Film Review: The Untouchables (1987)

Release Date: June 2nd, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Mamet
Based on: The Untouchables by Eliot Ness, Oscar Fraley
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Billy Drago, Patricia Clarkson, Brad Sullivan, Clifton James (uncredited)

Paramount Pictures, 119 Minutes

Review:

“You just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement: make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.” – Malone

While this isn’t one of my favorite Brian De Palma movies, it was one of my favorite mob movies back when I was a teenager. As a De Palma picture, though, it’s stylistically very different than his other films, especially those that came before it.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I still love the hell out of this movie.

The Untouchables is full of great actors giving solid performances and telling a really compelling and tragic story, as many of the heroes die very violently while trying to bring one of America’s most violent criminals to justice.

This is a balls out, unapologetic movie that doesn’t shy away from some onscreen carnage and while that’s what made me think this was cool as a teen, it’s actually what makes it so effective and real.

Granted, Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone is inaccurate, as the real man wasn’t as publicly careless as he appears to be in the film. That’s not De Niro’s fault, that’s the script’s fault but at the same time, I don’t mind it, as it is used artistically to convey who Capone was beyond the public facade.

I love the camaraderie between the four heroes in this film, as they all felt truly chummy and it transcended the picture and made their sacrifices come across as even more genuine. You feel it in your gut when Sean Connery is gunned down and it doesn’t really matter how many times one has seen this picture.

The real standout in the cast to me is Billy Drago, who plays Frank Nitti, the sadistic and blatantly evil henchman of Capone. Drago has been a favorite actor of mine since he played the villain, John Bly, in the grossly underappreciated television series The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Since then, I’ve taken note of everything Drago has been in but then, he’s really hard to miss. Drago takes control of every scene he’s ever been in and can convey chilling villainy like no other actor. That being said, this is probably his greatest and most prolific role.

The movie also has a really unique score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Even for Morricone, it’s a strange soundtrack while also still sounding like his patented style. I like that this movie allowed Morricone to experiment in a way that he couldn’t when he was doing spaghetti westerns and Italian dramas.

The Untouchables holds up pretty well. It’s not a run of the mill, typical gangster picture. It certainly feels like it’s own thing and I feel like that’s why it still stands out, years later. While I can’t consider it as great as De Palma’s Scarface, Coppola’s Godfather movies or Scorsese’s Goodfellas, it’s still in the upper echelon of the genre.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Brian De Palma crime films, as well as other Robert De Niro starring crime flicks.

Comic Review: Wolverine and The Punisher: Damaging Evidence

Published: 1993
Written by: Carl Potts
Art by: Gary Erskine

Marvel Comics, 70 Pages

Review:

This comic was really weird but also kind of cool. It’s certainly a product of the early ’90s and with that, taps into some comic book tropes that seemed cool when I was twelve but come off as really dated and hokey, as an adult nearly thirty years later.

Which young kid in 1993 didn’t want to read a Wolverine and Punisher team up story, though? Especially, with the possibility that the two legendary badasses would actually duke it out, as the cover implies?

The real villain of this story is the Kingpin but he is working on creating a cyborg soldier with the ability to destroy the Punisher. The cyborg also has personal beef with the Punisher and is glad to do his part in trying to put him down.

Wolverine kind of just stumbles into the story and at first, he’s focused on taking down the Punisher for something heinous he believes the Punisher did. There are some plot twists and turns and nothing is exactly what it seems.

This comes to a crescendo with some badass fights and the two heroes coming together in the end. While it’s not a great read, it’s still fun and entertaining.

Also, the art style is sort of unique and not what you’d typically see from Marvel in this era. I feel like it was trying to tap into a grittier, indie style but it still works for the tone of the story.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: all the other Punisher miniseries, one-shots and graphic novels from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, J. Evan Bonifant, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, B.B. King, The Blues Brothers Band, Erykah Badu, Blues Traveler, Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Bo Diddley, Issac Hayes, Dr. John, Lou Rawls, Paul Shaffer, Travis Tritt, Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Winwood, Kathleen Freeman, Frank Oz, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Nia Peeples, Darrell Hammond, Max Landis

Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, Willie, you gotta understand. Those goons are orphan remnants of the post-perestroika Soviet secret police apparatus, which, until 1991, carried out its twisted interpretation of the original well-intentioned Marxist-Leninist doctrine vis-a-vis state security, which was massively corrupted by Lavrentiy Beria in the ’30s. Of course, once a mass populace is coerced into such behavior as a permanent condition, a radical didactic, dialectic shift, such as glasnost, produces guys like these:…” – Elwood Blues

I never wanted to see this movie.

