Film Review: The Mechanic (1972)

Also known as: Killer of Killers (reissue title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Lewis John Carlino
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland

Chartoff-Winkler Productions, Carlino Productions, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“He has 100 ways to kill… and they all work!” – tagline

As much as I like Michael Winner’s Death Wish films with Charles Bronson, until now, I had never seen The Mechanic.

While it’s not as good as the first three Death Wish pictures, it’s still pretty fucking solid and isn’t afraid to walk around with its testosterone-filled balls blowing in the wind.

This one doesn’t just star manly man Charles Bronson, it also stars pretty manly man Jan-Michael Vincent.

The two leads have damn good chemistry. So much so, I wasn’t a fan of the twist ending because I could’ve watched these two badasses murder the crap out of shit for five or six movies. I’m actually kind of surprised that Vincent didn’t make his way into any of Winner’s Death Wish movies, unless they just didn’t get along or Vincent had issues with Bronson.

As far as the story goes, Bronson is an international assassin. He’s pretty damn good but with his lifestyle comes certain rules and it’s these rules that have sort of deprived him of a better life and real human connection. Vincent shows up at a weird time in Bronson’s life and Bronson had just killed Vincent’s dad. Still, Bronson sees something in Vincent and decides to train him to become an assassin, even if it breaks the code he’s supposed to follow.

Breaking this code draws the ire of higher ups and I feel like this plot point trickled down through movies over the years and led to the weird world of the John Wick universe, among other entertainment franchises.

By the time you get to the end, there’s a double twist. I don’t want to spoil what that is but you kind of see it coming while watching the movie. And if it wasn’t a trope of these sort of stories in 1972, it’s certainly become one since.

The Mechanic is pretty raw and it boasts decent cinematography, great action for its era and it has two legit stallions ready to murder scumbags. What’s not to like?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Charles Bronson films of the ’70s and ’80s.

Book Review: ‘El Borak and Other Desert Adventures’ by Robert E. Howard

I had never read an El Borak story until now but since I was collecting all of the Robert E. Howard collections, I couldn’t pass on any of them and I’m glad that I got to discover this character, who is really unique when compared to the other characters that Howard spent most of his time writing.

What makes El Borak so different?

Well, these aren’t sword and sorcery, fantasy tales for one. Well, there is one story with some fantasy elements but the El Borak character was written as more of an adventurer who existed in real world historical times.

El Borak’s real name is Francis Xavier Gordon. He’s a skilled gunfighter from El Paso, Texas. He traveled the world and ended up settling in Afghanistan of all places. From there, he went on to have many adventures throughout the Asian continent.

Generally, El Borak spends his time trying to keep peace between waring tribes in different regions. Often times, he can use his cunning to convince cooler heads to prevail but these stories also wouldn’t be as badass if some direct violence didn’t come into play and it does.

These are all pretty cool short stories but I think that they’re weaker, overall, than the best of Howard’s sword and sorcery work. The reason being is that Howard is just so creative in the realm of fantasy and Lovecraftian style horror and making these stories more realistic, somewhat limits that creativity. That’s not to say that he doesn’t shine with these tales but they just lack that patented Robert E. Howard fantastical magic that makes me love the author in the first place.

However, comparing these to similar stories from other authors of Howard’s day, they hold up. These are just solid, grounded adventure tales in a foreign land and through the eyes and minds of readers in the 1930s, when El Borak first saw print, these had to have had a hell of an impact.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Video Game Review: River City Ransom (NES)

River City Ransom was probably the first side scrolling beat’em up game that I played on a console after the Double Dragon ports.

This was also very obviously inspired by Double Dragon but the way you travel through the different screens was more complex, as you can enter buildings and go down streets to other areas.

Some of the locations look like generic recreations of sections of the first Double Dragon, though. Plus, the graphics in general aren’t as good and this looks a lot more cartoony and basic.

Overall, this is pretty mundane and it’s riddled with problems.

The first big problem is the controls. They’re shit. Often times they don’t even respond and with that, you get your face punched in.

The next problem is the fighting mechanics, which are pretty trash. In addition to that, some of the baddies you have to beat up forever. If you want to knock off Double Dragon, do it right. Knocking a thug on his ass twice should be enough to keep him there.

Another issue is the platforming aspect of the game. It is also trash. It’s hard to jump and if you jump into a ledge instead of over a ledge, you get knocked backwards because I guess humans in this game are made out of rubber.

