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.

Film Review: Modern Times (1936)

Also known as: The Masses (working title)
Release Date: February 5th, 1936 (Rivoli Theatre, New York City premiere)
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Written by: Charlie Chaplin
Music by: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin

United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[from the Telescreen in the restroom to the factory worker] Hey! Quit stalling, get back to work! Go on!” – President of the Electro Steel Corp.

I’m going to start this by saying that Modern Times is one of my two favorite Charlie Chaplin films. The other is City Lights and it’s hard to put one of these over the other. But this may have a bit of an edge, as I think the factory worker sequences are Chaplin’s best.

This film covers a lot of ground, narratively speaking, for something that’s less than 90 minutes. But in the time that this came out, it’s much longer than most of the Chaplin films before it.

It starts with the Tramp character working in a factory, as the film rolls on, we see him start to break down and eventually go a bit crazy. He’s institutionalized, gets cured and then hits the streets trying to rebuild his life. Along the way, he meets Paulette Goodard’s Ellen, a bit of a troublemaker but her shenanigans are because she’s trying to feed her hungry siblings.

A romance develops and the chemistry between Chaplin and Goddard is pretty natural but maybe we were seeing them actually fall in love, as the two were married for a few years after this picture.

Chaplin really does give one of his best performances here and the stunts were some of the most creative and impressive. While it seems to be going for more of a straight comedy route with the gags than trying to wow us with Chaplin’s resilient physicality, it doesn’t feel like that stuff is lacking. And his routines here are still impressive.

For instance, the balcony roller skating scene is more nerve wracking than physically impressive. But stuff like this isn’t less effective or more effective than Chaplin’s more physical slapstick. I guess that he proved that he didn’t need to beat himself up to still get audiences to love him. Plus, by 1936, that stuff may have been taking a real toll on his body.

Modern Times is a sweet movie that features one of the most beloved film characters of all-time. What’s not to love? This is one of Chaplin’s greatest films and for good reason.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Chaplin’s greatest works: City LightsThe Great Dictator and A King In New York.

Comic Review: Baron Rat and the Great Cheese Caper

Published: October 25th, 2018
Written by: Troy Vevasis
Art by: Aleksandar Jovic

Alterna Comics, 19 Pages

Review:

As I’ve stated before, Alterna has been putting out some really good comics. I recently reviewed the three-part Mr. Crypt series. This is a spinoff of that as Baron Rat, Mr. Crypt’s rodent sidekick, gets some time to shine on his own.

This was released by Alterna under their One-Dollar One-Shots imprint. I’m not sure if this is the first One-Dollar One-Shot but I hope that there are more in the future and seeing spinoffs of other Alterna books would be really cool to see. Especially, for one dollar.

Baron Rat is a fun and quick read. It follows the tone and humor style of Mr. Crypt and is a great compliment to it in every regard. Mr. Crypt even shows up at the beginning and end.

The story follows Baron Rat as he heads into town to take advantage of a cheese festival. Shenanigans ensue and the gags are all pretty good.

I really like the Mr. Crypt world that Troy Vevasis and Aleksander Jovic have created. The stories are amusing, the art is great and this is as good as some of the most famous classic comic strips of yesteryear.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Alterna Comics releases, especially Mr. Crypt.

Film Review: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Also known as: Elvira (Philippines English title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1988
Directed by: James Signorelli
Written by: Sam Egan, John Paragon, Cassandra Peterson
Music by: James B. Campbell
Cast: Elvira (Cassandra Peterson), W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Jeff Conaway, Susan Kellerman, Edie McClurg, Kurt Fuller, Frank Welker (voice)

NBC Productions, New World Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Please, I don’t think we need to resort to name calling. I think what Calvin is trying to say is that this Elvira is a person of easy virtue, a purveyor of pulchritude, a one-woman Sodom and Gomorrah, if you will. A slimy, slithering succubus, a concubine, a street walker, a tramp, a slut, a cheap whore!” – Chastity Pariah

This film hasn’t aged well. But I used to love it as a kid. And really, I think this only works if you’re already a pretty big fan of Elvira. If that’s the case, you should definitely give this a watch.

It kind of has a similar vibe to the Pee-Wee and Ernest movies from the ’80s. It’s a cheaply made comedy based on a fictional character that was super popular at the time. I liked the trend of these types of pop icons getting to try out film as a new vehicle for their careers, even if Ernest was the only one that achieved real cinematic longevity.

Lumping this in with those other films, it’s the best of them all after the original Pee-Wee movie, 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. But that was also directed by Tim Burton in a time when the guy could do no wrong.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark does a good job with the pieces it had though. Cassandra Peterson is truly a comedy master. She owns the Elvira character, delivers her lines like a champ and is willing to really put herself out there to let Elvira flourish. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Peterson and how she performs her craft. She absolutely was the best horror host of all-time and could perform at a level that other horror hosts couldn’t. That may be a controversial statement to some but I stick by it.

