Film Review: Rogue Trader (1999)

Also known as: Trader (France), Money Trader (Japanese English title)
Release Date: June 25th, 1999 (UK, Ireland, US TV premiere)
Directed by: James Dearden
Written by: James Dearden
Based on: Rogue Trader: How I Brought Down Barings Bank and Shook the Financial World by Nick Leeson, Edward Whitley
Music by: Richard Hartley
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Anna Friel, Pip Torrens

Granada Film Productions, Newmarket, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, fuck the rules, Tony. It’s barrow boys like Nick who are turning the City of London around. You can’t run a modern financial centre with a bunch of Hooray Henries.” – Ron Baker

I saw this movie back in 1999 and generally liked it but I hadn’t seen it since then and after recently revisiting the Wall Street movies, I wondered how well this one would hold up over two decades later.

For the most part, it’s pretty good and I thought that Ewan McGregor did well with the material, bringing a real energy to the film, which on it’s own, would’ve been really mundane without him.

Point being, McGregor is so good that it makes this a better picture than it should have been and he carries the rest of the cast in every scene. But honestly, that’s okay, as the end result worked and you cared enough about him and his situation that you wanted to see this all play out.

From a production standpoint, the cinematography, camera work and overall look of the picture feels cheap. If I’m being honest, this feels like more of a TV movie than a theatrical one, which is probably why it debuted on television in the US market where it saw theatrical releases overseas.

When compared to films like Wall Street 1 and 2The Wolf of Wall Street and the grossly underrated Boiler Room, this doesn’t hold a candle to them.

Like The Wolf of Wall Street, though, this one is a true story and it’s an interesting enough story deserving of being told in the motion picture medium. However, the story probably deserves a better movie than what this turned out to be. The real story is fascinating and I don’t think that it really came through, here.

Still, this is good and it’s certainly worth checking out for Ewan McGregor and the part that he played quite greatly.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other finance industry thrillers like Boiler Room and the Wall Street movies.

Film Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Release Date: October 17th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Brian Clemens
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I walked the streets, brooding on the bitter irony that all I wanted to do for humanity, for life, would be cheated by death… unless I could cheat death.” – Dr. Jekyll

This is strangely a Hammer horror film that I hadn’t seen. It’s always cool seeing one of these for the first time because it’s like looking at it with fresh eyes without nostalgia grabbing hold and taking you back to a magical time from your youth.

That being said, I quite enjoyed this and the gender bending twist to this classic story was a fun, interesting take.

The plot sees the legendary character of Dr. Jekyll develop and test out his own serum. However, in this version, he doesn’t turn into Mr. Hyde, he turns into a hot chick.

With that, his female persona uses her beauty and her gender to trap women in her web before horrifically murdering them Jack The Ripper style. In fact, this was most definitely inspired by the Jack The Ripper killings, as much as it was inspired by the famous Robert Louis Stevenson horror story about the duality of man and science run amok.

I love Ralph Bates, especially in his Hammer movie roles. I really liked Martine Beswick, as well though, as she plays the murderous female version of the character.

Additionally, whoever cast this film did a stupendous job in finding two leads with a very similar look despite their different genders.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde may not be the best version of the Stevenson tale but it’s certainly a really cool take on it, made by a solid classic horror director and two leads that committed to their parts and ultimately gave us cinematic magic.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the early ’70s that explore sexual themes.

Film Review: A Colt Is My Passport (1967)

Release Date: February 4th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Takashi Nomura
Written by: Shūichi Nagahara, Nobuo Yamada
Based on: a novel by Shinji Fujiwara
Music by: Harumi Ibe
Cast: Joe Shishido, Jerry Fujio, Chitose Kobayashi, Ryōtarō Sugi

Nikkatsu, 84 Minutes

Review:

Japan really made some visually stellar and interesting motion pictures in the 1960s. This one takes its inspiration from classic film noir, French New Wave and the spaghetti westerns of its time.

In fact, despite being a simple Yakuza crime flick, this has a score very similar to the ones you’d hear in Sergio Leone’s western movies.

Beyond that, this feels similar to Seijun Suzuki’s crime movies from the same decade. Although, this one is less stylized and surreal.

Director Takashi Nomura’s work here is incredible and since I’ve never seen any of his work before this, I kind of want to check out what else he’s done based off of how enjoyable, artistic and technically savvy this film is.

It’s also pretty well acted from top-to-bottom and features characters you’ll like and despise.