For one, the first one was perfect and should have been left alone. Especially, after the death of John Belushi. Had he not passed away at a young age and then wanted to do a sequel, I probably would’ve been fine with that. Something just seemed grossly inappropriate about this film even being made but Hollywood has no morals, shame or respect for anything so I can’t say that this movie’s existence didn’t surprise me.

I figured that I’d give it a fair shot, though. Mainly, I wanted to review it and because maybe I was initially too harsh on this and it’s possible that it might be a nice tribute to Belushi.

Well, I wouldn’t call it nice or even good, really. Now it’s not as terrible as other people have led me to believe, over the years, but it’s kind of a pointless movie.

The reason why it’s pointless is that it takes all of the famous beats of the original film and just reuses them… poorly. It’s like Dan Aykroyd and John Landis dusted off the script to the original, changed some character and location names, moved some scenes out of sequence and then tried to do some clever modifications. Unfortunately, these tricks were really transparent and what we’re left with is a lame, terribly derivative picture that doesn’t have a reason to exist. Well, except for maybe one reason.

That reason is the music itself. I know that Aykroyd and Landis love the blues and they, at the very least, were able to create some solid musical sequences that I enjoyed. Now none of them are as iconic as the ones from the original movie but these sequences are where you can see that the creatives involved in the movie were really trying their damnedest to make this something special.

So, I can’t knock the musical parts but if the threads holding these sequences together is made of shit material, well, the semi-attractive tapestry is just going to fall apart. And sadly, that’s what happens with this movie.

In the end, I don’t hate this but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: its far superior predecessor and other John Landis comedies.

Video Game Review: Spider-Man (PlayStation 4)

I bought this game way back when it came out but I didn’t actually play it until this year, as I had spent about 18 months completely immersed in Conan Exiles and The Witcher 3. Between that, I also spent a lot of time playing hundreds of retro games on my RetroPie.

I can’t say that this was worth the wait, as it’s really just mediocre.

The graphics as far as how the city looks and the smoothness of gameplay are great but the characters’ designs certainly don’t blow me away. Also, most characters don’t look like how you’d expect them to and I’m not sure why. The game sort of ignores the comic book designs and tries to go with something more “realistic” and cinematic, akin to the films. I feel like it’s trying to meet the comics and the films somewhere in the middle but it fails at that.

As far as the gameplay goes, it’s fun but it’s way too similar to the Batman: Arkham City games. Granted, I love swinging through New York City and seeing the iconic sites but after really exploring for a day or so, even that gets old.

My real issue with the game is the story. I just don’t like it and it puts a lot of emphasis on villains that aren’t all that popular to begin with like Mister Negative. While I don’t mind the character, he is the primary antagonist for the first two acts of the story. While Norman Osborn is the mayor and Otto Octavius starts out as a good guy, there are still so many great, iconic Spider-Man villains they could’ve used as a focal point. Is Mister Negative even C-list?

I also heard all this noise about how many villains were going to be in this game and after playing through it, I’m completely underwhelmed. Sure, there are many baddies but it’s the cast of villains that they went with that are the problem. Plus, there are glaring omissions that are a bit baffling.

I get that you might not want to do a full fledged Hobgoblin or Venom story but the game could’ve introduced their normal selves, as both had interesting backstories that tie back to either Peter Parker’s personal life or the lives of his friends and allies.

Beyond that, Mary Jane is just kind of Plain Jane and she’s not even a model or actress. Instead, they made her an investigative reporter and her character is basically just ginger Lois Lane. Mary Jane is nothing like Lois Lane and this creative choice was just strange.

Speaking of MJ, I hate when this game makes you play as her or pre-Spider-Man Miles Morales. I bought this to be Spider-Man. Not his no superpowers having peeps. And there are just too many of these stupid side character sneaking missions.

Complaints aside, this is still a decent game that laid some groundwork to build off of. I’ll probably check out the sequel, if it’s ever made. I’ll also probably play the Miles Morales spinoff when it’s not still full-price.

