Film Review: Circle of Iron (1978)

Also known as: The Silent Flute (working title)
Release Date: July 25th, 1978 (France)
Directed by: Richard Moore
Written by: Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant, Stanley Mann
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: David Carradine, Christopher Lee, Jeff Cooper, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Anthony De Longis, Earl Maynard, Erica Creer

Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly.” – Blind Man

The concept and story for this film were developed by the legendary Bruce Lee and he was even slated to star in it but, as we all know, he died really young and with that he never got to see this go into production.

A few years after Lee’s death, however, this project got the green light and David Carradine was given the multiple roles that would’ve gone to Lee. What’s strange about that is Carradine was also given the main role in the television series Kung Fu, which Lee said was a role that was also originally meant for him.

This movie also has several legendary actors in minor roles. We see Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach all pop up for different sequences. And honestly, all of them took this really seriously and gave solid performances.

The lead actor was the only really unknown to me but he was good with the material, believable as a hero and you bought into his arduous and challenging journey, which was more about self discovery than what he thought it was about upon starting the journey.

One thing I personally dig about this is that it’s a martial arts flick but it has more of a sword and sorcery aesthetic to it. Granted, there aren’t buff dudes with swords, it’s just a really cut, physically fit guy using his kung fu to conquer his challenges.

Being that this was Bruce Lee’s concept also means that it is much more philosophical than your standard beat’em up movie. It probably isn’t as philosophical as what Lee would’ve done had he been alive to make this but his spirit still exists in this and is weaved into every important scene.

This film surprised me. I figured that I would enjoy it but it definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it and I’d now rank it pretty high up on my list of favorite David Carradine movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other martial arts flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as sword and sorcery pictures of the same era.

Film Review: Mother’s Day (1980)

Release Date: September 19th, 1980
Directed by: Charles Kaufman
Written by: Charles Kaufman, Warren Leight
Music by: Phil Gallo, Clem Vicari Jr.
Cast: Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, Tiana Pierce, Gary Pollard, Michael McCleery, Beatrice Pons

Duty Productions, Saga Films, Troma Entertainment, 91 Minutes, 76 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“You’ll get what you deserve in them Deep Barons, you lez-beans! You won’t be causin’ no one no trouble no more!” – Storekeeper

This movie just flew under my radar for decades, which is surprising to me as I’ve seen dozens of films put out by Troma since the ’80s and this is something that I would’ve dug when I was obsessed with slasher flicks as an ’80s kid.

I discovered it just recently when it was featured as the first movie of the third season of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. That episode had Eli Roth on as a guest and he revealed that this was one of his all-time favorites. So much so, that he watched it with the other kids celebrating his bar mitzvah.

This takes the Texas Chain Saw Massacre formula and moves things to New Jersey and gives us a film that is a lot more comedic and playful than its terrifying inspiration. By 1980, this formula had already been recycled quite a bit but this picture is more memorable and entertaining than most of the others.

I really liked the killer family, even though they were evil and batshit crazy. All three of the actors really hammed it up and gave their performances their all. I also liked that the head of the family was the mother, who somehow could play a sweet, charismatic old lady while also being completely deranged and sadistic, as she commanded her demented, pervert sons to, “Make mommy proud!”

I also thought the three females leads were decent. The one with the glasses actually had a pretty good character arc over the course of the movie, as she starts out as the shy, reserved girl scared of everything and eventually steps up to the plate to take this evil family out of existence. The final kill was bizarre yet very satisfying.

Although, the girls trashing that dude’s store in beginning was pretty fucked up. Clean up your mess, don’t be an asshole. Honestly, by slasher film logic, they all should’ve died horribly for knocking over that guy’s shit and bolting after acting like complete jackasses.

Anyway, this is a solid horror comedy with lots of violence and gore. It fits well within the patented Troma style and if those movies are your thing, this will most assuredly entertain you.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other slasher films with crazy families, as well as other Troma pictures from the ’80s.

Film Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1980 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
Based on: The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves; The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Hannah Gordon, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Dexter Fletcher, Kenny Baker

Brooksfilms, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!” – John Merrick

Few motion pictures are truly perfect. This is one of those few.

As far as I’m concerned, this is still the greatest thing that David Lynch has ever done. And while I like his visual style and artistic quirkiness, I’m not a big fan like many other film aficionados are.

That being said, this is his most normal picture. He doesn’t get overly bizarre and lost in trying to put his own dreams to celluloid. Here, he has a real story to tell and given a more defined framework, I think he excelled as a director with this movie above all of his others.

What’s strange about that, is that this is only his second feature film after the absolutely bonkers, shrill and disturbing nightmare known as Eraserhead.

