean, hey, who didn’t want to see a “team up” adventure with the two best Captains in the series history? Captain Kirk and Captain Picard? Together? Saving the universe? I’m there. Unfortunately, I went into this film with higher expectations than I should have. The film begins with three of the original series cast members in Scottie (James Doohan), Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Kirk (William Shatner) (No Bones? Awe c’mon!) attend the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise-B decades before the events of “Next Generation”. What was supposed to be a rather mundane and cordial trip around the solar system turns into an impromptu rescue mission when the new crew is bombarded with an S.O.S. from two ships being ensnared by a massive and mysterious energy ribbon. Naturally, the new Enterprise is the only ship in the area, so, despite not being built out with all of the functional systems of a Galaxy class starship yet- they head out for rescue! They manage to save some members of one of the ships before both explode- but in the process the new Enterprise is damaged in doing so, and they lose Captain Kirk in the process- believing him to have perished in the chaos. Fast forward to the Next Generation timeline and we see the crew celebrating the promotion of Worf on the Holodeck in an elaborate ceremony aboard a nineteenth century Naval vessel. It’s an entertaining scene, one in which Lieutenant Data (Brent Spiner) (an Android Starfleet officer and the only synthetic life capable of freewill in the Star Trek Universe for the uninitiated) misunderstands a social interaction with crewmate Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) in which she suggests he “be more unpredictable”, so he tosses her overboard and into the water. This leads him to later ask Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) (chief engineer of the Enterprise and Data’s best friend) to finally install his emotion chip. Data believes that in order to avoid further issues with future social interactions, he will need to rely on the missing link to his evolution in becoming more human- regardless of the cost. This results in the best aspect of this movie in my opinion- Data finally understands humor and for awhile he is unable to hold back boisterous laughter from even the dumbest of jokes. It’s stupid- but I got great joy from this very silly development. Data’s journey in this movie was the single greatest story arc in my opinion. Let’s get to the more pressing matter here though, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). During Worf’s (Michael Dorn) promotion, Picard is given notice of a family tragedy. His brother and nephew living back in France on Earth, have died in a fire that burned the family house down. This plot point is what has fundamentally broken the character of Jean-Luc Picard in my opinion. From this point onward, in all of the films, and his titular TV show, he is no longer the patient, considerate, and mild-mannered thinker or tactician that he was as Captain during those seven seasons of episodic adventures. From here on out he’s impulsive, brash, violent, and lacks all of the character nuances that the show worked so hard to craft. People can change over time, get better, retract, evolve etc I know that people are not a constant or static thing. However, I simply can’t understand the reasoning behind altering the character so much so that he doesn’t even seem like the same person. It’s been a mind boggling experience. Anyways, I’m getting away from the point. The villain of the film, Soran (Malcolm McDowell) is acted well, but his plan is confusing as all hell. He wants to return to the nexus (The ribbon of energy that killed Kirk in the opening), which is depicted as a heaven-like plane of existence where everything is bliss, time and space essentially have no meaning here. The ribbon of energy that is the nexus glides through space scooping up life forms as it passes by planets. Soran tracks the ribbon’s flight path and where it is expected to arrive, shoots a probe into the star of the system he’s in, which alters the ribbon’s path to pass over the planet that he’s currently on- thereby returning him back inside the nexus. Which, also, apparently Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), a series regular from TNG, is from as well? Also, the probes destroy the star which threatens a number of planets’ species in the process. I have so many questions. So… without going through the entire movie, Picard is brought into the Nexus when attempting to stop Soran, where he meets Captain Kirk (at an hour and a half into the movie) and convinces him to help escape the nexus and stop Soran. It’s strange. Kirk’s scenes feel as though Shatner was on a ‘mountain man kick’ where his scenes are mostly of him splitting wood with an axe and cooking a hearty meal while Picard pleads with him to assist in stopping Soran. Also, the Enterprise crashes into a planet while Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is in charge. Okay, okay… so.. this movie was quite a let down for me personally, it has it’s moments- but I cannot in good conscience recommend this one.