One thing that really stands out about this movie is the energy of it. The big finale is absolutely incredible and way ahead of its time in how it was shot, executed and presented.

Additionally, the cinematography is beautiful and it truly embraces the best parts of the classic film-noir aesthetic with a high contrast visual style and the clever use of shadow and light.

While I hold the Seijun Suzuki and Akira Kurosawa Yakuza films in very high regard, this lesser known film by the uber talented Takashi Nomura deserves to be in the same circle as those other amazing and game changing pictures.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir styled Yakuza movies, such as some of the ’60s films of Seijun Suzuki.

Film Review: Who’s the Man? (1993)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1993
Directed by: Ted Demme
Written by: Seth Greenland, Doctor Dré, Ed Lover
Music by: Michael Wolff, Nic. tenBroek, various
Cast: Doctor Dré, Ed Lover, Badja Djola, Cheryl “Salt” James, Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, Bernie Mac, Bill Bellamy, Terrence Howard, Richard Gant, Guru, Ice-T, Larry Cedar, Jim Moody, Joe Lisi, Karen Duffy, Roger Robinson, Richard Bright, Rozwill Young, Vincent Pastore, Caron Bernstein, Kim Chan, Ken Ober, B-Real, Ad-Rock, Apache, Bow-Legged Lou, Bushwick Bill, Busta Rhymes, Chi-Ali, CL Smooth, Pete Rock, Del the Funkee Homosapien, D-Nice, Dres, Eric B., Fab 5 Freddy, Flavor Flav, Freddie Foxxx, Heavy D, House of Pain, Humpty Hump, Kid Capri, Kris Kross, KRS-One, Leaders of the New School, Melle Mel, Monie Love, Naughty by Nature, Penny Hardaway, Phife Dawg, Queen Latifah, Run-DMC, Scottie Pippen, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, Stretch, Yo Yo, Da Youngsta’s

De Passe Entertainment, Thomas Entertainment, New Line Cinema, ,,, Minutes

Review:

“You fucked me! You fucked me! You might as well kiss me ’cause you’re fucking me!” – Sgt. Cooper

I’m one of the few people that saw this in the theater back in 1993 and honestly, I’m one of the few that saw it in my theater, as there were only three of us on opening night.

Still, I was stoked to see it, as I was a weekly viewer of Yo! MTV Raps at the time and the thought of Ed Lover and Doctor Dré in their own movie featuring dozens of rappers had my fourteen year-old self pretty damn excited.

The film also features Fab 5 Freddy and T-Money from Yo!, as well as some top up and coming comedians from the era like Bernie Mac, Denis Leary and Colin Quinn.

Now this isn’t specifically a well acted movie but it doesn’t need to be, as it is a buddy cop comedy made to appeal to teenagers that had a love of hip-hop. That being said, Lover and Dré were great, their chemistry shined through and their comedic timing was superb.

In a lot of ways, I saw the duo as their generation’s Abbott & Costello but unfortunately, they weren’t able to do anymore movies beyond this one. That’s kind of a shame, as they would’ve only gotten better but at the same time, Yo! MTV Raps was cancelled only two years later, ending a great era for hip-hop fans, which I feel had a lasting negative impact on hip-hop music going forward.

What makes this so fun to watch, especially now, is that it shows me how pure hip-hop still was in 1993 before it devolved into the overly corporate bullshit it became. This came out in a time where rappers still had real shit to say and a lot of the music was simply about having a good time or expressing positive messages. Sure, we all love the gangsta shit too but this film mainly features the East Coast side of the classic hip-hop era at its peak. There’s something magical about seeing all these guys in their prime, many of whom we have lost since then.

The bulk of the story revolves around Lover and Dré being failed barbers and having to join the police force to pay their rent. What they don’t know is that there is a sinister scheme afoot in their part of Harlem that leads to their beloved mentor and father figure being murdered for his real estate. This sets the pair off on trying to solve the mystery, even though they aren’t detectives and the police force doesn’t want them to be anything more than basic beat cops.

Along the way, they run into countless rappers, some of which have larger roles and most of which just have cameos. What’s weird about adding all these rappers in is that none of it seems forced or out of place. All the cameos are well handled and it’s kind of amazing that they actually got so many people in this movie.

The film is directed by the late Ted Demme, who was instrumental in bringing Yo! MTV Raps to the small screen. He would go on to direct a pretty good handful of films before his death, most notably Blow.

Additionally, this is written by Lover and Dré, which is probably why everything feels so natural, as they essentially play themselves in the film and they already head good relationships with all the other people in the movie, specifically the dozens of rappers.

