Film Review: The Ambushers (1967)

Release Date: December 20th, 1967 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: The Ambushers by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Herbert Baker, Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Kurt Kasznar, Beverly Adams, John Brascia

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

[a new female recruit gets turned on by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” playing in the background] “You really like Perry Como that much?” – Matt Helm

The first two Matt Helm films were a lot of fun and really capture the magic and charisma of Dean Martin. I thought the first two were pretty consistent, overall. This one, however, falls off a bit and it looks as if the formula is running out of steam.

Still, Dean Martin makes this picture work and it’s hard to deny his charm and his ability to command the screen and make his audience smile along with him.

As far as the story goes, this one was weak. It features a government made UFO for some reason and a lot of wacky stuff that doesn’t work as well as the wacky stuff we saw in the installments before this chapter in the franchise.

Also, the intro to the film and the title are confusing, as we’re introduced to the idea of this all female assault team called “The Ambushers” but really, they don’t exist in the film in any sort of meaningful way to justify the title or the movie’s awesome opening credits sequence.

Sure, we get to see Dean Martin hamming it up and flirting with good looking ladies at the agency’s HQ in the first act but once he’s off to Mexico, that’s pretty much it for Dean Martin being a guy in a sea of hot women.

The film does have some strengths apart from Martin.

I thought that the Mexican brewery shootout and fisticuffs were well done and the environment was used superbly within the sequence.

Also, the big climax was well written, well structured, executed nicely and pretty energetic. It had a lot of good hilarious bits in it and it sort of makes up for the duller parts of the film.

Now there aren’t many dull moments but the film feels as if they blew most of the good jokes in the first two pictures and didn’t have a lot left to work into this one. But Martin did his best.

I thought the special effects came off well. There is a lot of cheese with it though, like the sparkler guns that levitate objects and the weirdly out of place UFO but some of the levitation gags worked. Well, except for the parts where you could clearly see wires lifting up people and objects. I was pretty impressed with how well the bar scene came out though. The sequence with the bottle pouring and the floating glasses moving across the room and into people’s hands looked perfect.

The Ambushers is certainly a step down. But it still entertains and keeps the party going.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Comic Review: Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan

Published: August 22nd, 2012 – February 27th, 2013
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski, Len Wein, John Higgins
Art by: John Higgins, Adam Hughes, Laura Martin
Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore

DC Comics, 103 Pages

Review:

I’m almost through all of these Before Watchmen collections. While they’ve all been pretty good, this is one of the ones that fell just a bit short for me.

I still enjoyed it but it was slow and just wasn’t as interesting as the origins of some of the other characters. But Dr. Manhattan, as a a literal god, isn’t that interesting of a character.

My hopes for this were high though, as I’ve typically dug the comics written by J. Michael Straczynski and this also had the assistance of Len Wein and John Higgins, who did a lot of the art.

The problem with this story is that it didn’t feel like it had enough meat and potatoes to fill up four issues. But I guess they wanted to give Dr. Manhattan a story that was long enough to be equal to the other main Watchmen characters.

This was just lacking the depth and the intrigue I got from some of the better stories like Silk Spectre, The Comedian and Rorschach’s.

Still, for the Watchmen completist and for those who want to understand the characters better, this is certainly not a waste of time.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Before Watchmen stories, as well as Watchmen and Doomsday Clock.

Video Game Review: Metroid (NES)

When people talk about bonafide NES classics, Metroid is always near the top of everyone’s list and rightfully so. It’s a superb, lengthy game in an era where lengthy games didn’t really exist. In fact, this one was so lengthy that it needed a code system to allow players to pick up where they left off.

Back in 1987, this took my cousin Billy and I a few months to crack. Granted, we were also eight years-old, at the time, and had to go to elementary school full-time. We didn’t have the luxury of modern gamers, plucking away for days and days, calling off shifts at work because the obsession is more important than responsibility.

This game still plays well, especially for those of us who never quite quit playing classic Nintendo titles.

It’s fun, it’s hard and it has one of the most kick ass soundtracks of its era.

The game also spawned a franchise with many solid sequels. However, this one is still the greatest of them all, in my opinion. I never had a Super Nintendo, so I didn’t spend too much time playing Super Metroid and the Gameboy’s Metroid II was also fantastic but this one takes the cake, as far as I’m concerned.

But maybe I’ll give Super Metroid a playthrough in the near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Comic Review: Batgirl: Stephanie Brown, Vol. 2

Published: March 20th, 2018
Written by: Bryan Q. Miller
Art by: Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Ramon F. Bachs, Dustin Nguyen

DC Comics, 327 Pages

Review:

This has been a really cool series and although I’m a massive fan of the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl, Stephanie Brown is a really lovable character that has earned her way to wearing the cowl made famous by the original Batgirl.

Now this volume wasn’t as good as the first and sadly, it’s the last volume in the series, as it fell victim to DC Comics rebooting everything, which they think is necessary every few years now.

Anyway, I still enjoyed this collection of issues, which were mostly a string of 2-3 issue arcs but I think that the first one was more appealing and a better read because it focused on the new Batgirl proving herself and her value.

At the start of this one, she’s accomplished that and even has the real Batman rooting for her. The thing is, that takes away some of the tension in the plot and the drive within the character. It’s that old adage about how the journey is better than the destination.

Now the destination is fine and it is cool seeing Stephanie Brown becoming more confident and stronger but the thing I liked about her was her defiance against those trying to keep her down. Now she’s pretty much loved by those same people and even though the story needed to evolve towards that, it’s just missing it’s edge.

But truthfully, this could have very well picked up into something exceptional and this volume feels like that’s on the verge of happening but the series was cut off with the end of this book.