The thing is, this could’ve been something great had they made it more loyal to the source material and not used a scrub that casual fans won’t know as the big bad for the first two-thirds of the game. Can you imagine if they made a Batman game and the main villain was someone like The Clock King?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: its Miles Morales spinoff game, as well as other recent Marvel games and old Spider-Man games.

Film Review: These Are The Damned (1962)

Also known as: On the Brink (working title), The Damned (alternative title)
Release Date: November 16th, 1962 (Australia)
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Ben Barzman, Even Jones
Based on: The Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, Alexander Knox, Viveca Lindfors

Hammer Films, 87 Minutes, 96 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I like to listen to people who know what they’re talking about. My trouble is I never believe anything they say.” – Simon Wells

This is a Hammer movie that I have never seen. Also, I didn’t know anything about it and went into it blindly. That was the best way, as it went in wild directions, surprised me and kept me pretty glued to it until the final frame.

That being said, this was great and if you want to check it out, don’t let my review spoil it for you. Just go watch it because it shouldn’t disappoint and it’s better to know nothing about it. Even the trailer is too much of a spoiler.

If you’re still here, some spoilage will happen as I continue to write.

Anyway, this started out as youth biker movie and I kind of thought it might just be Hammer’s attempt at capitalizing off of that growing trend. However, it evolves into a chilling science fiction horror flick of a pretty high caliber. It also takes awhile to get to the sci-fi twist, which made it even more effective once you get pulled out of the real world and into something much more fantastical.

This was a chilling and pretty emotional picture, much more so than your standard Hammer fare. You really felt for the kids in the movie and their terrible situation. But this also drew you in like the early episodes of Twin Peaks, where you knew there was some great, strange mystery and you had to see how it could possibly be explained.

There is a secret military base, a wild conspiracy and it’s the human adults that are the real monsters.

Frankly, this is a departure from what Hammer is most known for and it’s damn refreshing to see, even all these years later, as the studio tried to move outside of its stylistic box and ended up succeeding, creatively speaking.

Additionally, this is really well acted and it’s no secret that I love Oliver Reed but this has to go down as one of his best performances and I’m really glad that I sort of just stumbled upon this.

These Are the Damned isn’t widely known, even by Hammer aficionados like myself. It should be, though. It’s one of Hammer’s best pictures and one of the best horror/sci-fi pictures of its time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known Hammer films and other genre bending films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Casino (1995)

Release Date: April 3rd, 1995 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Based on: Casino: Love and Honor In Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi
Music by: various
Cast: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak, James Woods, Alan King, L. Q. Jones, Dick Smothers, Frank Vincent, John Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs), Richard Riehle, Frankie Avalon

Syalis DA, Legende Enterprises, Universal Pictures, 178 Minutes

Review:

“Listen to me very carefully. There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way, and the way that I do it. You understand?” – Ace Rothstein

Casino was the longest of Martin Scorsese’s films until The Wolf of Wall Street came out nearly two decades later. More recently, The Irishman came out and took the title. Truthfully, this picture could’ve actually been shorter by about a half hour but it’s still pretty damn good.

I do like this movie but my review may still come off as overly critical or as if I don’t like it. Reason being, it’s far from my favorite Scorsese flick and I feel like it’s trying to be too much like the far superior Goodfellas and because of that, it’s hard not to compare it to its superior, more interesting and energetic, predecessor.

To start, the acting in this is superb from top-to-bottom. I’d say that this also features Sharon Stone’s greatest performance even if her character was completely unlikable. By the end of the film, however, you actually feel for her character and her dark fate. That’s honestly got to be a testament to how great she was in this and how Scorsese really maximized her talent in a way that few directors have.

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci were also fabulous but this is also really familiar territory for them and they already had tremendous chemistry, by this point, as they had starred alongside each other in several films before this one.

Other standouts were Frank Vincent and John Bloom, who is known by most people as the legendary and charismatic Joe Bob Briggs. Both these guys shined in this and in regards to Bloom, I had always wished he’d been in more films, as he proves in this that he can act pretty well in the right situation.

