Film Review: Nightfall (1956)

Release Date: November 9th, 1956 (UK)
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Stirling Silliphant
Based on: Nightfall by David Goodis
Music by: George Duning, Morris Stoloff
Cast: Aldo Ray, Brian Keith, Anne Bancroft, Jocelyn Brando

A Copa Production, Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Anyway, I’m scared. You don’t know what it is to live with your back against the wall, Marie. Inside you change. You really change.” – James Vanning

Jacques Tourneur was always a solid director, so I definitely wanted to check out this film-noir picture of his, as I hadn’t yet seen it. Plus, it was part of the Criterion Channel’s Columbia Noir featured category and I’m trying to work through all of the films on that list that I haven’t yet seen.

I jumped on this one because I like Tourneur and I also wanted to see something with Anne Bancroft that came out much earlier than her most famous role as Mrs. Robinson in 1967’s The Graduate.

Tourneur had a great eye and a real understanding of cinematography, lighting and shot framing. He was a maestro of mise en scène, which is very apparent in his earlier horror films: Cat People, I Walk With a Zombie, The Leopard Man and his most famous noir: the Robert Mitchum starring Out of the Past.

Nightfall is no different and frankly, it’s a fabulous looking picture with a meticulous attention to detail in a visual sense. It looks crisp, pristine and the silvery hues are greatly accented by a mostly subdued but pretty apparent chiaroscuro presentation. The film uses contrast greatly, which is mostly done fairly subtly except for the wilderness scenes where the snowy landscape sort of works as a blank backdrop and pushes the characters to the forefront. The big fight at the end is the greatest example of this, as the two men fight in the snow, ending with the villain getting eaten alive by a snowplow truck. I kind of expected some black blood splatter but that was too graphic for 1956. Tourneur probably would’ve given it to us if this was one of his horror pictures though.

The film also benefits from the good chemistry between its leads: Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft. Their relationship seemed natural and organic and in the early moment in the film where you feel that she set him up, your heart sinks a little bit.

Aldo Ray, who I haven’t seen in much, made me a fan with his performance here. He is a rugged man but he is able to convey a sort of gentle softness without sacrificing his masculinity. You feel for the guy and want to see him come away from this story unscathed but this is a noir picture and that’s something that rarely happens.

While you may feel a bit of frustration with Bancroft after her first encounter with Ray, she wins you back over rather quickly and even if you are waiting for that standard femme fatale double cross later in the film, she’s very easy to like. But does she turn against our hero? And does he have a happy ending? I’d rather not spoil it.

Nightfall is a much better film than I anticipated it being, even as a Tourneur fan. It’s a solid film-noir even if it doesn’t go as dark as the genre typically does. I’m kind of baffled that it isn’t more widely known and held up as one of the top noir pictures alongside Tourneur’s Out of the Past.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Columbia Pictures noir films: Pushover, My Name Is Julia Ross and Drive a Crooked Road.

Film Review: Rome, 2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators (1984)

Also known as: I guerrieri dell’anno 2072 (original Italian title), Rome 2033: The Fighter Centurions (Belgium, Finland), Fighting Centurions (Norway, Germany), Gladiators of the Future (Portugal), Rome 2072 A.D., The New Gladiators, Warriors of the Year 2072 (alternative titles)
Release Date: January 28th, 1984 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Cesare Frugoni, Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Jared Martin, Fred Williamson, Renato Rossini, Eleanora Brigliadori

Regency Productions, Troma Entertainment, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Take a good look at these contestants, because for these men violent death is just seconds away.” – Commentator

I’ve seen several Lucio Fulci films but I never knew of this one’s existence until I really started going down the rabbit hole of European Mad Max ripoffs.

Sadly, this picture is pretty dull.

It does have two saving graces, though. They are Fred Williamson and the third act of the film that sets things right and makes this turkey end on a pretty high note.

First off, there’s really no one noteworthy here except for Williamson. And fans of Williamson should already know that he spent a big portion of his career married to schlock. This is no different but he helps to elevate the schlock when he’s onscreen. He’s just a bonafide badass and his presence in this film is no different. He owns this shit and he’s pretty unapologetic about how fucking manly he is.

