Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, William Finley (voice, uncredited)

Filmways Pictures, Cinema 77 Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi was making threats over the phone. She said she’s going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death. And now my razor is gone. Now you don’t have to be a detective to figure it out, do you?” – Doctor Robert Elliot

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this picture but if Brian De Palma’s early films are any indicator, I knew that this would be bizarre, artistic and intelligent.

And it was those three things but it was also damn compelling and honestly, damn impressive.

I loved this film and it’s a shame that I hadn’t seen it before this. It was intense, melodic, sweet, scary and most importantly, intriguing.

While this picture is very De Palma-esque, maybe the most De Palma-esque of the man’s work, it is also very Hitchcockian, as the narrative and the shot framing displays a young De Palma’s callback to Hitchcock’s style and tropes.

Still, this is very much De Palma’s composition and not a cheap attempt at trying to emulate one of the masters before him. Honestly, it comes off as a respectful homage that creates a familiar framework that De Palma could then artistically build off of.

This is also very much a noir story. It has twists, turns, mystery, secrets that evolve and a shocking reveal when all is said and done. It’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to do some of the stuff they did in the time that this was made.

What really solidifies this as a great movie, aside from the solid direction and story by De Palma, is the cast.

Nancy Allen really carries this movie once she becomes the focus. And honestly, I’ll always love Allen simply for being a huge part of RoboCop but I never really thought much of her as an actress. Not to say she’s bad, she’s perfectly fine. But in this film, she really got to do some daring things. Honestly, it has motivated me to check out De Palma’s Blow Out in the near future as it also features her under De Palma’s direction.

I was really impressed with Keith Gordon and Angie Dickinson as well.

Michael Caine also plays an very important role but it’s Michael Caine, so one should expect a damn fine performance because I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not deliver.

I’d love to go deeper into the story and analyze some of it but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s a film that needs to be seen without knowing much about the plot and a Google search will probably spoil some major details.

If you like De Palma, Hitchcock influenced cinema or neo-noir, than you’ll probably like this picture.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Brian De Palma films, especially Blow Out and Body Double.

Film Review: Wicked City (1987)

Also known as: Monster City (Sweden), Supernatural Beast City (Germany)
Release Date: April 19th, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Written by: Norio Osada
Based on: Wicked City: Black Guard by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Music by: Osamu Shoji

Video Art, Madhouse, Joy Pack Film, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[chuckles, then unzips Taki’s fly] He’s a healthy one. Let me see if I can wake him… [gives him a blowjob]” – Kanako

I was a big fan of Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s work well before I realized who he was. I loved this film, as well as Demon City Shinjuku and the utterly superb Ninja Scroll, way before I learned that the same guy directed them.

This one always stuck out in my mind as the most twisted and disturbing of his films, even though they all deal with similar subject matter. Wicked City was just supremely messed up, especially for a young teen discovering this late at night on a VHS tape borrowed from a friend at school.

I love the art style, the visual and narrative tone and how this feels like a slow burn from start to finish.

That being said, this feels like it has a slow pace but a lot happens and it’s certainly not boring. In fact, it helps to build suspense as this strange, wicked world slowly reveals itself to the viewer over the course of the film.

All the action sequences in this are pretty damn cool and it’s one of the most creative animes of its time in how it uses horror and monsters. In fact, the otherworldly monsters feel like they were ripped from John Carpenter’s The Thing but they still have their own uniqueness.

My only real complaint about Wicked City isn’t about the film itself, it’s about the fact that this just exists as one entry into what I feel should’ve been developed into a larger universe. I’ve wanted more of these since I first saw this movie and I felt like it left a door wide open.

Wicked City is one of the top anime horror films of all-time and deservedly so. It’s still effective, has stood the test of time and it features incredible art, creativity and great monsters.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s other anime features: Demon City Shinjuku, Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

Film Review: Black Rain (1989)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw, Luis Guzman, Stephen Root, Richard Riehle

Paramount Pictures, Jaffe-Lansing, Pegasus Film Partners, 125 Minutes

Review:

“I usually get kissed before I get fucked.” – Nick Conklin

Ridley Scott has done some great films. While Black Rain isn’t often times in the discussion of Scott’s best works, it is one of his best looking motion pictures.