The narrative structure is almost too much like Goodfellas, though, and I find it kind of distracting, as it continually makes me think of that film and if Scorsese is just relying on what seems to be a trope that worked exceptionally well for him half a decade earlier. At the same time, I’ve never been a fan of multiple narrators, specifically when some of the characters are dead. That’s my problem, though, and I know that it doesn’t bother most people.

Back to one of my earlier points, this could’ve been better overall with about a half hour edited out. There are sometimes too many details and side plots, as this wedges in several characters that kind of don’t matter when you boil this story down to its core elements.

Also, the film does drag on in some parts and I feel like it would’ve been a much stiffer punch in less time with just the truly important parts left in. This also would’ve given the film more energy.

Casino is still a film Scorsese should definitely be proud of, as well as all the actors featured in it. I like the story, most of the characters and thought that it was a worthwhile way to spend three hours.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Martin Scorsese crime films, as well as those by Brian De Palma and Michael Mann’s Heat, also from 1995.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin

Published: May 18th, 2017
Written by: Tom DeFalco, Bill Mantlo, Roger Stern
Art by: Ron Frenz, Al Milgrom, John Romita Sr., John Romita Jr., Marie Severin, Mike Zeck

Marvel Comics, 266 Pages

Review:

One thing that’s been pretty consistent with Spider-Man comics over the years is that there have been great origin stories for the title hero’s major villains. 

Origin of the Hobgoblin may seriously take the cake, though, as this is a beefy collection and by the end of it, it’s still not clear who the Hobgoblin is, even though the first few chapters make it obvious and because I read the big reveal years ago.

This collects his first ten or so appearances and even then, his ability to trick and dupe Spider-Man is so damn good that his true identity remains unknown to the hero.

Hobgoblin has always been one of my favorite villains and this just made me love him more and it’s easy to see why he became so popular throughout the ’80s until Venom came along and stole everyone’s thunder for a solid decade.

In this collection, we meet a guy that is pure evil, calculated, smart and able to stay several steps ahead of Spider-Man and his rivals on the crime side of things like The Kingpin. And while Hobgoblin may appear as if he’s simply ripping off Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin persona, which he most definitely is, he also takes the gimmick and improves upon it. Hobgoblin is born out of stealing another man’s legacy but with that, he builds his own, unique identity and he’s still a very different man behind the mask.

The best thing about this collection of issues is the writing. It’s just so damn good and makes me wish that modern mainstream comics could muster up just a tenth of this creativity. The plot is well-structured, layered, unpredictable and not even a wee bit derivative or redundant.

While the year is still young, this is the best comic book that I’ve read so far in 2021. 

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Spider-Man comics of the ’80s, specifically stories involving the Hobgoblin.

Film Review: See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

Release Date: May 12th, 1989
Directed by: Arthur Hiller
Written by: Earl Barret, Arne Sultan, Eliot Wald, Andrew Kurtzman, Gene Wilder, Marvin Worth
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Joan Severance, Kevin Spacey, Alan North, Anthony Zerbe, Zach Grenier

TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Today I threatened to shoot a naked woman with my erection.” – Dave

I love Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. I especially love when they team up.

Starting with one of the latter team up films may seem weird but this was actually the first one I saw. I also got to experience it in the theater and its the first time my mum took me to a movie with boobies in it, so I had to try and dodge her hand as she attempted to shield my eyes from the mesmerizing and perfect Joan Severance.

While this is far from a great film and not close to the best of either man’s career, their chemistry is infectious and they’re so great at the buddy formula that there’s just something endearing about this and it’s a movie with genuine heart and soul in it.

Pryor plays a blind man and Wilder plays a deaf man. That is the setup for nearly all the jokes in the movie but even if that sounds like it’d get old really fast, they come up with several clever gags that work throughout the film and the formula doesn’t get as tired as one would expect. Also, it kind of draws awareness to the limitations of those handicaps even though it’s using them for humor. A film like this would probably be shunned in our current PC climate but in 1989, we still knew how to laugh and also understood that sometimes that’s an effective way of dealing with difficult and uncomfortable things.

Not having seen this in years, I forgot that it had Kevin Spacey in it, as well as character actors Anthony Zerbe and Zach Grenier. Joan Severance steals all the scenes she’s in, though, and I was always kind of surprised that her career didn’t take off after this, Bird On A Wire and No Holds Barred. Well, okay… I can see why no one views No Holds Barred as anything other than a cheesy, vanity film for a professional wrestler that essentially just played himself.