Additionally, the last half hour of this picture is pure adrenaline. Once we reach the third act, we see these manly men get put into a violent game show, ala The Running Man, but in this picture, our heroes are on motorcycles and using any means they can to kill their opponents in an effort to ensure their survival.

There are some strong similarities to this picture and the David Carradine starring Deathsport from six years earlier but this is a better movie with a presentation that looks a wee bit more polished. It also sprinkles in elements of Death Race 2000 in how it employs vehicular violence in a reality TV format in a post-apocalyptic future.

One thing that I liked about the movie, which most people probably won’t, was the use of miniatures and models to create a futuristic looking Rome. You can tell that these sequences are miniatures but it has this otherworldly and dreamlike appearance that sort of drew me in.

Fulci is a better filmmaker than what this movie shows. He’s made worse pictures than this, though. If you’re interested in seeing his best work, Four of the Apocalypse, Massacre Time and Zombi 2 are much better examples of what he’s capable of.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.

Film Review: The Ambushers (1967)

Release Date: December 20th, 1967 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: The Ambushers by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Herbert Baker, Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Kurt Kasznar, Beverly Adams, John Brascia

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

[a new female recruit gets turned on by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” playing in the background] “You really like Perry Como that much?” – Matt Helm

The first two Matt Helm films were a lot of fun and really capture the magic and charisma of Dean Martin. I thought the first two were pretty consistent, overall. This one, however, falls off a bit and it looks as if the formula is running out of steam.

Still, Dean Martin makes this picture work and it’s hard to deny his charm and his ability to command the screen and make his audience smile along with him.

As far as the story goes, this one was weak. It features a government made UFO for some reason and a lot of wacky stuff that doesn’t work as well as the wacky stuff we saw in the installments before this chapter in the franchise.

Also, the intro to the film and the title are confusing, as we’re introduced to the idea of this all female assault team called “The Ambushers” but really, they don’t exist in the film in any sort of meaningful way to justify the title or the movie’s awesome opening credits sequence.

Sure, we get to see Dean Martin hamming it up and flirting with good looking ladies at the agency’s HQ in the first act but once he’s off to Mexico, that’s pretty much it for Dean Martin being a guy in a sea of hot women.

The film does have some strengths apart from Martin.

I thought that the Mexican brewery shootout and fisticuffs were well done and the environment was used superbly within the sequence.

Also, the big climax was well written, well structured, executed nicely and pretty energetic. It had a lot of good hilarious bits in it and it sort of makes up for the duller parts of the film.

Now there aren’t many dull moments but the film feels as if they blew most of the good jokes in the first two pictures and didn’t have a lot left to work into this one. But Martin did his best.

I thought the special effects came off well. There is a lot of cheese with it though, like the sparkler guns that levitate objects and the weirdly out of place UFO but some of the levitation gags worked. Well, except for the parts where you could clearly see wires lifting up people and objects. I was pretty impressed with how well the bar scene came out though. The sequence with the bottle pouring and the floating glasses moving across the room and into people’s hands looked perfect.

The Ambushers is certainly a step down. But it still entertains and keeps the party going.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: Body Heat (1981)

Release Date: August 28th, 1981
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Barry
Cast: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J. A. Preston, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer, Jane Hallaren, Lanna Saunders

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“I’m really disappointed in you, Racine. I’ve been living vicariously off of you for years. You shut up on me now, all I have is my wife.” – Peter

Lawrence Kasdan is probably most known for being one of the writers that worked alongside George Lucas on the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. But here, he not only writes but he directs. And it was his working relationship with Lucas that helped him get this film produced. In fact, Lucas put up some of the money himself, even though he’s not officially given a producer credit.

It’s interesting that Kasdan’s directorial debut was something so different than what audiences had known him for, which were primarily high adventure pictures. But Kasdan made a very true to form film-noir picture. But maybe it was too close and that worked against it; I’ll explain.

Kasdan’s story for Body Heat drew inspiration from the 1944 film-noir classic Double Indemnity. In fact, there are some pretty stark similarities but Body Heat is not a complete rehash and it certainly stands on its own, despite having very similar cues.

