Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

Release Date: October 24th, 1978
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz by William F. Brown
Music by: Charlie Smalls, various
Cast: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene, Roberta Flack (uncredited), Quincy Jones (uncredited), Luther Vandross (uncredited)

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.” – Scarecrow, “That’s beautiful! Who said that?” – Dorothy, “[modestly] I did.” – Scarecrow

It’s been ages since I’ve seen this but I enjoyed it back in the day. Mainly, because I always thought the sets, style and overall visual look of it was pretty awesome. Although, it was also loaded with people I like such as Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and more.

It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered that this was directed by Sidney Lumet with a script by Joel Scumacher. Also, Quincy Jones was very involved in the production. Having a newfound understanding of the talent involved in this made me want to revisit it with fairly fresh eyes and ears.

I’m really glad that I did, as it still captivated me and pulled me into its magical world.

Now the film has its share of flaws but it’s one of those movies that’s so fun and sweet that you don’t really care about the imperfections.

While Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, I still think she’s pretty great in this once you suspend disbelief. Originally, the film was supposed to star the young lead actress from the stage musical but Ross really pulled some strings to get this part. Honestly, I don’t blame her and movies are a cutthroat business.

Anyway, Ross is still Ross and she has immense talent, which shines through in her performance. Also, her scenes with Michael Jackson are so genuine and affectionate that it transcends the picture. The two were great friends before this film went into production and I think that personal connection really boosted their performances.

Nipsey Russell is tremendous as the Tin Man, as is Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion.

I have to say, though, the absolute highlight of the film for me is the grand performance by Mabel King, this film’s version of the wicked witch, as she makes her factory workers slave away. Man, this scene is just amazing to watch from the size of the set, it’s design, the amount of performers in the sequence and King’s perfect performance.

Two other really solid sequences are the one where Dorothy meets the Munchkins, which was filmed at the somewhat dilapidated New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. It was a site built for the 1964 World’s Fair but it created such an interesting looking location for Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The other was the Emerald City sequence, which was filmed at the foot of the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful and opulent scene with great music and considering the world we live in now after 9/11, the scene just has much more meaning now. It makes you really appreciate the beauty and immensity of those two iconic structures.

Overall, this is a lively and jubilant picture. I typically don’t like musicals but this is one of the few that I do enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Comic Review: Wolverine: Bloody Choices

Published: 1991
Written by: Tom DeFalco
Art by: John Buscema, Joe Jusko (cover)

Marvel Comics, 65 Pages

Review:

This story happens after the Wolverine and Nick Fury team-up in The Scorpio Connection but also takes place before that story’s direct sequel Scorpio Rising. So this has become the second act in what fans now refer to as the Wolverine/Nick Fury Trilogy.

Like its predecessor, this was released as a trade paperback and was made for more mature audiences than the typical single issue, floppy comics Marvel was publishing at the time. As a middle school-aged kid, I loved releases like this. However, this is one that I had never read until now.

The story deals with Wolverine uncovering a large pedophile ring in Central America. A kid dies trying to save his brother from the pedo cartel and Wolverine decides that these scumfucks need to be ripped to shreds, literally.

However, Wolverine quickly discovers that Nick Fury is also trying to take these evil men down. Wolverine doesn’t want to go “by the book”, as he’s hell bent on making the leader suffer an agonizing death. However, Fury wants to take down the larger cartel that exceeds the main villain’s local reach.

We eventually get a legit fight between Fury and Wolverine and it is one of the most epic Marvel has ever published featuring two heroes at odds.

Beyond that, Wolverine has to question his rage and his personal mission and what we get is a really good and satisfying ending.

I thought that Tom DeFalco wrote one of the best stories he’s ever done with this. I also enjoyed John Buscema’s art immensely.

Man, this was just incredible and being only 65 pages, it accomplished a lot and far exceeded any expectations I had for it.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Vibes (1988)

Release Date: August 5th, 1988
Directed by: Ken Kwapis
Written by: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Deborah Blum
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum, Julian Sands, Googy Gress, Peter Falk, Michael Lerner, Steve Buscemi, Park Overall

Imagine Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’d give you the finger but I’m too refined.” – Sylvia Pickel

I was nine years-old when this hit theaters but I remember seeing the ads on television constantly. I never did see the movie in the theater or thereafter until now, over three decades later.

I generally like Cyndi Lauper but I haven’t seen her act in anything else. In this, she’s not great by any stretch but she’s at least likable and entertaining. Then again, she’s pretty much playing herself with psychic powers.

Beyond Lauper, you have Jeff Goldblum, who I love in everything he’s ever done. He’s good here but he also plays a character that’s pretty much just himself with psychic powers. So neither lead in this movie really had to try too hard.