This movie was a great vehicle for her because she got to spend 90 minutes, hamming it up in her unique style, uninterrupted by bad movies and commercial breaks. I wouldn’t call this the highpoint of her career, as she has continued on for decades, but it is the one body of work that best showcases her talent in the most complete way.

I thought the story was decent, the acting didn’t really matter and you just sort of have to roll with this and enjoy it for what it is.

Edie McClurg was perfect as the small town busybody trying to make Elvira’s life hell. I’ve loved McClurg in so many different things but I liked that she wasn’t just a small character in this.

This film is goofy, funny as hell and it’s hard to feel down if this is on the TV. But it won’t be for everyone, not that it needs to be. Elvira fans should be pretty satisfied with it, though.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other oddball comedies of unique people stranded in podunk communities: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Son In Law.

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: Step Brothers (2008)

Release Date: July 25th, 2008
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, John C. Reilly
Music by: Jon Brion
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Rob Riggle, Ken Jeong, Phil LaMarr, Seth Rogen, Horatio Sanz

Relativity Media, The Apatow Company, Mosaic Media Group, Gary Sanchez Productions, Columbia Pictures, 98 Minutes, 106 Minutes (unrated cut)

Review:

“I wanna roll you up in a little ball and shove you up my vagina… You could just live there, it’s warm and it’s cozy… Oh I’d just walk around with you in there and just knowing, whenever I feel a little tickle or scratch it’s your hair on my vagina!” – Alice

Full disclosure, I’m not a huge Will Ferrell fan. I did like him on Saturday Night Live, in an era where the show was good, and I do like his chemistry with John C. Reilly. But still, that’s not enough to make this film work for me.

The problem is that Will Ferrell’s comedies have a few jokes that land but they’re usually lost in a sea of misses. And really, most of his jokes have been recycled to death and predate him.

I do like a lot of stupid comedies but Ferrell’s don’t do much to help that genre evolve. He relies on low brow humor and by milking the same cow that the worst comedians have been milking for decades. He just makes his movies zanier, which I guess is supposed to make them funnier.

Now I mostly liked this film the first time that I saw it but it’s not something that I ever needed to watch again. Also, from a narrative standpoint, nothing that happens here matters or holds any sort of weight. There really isn’t much of a story, there’s just a plot thread set up to weave together a bunch of fart and dick jokes. Also, there’s the obligatory over the top profanity because yelling out “fuck” in the middle of a joke’s delivery makes it funnier or something.

I don’t want to sound like I’m shitting on the guy or this movie but by the time that this did come out, his shtick really ran dry for me. Although, I do have friends that adore this movie for some reason.

It is funny in parts and the two leads have charm and always seem to work well off of one another. However, Reilly has proven he’s a much better actor than this and he’s actually superior to Ferrell in regards to his comedic roles.

I don’t know, this is just a stupid film to me. It doesn’t have a lot of replay value and I have to deduct points off of any movie that has Rob Riggle in it. When people were boycotting the NFL because of freedom of expression being un-American, I was boycotting it because Rob Riggle was hired to work on a Sunday pregame show.

Anyway, I really like and respect Mary Steenburgen, so I’ll say that she’s a beaming light of sunshine and positivity in this but I really don’t need to ever watch this again because I saw this movie before it was even made.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other Will Ferrell movies and “bro” comedies of the ’00s and ’10s.

Comic Review: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Issue #1

Published: July 4th, 2018
Written by: David Avallone
Art by: David Avallone
Based on: the Elvira character by Cassandra Peterson

Dynamite Entertainment, 32 Pages

Review:

This has been sitting on the shelf in my local comic book shop for months. I figured I’d wait to grab a handful of issues when new ones came out, as I prefer binge reading single issues. However, I guess that since no one bought it at my store, the follow ups were never ordered.

I ended up buying this last week, as it’s Halloween time and because I have enjoyed Elvira since I was a kid whether it was her horror show hosting, her cardboard cutouts in the grocery store or her ’80s movie Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.

I ended up liking this more than I thought I would and I think that I’m going to track down more issues now and possibly several of the umpteen variants. If I ever meet Cassandra Peterson, it’d be cool to have her sign some of these.

Anyway, this was actually a lot of fun. I actually laughed out loud at several of the jokes and quips. David Avallone did a really good job of capturing the character of Elvira and translating Cassandra Peterson’s humor style to the comic. I wish she had some input though, as Joel Hodgson is involved in the writing of his Mystery Science Theater 3000 comic.

The art was really good and I hope that Dynamite Entertainment is able to do more of these in the future and that Elvira sticks around in this incarnation because this felt so pulpy and so right. Maybe Dynamite can get together with other publishers and do some neat crossovers. How about Elvira Meets Batman ’66 or Elvira Meets Archie or Sabrina or whomever. Elvira Versus the Planet of the Apes? Yes, please! Get on it, Dynamite!

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Elvira stuff, Vampirella, the horror themed Archie comics and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 comic.