*Below I’ve posted a video collecting all the ‘parts’ of a review of “Star Trek: Generations” done by Red Letter Media’s character (created by Mike Stoklasa) Mr. Plinkett. I’ve included this review here because Plinkett makes a lot of solid points throughout his review, but I must warn you that the Plinkett character is darkly comedic in tone and there are some jokes inserted in these reviews that have been part of longstanding in-jokes and I am certain that this will offend some people. Just remember that Plinkett isn’t a real person, it’s all in good fun, and let’s all just nerd out together about “Star Trek”.

*However, just to play devil’s advocate, below I’ve listed another video with an opposing viewpoint. Personally, I agree more with some of Mr. Plinkett’s points over Renegade Cut on the topic- mainly because there are points in “Generations” that aren’t very consistent with “The Next Generation”. I don’t really care that Lieutenant Data’s emotion chip changed sizes since the TV show appearance or that only Scotty and Chekov were the only original Star Trek characters to appear alongside Captain Kirk in the opening sequence. I do, however, care about baffling choices like the abrupt lighting changes throughout the Starship (Someone must have been watching a lot of Film Noir before lighting these sets…), glass breaking when the Enterprise crash lands, but most importantly- that the core cast of characters from “The Next Generation” don’t seem to apply the same logic or intellectual rigor to their problem solving. That was one of the highlights of the show for me. Quarantine has been a long slog, and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has been a recurring favorite during this time. I’ve always been impressed with the writing, the patience and calmness of the characters even under duress- and this film (which I do not hate) neglects much of that notion. Though, it was a different time, and when a series got “The Movie” treatment in the 1990’s, everything had to be BIGGER, BADDER, AND BETTER THAN EVER! So, yeah, I get it to a degree- production and crew got wrapped up in the fanfare of it all (probably). So, here’s an opposing viewpoint that I don’t necessarily agree with.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996 – First Watch)

Written by Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Rick Berman, and directed by Jonathan Frakes, “Star Trek: First Contact” is the next film of the “Next Generation” series that takes place after the events of the previous film discussed, “Generations”. Okay, so, the issues that I had with the last film are mostly exacerbated here. Granted, there are some things I enjoyed about the film, but there’s a lot of questionable decisions. There are two major storylines that the film eventually splits into, and they’re fairly divided in concept as well. There’s a time travel element, and the Borg. In the beginning of the film Picard has a nightmare from his time being captured by the Borg during the television series in one of the best two part episodes “The Best of Both Worlds”. When he awakens he knows the Borg have begun their ultimate attack on Earth. Starfleet command contacts the Enterprise-E (A far worse ship design in my personal opinion, everything is darker, pointier, and more militaristic looking. The crew’s Starfleet uniforms have now been changed as well to black and grey- literally sapping the color from the screen) and orders them to survey the neutral zone for any surprise attacks from the Romulans. This is due to Command’s wariness to insert Captain Picard into the situation because of his past experiences with the Borg. After moments of listening to the destruction of fellow Starfleet ships, Picard orders the helm to disobey Command and take the Enterprise to the fight. After they arrive, and narrowly save Worf from death on a smaller ship (some Deep Space 9 connections I guess?), they follow Picard’s tactical knowledge of the situation and every ship fires on one spot of the Borg cube which causes it to explode. However, just before the massive explosion, a smaller sphere exits and makes a mad dash to open a ‘temporal vortex’ near Earth. Naturally, the Enterprise pursues and just before entering the vortex, the crew realizes that the Borg have changed the past to conquer the future. Once they are on the other side of the vortex, they shoot down the sphere from orbit as it was firing on a specific location in North America in the year 2063, one day before humanity makes first contact with an Alien race after performing a test of the very first warp drive. After the Borg are (supposedly) destroyed, they send an away team down to assess any possible damage to the timeline. Riker, Geordi, and Troi (Marina Sirtis) stay on Earth to assist in repairing the Borg damages to the ship so that they can make the historically important flight the next day. Picard takes an injured assistant from the Phoenix project aboard the Enterprise to sick bay. Who cares about ‘the prime directive’ anyways, am I right? In fact, while on Earth, Geordi and several other minor Starfleet officers directly tell Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell), prominent historical figure in the Star Trek series and the creator of warp drive tech, all about how they teach his work in schools and how he has statues everywhere in his honor etc. Also- in a particularly cheesy moment, Cochrane is told about Starfleet generally and he says “So, what you guys are on some sort of… Star Trek?” If I rolled my eyes any harder they would have fallen out of my face. ANYways, the other major storyline takes place aboard the Enterprise-E where a couple surviving members of the Borg invade the lower decks and start assimilating crew members and the ship’s tech- eliminating communications between the ship and the away team assisting Cochrane. As the Borg become more of a threat on the ship Captain Picard inexplicably transforms into a vengeance fueled action hero while Data is captured by the Borg Queen… who decides to sexually assault the android by grafting skin onto parts of his body? This results in the two diverging stories having wildly different tones and pacing and I felt they clashed rigidly against each other. Admittedly, there’s a pretty fun sequence where Picard and Worf perform a space walk of sorts with magnetized boots on the outer hull of the ship to remove a satellite dish that the Borg have begun building. One cool scene cannot save an entire movie though. As with the last movie on this list- I can’t recommend this one.

