Documentary Review: A.K.A. Cassius Clay (1970)

Release Date: November 4th, 1970
Directed by: Jimmy Jacobs
Written by: Bernard Evslin
Music by: Teo Macero
Cast: Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, Richard Kiley (narrator)

Sports of the Century, William Cayton Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I wish there were more vintage boxing documentaries floating around Netflix.

A.K.A. Cassius Clay is a damned good documentary. It was made in 1970 and it follows Muhammad Ali while he was banned from boxing due to his refusal of being inducted into the United States Army due to religious beliefs. For those who don’t know, Ali was a member of the Nation of Islam, which at the time, was considered to be highly controversial. Luckily we’ve evolved since then.

The film gave an honest and sincere glimpse into the life of Muhammad Ali as he toured colleges, speaking to the youth about civil rights and other issues that were important to him at the time. Due to his exile from the ring, he wasn’t able to work and his speaking engagements at least allowed him to make money and pay his bills.

The film also goes into his boxing career and gives a lot of insight into the man and what made him tick. There’s lots of good interviews and intimate footage of the great Ali and those who he let into his inner circle. This is a compelling documentary that gives the viewer a sort of backstage pass to Ali’s life at a very interesting time. If you’re a boxing fan and/or an Ali fan, I can’t recommend this film enough.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: When We Were KingsTysonChampsUnforgivable Blackness and The Trials of Muhammad Ali.

Film Review: Flesh Feast (1970)

Also known as: Time Is Terror
Release Date: May 20th, 1970 (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
Directed by: Brad F. Grinter
Written by: Thomas Casey, Brad F. Grinter
Cast: Veronica Lake

Viking International Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Creeping, crawling, flesh-eating maggots!” – film tagline

Veronica Lake was incredible in the era of film-noir. She was one of the top actresses in the genre and found good work in the 1940s, always being at the forefront of that time’s cinematic and stylistic shifts. So it is really tragic that this pile of absolute shit was her final film.

Lake was a producer on this and somehow I feel like she was aging, maybe a bit out of sorts and was taken advantage of by some young but talentless filmmakers needing a few bucks to get this shit sandwich served in grindhouses and drive-ins across America.

The plot sees Lake play a mad scientist who is developing maggots that prefer human flesh. During the process, she is used to male a clone of Hitler. She cooperates with this evil and goofy plan. However, her mother was executed as a Nazi political prisoner and Lake wants revenge. She convinces everyone privy to her research that the maggots are to be used for regeneration purposes. However, she just wants to resurrect Hitler so that she can throw the maggots on him and watch him be devoured alive. She succeeds in her plot and the audience succeeds in sitting through one of the worst and dumbest films ever made.

With the title and with the style of film you’d assume this is, one would expect more gore than what this picture actually offers. Had it been a senseless gore festival, it may have had some redeeming quality about it. It has a similar title to Blood Feast, which was synonymous with gore and was also filmed in and around Miami Beach, as this movie was. However, this would disappoint gore hounds just as it would disappoint decent normal people. This actually makes the awful Blood Feast look good by comparison.

Flesh Feast is really one of the worst things I have ever seen. It fails in what it sets out to do in every way. You’d have to try really hard to make something this terrible.

All that being said, this needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 0.25/10
Pairs well with: Nothing and you’d be better off not watching this.

Film Review: Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

Release Date: May 26th, 1970
Directed by: Ossie Davis
Written by: Ossie Davis, Arnold Perl
Based on: Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes
Music by: Galt MacDermot
Cast: Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, Calvin Lockhart, Judy Pace, Redd Foxx, Cleavon Little

United Artists, 97 Minutes

Review:

“One more word, soul brother. You had it made. Black folks would have followed you anywhere. You could’ve been another Marcus Garvey or even another Malcolm X. But instead you ain’t nothin’ but a pimp with a chicken-shit backbone.” – Gravedigger Jones

Having grown up seeing and appreciating Ossie Smith as an actor, it’s cool going back and seeing his directorial work in the ’70s, which was just before my time.

Cotton Comes to Harlem is a pretty funny picture but it is also packed with gritty action and cool, badass characters, especially the two detectives that drive the film: Gravedigger Jones (Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (St. Jacques).

