Film Review: The Ranger (2018)

Release Date: March 12th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: Jenn Wexler
Written by: Giaco Furino, Jenn Wexler
Music by: Wade MacNeil, Andrew Gordon Macpherson
Cast: Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler, Amanda Grace Benitez

Hood River Entertainment, Glass Eye Pix, 77 Minutes

Review:

“I kept your secret. I protected you.” – The Ranger

I really wanted to like this film and I did find it fairly enjoyable but there is nothing new here and it’s pretty mundane and weak, as far as slasher movies go.

The story is about some punk teens on the run, following a drug bust at a concert that was capped off by one of them stabbing a cop. The teens make their way to a cabin in the woods that once belonged to the uncle of one of the girls in the group.

However, the mountain where the cabin sits is under the watchful eye of a psychotic park ranger that has a past with that same teen girl. When she was a child, she did something bad and he took her in, protected her from the law and tried to train her to be more like him: a predatory wolf, living off the land and surviving by any means necessary.

So it doesn’t take long before these cliche punk teens disrespect authority, throw the word “fascist” around and start fucking up the woods, drawing the ire of the park ranger.

One problem I have with the movie is the characters. Except for the proverbial final girl, everyone here is completely unlikable. Plus, they all just kind of fit played out archetypes and their punk schtick feels forced. They’re not real punk rock, they’re like the punk that Target tries to sell on t-shirts to 12 year-old girls in Wisconsin. If you are looking for something in the same vein as the punk rock teens of The Return of the Living Dead, these kids aren’t them.

I do like the main girl though and the park ranger is pretty awesome. I just wish he had a bit more backstory. Maybe they’ll tap into that if there’s ever a sequel to this but I don’t think that very many people even know about this movie. I didn’t until Shudder suggested it within the app.

Also, this film has a bit of gore and blood but it implies gore more than it actually shows it. A lot of the kills are weak and maybe that’s because they didn’t have the budget to sever teenagers from limb to limb but some of these moments could have been done much better with practical effects and for not a lot of money.

The Ranger had a neat premise and two characters good enough to anchor it. However, it falls short of my low expectations and is pretty forgettable.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other films currently streaming on Shudder: Revenge, Monster Party, Boar and What Keeps You Alive.

Film Review: Pickup On South Street (1953)

Also known as: Pickpocket, Blaze of Glory (working titles)
Release Date: May 27th, 1953 (Boston and Philadelphia)
Directed by: Samuel Fuller
Written by: Samuel Fuller, Dwight Taylor
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter

20th Century Fox, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I know you pinched me three times and got me convicted three times and made me a three time loser. And I know you took an oath to put me away for life. Well you’re trying awful hard with all this patriotic eye-wash, but get this: I didn’t grift that film and you can’t prove I did! And if I said I did, you’d slap that fourth rap across my teeth no matter what promises you made!” – Skip McCoy

For those that don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had an interesting working relationship with 20th Century Fox. Hoover allowed the studio access to investigations and files and thought that allowing some “transparency” through a Hollywood lens would make the public more supportive of the FBI under Hoover.

However, this film is what ended that relationship, as Hoover wanted it changed due to what he felt wasn’t a complete condemnation of communism. The studio stuck by writer/director Samuel Fuller and this film was released, unaltered.

Hoover was upset because this has a plot that involves Richard Widmark’s character being involved with passing off a piece of secret film to those bastard Reds. Widmark’s character, regardless of the communist involvement in the plot, seemed unfazed as to who his employer was. And he never really shows any remorse for the communists’ plot that he was a part of and certainly doesn’t have a moment of reflection where he turns over a new leaf. Apparently, this infuriated Hoover but it does seem more genuine and leaving the story as is, was probably for the better, regardless of the political climate of the time. Plus, it makes for an interesting tale that is larger than the movie itself and has thus, elevated this motion picture’s importance in a time when film-noir movies were a dime a dozen and most have been forgotten.

But regardless of all that, this is still a superb noir, carried by the solid perfromance by Widmark, as well as Jean Peters, his gal, and the always stupendous Thelma Ritter.

For the time, Ritter has a death scene here that is really damn dark and makes your heart sink. While I’m a fan of just about everything in this picture, it’s this scene where you really see the great talent of Ritter, as well as the greatness of Samuel Fuller, who picked the music and shot the scene, using fabulous camera work, lighting and cinematography. Granted, he had help in the cinematography department by Joseph MacDonald, who also worked on Panic In the Streets, Niagara, Hell and High Water, The Young Lions, Pepe and The Sand Pebbles.

The story is also engaging and the threats in this feel genuine and real. Despite Hoover’s concerns, this certainly doesn’t paint the Reds in a positive light.

I also have to give props to Jean Peters for how physical she had to get with this role. I’m not sure if they used a double or not and I don’t think that they did, but when she literally gets the crap kicked out of her in her own apartment, it’s absolutely brutal for 1953 standards. Hell, it’s hard to watch for 2019 standards where movie audiences see some pretty violent stuff on a regular basis.