You also get Peter Falk, Julian Sands, Michael Lerner, Park Overall from Empty Nest and a very young Steve Buscemi in this.

I guess out of everyone, I enjoyed Falk the most.

The plot is pretty damn rickety and it’s not very good. Although, it is somewhat salvaged by the charm of the Lauper and Goldblum, who I thought had fairly decent and unique chemistry.

Vibes just barely kept my attention, though. I didn’t find it tough to get through but had it lasted longer than its 99 minutes, I would’ve probably needed to take a break.

In the end, this is pretty forgettable and I can see why it’s been lost to time and never really gained a cult following, even from the many fans of Cyndi Lauper’s that still exist today.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Twister (1996)

Also known as: Catch the Wind (original script title), Wind Devils (working title)
Release Date: May 8th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Jan de Bont
Written by: Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin
Music by: Mark Mancina
Cast: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Sean Whalen, Joey Slotnick, Scott Thomson, Lois Smith, Alexa Vega, Zach Grenier, Patrick Fischler, Anthony Rapp, Jake Busey

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“When you used to tell me that you chase tornadoes, deep down I always just thought it was a metaphor.” – Melissa

I hadn’t seen this movie since the theater but I had fond memories of that experience. I just never really went back and watched it again because it was a simple story that was very effects heavy and didn’t offer up much for a repeat viewing unless you’re a real digital effects junkie.

Since I came across it while scrolling through the content on HBO Max, I felt the urge to revisit it just to see how good it actually was and whether or not it’s held up after a quarter of a century. Plus, I really like the cast and it’s stacked with talent from top-to-bottom.

So for the most part, the effects do hold up. Sure, there are a few moments that might look hokey like the famous flying cow sequence but it hardly breaks the mind’s immersion into the film itself. And to be honest, I kind of like the humorous bits like that.

Generally, the tornado effects still look good and as effects heavy as this film is, it never feels like it’s too much. You kind of just get lost in the adrenaline rush of what’s happening and everything just works in the right way. Granted, I’d never want to see this sequelized or turned into a franchise. Once you’ve seen one tornado movie, you’ve pretty much seen them all and this surprisingly didn’t try to milk the flying cow to death.

It’s the personal stories in this that make the film work and make it much more than just a CGI fest.

I loved the chemistry between Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton and even with that, you still find yourself kind of sad over the way Jami Gertz, Paxton’s new fiancé, gets pushed to the side once he falls back in love with the woman he’s trying to get to sign divorce papers.

Hunt and Paxton just made a good couple and they balanced each other out, rather well. I also like that it’s the female half of the relationship that has become obsessed with her work and kind of let the romance fade away while the man steps up and reels her back in and centers her at a point in life when she needed it most. Then again, I always like seeing failed relationships finding a way to rekindle what was lost.

The supporting cast is pretty damn good too. I especially liked Lois Smith as the sort of matriarch of the storm chaser group. I also enjoyed Cary Elwes as the rival snot that gets himself killed because of ego. Philip Seymour Hoffman was enjoyable too, pretty much playing himself turned up to 11.

Twister seems like it’s been forgotten, as the years have rolled on. But honestly, it’s a really good movie in that summer blockbuster genre. I remember it being a big hit with moviegoers and everyone I knew, at the time, loved it quite a bit. When I worked at a video store, we could barely keep it in stock for the first few months.

Sadly, it was usurped by Independence Day, less than two months later and then the summer blockbusters kept getting bigger, louder and even more CGI heavy. 

Rating: 7.25/10

Comic Review: Red Sonja/Claw: The Devil’s Hands

Published: January 24th, 2007
Written by: John Layman
Art by: Andy Smith, Jim Lee (cover)
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, Claw the Unconquered by David Michelinie, Ernie Chan

Wildstorm, Dynamite Entertainment, 112 Pages

Review:

Yeesh! This was bad.

I thought a story that brought together Red Sonja and Claw the Unconquered would be pretty damn badass. Well, it should have been but this certainly wasn’t.

The Jim Lee cover was really damn cool, though.

I also thought that Andy Smith’s art throughout the comic was pretty good. There were a few spots in the action sequences that I had to examine, though, as the transition from one panel to the next seemed to be off.

As far as the story, it was pretty schlocky. While I like schlock of a certain caliber, this was just lowest common denominator crossover bait, which is something that companies like Dynamite and IDW have become famous for over the last several years. Granted, this is about fifteen years old now but this is also where I noticed IP crossovers really starting to become far more common.

At least this didn’t bring the characters together through magic portals, which has been a bad trope in stories like these.

Anyway, you can totally skip over this unless you’re a Red Sonja completist. But if you are, maybe read this last after all the other stuff.

