Film Review: Black Legion (1937)

Release Date: January 17th, 1937 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines
Music by: W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“So, you’re afraid! Maybe they better change the name of your outfit from the Black Legion to the Yellow Legion.” – Ed Jackson

I was talking about Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, with a friend of mine when he asked, “Did you see that one where he was in the KKK?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I looked it up and found this film, which Bogart did really early in his career, before reaching superstardom. Also, it’s not the actual KKK but it is a group based on them called “the Black Legion”.

This film is rather short but it’s definitely got a lot packed into a small package. It’s a true thriller and very noir-esque before film-noir was a thing.

The gist of the story surrounds a hard working man that is looked over for a promotion that he was pretty sure he was going to get. It weighs heavily on him and eventually, some bad seeds take advantage of that and influence him into joining their cause. That cause, sees them dressing up in black hoods, similar to the KKK’s white hoods, where they go out at night in an effort to chase off the foreigners who are coming in and taking their jobs. So the Klan (or “Black Legion”) in this isn’t so much racist, as they are xenophobic.

In his heart, Bogart’s Frank Taylor was opposed to the madness he found himself entangled in but he was already in over his head and couldn’t leave the group for fear of what they might do to him and his family. It all comes crashing down when Frank murders his best friend that was trying his damnedest to save him. Regretful and remorseful, will Frank work to bring down the Black Legion or is the fear of his family’s safety too great?

The film is intense and it moves swiftly. It was hard for me to turn away from it and the acting of Bogart, as well as his best bud, Dick Foran, was superb and kept me glued to the screen.

While this isn’t Bogart or Foran’s best picture or performance, it really goes to show that both men were definitely capable of something greater. Luckily, for us, both men would have busy careers, especially in the noir style of the ’40s and ’50s.

Black Legion is certainly worth a watch. While most movie sites don’t list this as a thriller, it definitely is… and a pretty effective one from start to finish.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart films before he became a big star: High Sierra, They Drive by Night and Crime School.

Film Review: You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Also known as: A Beautiful Day (Germany, France, Italy)
Release Date: May 27th, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay
Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Why Not Productions, Page 114, Amazon Studios, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Where you spend your time? What do you do?” – Joe’s Mother

I heard a lot of exceptional things about this film and it sort of came and went without much fanfare, even though it premiered last year at Cannes. It’s an Amazon Studios film and they’ve been putting out a lot of great indie pictures, as of late.

While I enjoyed this, it didn’t blow me away like it seems to have for so many others.

To start, Joaquin Phoenix is damn good in this. He plays this character almost in monotone and it’s an understated performance but it works so well that it gives the character more depth and meaning than being overly emotional or rampaging against the vile scum in the film.

Phoenix is almost sweet even though he becomes a one man killing machine in his effort to save a very young girl from high profile sexual predators. The film is similar in a lot of ways to Taxi Driver but the main character is almost the antithesis of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Granted, both men are damaged but Phoenix’s Joe is a lot less outwardly emotional.

Young actress, Ekaterina Samsonov, was also pretty stellar and her performance was understated, as well. It makes me wonder if things naturally flowed this way or if it was the director’s choice to have her two leads perform in a more subtle style. Whatever the case, it works for both characters and the tone of the film, as it feels more organic and natural than what’s typical in these types of pictures.

I thought that the cinematography and mise-en-scène had an enchanting quality from shot to shot. There was a lot of detail to absorb but the stylistic choices really supported the narrative and the overall tone.

All the parts came together quite nicely but if I had to nitpick, I’d say that this did lack some excitement. It’s hard to see a picture like this and not expect some good action. There almost is none, really. This is more about the emotional journey of the characters within the story than being an uber violent revenge flick.

I’m all for artistic license but I really wanted to see Pheonix actually go ape shit on the evil bastards in the film. But I’m also a child of the ’80s and devoured ’80s action films like an old lady at a bon bon buffet.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other modern vigilante films: the Death Wish remake, the Taken films, Death Sentence.

Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption II (PlayStation 4)

Perfection is a hard thing to achieve but Rockstar Games did it in 2010 with Red Dead Redemption. But then they did it a second time with this long awaited sequel.

And maybe I see this as better than it is due to my undying love for the last entry in this series but this is a more refined version of the game we got and it’s damn fun!

There wasn’t a lot to complain about with the first Red Dead Redemption. I thought the story was terrific, the game play was exciting and the mechanics, which can make or break a game, were very good. Red Dead Redemption II takes what worked and fine tunes it, making it better and much more fluid.

Additionally, this game adds a lot of new stuff to the mix. There are a ton of side quests and random encounters but you get to sell stolen valuables to fences, hunt down a large amount of legendary animals, catch legendary fish and chase down a lot of bounties. While some of these things existed in the predecessor, there seems to be more here and they’re less cookie cutter.

It’s also cool that this game’s map is massive. You do get to return to two of the previous areas from the first game but not until you get through the main story. Once you do, you see that the size of the map of the first game is very small in comparison to the world you’ve been traveling in in this game. Also, there is a secret area that has its own map when you’re in Chapter 5 of the story. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll leave it at that.

In this game, you also need to take care of yourself and your horse. Make sure you’re both well fed. I liked this aspect of the game, even if I screwed up and didn’t eat too often because I was looking for action and popping open a can of beans, every so often, just got in the way of my robbery sprees.

If I had to point out some negatives I’d say that I miss the inclusion of the area based off of Mexico. That was my favorite place in the previous game and it is sorely missed. However, the new secret area sort of makes up for it but the sad thing is that you can’t return to the secret map once you leave it in the story.

Also, the game is long. Really, long. I was completely immersed in the story but you get to points where you just want to get towards the next big narrative step or the resolution. I’m not saying that there are bad or even boring missions but a few parts seemed to drag just for the sake of trying to beef up the story’s length and not necessarily it’s depth.

Regardless of that, however, the ending is pretty damn satisfying once you play through the final mission of the second epilogue. And this game ends in a great spot for you to go back and pick up the previous one again.

I don’t buy new games as often as I used to but this was pre-ordered a while ago and I anticipated the moment where I could finally slide this game into my PS4.

In the end, this did not disappoint and I’m still playing it, even though I’m done with the main story. I’m a completeist with games I love and all the extra bits I’m still working on are just as fun as the main game itself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the first Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Revolver, the original game.

Film Review: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)

Release Date: March 23rd, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Alan Burnett
Based on: Suicide Squad by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, John Ostrander
Music by: Robert J. Kral
Cast: Christian Slater, Billy Brown, Liam McIntyre, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Gideon Emery, Tara Strong, Vanessa Williams, C. Thomas Howell, Greg Grunberg

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, DR Movie, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I know I’m going to Heaven – anyone who can put up with Mr. J deserves a break.” – Harley Quinn

It seems as if these DC Comics animated movies are getting better and better. Pretty much most of the stuff that Sam Liu produces and directs is top notch. Also, I love that these are for an adult audience.

While I pretty much hated the live action Suicide Squad movie, I’ve been a fan of the comics for some time. This animated feature does a pretty good job of capturing that magic in a way that the live action film completely missed.

The voice cast in this was really good too and I especially enjoyed Christian Slater as Deadshot. I hope he plays the character more in the future and if this spawned its own series, I’d watch the followups.

This movie is violent but it works, as this film is presented in a grindhouse style. Now the look of it is crisp and clean like other DC animated films but it has that modern grindhouse edge to it in it’s credits sequences, editing style and musical score. While the modern grindhouse thing really peaked with Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movie over ten years ago, it’s interesting seeing that style in this format.

The story is also good and it sets up a situation where these characters have a sort of loophole to work around the protocols the government has in order to control these villains forced to do good. There is a lot of back stabbing, twists and turns.