Pickup On South Street will probably always be a footnote in Hollywood history. However, it deserves its recognition in spite of its controversy. It’s a solid picture, lifted up by its players, its director and its cinematographer.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noirs: Night and the City, Gun Crazy, Kiss Me Deadly, Where the Sidewalk Ends and Naked City.

Film Review: Dagon (2001)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon (US complete title), Dagon: Sect of the Sea (alternative), The Lost Island (Philippines)
Release Date: October 12th, 2001 (Spain – Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli
Based on: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Carles Cases
Cast: Ezra Godden, Francisco Rabal, Raquel Merono, Macarena Gomez, Brendan Price

ICCA, Generalitat de Catalunya, Institut Català de Finances, Televisió de Catalunya, Televisión de Galicia S.A., Vía Digital, Xunta de Galicia, Castelao Producciones, Estudios Picasso, Fantastic Factory (Filmax), Lionsgate, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot care for her. You do not dream of her! You will go soon to a beautiful place. You will forget your world and your friends. There will be no time, no end, no today, no yesterday, no tomorrow – only the forever and forever, and forever without end. It is your fate. It is your destiny.” – Uxia Cambarro

Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna are no strangers to Lovecraftian horror but this film is the closest thing to the source material that they have ever produced. And while this isn’t better than their earlier films: Re-Animator and From Beyond, it is still a solid, good effort that is better than most of their films after the 1980s.

While Dagon is the title of a short story from H.P. Lovecraft, this film is actually an adaptation of Lovecraft’s novella, The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

The two major difference is that the setting was shifted to a Spanish fishing village called “Imboca”, as opposed to “Innsmouth”, Massachusetts. Also, the aquatic deity Dagon takes on more of a Cthulhu appearance, whereas in the originally story his was humanoid with fish-like features.

I like this film for the most part. In all honesty, my only real complaint were the digital effects. They looked cheap, horribly cheap. They looked worse than what the standard was in Sci-Fi Channel movies circa 2000. However, the practical effects really make up for it, as the gore that was created physically, comes off as pretty damn good. But the problem with this is that there is so much variance in quality between the great practical effects and the abysmal digital effects that it breaks the movie for me. It’s, at times, pretty jarring. Especially, when both are utilized in moments that run so close together.

Also, the acting is pretty shitty but its not so bad that it goes to lower depths than one would expect from this sort of picture. It’s just nothing to write home about and so much of it comes off as really hokey. This could also be due to the quality of the dubbing, as this is a Spanish film and a lot of the dialogue needed to be dubbed over for the American video release. Usually dubbing from Spanish language films isn’t too much of a distraction but there are some scenes that look very out of sync.

The story is pretty compelling though. But this doesn’t do anything to surprise you other than some shocks with the amount of gore towards the end. But, if I’m being honest, none of the gory stuff exceeds what Gordon and Yuzna have done with their earlier movies. The infamous face peeling scene here is also just a rehash of the infamous face peeling scene that Tobe Hooper gave us in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

What I dig most about this film is that regardless of its flaws, it is one of the best adaptations of Lovecraft’s work. It’s not “Lovecraftian horror” it is Lovecraft.

Also, the scenes with mutated people slowly walking through the dark streets of the village reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the Vincent Price starring The Haunted Palace. That was another film that adapted Lovecraft and featured some similar plot points to this film.

Dagon is a pretty cool film to watch, if you are into Lovecraft. It probably won’t resonate for those who aren’t already fans but it does have some solid gross out moments and it’s strange, surreal and unique.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lovecraftian horror films: The Call of Cthulhu, From Beyond, Re-Animator, The Haunted Palace and The Dunwich Horror.

Comic Review: Detective Comics: Medieval

Published: April 10th, 2019 – June 12th, 2019
Written by: Peter J. Tomasi
Art by: Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, Nathan Fairbairn, Max Raynor

DC Comics, 110 Pages

Review:

Be forewarned, I can’t really get into this without spoiling parts of the plot, as well as the Arkham Knight video game.

When I first heard that the Arkham Knight was being introduced into the comic book continuity, I was really excited, as I love the Arkham video games and especially loved the Arkham Knight game.

However, I also wondered how they would do this, as the Arkham Knight was revealed to be Jason Todd, the Red Hood and once former Robin. Jason Todd certainly couldn’t also be the Arkham Knight in the comics, so I knew it would be a different person altogether. I just didn’t have an idea as to who it was and what their backstory and motivations would be.

I’ve been a fan of Peter J. Tomasi’s work over the last few years, so I had high hopes that he’d give us something compelling with this. But sadly, I was a bit let down.

The Arkham Knight in the comic book continuity is the daughter of Jeremiah Arkham, the head of Arkham Asylum. Her birth name is Astrid and she appears in Gotham City with the Knights of the Sun, an order of her own creation. They are a group motivated by their ideals, as opposed to material gain like many of Gotham’s more famous criminals.

Her backstory sees her born in Arkham Asylum during a riot. The Joker, along with several other famous inmates, deliver her amongst the chaos of the riot. Her mother is killed during the riot by one of Batman’s batarangs, which was thrown by one of the Arkham inmates.