This certainly isn’t a movie that’s going to resonate with those outside of my generation, who didn’t already have a love for East Coast hip-hop of the early ’90s, but it’s still pretty funny and these guys had incredible charisma and natural chemistry.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other hip-hop comedies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Documentary Review: Deep Web (2015)

Also known as: Deep Web: The Untold Story of BitCoin and Silk Road (complete title)
Release Date: March 15th, 2015 (South by Southwest)
Directed by: Alex Winter
Music by: Pedro Bromfman
Cast: Keanu Reeves (narrator)

BOND360, Trouper Productions, Zipper Bros Films, Epix, 90 Minutes

Review:

As much as I’ve always enjoyed Alex Winter, as an actor, his real talent may be directing, as he knows how to tell a great story, hook you and keep you glued to it until the end.

Deep Web peaked my interest, as I’ve been really invested in cryptocurrencies since the birth of Bitcoin, over a decade ago. With that, I’ve also had an interest in the cypherpunk culture, as I was a shitty hacker in the mid-’90s and maintained my love for that stuff.

This film mainly tells the story about the Silk Road, a deep web superstore for all things illegal. This also goes into the philosophy about it’s creation and sheds light on some of the people behind it while also telling the story of Ross Ulbricht, a young guy that everything was pinned on but was most likely used as a scapegoat and to make an example out of to deter other cyber criminals from similar activities.

There is a lot covered in this film that goes beyond just the Ulbricht case. Additionally, there are a lot of interviews with the people who were there and who worked in this sphere.

All in all, this is a solid documentary that covers a lot of ground in just 90 minutes. It moved by at a fast pace, kept my attention and ultimately, made me wish there was more to dive into.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about cypherpunk culture and cryptocurrency.

Film Review: The Godfather, Part III (1990)

Also known as: The Death of Michael Corleone (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1990 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone, Franc D’Ambrosio, Donal Donnelly, Richard Bright

Zoetrope Studios, Paramount Pictures, 162 Minutes, 170 Minutes (VHS Special Edition)

Review:

“I, uh, betrayed my wife. I betrayed myself. I’ve killed men, and I ordered men to be killed. No, it’s useless. I killed… I ordered the death of my brother; he injured me. I killed my mother’s son. I killed my father’s son.” – Michael Corleone

Godfather, Part III gets a lot of shit from just about everybody but I think the general hatred for it is asinine and people dismissing it mainly do so because it doesn’t live up to the bar set by the two films before it. That doesn’t make it a bad movie on its own, though. And honestly, if you look at it, as its own body of work, it’s a pretty compelling and interesting picture.

I like that it takes place at the end of Michael Corleone’s life and it shows how much power he’s amassed for the family, decades after the first two films.

Michael also tries to sort of legitimize everything and wash the blood off of his hands from the past. You also see how certain decisions he’s made have haunted him, such as killing his brother Fredo. However, it’s hard to change one’s nature and its influence and as much as Michael struggles to make things right, old habits die hard and the family finds itself in another war.

This time, the Corleone Family is so powerful that they have a scheme going with powerful people within The Vatican. I don’t want to spoil too much about the plot details but all of this I found really damn interesting. Even if you don’t agree with Michael’s methods, it’s hard not to respect what he’s accomplished with what he convinces himself are noble intentions.

I love that the movie takes this guy, at the end of his life, and exposes his flaws, his doubts and explores how haunted he is and how it’s changed him while still keeping him cold, callous and calculated. It’s a damn masterpiece in how this film showcases his inner conflict and both sides of his character. This is a testament to how good Al Pacino is as an actor, as well as how great of a writer Mario Puzo was and how well Francis Ford Coppola understands these characters.

Additionally, the relationship with Michael and his children has a massive impact on his evolution. I think that Coppola, also coming from a large, close Italian family understood these dynamics quite well and was able to pull from his own experiences as a father and make them fit for the Corleones and their unique situation.

Everything between the core characters’ relationships felt genuine and real. You could sense the pain and the regret between Michael and his ex-wife, Kay. You felt the tension between father and son, as wells as the love between father and daughter. Frankly, with this being as strong as it was, it made the final moments of the picture truly gut-wrenching.

Now I can’t call this movie perfect, as the criticisms of Sofia Coppola’s performance over the years are pretty accurate. Well, the real criticism, not the cruel criticism from those that hate the movie just to hate it. Originally, this role was meant for Winona Ryder but she dropped out of the film and I think that it suffered quite a bit because of this.