The story follows the two cops, as they try to expose a crooked reverend as a fraud. The reverend is taking money from his congregation with the promise that they are buying their way back to Africa. The truth is, the reverend sets forth a scheme to make sure that he gets the money, free and clear. He orchestrates a robbery and then has the money hidden in a large bale of cotton, hence the title of the film. The title is also probably a metaphor to the fact that many black slaves picked cotton and that by “cotton coming to Harlem” they are once again enslaved, this time by the promises of the crooked reverend, as well as a system and society that continues to fail them.

The movie is really carried by Cambridge and St. Jacques but Calvin Lockhart had a good bit of charisma too. Redd Foxx stole every scene that he was in, especially that great moment at the very end. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters of Gravedigger and Coffin and they were the most interesting and fun part in the movie. It would have been cool to see them spin this off into a buddy cop film series with these two but that never happened.

Cotton Comes to Harlem was an entertaining ride and compared to most of the films in the blaxploitation genre, it was pretty tame. It still isn’t a film fit for kids, by any means, but it puts the comedy out in front and tones back on the overall action and violence.

Film Review: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Also known as: Point of Terror (US alternate title)
Release Date: February 19th, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Based on: The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi

Seda Spettacoli, CCC Filmkunst GmbH, Titanus, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Bring out the perverts!” – Inspector Morosini

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage would be a high point for any director’s career. In the case of Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, this was his debut picture.

Tapping into a major influence of his, Argento took the giallo style that Mario Bava was famous for and gave it a much harder edge and grittier atmosphere. Argento still employs a vibrant color palate to create this world he lets us live in for 101 minutes but everything is much more realistic and less fantastical.

Crystal Plumage really takes the giallo formula to a slasher movie level. And while it even has a certain aura of film-noir, it bridges the gap between these distant generations almost seamlessly. It is a true giallo but it taps into an older Hitchcockian thriller vibe and looks towards the future with touches of John Carpenter. It truly is a bizarre and eye opening experience, as it shows you how certain genres can kind of give birth to new and different things: noir to giallo and giallo to slashers. That evolution has never been clearer than it is in this picture.

The film is a murder mystery where the murders start to pile up. Pretty girls die, the hero witnesses a murder attempt and then puts himself in harms way in order to lure the killer out. Eventually, his girlfriend is put into danger because what is a giallo without a pretty girl running from a knife?

The main actor is Tony Musante, who I liked a lot in the Sergio Corbucci spaghetti western The Mercenary. He starred alongside the great Franco Nero in that one, as well as Jack Palance – a good pair of actors to learn from. His girlfriend is played by Suzy Kendall, who would go on to be in another pivotal giallo picture, Sergio Martino’s Torso.

This film is also a part of a loose trilogy of pictures by Argneto referred to as The Animal Trilogy. The other two films are the ones that immediately followed this one: The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet. All three films share similar themes and have a consistent visual style.

This was the precursor to a lot of great work by Argento. It was a magnificent starting point for the young director and he also got to work with the legendary composer Ennio Morricone.

The film is a visual feast and showed that Dario Argento had something exceptional in regards to his ability to shoot a scene and how to use color and darkness. A true master of mise-en-scène from the very get go, Argento’s work here is pretty profound for his lack of experience helming a motion picture.

Film Review: Hatchet For the Honeymoon (1970)

Also known as: Il rosso segno della follia, lit. The Red Mark of Madness (Italy), Blood Brides (UK), An Axe for the Honeymoon (alternate)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Mario Bava, Santiago Moncada
Music by: Sante Maria Romitelli
Cast: Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti, Femi Benussi

Manuel Caño Sanciriaco, Mercury Films, Pan Latina Films, Películas Ibarra y Cía., 105 Minutes

Review:

“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I’m a paranoiac. Paranoiac. An enchanting word, so civilized, full of possibilities. The truth is, I am completely mad. The realization which annoys me at first, but is now amusing to me. Quite amusing. Nobody suspects I am a madman. A dangerous murderer. Not Mildred, my wife. Nor the employees of my fashion center. Nor of course my customers.” – John Harrington

For those who read this site fairly regularly, my love of Mario Bava and the giallo genre in general should be pretty apparent. As I’ve been working my way through Bava’s oeuvre, I have come across several films I know and some I have never seen. Hatchet For the Honeymoon is one I have known of but never had the pleasure of experiencing.