Astrid, as a kid, used to interact with a lot of the Arkham inmates and through that, developed her hatred of Batman. She learns that one of his batarangs was the instrument that killed her mother and her hatred intensifies. Ideally, she wants to take control of Gotham away from Batman.

The story then has her use a really weird superweapon that is basically an artificial sun, which is to reveal Batman as a demon to the citizens of Gotham. Batman and Robin are able to stop her before she uses her sun to permanently blind everyone in the city. However, she escapes and will go on to fight another day.

The story started out fairly well but it took so many strange turns that it pulled me right out of it and I just found myself rolling my eyes with every new reveal. That’s not to say that Astrid Arkham won’t develop into a cool character but the backstory is a mess. From the Joker delivering a baby to a fake sun superweapon, this was a bizarre story that just didn’t work for me and certainly didn’t deliver in the way that the Arkham Knight video game story did.

I was hoping for something more akin to the game that saw Gotham fall into a total state of decay with gangs running the city, police hiding in their precincts and Batman taking to the streets to fight a sea of gang members, high tech tanks and a plethora of supervillains.

Honestly, this could have done that and been the basis for a solid major event.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: most of the recent regular Batman comics.

Comic Review: The Incredible Hulk: Last Call

Published: June 5th, 2019
Written by: Peter David
Art by: Dale Keown

Marvel Comics, 33 Pages

Review:

I’ve never been a massive fan of The Incredible Hulk, except for the Peter David and Dale Keown era. It was the era that I read when I really started getting into superhero comics beyond just Batman, Spider-Man and X-Men titles.

This one-shot is the first of several that Marvel is doing, which feature the reunification of some of the most iconic creative teams on the books where their work was most beloved.

What I really dug about Last Call was that it channels a lot of the material from the David/Keown era. The story is about Banner on a suicide hotline, talking to a girl that Betty Ross knew. Banner is suicidal but there is a part of him that doesn’t want to follow through, as he’s trying to find some resolution for his soul and all the trauma he’s endured due to the chaos he feels responsible for. Unlike Mister Miracle, there is enough historical context to understand why the Hulk is in this state of mind.

Ultimately, he finds some peace within the 33 pages of this short story. The girl on the other end of the phone helps him get some clarity and a brief scuffle with Mr. Hyde also helps him put it all into perspective.

Despite the subject matter, this doesn’t come off as a depressing read, by the end. It gives you hope for the Hulk and the tortured Banner that feels as if he has no control over the green man’s rage.

As far as the art goes. I enjoyed seeing Keown return to the Hulk but this does look rushed and I feel like it was, as this one-shot had four different inkers on the book. It lacks the great detail that Keown was known for on The Incredible Hulk and Pitt but it still hits its mark in the right way. I just wish that these guys had more time to give us something more refined.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the classic Peter David and Dale Keown run on The Incredible Hulk, as well as the current title, The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing.

Film Review: Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)

Release Date: February 3rd, 2018 (Internet)
Directed by: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Written by: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Deron Johnson
Cast: Damon Carney, Randy Wayne, Alexandra Harris, Heather Langenkamp, Paul T. Taylor, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, John Gulager

Dimension Films, Puzzle Box Pictures, Lionsgate Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Please. Let’s save ourselves the time and you the considerable pain by answering the questions honestly. Clearly this is a place where the rules of your world do not apply. And obviously, I’m a man for whom pain is nothing more than a common currency. [pulls out a straight razor] I will spend some on you… if you like.” – The Auditor

After the last Hellraiser film, which came out in 2011, I declared this franchise dead. Granted, it felt dead long before that, as most of the later sequels were pretty awful. However, the 2011 movie was one of the worst films I’ve ever had to suffer through. It’s like Pinhead wanted me to finally experience pain on an epic level.

So I didn’t anticipate this film wowing me in any way and it definitely doesn’t but this is one of the better sequels in that it gets back to basics and at least feels more like the first few movies in the series, as opposed to all the straight-to-video sequels that were just re-purposed scripts made to fit within the Hellraiser brand.

Gary J. Tunnicliffe wrote and directed this and even stars in it as the Auditor. Sadly, Pinhead is not Doug Bradley but the new actor was infinitely better than the guy who played him in the previous abomination. Also, this has a brief cameo by Heather Langenkamp and she’s the only known actor in the entire picture.

That being said, the film isn’t well acted but it’s passable for what this is. And it’s also not bad in anyway that detracts from the film.

The plot here is interesting, adds a lot of new stuff to the mythos that respects what came before it and it opened the doors for new stories and possibilities for future installments.

Sadly, I don’t think there will be any sort of expansion on this film, as they’ve announced a Hellraiser reboot by David S. Goyer, who is hit or miss but mostly miss.

In the end, this one wasn’t a total waste of time, it is a nice homage to the better parts of the Hellraiser franchise and it doesn’t try to rehash what we’ve already seen or assault us with surprise curveballs that feel like they shouldn’t even be within this once great film series.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the nine previous Hellraiser films.