Stephanie Brown deserves to be Batgirl, she really earned it and it was fun experiencing her journey but DC wanted Barbara Gordon back and Stephanie got downgraded back to Spoiler, which seems like a real slap in the face by her intellectual property owners.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the volume before this one.

Comic Review: The Mighty Thor: The Eternals Saga, Vol. 2

Published: 1978 – 1980
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Roy Thomas
Art by: Keith Pollard

Marvel Comics, 214 Pages

Review:

I guess the actual Eternals vs. Asgard saga ended in the previous volume.

The first issue in this collection deals with the aftermath but then the bulk of the other issues collected deals with Thor talking to Odin’s long lost eyeball. However, the last two issues bring the Celestials back into the mix and we finally see Thor confront them and get their final judgment as to whether or not Earth can continue to exist without the Celestials destroying it.

The highlight of this whole thing was seeing the Destroyer face off against the Celestials in what was really, the first example of how powerful these cosmic beings are. For old school Marvel fans, seeing the Destroyer get ravaged so damn bad is pretty friggin’ incredible.

Now while most of this collection doesn’t really involve the Eternals or the Celestials, it does still tie into all that.

Plus, even though Thor is hanging out with his daddy’s giant floating eyeball, the writing is still solid and it’s a pretty entertaining classic Thor story that hits the right sort of notes.

However, coming off of reading a lot of the earliest Eternals stuff and the first half of The Eternals Saga, I just wanted more of that and because that element was lacking, I feel like calling this “part two” of The Eternals Saga is a bit misleading.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: This collection’s predecessor, as well as Jack Kirby’s The Eternals, which is set before this big saga.

Comic Review: Conan Chronicles – Epic Collection II: The Heart of Yag-Kosha

Published: April 16th, 2019
Written by: Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Timothy Truman
Art by: Cary Nord, Greg Ruth, Timothy Truman, Eric Powell, Mike Mignola
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Dark Horse Comics, Marvel (reprinted), 504 Pages

Review:

Since I really dug the hell out of the first volume of the Kurt Busiek run on Conan, I wasted no time jumping into the second Epic Collection.

This carries on with the same quality in writing and art as the previous massive collection and was also a really awesome read.

I ended up liking the first one just a bit more because it seemed to have more action and longer, deeper stories but there isn’t much to complain about with this one. There seemed to be more dialogue and a lot of new characters added into the series but it still captured the right tone and spirit.

This volume also adapts some of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories. It was really cool reading the comic book version of The Tower of the Elephant for the first time, as I always enjoyed that story in its original medium.

Mike Mignola also did some of the covers and wrote some of the stuff in this collection. I really liked seeing Conan in Mignola’s artistic style.

Ultimately, this was another solid outing and something that I’m sure I’ll go back to and read again in the future.

This was over 500 pages in length but I feel like I ripped through it in no time, as it was hard to put down.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Kurt Busiek’s Conan run, as well as other Conan comics from the Dark Horse era.

Film Review: Missing In Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

Also known as: Battle Rage (Australia, New Zealand, UK), Braddock 2: O Início da Missão (Brazil)
Release Date: March 1st, 1985
Directed by: Lance Hool
Written by: Arthur Silver, Larry Levinson, Steve Bing
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Chuck Norris, Soon-Tek Oh, Steven Williams, Bennett Ohta, Cosie Costa, Joe Michael Terry, Professor Toru Tanaka

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You really didn’t think I’d leave… without making sure you were dead?” – Colonel Braddock

Originally, this was supposed to be the first Missing In Action movie. And that makes more sense in regards to the title because in this film, Chuck Norris and his crew actually go “missing in action”.

The first two Missing In Action films were filmed back-to-back but to evade a lawsuit regarding the fact that Golan-Globus pretty much ripped off the premise from a treatment of the Rambo: First Blood Part II script, they flip-flopped the films’ releases and changed their titles so that they could get the original second film into theaters before that Rambo movie.

So even though this film was intended to come out first, it didn’t and then got labeled a prequel.

Anyway, I actually like the first movie a wee bit more but they are both pretty badass even if they are very different. Sure, they deal with very similar subject matter and are Hollywood critiques on US soldiers that were prisoners of war in Vietnam, after the war, but this movie doesn’t really give you any action until the third and final act.

The story here is slower but it is more personal and the dramatic elements of the film work in a way that is kind of surprising considering that no one in this film is known for giving great dramatic performances. And while the performances aren’t great, they are still convincing and drum up the right type of emotion as the plot rolls on.

The story starts with Braddock’s (Norris) small squad in Vietnam getting their helicopter shot down. They are then taken to a POW camp. The film jumps ahead an unknown amount of time but you can assume that it’s been at least a few years. Braddock and company have been imprisoned and forced to work in the camp, where it is run by a Vietnamese colonel that acts like a sadistic tyrant. He wants to force Braddock into confessing to war crimes and his method is to make Braddock’s soldiers suffer through various forms of mental and physical torture. The film actually spends an hour on this but none of it is dull and it only makes the action that much better once Norris gets a gun in his hand.

At its core, this is a revenge movie, but it’s a damn good one that has more narrative and context than similar films, including the other ones in this series. When Braddock succeeds and kills the evil scumbag, it is a pretty satisfying moment, after watching his madness unfold for 90 minutes.

Missing In Action 2 is a film that is better than it should be. It probably won’t appeal to those who aren’t already fans of intense ’80s action movies but it tells a good story, is well paced and ends just as it should. There’s no subversion of expectations, this is pure escapism and entertainment and what an action movie should be.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Missing In Action movies, as well as the Delta Force film series and pretty much anything by Cannon Films.