The last problem I’ll bring up is that you can pretty much roam everywhere, however you want. But if you don’t kill the “bosses” in a certain order, you can’t enter the high school and advance. You literally just get stuck and have to start over.

In the end, this is a poor ripoff of a great game that tried to be a bit more ambitious but failed to execute anything in any sort of decent way.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling beat’em ups from the era.

Film Review: From A Whisper To A Scream (1987)

Also known as: The Offspring (original title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1987 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott, Jeff Burr, Mike Malone
Music by: Jim Manzie
Cast: Vincent Price, Susan Tyrrell, Clu Gulager, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Cameron Mitchell, Martine Beswick, Lawrence Tierney

Conquest Productions, Manson International, Whisper Scream Limited Partnership, 99 Minutes, 92 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.” – Julian White

I’ve stated in the past that I’m not a big fan of anthology horror movies. However, as I’ve reviewed more and more over the almost five years that this website has existed, they’ve kind of won me over.

Sure, many are bad and most are inconsistent from segment-to-segment. However, even if something doesn’t hit the right way, it’s over pretty quickly and the viewer gets to move on to the next chapter.

With From A Whisper To A Scream, we get an anthology picture where every chapter was pretty decent. Plus, the story that connects everything together stars horror legend Vincent Price in his last true horror role.

I don’t know if Price would’ve been a fan of the level of gore in this movie but it’s pretty standard for an ’80s horror flick that’s going for the jugular. I don’t think it’s overly gratuitous and it’s fine for the style but it’s definitely edgier and bloodier than the film’s one would typically associate Price with.

Each story was interesting and pretty creative. Unlike Creepshow, the Twilight Zone movie, Tales From the Darkside and the Tales From the Crypt TV show, this didn’t have source material to pull from and adapt. Still, the situations were cool and unique and frankly, pretty f’n bonkers.

From A Whisper To A Scream was enjoyable from top-to-bottom. For me, that’s rare in an anthology horror picture.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthologies of the ’70s and ’80s.

Comic Review: The Punisher: Die Hard In the Big Easy

Published: 1992
Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Phil Gascoine

Marvel Comics, 51 Pages

Review:

This has been in my comic collection since 1992. I remember getting a bunch of Punisher one-shots and miniseries in a trade with a friend in middle school, who really wanted a bunch of my Power Pack stuff, which I read when I was much younger but lost interest in.

This was one of the many Punisher comics I got but for some reason it was filed away and wasn’t unearthed until now.

This story, as the title gives away, sees The Punisher go to New Orleans. While he’s their, he obviously gets tied up in some criminal plot involving voodoo.

The villain in this is pretty cool and I wish he wasn’t just a one-off baddie. He was a voodoo priest that was very reminiscent of Baron Samedi from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. He also reminded me a lot of a modern film character, Tony Todd’s Reverend Zombie from the Hatchet films.

Being that this was a one-shot release, it was about the same size as a typical annual give or take a few pages. It’s a cool story, it’s creepy, action packed and I dug the hell out of the art style.

My only real complaint is that these releases are just over so fast. This could’ve been expanded into a good story arc in one of the regular Punisher comic series that were being published back then. 

However, for being rather short, it packs a punch, gets right to the point and doesn’t waste time.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Punisher miniseries, one-shots and graphic novels from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Class of 1984 (1982)

Release Date: May 19th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: Mark Lester
Written by: Tom Holland, Mark Lester, John Saxton
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Perry King, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten, Lisa Langlois, Stefan Arngrim, Michael Fox, Roddy McDowall

Guerilla High Productions, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Life… is pain. Pain… is everything. You… you will learn!” – Peter Stegman

What’s odd about my history with this film is that there isn’t any. Yes, I’ve known about it since it was fairly current but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching it, even though I knew it’s something I’d probably dig quite a bit.

Well, I’ve finally seen it and it’s pretty entertaining and a damn cool flick.

This uses a popular formula from the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a story about an educator trying to do his job to the best of his ability while the school is infested with violent degenerates. This may be the first movie of its type but this simple plot became a widely used trope in action flicks, drama movies and even comedies.

In this one, we’ve got Perry King as the star. And man, he’s simply awesome, as he tries to be the teacher the school needs but quickly learns that he’s going to have to push back against these inhuman teens that are willing to kill, rape and do hard drugs just for quick thrills. I’ve always liked the hell out of Perry King but this may be my favorite role he’s ever played.