This also features a ton of villains whether they are members of the Suicide Squad or not. And while a lot of characters are crammed into this 86 minute picture, everything flows well.

This is solid. It’s one of the better DC Comics animated features to come out.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC animated features for adult audiences.

Film Review: The Threat (1949)

Also known as: Terror
Release Date: December 1st, 1949
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Dick Irving Hyland, Hugh King
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Michael O’Shea, Virginia Grey, Charles McGraw

RKO Radio Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, I have to live with my conscience.” – Detective Ray Williams

The Threat isn’t a well known film-noir but anything made by RKO in the noir style is always worth a look.

It’s a quick 66 minute film that moves at a rapid pace and is fairly high octane for the era. It really doesn’t relent, due to it’s scant running time and it felt like it was over in the blink of an eye.

The story is about a homicidal maniac who breaks out of prison and starts kidnapping those he deemed responsible for his imprisonment: a cop, a district attorney and a nightclub singer who is believed to be the rat.

The film has a lot of angles and the narrative plays out nicely even if it felt somewhat underwhelming by the end.

As far as the production, it is fairly pedestrian. The acting, directing and cinematography are all pretty average. And even though the setup was really good and got me hooked, that first act of the film is really the high point.

Now I did enjoy Paul Sawtell’s score. But he always provided good music for the films he worked on.

The Threat isn’t very memorable but it isn’t a bad way to spend 66 minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: any crime thriller film-noir from RKO that feels more like a B-movie than a big studio production. That’s not a diss, as some of these films are great.

Trailer located here, as it’s only available on TCM and I can’t embed those videos here. You should fix that, TCM.

Film Review: The Sniper (1952)

Release Date: May 9th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: Harry Brown, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: George Antheil
Cast: Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr, Marie Windsor, Richard Kiley, Ralph Peters (uncredited), Karen Sharpe (uncredited)

Stanley Kramer Productions, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You know how much coffee I’ve had today? 17 cups. The Brazilians ought to give me a medal.” – ER Doctor

Up until this was featured on Noir Alley, I had never heard of The Sniper. But man, this film was pretty damn remarkable. It will also have to go on my eventually updated list Top 100 Classic Film-Noir Pictures of All-Time. This is a film that will be pretty high up on that list.

For a movie released in 1952, this was pretty darn realistic and had a serious grit to it that put it at a different level than most film-noirs, which typically have a hefty amount of grit already. The subject matter was pretty heavy, even by today’s standards and I was surprised by what they were able to get away with in this.

Additionally, the film is scary, as it deals with a mentally deranged man that hates women to the point that he shoots and kills them from rooftops throughout the city. But this doesn’t feel like exploitation, it is well made, well crafted and spends enough time dealing with the mental state of the character that it has some real depth and meaning.

There are a lot of narrative paths this film can take you down. People today might see it as toxic masculinity run rampant, some may see it as a critique on a justice system that is broken, others may see this as an exploration of mental health and mania and some might even see this just as simple exploitation.

Regardless of how one views The Sniper, it asks a lot of questions and explores a lot of this territory pretty bluntly. But this is why it sticks out among the run of the mill film-noirs of the classic era.

The level of violence was pretty high but even though you see heinous acts committed on celluloid, it’s similar to Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that a lot of the violence happens in your mind, as it fills in the blanks. An example of this is when our killer shoots a woman and she smashes into glass, headfirst. There’s no gunshot wound or blood but your mind interprets it as more shocking than it actually was within the shot.

Edward Dmytryk did a damn fine job directing this motion picture. He had noir experience with Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet but this eclipses those films, in my opinion. And frankly, those films were damn good too.

The Sniper is highly unsettling but it has aged tremendously, as it is still unsettling and it’s narrative still works in 2018, two-thirds of a century later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures directed by Edward Dmytryk: Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet, as well as other noirs like Murder by ContractHe Walked by Night and Gun Crazy.

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.