The film is really carried by the strong performance by William Hurt. Kathleen Turner stars alongside him as the typical femme fatale and while she’s pretty good, she comes off as more of a caricature of the femme fatale archetype than feeling like she is giving a genuine performance. But I don’t think that’s on her, as she’s proven how capable she is. I think it could be a combination of Kasdan’s direction and writing, as he was possibly trying to squeeze her into an image he had, as opposed to letting her put more of herself into the role.

Still, Hurt offsets the awkward clunkiness of Turner and the rest of the cast between Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke and everyone else, keeps the ship moving in the right direction.

The story is pretty good but it’s not anything new, especially if you’re a fan of the noir genre. Despite a few good twists and turns throughout this labyrinthine plot, nothing that happens is shocking and it is kind of predictable in retrospect. In fact, even though I enjoyed this, it didn’t give much of anything new to the genre it emulates.

In regards to it being a modernization of classic film-noir, it isn’t the first film to do that either. But if this is anything, it’s Lawrence Kasdan’s love letter to film-noir and for the most part, it’s a nice love letter that makes its point rather well.

Body Heat certainly isn’t forgettable but it’s a long way off from redefining what noir could be like Blood Simple and The American Friend did. But strangely, I did enjoy this a hair bit more than Blood Simple.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir films of the era: Blood Simple, The American Friend and the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Film Review: The Undead (1957)

Also known as: The Trance of Diana Love (working title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1957 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ponald Stein
Cast: Pamela Duncan, Richard Garland, Allison Hayes, Val Dufour, Mel Welles, Richard Devon, Billy Barty, Dick Miller

American International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Hickory dickory dorse / My guest is dead, of course / The clock struck two / He’s turning blue / With little or no remorse.” – Smolkin, the Gravedigger

Man, Roger Corman certainly had a lot of films appear on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it was all for a good reason and it’s a lot of fun seeing the master of schlock dominate the way he did.

Fans of Corman will probably enjoy this film, even though it’s what I would consider to be below Corman’s normal quality. Normies out there will probably be bored shitless and wonder why anyone would watch this but it takes a special someone to have a real love affair with Corman’s great and uniquely impressive work.

The reason why it is impressive is because Corman can create so much with almost nothing. Now this specific film isn’t the best example of that but for a movie that was made for less than a dime, he’s able to pull this off better than any other director in a similar situation would be able to.

Although bizarre, the story is kind of interesting. A psychic researcher sends the mind of a prostitute back in time in an effort to study her past-life experiences. So the film takes place in the Middle Ages and we soon discover that the prostitute’s older self is going to be killed over suspicions that she’s a witch. The psychic sends himself back in time to convince the prostitute to avoid death but in doing so, her future incarnations can never exist. Ultimately, the psychic ends up stranded in the past.

I wouldn’t call the plot wholly original or anything but it is kind of ambitious for a cheap-o ’50s motion picture.

While the acting isn’t good, it also isn’t atrocious. We also get to see a very young Billy Barty and Dick Miller.

Overall, this is far from Corman’s best but I think that this is a notable picture in his oeuvre, as it almost feels like a spiritual predecessor to his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the 1960s, which would primarily star Vincent Price and were some of his absolute best pictures.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Roger Corman’s other late ’50s/early ’60s films, as well as his Poe adaptations.

Film Review: Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 3 (working title)
Release Date: October 27th, 2003 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Cornel West, Mary Alice, Bruce Spence

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 129 Minutes

Review:

“Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you? Oh I can, I really should thank you after all. It was, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.” – Agent Smith

*Sigh*

Well, I got to the end. But I’m glad this journey of revisiting The Matrix film series is now behind me.

Reason being, I didn’t really enjoy these films because of how dated and horribly cliche and goofy they are. Plus, each installment in this trilogy got worse. I thought that this one might play better than the second but this film is such a massive misfire that it didn’t even come close to hitting the target it was aiming at.