*Below I’ve posted another YouTube video from Dan Murrell. I thought this was a pretty great way to introduce someone to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” if you really don’t want to binge the whole series. If you’re looking for ‘just the hits’, this should suffice!

*While writing this piece my favorite YouTube channel, Red Letter Media, released a re:View episode wherein Mike and Rich discuss their top five favorite Star Trek TNG episodes (This being the first of two videos). So, since we’re discussing Star Trek TNG movies I thought this would be a fun addition to the discussion. If you’re not familiar with the show however, the conversation is rife with spoilers. It’s also posted below, enjoy!

Galaxy Quest (1999 – First Watch)

Written by Robert Gordon and David Howard, and directed by Dean Parisot, “Galaxy Quest” is a delightful spoof of everything that is “Star Trek”. Heavily informed by both the original series and it’s sequel series “Next Generation”, “Galaxy Quest” is the name of the Science-fiction television series in this film in which the characters were actors on years ago. The principle cast involves Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and Justin Long all in prominent roles that play on both the characters in Star Trek and the actors’ personas that played them. The most obvious being Tim Allen as the Commander playing off of a Captain Kirk and William Shatner combination. The lesser roles that Sam Rockwell and Justin Long play are fun nods to short onscreen roles and the fan community in general. Rockwell’s character was particularly fun, aptly named “Guy”, who once acted in an episode similarly to the infamous “Red Shirts” of Star Trek whose only contribution to the show is to die in front of the camera, while Long’s convention-going nerd with technical questions about the star-ship is played with adoration, not condemnation. Anyways, the whole “hook” of the film is based on a simple and excellent premise. What if the cast of “Star Trek” was mistaken for their character counterparts by real aliens in desperation, and beamed into a scenario similar to the ones they often engaged with in their TV series? Forced to work together after years of relying on comic-book conventions and car commercials for income, the crew must put aside their ego and differences to help an alien species from total destruction at the hand of a much more barbaric alien race. My favorite part of the whole film however goes to Alan Rickman’s portrayal of “Alexander Dane”, a classically trained British actor who’s a bit of a drama queen and chiefly concerned with the craft of acting over the more bombastic maverick shenanigans of Tim Allen’s “Jason Nesmith”. If you’re looking for a funny, self-aware, sci-fi adventure- look no further, this is it! Highly recommended (especially after those two Next Generation movies…).

*Below I’ve put a link for a trailer for the documentary about “Galaxy Quest” made by YouTube channel ScreenJunkies called “Never Surrender!” If you enjoyed this film and genuinely enjoy Star Trek, give this one a watch- it’s great!