Rating: 4/10

Book Review: ‘The Witcher: The Lady of the Lake’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

At last, I have reached the final book in The Witcher saga! Well, technically there is one more that takes place after the saga. So, this is the fifth of the five saga books and the seventh of eight, overall. Regardless, it’s been a hell of a ride up to this point and I’m kind of bummed that there’s just one book left.

This book is thicc.

It’s the thickest of the series, anyway, and with that, a whole lot of shit happens.

In fact, this probably could’ve been split into two volumes and that may have made it easier to digest all the details but regardless, it’s still the strongest and best book in the series.

This taps into the King Arthur myth, as it features the knight Galahad and Nimue, the Lady of the Lake. The story starts with Ciri recounting events in her life, which sets up the novel’s story.

In this, we see Geralt and his party face certain doom and very, very few survive. But we also see Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer come back together to close out the series.

Before that, however, we see what happens to Ciri when she’s trapped in the magical realm she entered at the end of the previous book. While there, she grows exhausted of what’s expected of her by the elves that hold the power in that mysterious place. Eventually, she discovers the unicorns, who have beef with the elves and thus, help Ciri escape back to her homeland.

There are a lot of different plot threads weaving in and out and despite the complexity of the novel as a whole, it’s well organized and the story is well told.

In the end, there is a satisfying conclusion and Ciri gets to walk her own path in spite of everyone telling her what her destiny should be over the course of her entire life, up to this point.

This was a solid conclusion to the saga and frankly, the book was hard to put down.

I’m pretty happy that I picked this series up. It actually exceeded my expectations and lived up to the hype, which things rarely do.

Rating: 9.5/10

Ranking the Bosses of ‘Dark Souls II – Scholar of the First Sin’

Since I ranked the bosses of the first Dark Souls game, I figured that I should also rank the bosses of the second game.

I played through this game a few times but not as many times as I played through the original game. There are reasons for this, as I explain in my review of the game. Mostly, I just didn’t enjoy the overall experience as much as the first game.

But as I stated in my previous list, I wanted to take the experience of playing through this multiple times to rank the bosses by how difficult I’ve found them to be overall.

My list certainly is my own and the more I talk to others that have an affinity for this series, we all seem to have a very different take on which bosses gave us the most trouble. I guess, this also has to do with play style and character type.

In the end, though, these are how I’d rank the bosses I’ve faced from hardest to easiest.

1. Ancient Dragon
2. Sinh, The Slumbering Dragon
3. Fume Knight
4. Sir Alonne
5. Blue Smelter Demon
6. Vendrick
7. Afflicted Graverobber, Ancient Soldier and Cerah the Old Explorer
8. Darklurker
9. Orange Smelter Demon
10. Lud and Zallen, The King’s Pets
11. Burnt Ivory King
12. Elana, Squalid Queen
13. Aldia, Scholar of the First Sin
14. Demon of Song
15. Aava, The King’s Pet
16. The Rotten
17. Throne Watcher and Throne Defender
18. The Pursuer (the first one)
19. Lost Sinner
20. Velstadt, The Royal Aegis
21. Looking Glass Knight
22. Nashandra
23. Old Iron King
24. Giant Lord
25. The Duke’s Dear Freja
26. Executioner’s Chariot
27. Belfry Gargoyles
28. Ruin Sentinels
29. Old Dragonslayer
30. Twin Dragonriders
31. Scorpioness Najka
32. Guardian Dragon
33. Flexile Sentry
34. The Skeleton Lords
35. Mytha, The Baneful Queen
36. Dragonrider
37. The Last Giant
38. Royal Rat Authority
39. Covetous Demon
40. Prowling Magus and Congregation
41. Royal Rat Vanguard

Film Review: The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Also known as: Terror of the Hatchet Men (alternative US title)
Release Date: March 15th, 1961
Directed by: Anthony Bushell
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone

Merlin Film Productions, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“Have you ever had your bones scraped, Captain? It is painful in the extreme I can assure you.” – The Tong Leader

When I recently reviewed Hammer Films’ The Stranglers of Bombay, I discovered that this film was somewhat of a remake of that film. Watching this, I didn’t see it. I guess there are some similar narrative beats and both take place in exotic places in Asia but this is much more a proto-Fu Manchu picture than anything else.

With Christopher Lee in the lead, as the Chinese criminal kingpin, I feel like this lead to him starring in those five Fu Manchu pictures that stretched from 1965 to 1969. Hell, this probably inspired their creation.

However, this is better than those Fu Manchu movies. I think that Christopher Lee’s performance is solid in each of those, as well as this picture, but this really is the genesis of his longest run as a character other than Dracula.