We also get Roddy McDowall and Michael J. Fox in this, which both surprised me and delighted me. McDowall is in so many damn films, some great, some awful, but he always adds something wonderful to whatever production he finds himself in. Yes, even the bad ones. In this, he actually gives two of his greatest single scene performances of his lengthy career. McDowall is just dynamite in this and your heart breaks for him, seeing what he has to go through just trying to do his job in a school full of monsters.

Michael J. Fox’s role isn’t too big and this movie was made before he’d become a big star on the television series Family Ties. Still, for a young actor with little experience in front of the camera, he does pretty good in this.

The primary antagonist in this is played by Timothy Van Patten. I like that they actually gave his character depth, instead of just making him some basic shithead. You come to learn that he has real talent and is the best pianist in the entire school. However, in spite of his gift, he still chooses to make the music teacher’s life a living hell until he gets what’s coming to him.

The supporting cast in this is also really good and all of the characters leave an impression on you, which is impressive for a film like this, which could’ve easily just been exploitative schlock.

Class of 1984 is a better movie that it probably should have been. I think that has a lot to do with the casting but I’ve also got to point out that this was written by Tom Holland, who would go on to direct Fright NightChild’s Play and be involved in some other cult classics.

Additionally, this was directed by Mark Lester, who would go on to make Commando, Firestarter, Showdown In Little Tokyo and a semi-sequel to this movie with a sci-fi twist, Class of 1999.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other teacher/principal versus the school movies.

Film Review: Moonwalker (1988)

Also known as: Michael Jackson: Moonwalker (promotional title)
Release Date: October 29th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Jerry Kramer, Colin Chilvers (“Smooth Criminal” segment)
Written by: David Newman, Michael Jackson
Music by: Michael Jackson, Bruce Broughton, Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Cast: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci, Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker, Brandon Quintin Adams

MJJ Productions, Ultimate Productions, Will Vinton Studios, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You wanna know why I’m doing this, do you? I just wanna get everybody high, Man. You know, some good drugs. That’s all.” – Mr. Big

I think I’ve only seen this once and it was way back when it came out. Although, I did play the Sega Genesis game on and off for years.

Anyway, I wanted to revisit this, as it’s been so long and I didn’t remember much about it other than some specific music videos it features, as well as the story portion of the anthology film, which co-stars Joe Pesci, as some sort of strange drug lord that has no problem murdering the shit out of some meddling kids.

Overall, this is pretty bad as a motion picture. However, as a sort of collected tapestry of random Michael Jackson multimedia work, it’s interesting and kind of cool. It also feels like a time capsule back to the point in history where Jackson was the biggest star in the world and he hadn’t yet been wrecked by child molestation allegations. Plus, the film feels dated as hell now, which just adds to it being a cinematic time capsule.

I like most of the stuff in this anthology but it’s mostly just music videos and performances, other than a biographical retrospective and the short dramatic film that starts around the mid-point.

The retrospective was pretty neat and was a lot more creative and artistic in how it was edited and presented than what would’ve been typical at the time.

The short film, which is all built around the famous “Smooth Criminal” music video, is the high point of the movie. It’s written by Jackson and with that, feels like it was written by a five year-old trying to wedge in all of his favorite toys while jumping all over the place narratively without any real focus other than there’s a bad guy and Michael Jackson is cool.

I thought the short film segment was fabulous when I was a kid but seeing it as an adult, it’s a mess. That doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining, though. I kind of like the bizarre fantasy mixed with sci-fi world that Jackson created. It’s one-part gangster movie, one-part fantastical randomness, three-parts musical and nine-parts Michael Jackson.

Seeing this all these years later, I can’t say that this is a good film or even a very competent one. However, if you do like Michael Jackson, the artist, it’s still a entertaining look into his creative mind and it’s an incredibly unique experience. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Captain EO, as well as other musical anthologies.

Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Release Date: September 29th, 2003 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Kenji Ohba, James Parks, The 5.6.7.8’s

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Do you find me sadistic? You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to. You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other… jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most… [cocks pistol] masochistic.” – Bill

The Kill Bill films are my favorite movies from Quentin Tarantino, which makes me happy that there are two of them. I felt that reviewing them was long overdue, so I had myself a little marathon with these two movies and some of the classic Pai Mei flicks I’ve already reviewed on this site.

The two films work really well together even though the first one plays more like a martial arts/Yakuza flick while the second is more akin to a spaghetti western. I think this is probably why they were split into two parts, as opposed to giving us one big epic film. Granted, I’m still waiting for the combined version that Tarantino promised years ago. Hell, I think it’s also about time for the third film, which he also promised years ago.