The success of this film led to Lynch getting the offer to direct Return of the Jedi, which he turned down, as well as 1984’s Dune, which I like but ended up being such a bad experience for Lynch that he pretty much quit mainstream movies and went back to making bizarre, personal art films more akin to what he did with Eraserhead and his short films before that.

Anyway, this is a review of The Elephant Man and not a review of Lynch’s career.

I love that this was presented in black and white, as it gives it a truly timeless feel and it generates the same sort of aesthetic as many of the great classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. It also has the same sort of cinematography, as it employs a chiaroscuro visual style with high contrast between light and shadow.

Given the film’s setting and the makeup of the title character, this visual style gives it a real majestic, classic cinematic feel that probably wouldn’t have been possible if this was released in color. It helps set the mood with the more horrific elements, while also giving the film a quality of old world naivete, which is important in allowing the audience to connect to the pure innocence of Merrick, the Elephant Man.

The picture is stupendously acted. Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are absolute perfection in this and you really fall in love with both men through this incredibly emotional and very painful journey. But you also feel their emotion to the bone when the best parts of humanity find a way to outlast the worst parts. This is a film that is just as much about the darkness of humanity as it is about humanity’s light. That’s probably another reason why presenting this in black and white is so effective.

There are terrible human beings in this movie and frankly, it’s impossible to watch this and not be emotionally effected by that darkness. This is a really hard film to experience because of that but ultimately, a positive light does push the darkness back and while the ending is tragically sad, it’s also strangely satisfying knowing that the film’s subject left on his own terms in the only place he truly felt at home.

That being said, for me at least, this is one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had with a movie. It’s not something I can go back and watch often because it really does drain on your soul, even with the mostly positive outcome.

I have no idea what it is about this film that makes it a legitimate masterpiece. I think it’s simply a perfect storm of everything just working together, wonderfully.

The Elephant Man is truly cinematic magic in how it can give you both the worst of human nature and the best. It is an astounding, exhilarating and terrifying experience.

And again, it’s motion picture perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s earlier work, as well as other top notch period dramas of its era.

Comic Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate

Published: May 27th, 2015
Written by: Jim Zub
Art by: Max Dunbar, Sarah Stone
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR

IDW Publishing, 130 Pages

Review:

This is the first modern Dungeons & Dragons comic that I’ve read that didn’t feature Drizzt Do’Urden. Apart from those stories, which I have already reviewed, this is the first D&D comic I’ve picked up since some of the classic issues from my childhood.

The main reason for me checking out this one before some of the others was due to it being written by Jim Zub. I like Zub’s writing, especially in regards to fantasy and sword and sorcery type tales.

So I wasn’t disappointed and I liked this quite a bit.

Mostly, I really liked these characters and the bond they develop over this story, as they form a team of heroes that has to stop an evil sorcerer from doing evil sorcerer things.

After finishing this, I hoped there would be more comic stories with these characters. I’m not 100 percent sure if there are but I’ll seek them out if they exist.

Zub brought his A-game, here, and I love how he creates a real sense of camaraderie between his characters. He also writes in a way where you can tell he enjoys his work and crafting stories in these sort of settings. Frankly, it’s kind of infectious and with that, makes you want to keep supporting the guy.

Anyway, this was a pretty fun and cool read. It left me wanting more and that’s what a comic book story should do.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dungeons & Dragons comics, as well as fantasy adventure comics written by Jim Zub.

Film Review: Forbidden World (1982)

Also known as: Mutant (Australia, France, Canada), Subject 20 (Germany)
Release Date: May 7th, 1982
Directed by: Allan Holzman
Written by: Tim Curnen
Music by: Susan Justin
Cast: Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick, Linden Chiles, Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver, Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen, Don Olivera

Jupiter Film Productions, New World Pictures, 77 Minutes, 85 Minutes (VHS cut), 82 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Welcome to the Garden of Eden. We play God here.” – Dr. Cal Timbergen

At this point, I’ve probably reviewed more films produced by Roger Corman than any other producer in the motion picture industry. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that he was my favorite and the fact that he literally has hundreds of pictures, means that I’ll probably still be reviewing his work for several more years. And that’s assuming that I can ever actually see all of his films.

Forbidden World came out in a time when Corman was making a lot of sci-fi space-centered movies. Where Battle Beyond the Stars was his Star Wars ripoff, this one was his Alien ripoff.

There were many movies that were “inspired” by Alien, however, and some of them are pretty good. This one, is actually one of my favorites but let me get into why.