Dune (1984 – Previously Watched)

Written and directed by David Lynch, “Dune” is an adaption of the popular sci-fi novel of the same name by author Frank Herbert. Set in the year 10,191, “Dune” is similar in nature to “Game of Thrones” in it’s concern of ruling ‘houses’, and who controls power in the region- just on a galactic scale. The beginning of the film tries to dump as much important information possible without becoming overbearing- and I think it does a decent enough job at setting the stage for this particular space opera. Admittedly, I have not read the novel, so I cannot contribute to the discussion of how well this film adapts the source material. However, while this isn’t my favorite Lynch film (see ‘Mulholland Drive’ review above), I do enjoy it for it’s ambition. I mean, honestly, I would recommend this film for the production design alone. It’s daunting, huge, intricate, and elaborate. All of the worlds feel unique and lived in, the Emperor’s palace in the opening of the film feels like something out of Imperial Russia with it’s gold baroque flourishes. I also kinda love how disgusting this movie can be at times, particularly the Harkonnens. Their ships, planet, and suits are all just… gross. Speaking of which, they are one of the royal ‘Houses’, the other major player being House Atreides. These two houses, and the Emperor’s political imperatives, are all trying to maintain control of the desert planet Arrakis. This planet is crucial for control of the Universe due to the mining of a substance called ‘the spice melange’. With it, powerful psychics can use this drug to fold time and space allowing for intergalactic travel. This film also has my favorite David Lynch cameo, aside from his role of Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks, in which he plays a worker on one of the machines that harvests the spice melange. It’s a short, but fun moment. The characters speak in bold declarative sentences, or whispers, and use tongue-twisting words like Kwisatz Haderach, gom jabber, and Bene Gesserit. So, it’s really no wonder that a sci-fi movie as dense and uniquely opaque as this would alienate audiences so thoroughly only a year after the original trilogy of ‘Star Wars’ films had ended. While I do not share the near universal disdain for this movie, I do understand why it didn’t connect with people as well as that galaxy far far away. But I must admit that it’s strangeness partly explains my admiration for the film. “Dune” is the weird, loner, reject of sci-fi- and you know what, I like you, you strange strange movie. Besides, the movie ends with Sting in a knife fight with Kyle MacLachlan, so there’s that. Recommended, despite the odds.

film

Old School Review: “The Wild Bunch” (1969)

Written by Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah, and directed by Peckinpah, “The Wild Bunch” is a Western following a gang of gunslingers and outlaws emerging into the twentieth century as they come to terms with the end of their era. If you’ve spent the last two months roaming the digital countrysides of “Red Dead Redemption 2” like I have, and you’re seeking more of that same grizzled cowboy violence, then “The Wild Bunch” will definitely satiate some of your old west woes. This movie shares many of the same themes and visual cues that the groundbreaking video-game western implements over it’s hours, upon hours, of storytelling.

After a botched heist devolves into a shootout in an excellent opening scene, the ragged outlaws finally reach a place to gather themselves and account for their losses. It’s here that Pike (William Holden), the gang leader, poises the terms of their next score and the core of their existential crisis, “We’ve got to start thinkin’ beyond our guns. Those days are closin’ fast.” Set during the global eve of World War One in 1913 with the modern world quickly encroaching on those tied to the ways of old, “The Wild Bunch” delivers us a nuanced and layered film that pairs its chaotic violence with real humanistic quality. It’d be an arduous task in finding a Western more concerned with tragedy and loss, or one so bathed in melancholy and savageness. The noble outlaws in this picture are exposed to some of the most uncensored violence of the day when it was initially released. While Sam Peckinpah thought the violence would shock people into the horrors of such a time, he would have no idea how much people might enjoy such cathartic carnage.