Anyway, this is a review of the first movie, so let me get to it.

The film is just great from top-to-bottom from the opening scene to the big, action-packed, blood-soaked finale.

My only reservations with it, seeing it for the first time in quite a damn while, is that some of the dialogue came out fairly cringe. The scene with Uma Thurman and Vivica Fox exchanging pleasantries seemed a lot less cool and a lot more forced and unnatural for me. It never really bothered me before but it set them film up poorly and because of that, I thought I was going to be disappointed and discover that this just wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I was a lot younger.

I’m glad to say that even though there is more dialogue cringe, it doesn’t really wreck the film or its dramatic effect. Quentin Tarantino is always getting props for the dialogue in his movies but I’ve never been as big of a mark for it. It’s almost always compelling but it tends to be an example of something that sounds great on paper but doesn’t work as well onscreen. And honestly, I think that’s what happened in some of these scenes and I don’t blame the actresses for it.

That gripe aside, everything else is pretty much perfect and the film moves at an incredibly brisk pace, leading to the big showdown with one woman against an army of Yakuza’s wielding samurai swords.

While Tarantino’s films always look fantastic and cinematically impressive, this one really takes the cake for me. Especially, during that final fight, as the film goes from color, to black and white, to just silhouette. The changes work really damn well and the visual tone helps to set the narrative tone, as it shifts during the battle. It also helps break it out into segments, keeping it fresh, as it does run on for a really long time.

Also, I love how after the fight, it switches back to regular color, where it reveals a giant hall full of downed Yakuza, blood absolutely everywhere and limbs just randomly dropped throughout the set. This whole sequence gives you pure, ultraviolence but you don’t actually see the sum of all its (body)parts until that final moment and its kind of breathtaking.

Additionally, the one-on-one final fight between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii is a beautiful, artful and calculated confrontation that works in contrast to the massive fight before it while also being a stunning exclamation point on the film.

The movie is also full of stupendous dramatic scenes and places where the dialogue is so damn good that it sort of washes away the cringe from earlier in the film. The scenes between The Bride and Sonny Chiba’s Hattori Hanzō are fucking beautiful, sweet and intense.

The closing moments of the movie, where The Bride explains her plan to Sofie is ominous as hell and spectacularly effective, as is the big reveal and twist, delivered by Bill, as the final line of the movie.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is pretty close to being Tarantino’s greatest masterpiece. But then, it is slightly edged out by its sequel, which I will review in about a week.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.

Comic Review: Green Arrow by Kevin Smith

Published: July 26th, 2016
Written by: Kevin Smith
Art by: Phil Hester, Ande Parks

DC Comics, 367 Pages

Review:

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this as much as I remembered liking it back when it was new. However, it was pretty good and I found it to be much better than my opinion of Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run, which people seem to hold in higher regard.

This story starts with Green Arrow being alive after he had died years earlier. The thing is, he doesn’t know he died and in his mind, no time has passed and the world he finds himself in is now strange and foreign. In fact, at first, he is a bit crazy and looks like a barbaric hobo playing Robin Hood.

As the story progresses, we learn that he’s being cared for by a nice old guy. We also learn about what happened to Oliver Queen and the DC universe in his absence. If you hadn’t read the Green Arrow stories where his son took over for awhile, this does a good job of filling in that void. We also see Oliver discover the truth about himself and his best friend Hal Jordan, a Green Lantern who ended up falling to the darkside pretty hard.

Towards the end of this lengthy collection of issues, we learn the sinister secrets of the nice old man who has taken Oliver in and we also get to see a young girl step up to the plate in an effort to become Green Arrow’s new sidekick, a female version of Speedy.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the art in this run, though. It’s not bad but I don’t feel like it was up to the quality of what was common at the time. Coming out of the ’90s, mainstream comic book art was evolving pretty quickly but this looks more like an early-to-mid ’90s book. I feel like they really could’ve paired Kevin Smith up with one of the top artists and turned this into a massive hit.

The art doesn’t wreck the story but I think this would’ve had more oomph had it looked more realistic and less cartoony.

In the end, I feel like this was a much better effort by Smith than his Daredevil run and maybe that’s because he learned from his missteps on that one or he simply had more mileage by the time he picked up his pen for DC.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the ongoing Green Arrow stories that followed Smith’s run, as well as his work on Daredevil for Marvel.