To start, I love the overall vibe of this movie. It’s stylistically cool and it has pretty impressive practical effects from something in this era that wasn’t made by George Lucas or Steven Spielberg and for having such a small budget.

I thought the monster was pretty cool and while this takes several beats from Ridley Scott’s Alien it is still original enough to be a pretty unique experience. Plus, it’s disturbing in its own way and you can’t predict what’s instore just based off of what it’s ripping off.

I also think that the cast in this is pretty decent and better than what’s typical for a Roger Corman production. The lead, Jesse Vint, was a good, heroic everyman. I also enjoyed Dawn Dunlap and June Chadwick because… well, you probably know why. Dunlap is especially gorgeous and damn near perfect. Although, her screaming got to be a bit much.

Something interesting about this movie, which I discovered while researching it, is that James Cameron worked on the set design. Granted, these sets were built for another Corman produced Alien “homage”, Galaxy of Terror. However, many of those set pieces were recycled and reconstructed for this movie. I think it’s probably safe to assume that Cameron’s work on these productions helped him when he directed Aliens, the official sequel of the film this one tried to emulate.

Forbidden World is better than what one would probably expect. It has that patented Corman touch, borrows heavily from a better movie but it all comes together rather well and should entertain fans of ’80s sci-fi, practical special effects and Corman flavored cinematic craftsmanship.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman produced films of the late ’70s and ’80s.

Documentary Review: Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal (2003)

Release Date: March 16th, 2003
Directed by: James P. Taylor Jr.
Written by: J.V. Martin
Music by: Mark Leggett
Cast: Peter Tomarken (presenter), various

Termite Art Productions, FremantleMedia, Game Show Network, 83 Minutes

Review:

“On May 19, 1984, a dubious kind of history was made. An unemployed ice cream truck driver took a major television network on a ride no one watching would ever forget.” – Peter Tomarken

I’ve known about this story for years but I didn’t know that a documentary was ever made about it. Apparently, the Game Show Network did just that in 2003 and it was also hosted by former Press Your Luck host, Peter Tomarken.

This also brought back the other two contestants from the famous duo of episodes that saw Michael Larson take the game show to the cleaners after memorizing the patterns on the board and using that knowledge and great timing to go on a legendary run unlike anything anyone had seen before it.

This documentary uses a mix of old game show footage, talking head interviews and dramatizations to tell the story of Michael Larson. It shows the viewer what was behind his motivation, how his obsession ruined personal relationships and how his life became a driven by greed.

Over the course of this documentary, we get to see both of the episodes in their entirety with unaired footage added back in. With that, it shows us, step-by-step, how Larson decoded the board and outwitted the show’s producers and ran away with the network’s money.

This was really damn intriguing for something made for television by a gimmick cable network. In fact, it was so well done and presented, I want to see if the Game Show Network has made other similar films based off of other scandals.

Still, no game show scandal was quite like this one. 

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: European Vacation (1985)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: July 26th, 1985
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: John Hughes, Robert Klane
Music by: Charles Fox
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Dana Hill, Jason Lively, Victor Lanoux, Eric Idle, William Zabka, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa

National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 95 Minutes

Review:

“[repeated line] God, I miss Jack!” – Audrey Griswold

I was a bit underwhelmed by the first Vacation movie after revisiting it a few weeks ago. While I wasn’t a massive fan of this film series, as I’m not really a fan of Chevy Chase, they’re still amusing enough to hold my attention and make me laugh in spots.

Now having revisited the second movie, I like this one more. I think that the European setting made it better, overall, and I this set of Griswold kids is my favorite in the series, as a tandem.

While the original seems to be the most beloved of the series, with Christmas Vacation being a very close second, this is just more interesting, as I find the culture clash stuff funnier than the family just driving through the desert, meeting their redneck kin and then riding some rollercoasters.

This also has more action and a pretty good, high energy finale for an ’80s comedy movie.

Additionally, it fleshes out the kids more and gives them their own subplots apart from just making them accessories to their parents on a road trip. In fact, the subplots with the kids I found to be more enjoyable.

All in all, I’m still not in love with this series but it’s not a bad way to kill some time on a rainy day. There are much better ’80s comedies and much better ’80s comedic leads than Chevy Chase.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Book Review: ‘Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide’ by Jim Luceno, Laura Gilbert

I remember this oversized hardcover coffee table book coming out around the same time as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull back in the late ’00s. I wanted it but didn’t buy it back then, as it was a bit pricey and I was pretty damn poor then.

Recently, a copy popped up on an eBay search and I bought it, as it was really cheap and still in great quality.

While “encyclopedias” like this aren’t all that necessary in modern times with Wikipedia and lots of fan-made very specific Wikias, the larger than life presentation of this book and all of its great pictures, art and images, makes me yearn for a time when books like this were more common.