Being that this is pretty much neo-noir, it shares a lot of the same visual style as Blade Runner. However, instead of seeing a futuristic Los Angeles on the screen, we are given modern day Osaka. Or what was modern day in 1989.

Sure, this doesn’t have Replicants and flying cars but it does show us how late ’80s metropolitan Japan wasn’t too far off from Scott’s vision of the future.

The story follows two cops played by Michael Douglas, in maybe his coolest role, and Andy Garcia. They witness a Yakuza hit in New York City, capture the criminal and then have to escort him to Japan, where he escapes and they then have to work with the Osaka police in an effort to catch him and bring him back in.

What the cops soon find out, once their stay in Japan is extended, is that the Yakuza guy they caught is in a massive gang war. Now these two find themselves in the middle of it all while the local Osaka police are slow to act due to their hands being tied by their strict laws.

This is also like two buddy cop films in one, as Douglas’ Nick Conklin works with his New York partner for the first half and then has to work with his assigned Japanese partner for the remainder of the film. But unlike your typical buddy cop formula, we’ve got two guys from very different cultures, clashing but ultimately finding respect for one another. It’s kind of like what we would get with the Rush Hour movies nine years later and with less comedy and more testosterone.

The thing that I really like about this flick is not only the clash of cultural styles but the mixing of genres. You’ve basically got a neo-noir Yakuza biker movie. It also has a pretty hard edge to it and is unapologetic about its violence and what modern critics would deem “toxic masculinity”.

Black Rain is a cool fucking movie, hands down. While it is sort of a Yakuza movie seen through Western eyes and made for that audience, it really isn’t too dissimilar from the best films that genre has to offer. Ridley Scott doesn’t specifically try to replicate Japanese gangster cinema, so much as he just tries to make a film within his own style that just happens to take place primarily in Osaka. And frankly, it all seems to fit pretty well together.

Unfortunately, Scott had issues filming in Japan due to the budget. He actually had to shoot the big finale back in California. I really would have loved to have seen a sequel but I’m assuming that Nick Conklin only got one outing because of the financial strain of going back to Japan for another movie.

Then again, Scott didn’t really have much interest in sequels to his films until more recently. So maybe we can get Black Rain 2? Assuming Michael Douglas can still go at 75 years-old. But hey, Sylvester Stallone is bringing Marion Cobretti back, so why not?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Blade Runner, Someone to Watch Over Me, Rising Sun and ’80s neo-noir.

Film Review: The Wraith (1986)

Also known as: Turbocop (Mexico), Interceptor (Germany)
Release Date: October, 1986 (Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Mike Marvin
Written by: Mike Marvin
Music by: Michael Hoenig, J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Charlies Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Clint Howard, Griffin O’Neal

New Century Entertainment Corporation, Alliance Entertainment, Turbo Productions, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You listen to me, you son-of-a-bitch! There’s a kid out there usin’ his car to kill people, not that it’s such a big deal since it seems to be your gang he’s got it in for… so, if you guys try to take the law into your own hands, and that killer turns up dead, I’m gonna see you all sniffin’ cyanide in the Arizona gas chamber.” – Sheriff Loomis

This is one of those movies that used to come on late at night on cable, usually with an introduction by Joe Bob Briggs via TNT’s MonsterVision. I always got glued to the set whenever it was on though, as there is just something so surreal and bizarre about it.

The plot is basically the same as The Crow, except the dead guy looking for revenge isn’t an invincible goth dude with a pet bird. Instead, he’s Charlie Sheen and he has the ability to turn into a ghost car. But then, that’s kind of confusing because he ends up giving the car to his little brother at the end, as he goes off into the sunset on his motorcycle with Audrey from Twin Peaks.

