TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 1 – Spotlight on Todd McFarlane (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 1 Episodes, 50 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t have all of these VHS tapes when I was a kid but I did have a lot of them. Luckily for me, and all of you, these are on YouTube. I’ve wanted to revisit these for ages but I haven’t had a working VCR since the Bush II administration.

I was going to review the series as a whole. However, after watching the first episode, which featured Stan Lee interviewing Todd McFarlane, I felt that each episode probably deserves its own review.

This was great to see, twenty-seven years later, as I’m no longer twelve and I had a much greater appreciation of this now than I did back then.

First of all, it was fantastic seeing Stan Lee, still with some youthful vigor, interviewing Todd McFarlane and discussing art techniques and the history of the business, as well as Todd’s career.

It’s pretty clear that Todd would have been a great teacher, as he shows the how and why he employs the techniques he does. For those wanting to get into drawing comics, this is a pretty valuable tool and I’m assuming the other episodes in this series are too. That’s actually why I bought a half dozen of these back in the early ’90s.

All in all, I liked hearing Todd and Stan share stories of the comic industry. Watching them shoot the shit for an hour was a lot of fun.

McFarlane is one of the all-time greats and what makes this even more interesting, is that it came out when he was transitioning away from Marvel and Spider-Man and just gearing up to establish Image Comics and his greatest creation, Spawn.

I really enjoyed this episode and I hope the others live up to the precedent set with this first one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Film Review: Dead or Alive (1999)

Also known as: Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (original title), D.O.A. (short title)
Release Date: November 5th, 1999 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Ichiro Ryu
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi

Daiei Film, Toei Video, Excellent Film, 105 Minutes

Review:

“My father was a small-village cop in a town where nothing ever happened. He just hung around like a scarecrow, until he died. But like they say – even a scarecrow keeps away the sparrows.” – Detective Jojima

People often ask me, “Hey, did you see that new Takashi Miike film?!” And my usual response is, “No.” People that know that I’m a hardcore film aficionado just assume that I like everything weird and strange out there but Miike’s movies have never really resonated with me and this one is no different.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the film. I respect lots of things that aren’t my cup of tea because a person doesn’t have to like everything just for the fact that others see value in it or just because it has some sort of merit or special quality that makes it unique or influential.

I understand why Miike’s films resonate with some people, just as I understand why David Lynch is so beloved, even if most of his films don’t hit me in the same way. But I also know that directors with really strange oeuvres have die hard fans that love everything they do almost blindly. Miike fans are very much like that, especially ones in the Western Hemisphere.

Dead or Alive is beloved by many but I just see it as a knockoff of old school Japanese Yakuza and Hong Kong crime films with a bunch of crazy shit thrown into it to gross people out without a real reason for it to exist other than shock value.

Now I think that Riki Takeuchi and Show Aikawa gave good performances and they deserve the recognition they received in these sort of films but lots of capable actors give capable performances in movies beneath their talent level.

I guess the only way I can describe this is that it’s like Infernal Affairs or The Departed if they were made by Troma and with Japanese dialogue.

Like other Miike films, a bunch of crazy, nonsensical shit happens with really fucked up curveballs thrown at your head pretty violently. Here we get a girl fucking a dog, a stripper drowned in a kiddie pool of diarrhea, a man snorting a 30 foot line of cocaine and a big finale that doesn’t make you suspend disbelief, it just shows you that you’re an idiot for thinking that you could.

This is a movie for people who want to relish in super violent, gross shit. This is the cinematic equivalent to poop munching porn. People will argue for the artistic merit of this film and Miike’s creative choices but I’m sure there’s someone that gets paid to analyze psych ward hieroglyphics that a mental patient finger-painted with their own feces.

Yet, Miike is pretty good at making this feel like one long, overly surreal music video. So props on the editing, I guess. Except for the middle of the film where things slow down to a brutally boring crawl.

I don’t want to completely trash Miike because he is capable of making good movies but I just don’t understand how and why this became a beloved film.

Dead or Alive was actually my introduction to Miike around the turn of the century. It didn’t set a good precedent and I do think that it has made me biased against his later work but I do think that Audition was a good movie and Ichi the Killer certainly felt more refined and accented his style better.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films that focus on crime or the Yakuza.

Documentary Review: Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask (1996)

Release Date: 1996
Directed by: Bret Wood (uncredited)
Written by: Bret Wood

Kino International, 75 Minutes

Review:

Lon Chaney Sr. was really the first horror icon. So his story is quite an interesting one.

This documentary does a decent job of giving context to Chaney’s work and a bit about his life.

However, like many older documentaries about old school Hollywood legends, this doesn’t do much to excite you about its subject or that subject’s body or work.