It’s one small part of the book but the thing I really liked most about this was how it provided three-dimensional maps of many of the tombs, temples and secret caves that Indiana Jones visited throughout the film franchise.

This book delves into a little bit of everything, though.

This doesn’t only cover the films but it covers The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television show, the novels, the video games and even looks at the comics.

Additionally, it covers all of these things in as much detail as you can in the limited space of a book chock full of imagery.

For diehard Indiana Jones fans, I’d say that this is a really cool book to ad to your library. Especially, if you can find a good, affordable copy online.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other reference books and guides from other Lucasfilm blockbusters.

Film Review: Body Slam (1986)

Release Date: November 21st, 1986 (limited)
Directed by: Hal Needham
Written by: Shel Lytton, Steve Burkow
Music by: John D’Andrea, Michael Lloyd
Cast: Dirk Benedict, Tanya Roberts, Roddy Piper, Lou Albano, Barry Gordon, Charles Nelson Reilly, Billy Barty, John Astin, Sam Fatu, Sydney Lassick, Afa Anoai, Sika Anoai, Kellie Martin, Sione Vailahi, Tijoe Khan, Freddie Blassie, Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino

Musifilm Productions, Hemdale Film Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

It amazes me that I never saw this movie as a kid and I didn’t even know of its existence until I heard someone talking about the wrestler cameos on a wrestling podcast I regularly listen to.

I guess I have to assume that this wasn’t on the shelves in the dozens of mom and pop video stores I spent time in during my childhood. I mean, there’s no way I would’ve overlooked it back then.

The film stars Dirk Benedict, a guy I loved from one of my favorite shows at the time, The A-Team. It also stars one of my favorite wrestlers, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, as well as a slew of other WWF wrestlers from the time. Plus, it also has a few cameos from a bunch of wrestling legends.

Beyond that, you’ve got Tanya Roberts, who I have been crushing on ever since The Beastmaster, as well as Charles Nelson Reilly, John Astin, Billy Barty, Kellie Martin and an underappreciated character actor I’ve always enjoyed, Sydney Lassick.

So the cast is pretty good or at least, interesting. However, the story has a weaker foundation than a house of sticks in a flood zone. For the most part, everything in this movie just feels kind of random and not much makes sense.

That being said, I still enjoy some sequences in the film but most of those usually just deal with the wrestlers I grew up loving, playing versions of themselves doing wonky ass shit.

After getting to the end of the movie, I wasn’t really sure what the point of it was. It seems like it was a tailor made picture just to include the very charismatic Piper and his wrestling buds and really, there’s nothing else here.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Dirk Benedict. He was fine with what he had to work with but I do feel like he was wasted in this and it could’ve possibly torpedoed any real attempt at a movie career after The A-Team.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other goofy B-movies from the ’80s. Also, anything starring ’80s wrestlers.

TV Review: In Search of… (1977-1982)

Original Run: April 17th, 1977 – March 1st, 1982
Created by: Alan Landsburg Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Laurin Rinder, W. Michael Lewis, Mike Lewis
Cast: Leonard Nimoy (presenter, host, narrator)

Alan Landsburg Productions, Rhodes Productions, *syndicated, 144 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While it’s been decades since I’ve seen this show, I used to watch it in the late ’80s and early ’90s, where it would rerun on late night syndication. It was a favorite of mine, as were many of the television shows, back then, that dealt with ghosts, aliens, cryptids and other cool, unexplainable mysteries.

Out of all of these shows, though, this one was always my favorite. That probably has a lot to do with Leonard Nimoy being the host and narrator but it also has to do with it being kind of stylish and dated, even a decade later. The low budget ’70s television panache just made it a bit more magical and otherworldly than the similar shows that were current at the time.

I had no idea that there were as many as 144 episodes until I actually bought the DVD set off of Amazon, which is really cheap, by the way.

So while I haven’t watched the series in its entirety, yet, I have revisited some of the most memorable episodes and they bring me back to that magical place I was when I first experienced them.

That being said, it’s probably hard to review this without nostalgia giving it a boost but I think it’ll hit those same notes in people that already have a love of the weird, as well as television shows from this era.

While this is presented in a documentary style, the conclusions presented in the show are simply based off of the evidence that they had at the time. The show isn’t dishonest, as it admits to conjecture in its opening introduction. However, it’s sort of a time capsule now, as it presents these mysteries through the eyes, findings and interpretations of the world nearly forty-five years ago.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other shows about mysterious phenomenon, cryptozoology and things still left unexplained by science.