The driving force of the film lies in the pursuit of Pike’s gang by a posse led by a former outlaw and friend, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). Previously captured and coerced into hunting his fellow outlaws by an anonymous railroad tycoon, Deke detests the system he now works for and frequently talks down to his less than skillful hired help. Thus Pike’s gang flees to south of the border where they are plunged into another brand of chaos in the Mexican civil war as gun runners. While Deke may be coerced into tracking his former brothers, Pike’s gang has their own fair share of being forced into servitude by the Mexican army. Adherence to pressure by necessity, being forcibly made to adhere to the ways of others, is a major theme of the film as these outlaws get swept up by the progression of time.

Peckinpah handles the individual gang members with such mythic, admirable, and poetic romanticism that you often forget about earlier sequences focusing on the deglamorization of warfare. It’s within this contradictory sensation of heroic admiration and frightening nihilism that Peckinpah allows his characters to shine. Angel (Jaime Sánchez), and Dutch (Ernest Borgnine [The Arthur Morgan of this film ironically]) in particular, are standouts among the gang. Dutch is one of the older outlaws and Pike’s second in command. With his wisdom from the school of hard knocks and a heart of gold to match, he pairs well with Angel’s youthful exuberance and itchy trigger finger. It’s all about balance, right?

The film is bookended by two large shootout sequences which weave chaotic violence with a romanticized nostalgia for times (and films) gone by. The film doesn’t necessarily glorify violence so much as it attempts to show the uglier and dirtier world of cinematic gunslingers. I honestly couldn’t say it better than the 1995 Chicago Tribune review of the restored director’s cut, “It’s a tale of demonic intensity, nightmare nihilism, cockeyed courage, outrageous compassion and savage grandeur.” 

Final Score: A few bags of washers and a train full of guns!

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Movie Pitch: Tarantino’s revival of Pauly Shore

Who better than Quentin Tarantino to bring actors back from the dead? None. Which is why my pitch this time is a challenging one. How do you bring back “The Weasel” Pauly Shore to the silver screen without inducing the longest and loudest groan from moviegoers since Phantom Menace? Not an easy task. Pauly Shore himself has said he would like to return to acting, maybe even a redemption tale. Not a bad place to start.

Since Tarantino seems to be in a western phase right now, and as someone who loves westerns I’m loving it, so why not continue that trend? When’s the last time you saw a train robbery on the big screen, and done well? Lets all collectively forget about ‘The Lone Ranger’ and that it ever existed though. My point being, Tarantino loves doing homages to classic cinema, so I’m sure there’s part of him that desperately wants to shoot an old west train robbery/chase sequence. Lets have the story center on a wanderer, Shore, and a group of notorious theives in say, 1880. This gets us past the civil war and gives us more latitude for widespread use of trains by this time. Shore can play up aspects of his well know character, trying way too hard to be comedic, a klutz, someone that wanders into danger with no clue how to overcome it, and maybe he accidentally causes massive havoc in the same town where a train with a huge score is moving through and thereby makes it all that much easier for our gang of thieves and bandits to get away with their caper.

From then on out Shore’s character is determined to right his wrongs and track down the gang. He searches for a tracker, say Christophe Waltz or some other equal caliber actor to weigh out Shore’s persona, and together they hunt them down following a string of robberies. Obviously Tarantino could carve out a more clever throughline than that, but in his films you never need to sacrifice character moments, or good acting, for spectacle. You could have several larger sequences in the film, but they would only be the frosting on this old west heist.. cake. I’d love to see the tables turned and have Shore infiltrate the gang and turn them against one another, or sabotage them into authority’s captivity. There are many ways this story could twist and turn. Shore’s character work would also need heavy work, but this wouldn’t be the first time Tarantino changed an actor’s life or reception, and Pauly Shore is a grown man now, its time to purge him in a trial by fire, in the end he might come out on top. It could be worth the effort.

film

Movie-Pitch Mondays! Remake of “The Magnificent Seven”

Starting this week my goal is to keep pace with more weekly postings, Movie Pitch Mondays is that first step. This is where I imagine how I would approach the casting, the direction of plot, and crew that inhabit the production of this theoretical film. Description and vision of each film can vary from piece to piece.