While it is generally a giallo, it differs from what I’m used to in that the identity of the killer is known upfront. There is no mystery about the killer’s identity, although the motive isn’t entirely clear until the end and there is still a bit of mystery thrown in. In fact, this film takes some crazy twists and turns in the narrative, as you never really know what’s real or if the main character is just imagining things.

This film plays kind of like American Psycho well before American Psycho, the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, was even written. Our killer here is a high society type, incredibly insane and violently kills those around him. Except our main character isn’t a successful Wall Street player, he is the head of a very successful fashion house in Europe.

He has an obsession with brides and wedding dresses and believes that a woman should love once and die before marriage. While he is in a disastrous marriage himself, he often times seduces beautiful women he comes in contact with through his work. It doesn’t end well for these women.

Hatchet For the Honeymoon is an alluring picture. It uses the vibrant colors of a typical Italian giallo, employing the visual style that Bava helped to create and that several other directors have tried to emulate for decades. While this isn’t as overtly colorful as Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, it still looks like a painting come to life.

Mario Bava weaved an interesting tale with this picture. While it isn’t my favorite of his films, it still enchants like Bava’s more superior work. It draws you in with its strong grip and doesn’t let go until the final moments. It is engaging and beautiful in all the right ways.

Film Review: Space Amoeba (1970)

Also known as: Gezora, Ganime, Kamēba: Kessen! Nankai no Daikaijū, lit. Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas: Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas (Japan), Yog Monster From Space
Release Date: August 1st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ei Ogawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Kubo, Atsuko Takahashi, Yukiko Kobayashi, Kenji Sahara, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Yu Fujiki, Noritake Saito, Yûko Sugihara, Sachio Sakai

Toho, American International Pictures, 83 Minutes

space_amoebaReview:

When I reviewed The Mysterians, I mentioned that I had always wanted to see it because the film featured a kaiju that appeared in the first Godzilla game for the original Nintendo. Space Amoeba is another movie that also features a kaiju that was used in that game, despite it ever appearing in a Godzilla film, up to that point. That kaiju is the giant Kisslip cuttlefish Gezora.

Gezora makes a huge impact in this film and apparently, the creature was popular enough to find itself in a Godzilla game and later, a cameo in Godzilla: Final Wars. The movie also features two other kaiju: Ganime, a giant stone crab, and Kamoebas, a giant Matamata turtle.

Space Amoeba has a pretty cool story. A space probe is taken over by microscopic alien creatures. When the probe returns to Earth, the tiny aliens take over the body of a cuttlefish, growing it to monstrous proportions in an effort to take over the planet. But really, the cuttlefish Gezora just attacks villagers on a small South Pacific island. Once Gezora is defeated, the aliens create Ganime and then Kamoebas. They even take over one of the humans in the story. In the big finale, we end up with a big battle between the two kaiju, Ganime and Kamoebas, as they duke it out around an erupting volcano. It is a film with a lot of Tiki flare, similar to those Godzilla island movies, most notably Son of Godzilla and Ebirah, Horror of the Deep.

I really enjoyed the picture a lot. Although, the effects weren’t as stellar as the work of Eiji Tsuburaya, who collaborated with Ishirō Honda in earlier films. Honestly, some of the tentacle effects were actually pretty bad. A few times, when Gezora was grabbing a villager to snack on, his tentacles were animated like a cartoon. There are probably a million ways that these shots could have been done better.

Overall, the monsters weren’t fantastic, other than Gezora. Ganime felt like a rehash of Ebirah and Kamoebas seemed like Toho taking a jab at Daiei Film Co.’s Gamera. Their suits were pretty minimal in design. Granted, Gezora has a great look but they could’ve done a better job giving his big eyes some life and making his head, less balloon-like.

Regardless of the negatives, this is still a really exciting kaiju movie. The story was pretty fresh, which is impressive considering that this was towards the end of Japan’s first kaiju cultural explosion.

Space Amoeba is now one of my favorites in the genre. My experience was a very happy one, as it is always nice to find something new in something old. If I ever host a kaiju film festival, and I’ve thought about it, Space Amoeba will most assuredly be on the docket.

Film Review: The ‘Sabata’ Trilogy (1969-1971)

The Sabata films were made during the height of the classic spaghetti western era.

All three films were directed by Gianfranco Parolini. He started the series just after he birthed the Sartana film franchise with his film If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death. That movie became a big hit but he was not brought on to direct the sequel (or any of the others after that).