Also, the pacing is a bit slow at times and even though this is the shortest of the three Godfather films, it feels like it’s actually the longest.

Other than those two things, I don’t really see any other negatives.

Coppola’s direction is stellar and his eye for visual perfection is uncanny. Cinematographically, this is one of his best films. Everything and I mean everything looks absolutely majestic and flawless. This is a beautiful film from the opening frame to the last and there isn’t a moment that isn’t visually breathtaking.

The score by Carmine Coppola is also superb but then, so is all the film’s music from the party scenes to the big opera house finale.

As I stated in my first paragraph, I don’t get the amount of shit that this picture receives from fans of the series. It’s a damn fine film with minimal flaws and it gives a satisfying ending to a massive family saga. It’s like the third act to a Shakespearean tragedy and when you look at the whole body of work, over the course of three great movies, it’s a tale worthy of rivaling some of literature’s greatest epics.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its predecessors.

Film Review: The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Release Date: December 25th, 1968 (Canada)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: William McGivern
Based on: The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Nigel Green, Tina Louise, Wilhelm von Homburg (uncredited), Chuck Norris (uncredited)

Meadway-Claude Productions, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“So this is the place I was gonna get shot in the back. Kind of a stylish pad to take off from.” – Matt Helm

I’ve arrived at the fourth and final Matt Helm film and while the Dean Martin spy comedies have been enjoyable, this one showed me that maybe they had already run out of steam.

That’s not to say that this one wasn’t enjoyable, it was, but it was the weakest in the series and just felt like everyone involved was simply running through the motions and the entire production had become a paint-by-numbers affair.

Sure, Martin is still charming and suave and the women are beautiful. But this really felt like they were dialing it in, trying to get one last glass of milk out of the cow.

However, if they did make a fifth film, I’d still watch it. It’s hard not to like Dean Martin in this role, as it’s tailor made for him and who the hell doesn’t like Dean Martin?

One of the strong points in this film was the villain, who was played by Nigel Green, who is most known for his roles in classic horror films.

This is also sort of bittersweet in that it was Sharon Tate’s last movie before she was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969. I enjoyed her in this but I think that she hadn’t reached her full potential and it’s hard to say whether or not she would’ve grown into a real film star that could’ve carried a production on her own.

The film also featured a bunch of boxers, wrestlers and martial artists, all of whom were uncredited for their small roles. However, it’s worth mentioning that Bruce Lee worked on the film, behind the scenes, and this was also Chuck Norris’ first film, even though he’s so far under the radar that I didn’t even notice him.

Another interesting thing about this movie is that it was directed by the same guy who did the first Matt Helm picture, Phil Karlson. He’s a director mostly known for his fine noir movies and while I enjoy his work in the Matt Helm series, it doesn’t quite live up to the movies he did before them.

The Wrecking Crew was an okay finale to the Matt Helm film series. It could’ve tried a little bit harder and gave fans something better but in the end, it did get this far and that’s something.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row and The Ambushers: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: Frogs (1972)

Release Date: March 10th, 1972
Directed by: George McCowan
Written by: Robert Hutchinson, Robert Blees
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Lynn Borden, Mae Mercer, David Gilliam

Thomas/Edwards Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I still believe man is master of the world.” – Jason Crockett, “Does that mean he can’t live in harmony with the rest of it?” – Pickett Smith

After revisiting this for the first time in a few decades, I was surprised to see how many different animals this film featured. Honestly, it shouldn’t have been titled Frogs. They should’ve called it Swamp Critters or Florida On A Tuesday, as it reminded me of a regular afternoon hike in my home state.

This movie is weirdly drab, even though it’s pretty eventful and features a lot of zany deaths. I wouldn’t say it’s boring but it does feel like the filmmakers barely took this seriously and tried their best. It certainly feels like a rushed production where they had x-amount of hours to film in a Florida State Park, so everything had to be done in a few takes: perfect shots, good effects and attention to detail be damned!

Now I did enjoy a very young Sam Elliott in this and I actually forgot he was the hero of the story. His environmentalist banter with the evil capitalist played by Ray Milland was enjoyable and it was cool seeing these two legends ham it up and try to turn this shoddy production into a film with a meaningful message. There are just so many other films that tell the “science run amok on nature” story much better, though.

This had the makings of something that could’ve been much better in an era where animal horror was really popular. However, for every Jaws you get ten Night of the Lepus.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other animal horror films of the ’70s.