I like that this takes place in Hong Kong but it still has that patented late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer style to it. I’m actually surprised that the studio didn’t recycle some of these sets into sequels for this, as Lee gives a really chilling performance and because this was different enough from Hammer’s regular output that they could’ve crafted another franchise from this, as they did with Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

I understand why this was just a one-off, though, as it’s not as good as the first installment in Hammer’s core franchises. Also, Christopher Lee was not a fan of the makeup and considered it the most uncomfortable that he had ever worn up to this point in his career. But this was his first starring credit, as his other well-known films before this had him playing the monster to Peter Cushing’s hero or mad scientist.

Once again, I thought that Jimmy Sangster wrote a pretty good script for Hammer. The sets are good, as are the costumes. The makeup passes the test for the era, even if modern HD restoration brings out its flaws more.

Overall, The Terror of the Tongs is better than I anticipated it being.

Rating: 6.5/10

Comic Review: Moon Knight – Epic Collection, Vol. 3: Final Rest

Published: December 19th, 2018
Written by: Doug Moench, Steven Grant, Tony Isabella, Alan Zelenetz
Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz, Kevin Nowlan, Joe Brozowski, Bo Hampton

Marvel Comics, 486 Pages

Review:

Well, I’ve gotta say that as much as I’ve loved the other early Moon Knight – Epic Collections that I’ve read, this one most definitely takes the cake! In fact, it’s pretty f’n perfect, even if it features issues with different creative teams.

It kicks off with Doug Moench writing and Bill Sienkiewicz doing the art. They had lead me through the series through pretty much its entirety up to this point. However, just a few issues in, creative teams shift and then later, shift again.

Regardless of that, the tone of the stories and the art remained pretty damn consistent. And this just reminded me of the level of quality control and consistency that Marvel used to have, which they are sorely lacking today.

This kicks off with a really awesome story featuring Stained Glass Scarlet, who has become a character I really like after reading just her first two appearances.

We then get the even better debut story of Black Spectre, which became my favorite Moon Knight story up to this point in the original series’ run. Frankly, it’s one that will be really hard to top.

After that, we get a lot of stories that continue to develop the character of Moon Knight and his inner battle with his multiple personalities. I’d say my favorite story arc of the lot is the werewolf one, though. And man, I loved the art style used for the werewolf, as it reminded me of The Howling, which probably inspired the design, as that film came out just a few years before this was originally published.

There’s also appearances by the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange and Moon Knight’s first encounter with The Kingpin.

This was just an incredible stretch of issues and while I own some, I may actually seek out the single issues and complete this run.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Dudes (1987)

Release Date: September 18th, 1987 (Toronto Film Festival)
Directed by: Penelope Spheeris
Written by: Randall Jahnson
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Jon Cryer, Catherine Mary Stewart, Daniel Roebuck, Flea, Lee Ving, Glenn Withrow

Vista Organization, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Look, Milo, we’re talking about real life here, okay? Real life is not California. Real life is a shit sandwich and every day you gotta take another bite.” – Grant

Dudes is a pretty cool movie for its time. It sees three teenage punk rockers from Queens go cross-country in an effort to make it to California and hopefully a new, better future.

However, along the way, while camping out in the desert of Arizona, the three teens are attacked by a gang of vicious rednecks and one of the boys is murdered and their stuff is then stolen.

The two surviving teens find the local cops to be useless and ultimately, decide to take down this gang by themselves. Along comes the local tough, hot chick that teaches them how to actually shoot a gun properly.

Now maybe the premise sounds a bit wonky but the story works well within the world that this film creates for itself. Sure, the movie is a comedy but it’s still got a lot of real drama and heart to it. I also think that Jon Cryer was the perfect guy to handle what was needed for the lead role. He’s good at comedy, can handle serious stuff and he’s likable as hell and can give a convincing performance with the right material.

I also really enjoyed Daniel Roebuck as his large, punk rock sidekick. While Roebuck looks like the more imposing of the two, I like that this movie’s plot doesn’t just run with that and it gives us something more realistic where the big punk rocker is more of a gentle giant.

Catherine Mary Stewart was perfect as the local girl. I’ve always loved seeing her ever since I first watched The Last Starfighter, as a kid. Here, she reminds me a lot of her tough girl role in Night of the Comet, which is my favorite role she’s ever played.

Additionally, you have two real musicians in this. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays the friend who is murdered by the gang while Lee Ving of Fear is the leader of the scumbag gang. Both of these guys brought their A-game to the picture and showed they had legitimate acting chops.

Dudes really is a western movie at its core. Being that it takes place in what was modern times when it was made doesn’t really matter, as it follows the beats of that genre. Maybe there are other punk rock neo-westerns out there but I don’t think I’ve seen any others and it’s kind of a cool mix now that I’ve seen it come together.

All that being said, I dug this movie quite a bit. It was well cast, the story was decent but made better by the performances and it leaves you pretty satisfied at the end.

Rating: 6.75/10