The character of Sabata was then created and became a sort of spiritual successor to Parolini’s Sartana.

Sabata (1969):

Also known as: Ehi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!, roughly translated as Hey buddy … that’s Sabata, you’re finished! (Italy)
Release Date: September 16th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Marcello Giombini
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Pedro Sanchez, Aldo Canti, Linda Veras, Franco Ressel, Antonio Gradoli, Robert Hundar, Gianni Rizzo

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 102 Minutes

sabataReview:

The iconic Lee Van Cleef took on the role of Sabata and made it something spectacular. While his roles in the Sergio Leone films The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More are more widely known, I’ve always seen Sabata as his best role, overall. He was great in the Leone films and proved that he was a stellar actor but the character of Sabata showed Van Cleef having the most fun and thus, the character felt closer to the real man than the other roles.

Sabata is a bit gimmicky but that is what makes it unique. It is gimmicky done well.

The character of Sabata is a master trick shooter and he has all types of trick guns and wacky tools at his disposal. If you think he’s out of bullets, think again because there is a secret barrel in the gun handle or a tiny gun hidden away in an unorthodox place.

The first film is the best, by far. The plot was the strongest in the series and the cast of characters, many of whom return in different roles throughout the other films, just gelled so well in this installment.

The character of Banjo, played by William Berger, is an annoying yet awesome banjo-strumming minstrel who could be a villain or a hero. You never really know. And as for his banjo, it packs a surprise.

The effeminate villain Stengel, is the best baddie of the series. And his scheme is the most impressive out of all the criminals Sabata comes to face in the series.

This is Lee Van Cleef at his best and he looks like he is having a damned good time, as does everyone else. I just kind of wish the characters of Banjo, Carrincha and Alley Cat would have also gone on to be in the sequels. Their lack of presence in the later films, are one of the reasons why this is the superior movie of the three.

Adiós, Sabata (1970):

Also known as: Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, roughly translated as Indio Black, you know what I’m going to tell you … You’re a big son of a …. (Italy)
Release Date: September 30th, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Yul Brynner, Dean Reed, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Joseph P. Persaud, Susan Scott

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 104 Minutes

adios_sabataReview:

The second film doesn’t star Lee Van Cleef. It stars Yul Brynner as the title character. While I like Brynner, Van Cleef’s portrayal of this character was so good in the first movie, that it just doesn’t work as well with a very different looking Brynner as the lovable Sabata.

The odd thing, is that Van Cleef turned the movie down as it conflicted with the filming of The Magnificent Seven Ride, where he was playing the character made famous by Yul Brynner. They could’ve just swamped films and both franchises wouldn’t have had character consistency issues.

Adiós, Sabata is still an enjoyable film. Despite Brynner not feeling like Sabata, looking at it as it’s own thing, it was well done and a good vehicle for Brynner.

The characters are less dynamic than the first film and the story just feels like a cookie cutter western plot that’s been seen a dozen times over but the spirit of the series is still alive.

And even though it is a better than decent movie, it is still quite forgettable other than it is wedged between the two Van Cleef films.

Return of Sabata (1971):

Also known as: È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta, roughly translated as Sabata is back … to end another time (Italy)
Release Date: September 3rd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Marcello Giombini
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Reiner Schone, Giampiero Albertini, Annabella Incontrera, Jacqueline Alexandre, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Aldo Canti, Vassili Karis

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 100 Minutes

return_of_sabataReview:

Return of Sabata, in my opinion, has one of the most bad ass trailers of all-time. That’s why I am including it below instead of the trailer for the original movie.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to the amazingness of the trailer. It is several steps behind the original film and it isn’t as good as the Brynner one either, even though Lee Van Cleef is back to play Sabata.

The plot is very thin, the film is mostly boring. There are a few good action sequences but not a lot happens in this movie other than the cool stuff you can see in the trailer.

It was great seeing Van Cleef back and the character doesn’t let you down. The problem, is that the plot surrounding the character just isn’t there. It is nice to see more of the original Sabata, as it is usually great to revisit familiar characters. However, he didn’t have much to do and we’ve already seen him do all of his cool tricks. The gimmick has run its course.

The movie is worth a watch if you want to complete the series but you really aren’t missing much if you pass on it.