For my first pitch I would love to see a remake of the old western classic “The Magnificent Seven”. Which itself was an Old-West style remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language film “Seven Samurai”. I know there’s a current remake of this property under way right now, set to be directed by Antoine Fuqua with Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, & Vincent D’Onofrio among others signed to star. This is simply how I would arrange the property.

The Cast, with character descriptions:

Tom Hanks as the Sheriff with a heart of gold and wit of steel.

Aaron Paul as the Deputy, loyal and proud yet a shadowy past.

James McAvoy as the angry Scottish indentured Railroad worker.

Simon Pegg as the Neurotic Englishman that translates for McAvoy’s character, inventive.

Michael Pena as a wanted bank robber from south of the border seeking asylum.

Vin Diesel as the tough Miner that’s had enough and demands a call to action.

Robert Downey Jr. as the devilishly charming Southern Gentleman, in from the East.

Patrick Stewart as The face of bureaucratic, crushing, power. Joyless.

Tim Roth as Business partner to Stewart’s character, The Good Cop to Stewart’s bad.

The Crew:

Director: JJ Abrams

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

I chose JJ for this piece not only because I personally want to see what he could do in this most classic of sandboxes, but also because I believe he would handle that territory of filmmaking well. I would trust his handling of the genre. After “Star Trek”, and now “Wars” a western will almost be akin to retiring if we’re scaling for box office numbers anyways. JJ has a unique visual style, and I’m assuming his cinematographers would come along with him on subsequent projects. He can handle a piece such as this, a big ensemble cast that has many moving parts while maintaining just the right slow burn pace that is representative of the genre as a whole, but respectful of its varied and long history. What I think JJ brings to this potential film that is most needed is his sense of “Magic” that he has somehow acquired, that almost unfathomable subtle touch of magic that makes the film feel impervious to negativity. If that makes any sense. He’s very Spielbergian in that way, which is why I also chose to add in Tom Hanks as the emotional anchor of the piece.

Christopher McQuarrie has a history of delivering knock out screenplays, and just wrote and directed the latest “Mission Impossible” installment, “Rogue Nation”. With “The Usual Suspects” in particular, and “Edge of Tomorrow” in a lesser way, McQuarrie has proven himself capable of multifaceted and complex screenplays. Though this film won’t be a mind blowing reveal like the ending of “The Usual Suspects” it will have multiple things going on all at once and I believe his style would only compliment it.

I see the plot essentially maintaining the general idea that a group of gunslingers ban together to save a small Mexican town overrun by bandits. However in my revision we would place the setting in America and the Sheriff is the initial push in banding together forces both local and afar to save the town from a crushing pair of British businessman that bought their way into the Oil business and need a railway to run their product through the town for high speed purposes. From there the film almost writes itself to be honest. First the threat is established by the foreign businessmen, then when they are turned down a terrible act of violence is carried out. Perhaps the child of Vin Diesel’s character? Dark, but a high character motivator. You’d have your traditional recruitment scenes wherein Hanks rounds up anyone who isn’t too scared of the threat aka Vin Diesel. Next up, the people that have great needs for which they will join up if reimbursed/helped, a la Pena, Pegg, and McAvoy. Lastly, the wild card, or Robert Downey Jr’s character, the charismatic big talker blown in from the east who is really a washed up legend and feels obliged to take up the cause.Lest the townspeople neglect him or worse, find out his true tale and exile him.

This could be a really fun throwback to Western and Samurai tales. I may have wandered too far from the original concept, but every remake has to have its own skin, it’s own purpose, otherwise why do it at all? Obviously the third Act has to have large numbers of muscle/militia bought by the businessmen that end up carrying out an onslaught on the town and its people. Maybe even have Aaron Paul’s young and nimble deputy fall in battle as in the initial Western remake? Like I said there’s a lot you could do with this, I love the idea of it and while this will look almost nothing like the actual remake that is being made right now, I can dream, and you should too! That’s my Movie Pitch for this week!