Anyway, Tucson is overrun by a gang of race car thugs. They bully people into racing them, cheat to win and then take their car. Charlie Sheen in his previous, less dreamy form, was murdered by the gang because he was having sex with Audrey from Twin Peaks, who the gang leader is obsessed over.

Sheen comes back, turns into a ghost car a.k.a. a Dodge M4S Interceptor and kills the gang members, one at a time, in races that end with them usually being blown to bits. Although, their bodies remain intact with their eyes looking like they’ve been burnt out. I guess Ghost Car Charlie sucks their souls out through their eyes or something. Honestly, it’s not really clear.

The film also stars Nick Cassavetes, son of John, as the gang leader, Clint Howard, as a a guy that looks like a ginger Beavis with glasses, and Randy Quaid, as the no nonsense sheriff that ain’t got time for all this supernatural shit. But the sheriff doesn’t really care about solving the case, as the ghost car is killing off the scumbags of Tucson.

I can’t particularly call this a good film and really, it’ll resonate with a certain type of movie fan. Mostly, fans of ’80s schlock with a sci-fi and supernatural bent. Really, this is a common late night cable movie of the late ’80s and ’90s, so if that’s your thing, you should enjoy this.

There’s not much plot to muck up the insanity and surrealness, which in these type of movies is a real plus. We don’t need all this wacky shit explained, just serve it to us in mass amounts and let us feast.

I can’t say that this is a movie that helped anyone’s career but I certainly don’t think that it hurt anyone’s either. It’s a hearty helping of ham with a dopey but fun script, executed as well as it could be with ’80s special effects and a tight budget.

Plus, it’s got a lot of solid car action.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The Crow, which may have somewhat ripped this story off.

Film Review: The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 12th, 1989
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Cuthbert, Grant Morris
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock, Monique Gabrielle

Lightyear Entertainment, Batfilm Productions, Millimeter Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Immortality? Yuck! What did you do, sell your soul to the devil?” – Abby Arcane, “More like a lease with an option to buy.” – Dr. Anton Arcane

A friend of mine thought I was harsh on the first Swamp Thing and its director, Wes Craven. But my opinions are my opinions. He was also confused as to why I remembered this one more fondly.

Well, having now seen it again, the first time in about three decades, I still have the same opinion. While this is far from a classic and a pretty mediocre comic book adaptation, it’s still a fun, stupid, popcorn movie.

What makes this one work better for me, which seems to be why others dislike it, is the added comedy element. It’s not trying to take itself too seriously. This film is pretty self-aware, so it hams it up.

I think that the first one was made in an effort to be taken seriously. Craven has only successfully achieved that with the first A Nightmare On Elm Street, his reinvention New Nightmare and his voodoo thriller, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Jim Wynorski, this film’s director, seems like the just wanted to have a good time making something somewhat lighthearted and goofy in a charming way. The scenes with the kids in this movie are hysterical and they’re more brilliant than anything in the first flick.

I also like that this is Dick Durock’s second time playing the title character and he seems a lot more comfortable and is allowed to let his personality come through. I also liked the return of Louis Jourdan’s Dr. Anton Arcane, even though he got killed in the first picture. This is a wacky, over the top, sci-fi movie… so why couldn’t he come back?

The supporting cast was also decent. Sure, the acting here shouldn’t be used as an example for students in drama class but everyone in the movie looked like they were having a ball and there were three pretty enchanting women in this between Sarah Douglas, Monique Gabrielle and Heather Locklear, who was surprisingly the one I found least attractive. Sarah Douglas has had my heart since Superman II and Monique Gabrielle became the woman of my dreams once I saw her shooting a machine gun.

In conclusion, I guess I understand why most people like the original more but fuck it, this is a lot more fun, has extra babes, extra cheese, extra charm, better effects and two kid actors that should’ve got their own spinoff movie trying to photograph cryptids in the swamp.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Swamp Thing movie, as well as the TV show that came just after this film.