Film Review: In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (complete title)
Release Date: February 3rd, 1995
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael De Luca
Music by: John Carpenter, Jim Lang
Cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen, Wilhelm von Homburg

New Line Cinema, 95 Minutes

Review:

“God’s not supposed to be a hack horror writer.” – John Trent

I’m actually really surprised that I haven’t watched this in the four years since I’ve started this site. It’s a film I’ve watched at least a dozen times and it’s one of my favorite John Carpenter flicks. Plus, it’s the third and final part to his unofficial trilogy of films he calls the Apocalypse Trilogy. The other two films are The Thing and Prince of Darkness.

While The Thing takes the cake in the trilogy, Prince of Darkness and this movie are still damn good, incredibly fucked up and a lot of fun, especially for fans of John Carpenter’s more fantastical pictures.

This story sees its protagonist try to uncover an “end of days” conspiracy, as he’s sent to go find a famous horror author but discovers that the writer’s written words are telling the true, current and still developing story about humanity’s fall to dark, sinister powers.

In the Mouth of Madness has a very Lovecraftian vibe, which is also pretty apparent by the film’s title, which sounds an awful lot like H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. Also, different horror novel titles seen within the film are also homages to Lovecraft’s famous stories.

The one thing this movie does incredibly well is creating an atmosphere that almost feels like a dense, creepy fog that is thickening and wrapping around the two main characters, as the film rolls on and provides more details and plot developments. Also, the small town that they’re in feels like a legit ghost town with a bizarre otherworldly-ness. Even when these characters are out in the open, it feels as if they are confined in a tight box and that box’s walls are closing in.

This is an example of a film that does a lot with very little. Sure, there are effects and actual monsters in the movie but its the unseen stuff that creates the magic. Although, when you see the monsters, it also doesn’t diminish the implied horror, it sort of just legitimizes it and makes you, the viewer, go, “Oh, shit! These things do exist and this guy isn’t fucking crazy!”

In regards to the monsters and the special effects, I dig all of it. This film really achieved some great effects shots and freak out moments. It really pushed the bar for a film that I assume just had a typical early ’90s horror budget.

Sam Neill is really superb in this, as well. While this didn’t boost his bank account like his Jurassic Park movies, it is one of his best performances and it really set the stage for what he could do in the horror realm. In fact, I think that his experience with this picture really allowed him to explore the depths of hell in his own soul in Event Horizon, a few years later. Both of these movies are two of the finest horror films to come out of the ’90s and both have aged tremendously well.

In the Mouth of Madness is a fantastic horror fantasy, through and through. It sort of just seeps into your mind and never lets go of it. I guess that’s why it’s one of the Carpenter films that I revisit the most.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse TrilogyPrince of Darkness and The Thing.

Film Review: Born to Kill (1947)

Also known as: Deadlier Than the Male (working title, Australia), Lady of Deceit (UK alternative title)
Release Date: April 30th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Eve Greene, Richard Macaulay
Based on: Deadlier Than the Male by James Gunn
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr.

RKO Radio Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You’re the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw, and the rottenest inside. I’ve seen plenty, too. I wouldn’t trade places with you if they sliced me into little pieces.” – Mrs. Kraft

Since I’m not posting enough to truly celebrate the month of Noirvember, my noir-centric reviews have been pretty nil, as of late. But I wanted to slip in one of the film’s I haven’t seen that’s been in my queue for far too long.

1947’s Born to Kill teams up Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor, which on paper seems like quite the duo. It also adds in the always entertaining Walter Slezak and superb character actor/cinematic weasel Elisha Cook Jr.

Needless to say, this has a well-rounded cast and it’s also directed by Robert Wise, who had a very long and successful career making pictures in just about every genre.

Weirdly, this one just didn’t hit the mark for me like I hoped it would.

Now there are some really good scenes, like the one linked below, which shows Elisha Cook Jr. being a total bastard, but ultimately, this story felt a bit clunky and I wasn’t that engaged by it.

Also, Tierney and Trevor didn’t seem to mesh together as well as I had hoped.

Still, Wise’s direction was generally good, at least from the visual side of things. The cinematography was great and Wise’s ability to capture visually appealing magic lived up to expectations but everything else kind of fell flat.

That being said, I mostly enjoyed this and didn’t find it to be a waste of time but sometimes, even with a lot of good pieces, things just don’t click in the right way.

A lot of noir lovers do like this film and my take on it may exist in contrast to most but this just didn’t give me what I needed.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the time, especially those starring Lawrence Tierney.