This is more academic and informative than it is exciting. I feel like film history documentaries have gotten much better in the last decade or so. At least, much better than the slew of ’90s PBS style documentaries that I grew up with.

I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing this film, as I enjoyed it and found a lot of it interesting but it was pretty dry and relied on playing old footage too much.

If you are a big fan of the man’s work, this is worth a look but if I’m being frank, I wish someone in the modern era would work on a documentary worthy of the man’s stature.

Also, no trailers are available that I can embed here, so I put something cooler at the bottom.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other biographical documentaries on Chaney, as well as other legends of the silent era. There are a ton of documentaries like this one.

Film Review: Ghoulies IV (1994)

Also known as: Ghoulies 4 (Germany)
Release Date: August 17th, 1994
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Mark Sevi
Based on: characters by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Peter Liapis, Barbara Alyn Woods, Stacie Randall, Raquel Krelle, Bobby Di Cicco, Tony Cox, Arturo Gil

Cinetel Films, 84 Minutes

Review:

“[after shooting an armed robber] Clean up on aisle 4.” – Jonathan Graves

Ghoulies IV isn’t really a Ghoulies movie if you take into account that there aren’t any actual Ghoulies in the picture.

Instead, we get two troll characters that don’t really have much to do with the overall plot and pretty much just crack bad jokes and break the fourth wall. It’s like Deadpool stole their whole shtick.

Now this is related directly to the first film because the main character is the same. However, Jonathan Graves (again, played by Peter Liapis) is no longer some twenty-something warlock. He is now a detective for some strange reason. He also tries to act like Sly Stallone’s Cobra character but is really unconvincing.

Graves’ ex-occultist girlfriend from Hell comes back to steal some magic gem from his necklace. She’s trying to resurrect some dime store Satan guy and nothing is really ever that clear in this movie. It’s crazy shenanigans, has no Ghoulies and is pretty boring, overall.

This is the worst of the Ghoulies films by a landslide. All of the other ones had things that made them enjoyable and entertaining. This one lacks all of that but it also isn’t so horrible that it’s unwatchable. But you don’t need to see it, even if you like the first three movies.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: The other three Ghoulies films, the Munchies films, Hobgoblins and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

Film Review: Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go to College (1991)

Also known as: Ghoulies Go to College (video title), Ghoulies III (France)
Release Date: August 19th, 1991 (Germany)
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Written by: Brent Olson
Based on: characters by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Music by: Michael Lloyd, Reg Powell
Cast: Evan MacKenzie, Kevin McCarthy, Eva LaRue, John R. Johnston, Patrick Labyorteaux, Billy Morrissette, Hope Marie Carlton, Jason Scott Lee, Matthew Lillard, Marcia Wallace, Dan Shor, Kane Hodder (uncredited), Richard Kind (voice)

Lightning Pictures, Taurus Entertainment Company, Vestron Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

The Ghoulies movies only work for a certain type of film aficionado. I know that these are bad movies but for fans of horror, comedy, practical effects and the right kind of ’80s and ’90s cheese, these movies just seem to hit all the right notes.

I haven’t seen this chapter in the franchise since it came out on video in 1991. It sort of disappeared and was out of print for a really long time. I believe you can get it on DVD now but I checked it out on Amazon Video.

I was surprised to discover that I actually liked this one better than the original. However, it’s a tad bit lower on the scale than Ghoulies II, which stands as my favorite in the series. But what’s most amazing is that over the first three films, this series pretty much maintained its status quo quite well.

This came out when there were a slew of college comedies. Maybe it was at the end of that era, which peaked in the ’80s, but it fits nice and snugly in the college sex comedy subgenre.

The Ghoulies themselves are larger in this movie but not as big as whatever the hell those troll things were in the fourth film. They also talk in this one. Strangely, Richard Kind provided the voice for one of these creatures.

Another neat addition to the series is that they actually make the toilet matter in this one. Some people incorrectly remember the Ghoulies as little monsters that come up through the toilet because of the imagery used in the previous movies’ posters and because there was one toilet scene in each of those films. This is the first movie where the toilet is more central to the plot, as it’s their portal into our world.

Apart from Richard Kind, who I mentioned earlier, this also has some other notable actors. It is the first film appearance of Matthew Lillard and also features another well-knwon ’90s actor, Jason Scott Lee. Marcia Wallace, most known for sitcom and comedy work and for providing the voice of Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons, appears in this as well. It’s also worth mentioning that Kane Hodder appears too, although he is uncredited and used for the stunt where the janitor is riding in the mop bucket.