Film Review: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

Also known as: Space Cobra (working title), Cobra (Norway, France, Finland)
Release Date: July 3rd, 1982 (Japan)
Directed by: Osamu Dezaki
Written by: Buichi Terasawa, Haruya Yamazaki
Based on: Cobra by Buichi Terasawa
Music by: Osamu Shoji

TMS Entertainment, Toho-Towa, 99 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (video cut)

Review:

I never knew about Space Adventure Cobra or the Cobra character until fairly recently. It must have flown under the radar when I was a kid or it was on a secret adult shelf in the video store due to it having boobies and butts in it.

Delving deep into anime space operas and cyberpunk films that I’ve missed, I did find this pretty quickly down the rabbit hole and thankfully, it was free to stream with Prime.

Had I discovered this as a kid, I would have loved it. Not just because it’s pretty racy but because the main character is cool as hell, this universe is cool and I loved the hell out of the animation style.

Tonally, it reminds me of Arcadia of My Youth while also having an aesthetic that reminded me a lot of Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s style in Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku and Ninja Scroll.

It’s part space opera, part swashbuckling and a whole lot of kickass with a character that feels like the best parts of Han Solo and James Bond merged into one being. Plus, he’s voiced by the same actor that played Roy Fokker in Robotech and the character also has a similar look. So that really tapped into my lifelong love of all things Robotech and Macross.

This was just a really cool find and it immediately became one of my favorite anime pictures from its era. Now knowing that there are manga, a television series, other films and OVAs, I want to check them all out. Hopefully, they aren’t too hard to find.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the Space Cobra television series, Arcadia of My YouthGalaxy Express 999 and Venus Wars.

Film Review: The King of Comedy (1982)

Release Date: December 18th, 1982 (Iceland)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul D. Zimmerman
Music by: Robbie Robertson (uncredited)
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Ed Herlihy, Shelley Hack, Joyce Brothers (cameo), Martin Scorsese (cameo), Liza Minnelli (credit only)

Embassy International Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.” – Rupert Pupkin

From the opening scene and into the unique credits sequence, this movie kind of just sucks you in. You’re pulled into a zany world where your primary companions are two nutcases played by the legendary Robert De Niro and the vastly underrated Sandra Bernhard.

De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin a stand-up comic that wants the fame that his idol Jerry Langford has. He obsesses over the famous late night television host, tries to get him to listen to his material, stalks him incessantly and eventually, abducts him in exchange for an opening monologue spot on his show. Pupkin succeeds and even if you kind of know he will, to some extent, it’s the journey from point A to point B that makes the story so engaging.

In a lot of ways, this has some similarities to another Scorsese and De Niro collaboration: Taxi Driver. I guess that is why both movies are being heavily borrowed from for the upcoming Joker movie.

Both films follow a man losing himself within New York City. Both men also go to extremes by the end of the film. Neither are really good men but it’s hard not to cheer for them at the same time.

While this is not the near masterpiece that Taxi Driver was, it’s still a visually stunning and dramatic film that is boosted by its onscreen talent.

I’ve never been a fan of Jerry Lewis’ style of comedy but seeing him get to be dramatic and play his role more like a straight man than a buffoon was really damn cool. Also, Lewis is a talented guy, even if his comedy doesn’t resonate with me. The guy is a legend for a reason and seeing him basically play a fictionalized version of himself, here, was refreshing and he certainly impressed me.

I think the real scene stealer though is Sandra Bernhard. Man, she is so damn good in this and she plays crazy well. She’s mostly an obsessed groupie but you can sympathize with her. And a lot of that is due to the writing and the direction of Scorsese but I don’t know who else could’ve pulled her character off with the right sort of personality and tone that Bernhard has.

Initially, when this film came out, it bombed pretty hard. And even though it has built up a good reputation in the years since, it isn’t one of Scorsese’s best. It is still a very good film, though, and I don’t think that it should be overlooked for those trying to experience more of Scorsese’s older oeuvre. It has similarities to his other early works and feels like a natural extension of them. It certainly taps into the same sort of ’70s (and into the early ’80s) New York City vibe that his films from this era had.

Plus, the performances in this really make it worth your while.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Scorsese films starring Robert De Niro: Taxi DriverRaging Bull, etc.