In this film, a man is murdered and a careless mistake makes the two stars the prime suspects. Heck, the only suspects. They have to work together to escape the police, clear their names and take down the bad guys. Most importantly, they find true friendship and as corny as this film can get in certain moments, this is where the heart really comes in.

You could tell that these guys loved each other in real life and many of their conversations felt organic and natural even if they usually centered around their characters’ disabilities.

I definitely like this movie more than most people but it’s great escapism, carries a good, positive message and it’s hard not to feel better about life once the credits roll. 

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.

Book Review: ‘Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge’ by Rob MacGregor

This is the fourth book out of the twelve in the original Indiana Jones novel series from the ’90s. This is also my least favorite of the books so far.

Written by Rob MacGregor, who wrote the three before this one, I feel like he was sort of stuck in a creative rut after he told a pretty good, larger story arc that bridged the first three novels.

Before this, Indy had three adventures that were connected, as well as a girl he met in one book and then married and lost her in the next one. He was in a dark emotional place when this story starts but it also felt like he and the creative direction of the series had become a bit directionless. For one book, I can tolerate that, I just hope it picks back up in the next installment.

Additionally, the real international adventure doesn’t even start until the mid-point of the book and then it felt somewhat rushed, even though this is the thickest of the Indiana Jones books, thus far.

The first half of the story dealt with Indy returning to America, Chicago to be exact, meeting up with his friend Jack Shannon, a character throughout the series, and getting caught up in his family’s personal feud with Al Capone. It’s kind of an interesting thing to happen in an Indiana Jones story but it also made this feel like two separate books merged into one where neither story got as much time as it needed to be something solid.

The second half has to do with Indy, Jack and some others going to Turkey to investigate a site that is believed to have the surviving remains of Noah’s Ark. While I did enjoy this for the most part, as well as the Russian villains and their part in the story, it still felt rushed through.

I guess every book in this long-running series can’t be consistently good and stuff like this is typically rushed due to schedules. Still, this was decent enough and it didn’t wreck the Indiana Jones novel series. I just hope the fifth book gets back to the level I came to enjoy with the first three.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Indiana Jones novels from Bantam Books’ run in the ’90s.

Film Review: Exterminator 2 (1984)

Also known as: Dominator (Italy)
Release Date: September 4th, 1984 (UK)
Directed by: Mark Buntzman
Written by: Mark Buntzman, William Sachs
Based on: characters by James Glickenhaus
Music by: David Spear
Cast: Robert Ginty, Deborah Geffner, Frankie Faison, Mario Van Peebles, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Kenny Marino, Irwin Keyes, Arye Gross

Cannon Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You want to clean out the streets? I am the streets!” – X

It could be possible that I’m the only person that likes this movie more than its predecessor but I thought it took the concept of the original, upped the ante quite a bit, gave us a much better villain and it truly felt like a Cannon Group movie because it was.

I love that Cannon secured the rights to make this sequel and while I don’t know whether that deal was just to make one film, I really think this could’ve been a franchise that ran on for several installments like Cannon’s Ninja trilogy, Missing In Action films or American Ninja series.

Robert Ginty is so enjoyable in this role and I really enjoyed how this one was more of a buddy movie with Frankie Faison by his side. They had good chemistry, felt like real buds and I’ve been a fan of Faison since first seeing him as the landlord in Coming to America when I was a kid.

The evil scumbag gang in this movie is led by a very young Mario Van Peebles. In some regard, it draws parallels to his villain role in the third Highlander movie but I like him in this much better. He looks great, intimidating and he took the role seriously enough to come across as a real bastard. His final showdown with the hero, while mired down by clunky editing, was a great cat and mouse game between a cold-blooded killer with an Uzi and a vigilante hero with a fucking flamethrower! This final showdown always stuck out in my mind as one of the best when I was a kid.

I also like the villain’s look and the whole gang’s vibe. I liked how they painted red “X”s on their victims and that whole psychotic aesthetic. They sort of felt like a mix between a gang from The Warriors and the sadistic serial killer cult from Cobra.

This is just a balls out, badass action flick that further reinforces why Cannon Films was so damn good and why they excelled in the best decade for action movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other ’70s and ’80s vigilante flicks.