This is a really enjoyable, mindless horror film. The jokes and the absurdity work. The terrible and hokey soundtrack is perfect in its own way. Frankly, I can’t say anything bad about this really, without having to peer intently through a more academic lens. But this isn’t a movie that deserves the same kind of examination as a Kubrick or Fellini film. Just enjoy it for what it is and what it is, is a fuck ton of fun.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The other three Ghoulies films, the Munchies films, Hobgoblins and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

Film Review: Kazaam (1996)

Release Date: July 17th, 1996
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Christian Ford, Roger Soffer, Paul Michael Glaser
Music by: Christopher Tyng
Cast: Shaquille O’Neal, Francis Capra, Ally Walker, James Acheson, Da Brat (cameo)

Touchstone Pictures, Interscope Communications, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“He’s A Rappin’ Genie With An Attitude… And He’s Ready For Slam-Dunk Fun!” – marketing tagline

I’ve never seen this until now. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s f’n terrible but it’s not 2.9 on IMDb terrible. More like a solid 4.

Anyway, the story is bad, the special effects are really bad and the acting may be even worse. But this is a film that has some charm to it.

At this point in his career, Shaq couldn’t act himself out of a wet paper bag and he’s not much better over twenty years later but man, he needed some acting coaches before jumping into this weird movie.

He was still really likable in this, however, but rapping half of his lines was probably unnecessary. Then again, this came out at the same time he was a few albums deep into his short rap career. I just felt like this movie and his rap albums were the result of people not being able to tell him “no” when he wanted to do other things outside of basketball.

I think the glue of this picture was the kid Max, played by Francis Capra, who wasn’t a one-off child actor, he still works consistently in Hollywood today. The kid had charisma and as a character, I cared about him, even if this was a stupid and strange movie. His East Coast, New York attitude kind of reminded me of Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid.

The premise is about this bullied kid who frees a genie from a magic boom box. Yes, you read that right. Genie Shaq then spends a lot of time trying to convince the kid that he is a genie but his magic never works. Then it starts working and the kid takes the whole damn movie to come up with his three wishes. Genie Shaq, in the meantime, starts a rap career in the movie. So he is literally a rapping genie. You also read that right.

So the kid is trying to connect with his scumbag, criminal father. Eventually, the biological dad decides to fix his life and do what’s right by his son. The son then also learns to accept his step father, who really is the better male role model in his life. Genie Shaq eventually gets free and leaves to have a life with some chick that’s into rapping genies the size of a Sasquatch.

Anyway, you could probably go your entire life not knowing that this film even exists but what fun would that be? Sure, it’s probably a waste of your time but sometimes wasting time is a good use of time… or so a fortune cookie said to me once. Granted, I was hammered on Zhujiang and tweaking from monosodium glutamate, so I could have read it wrong.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Steel with Shaq.

Film Review: Hardware (1990)

Also known as: M.A.R.K. 13 (alternate title)
Release Date: August, 1990 (Edinburgh International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Written by: Richard Stanley
Based on: SHOK! by Steve MacManus, Kevin O’Neill (uncredited/plagarized)
Music by: Simon Boswell
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop (voice), Lemmy Kilmister (cameo)

Palace Pictures, British Screen Productions, British Satellite Broadcasting, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[on radio] Kill! Kill! Kill! Today’s death count is 578.” – Angry Bob

For a movie that doesn’t really work when you put too much thought into it, Hardware is still a pretty intense picture that masterfully builds up tension and suspense. I have some issues with it but it brings a lot more good than bad to the table.

I guess my biggest gripe is that it takes way too long to really get into it. The first half is slow and actually pretty boring. However, once the killer robot is fully functional, at about the movie’s midpoint, things go nuts and you’re glued to the screen until it all plays out.

However, this robot is self repairing, covered in armor and locked in an apartment with an unprepared woman that falls asleep. She wakes up just in time to dodge the robot’s first attack but then this hardcore killing machine just chills in the shadows of the already dark apartment. I just assume that a killer robot would go full throttle into kill mode because this woman has no weapons, poses no real threat and flesh is soft and easy to tear apart. I never understood why the robot just laid back like he did. But hey, at least he picks off the creepy sleezeball dude.

What I really like about the film is the tone. It’s post-apocalyptic which was done to death by 1990 but this felt like a strong cocktail mixed with Mad Max and Blade Runner with a 151 Terminator floater. It has such a hard edge to it that it laughs at the word “gravitas”. And the woman does become quite the badass over the course of the picture. Plus, you’ve got Iggy Pop and Lemmy Kilmister in this. It’s punk, it’s metal, it’s rock and fucking roll, bay-bay!

I love the robot’s design in this film. I also liked that his skull started out as just a piece of art and it was painted with an American flag for its face. This was one of the coolest killer robots of the era.

Hardware is pretty much forgotten but it is still a solid sci-fi thriller with a nice amount of gory bits.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Incidents in an Expanding UniverseDeath MachineDust Devil and Saturn 3.