My memories remembered this as a big two hour action sequence. But it’s not. There is a lot of action but it doesn’t really come until the last hour of the movie. Everything before that is really unnecessary. I mean, fuck, Neo was stuck in a subway station for a fucking half hour while his squad tried to save him from his limbo. Great way to use your time wisely in a final installment. The first act of this picture felt like episode 15 of a season of a TV show where they needed filler bullshit to pad out the season to 22 episodes.

Once the action does get going, the film gets better but we’re also thrown into action sequences with characters we just met or barely know and there’s no real reason for us to feel connected to many of them. So when some of them die, it doesn’t hit you in any emotional way. Maybe the first act of this film could have developed these disposable and empty characters.

Anyway, Neo is blinded in the most ridiculous way ever and he has to fight a swarm of Sentinels using his “electro-psychic vision” or whatever the hell his blind Daredevil sense is called. But that fight is mainly just Trinity flying a ship, dodging Sentinels that Neo doesn’t explode with the Force because at this point, Neo is a blind Jedi master over technology or something.

Trinity dies, which makes all the “No Trinity don’t die!” bullshit of the previous film seem like a massive waste of time and bad storytelling.

Now the big battle between Neo and Mr. Smith within the Matrix is pretty awesome and the only real highlight of the film. Tech-Jedi Neo becomes ’90s Goth Club Superman and he and Mr. Smith both swing for the fences in an over the top CGI bonanza. This sequence works for me and it accomplishes what it set out to do tremendously well. However, it doesn’t excuse the other 90 percent of the film that made me want to stick my head into a wood chipper.

But hey, I survived. I’m not sure if Neo did, as it seemed unclear when Doctor Octopus arms carried him away like a half dead messiah.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: Death Wish II (1982)

Also known as: Death Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 11th, 1982 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: David Engelbach
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, J. D. Cannon, Anthony Franciosa, Charles Cyphers, Laurence Fishburne III

American-European Productions, Golan-Globus Productions, Landers-Roberts Productions, City Films, Filmways Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You believe in Jesus?” – Paul Kersey, “Yes, I do.” – Stomper, “Well, you’re gonna meet him. [Paul shoots Stomper dead]”

The first three Death Wish movies are classics, as far as I’m concerned. And even if this is my least favorite of the first three, it is still a damn fine action picture with barrels full of flammable testosterone ready to explode off of the screen.

What gives this film an extra edge to the original is that it was put out by Cannon Films, the true maestros of the ’80s action flick. This was an unapologetic balls to wall inferno with Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey returning to form and then getting even more hardcore.

Years have passed since the first movie but this picks up with Kersey, now living in Los Angeles, bringing his daughter home for a visit. Since the first picture, Kersey’s daughter has been living in a mental institution due to how screwed up she is from the opening sequence of the first film that saw her raped while her mother was murdered in front of her.

As Kersey and his daughter arrive home, they are attacked, their maid is murdered and the daughter is abducted and raped by vile thugs. Kersey, without hesitation goes right back into vigilante mode. All the while, his new girlfriend, who he plans to marry, is pulled into Kersey’s violent orbit.

This film has more of a direct focus on its baddies, as Kersey wants to murder the hell out of the gang that took his daughter and were responsible for her suicide. In the first film, Kersey basically just fights street level crime in all its forms. Here, he has no problem fucking up a few thugs but he has his sights on one specific gang.

Death Wish II also does a good job of fleshing out this gang and its members. You know them more intimately than the scumbags from the first movie. One of them is played by a very young Laurence Fishburne but most of them are recognizable and memorable because the film did a good job of giving them all visual cues like the dude with the buzzmullet, the one with the leather dog collar and the one with the frizzy hair and backwards flatcap. Even Fishburne wore thin funky sunglasses that helped identify him in a sea of degenerates.

Now I can’t call this a better film than the original but it’s a very worthy successor to it. It seems darker, more violent and it doesn’t waste time trying to make a political or social message to the viewer. It just trusts that you hate garbage humans and that you relish in seeing them suffer for their sins. And man, Charles Bronson makes them fucking suffer.

Death Wish II is what an action movie should be: no nonsense, guns blazing, unapologetic masculinity.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.