Film Review: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Also known as: Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (original Italian title), Irene, Excite Me, Eye of the Black Cat, Gently Before She Dies (alternative titles)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, Sauro Scavolini, Luciano Martino
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino

Lea Film, Titanus, 97 Minutes

Review:

Sergio Martino did this film a year before his most famous one, Torso.

While he’s not my favorite giallo director, he has done some really memorable work that probably deserves its place alongside the giallo masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

Many giallo aficionados seem to like this one too and while I do enjoy the first act of the movie, it drags on and falls kind of flat for me. Although, I do like the ending, as it homages Edgar Allan Poe quite nicely and in the most Italian way possible.

I enjoyed the three main actors in this and seeing Luigi Pistilli was kind of cool in that his character is truly the antithesis of what I think is his most famous role as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The other two leads are Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg, who both put in believable performances even when the story calls for some over the top antics.

My main issue with this film is the pacing. It’s only 97 minutes but those 97 minutes felt like two hours. There are some minor side characters and side plots that simply existed to give the killer more kills. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a slasher-esque giallo but most of this just felt like soulless filler in a movie that could’ve been more fine-tuned in dealing with the core actors and their dynamic.

I do like the look of the movie, even if it isn’t as opulent and vivid as the work of the better giallo filmmakers.

Ultimately, this was okay but it’s not Martino’s best work and with that, it’s not anywhere near the upper echelon of ’70s giallo.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: GoodFellas (1990)

Release Date: September 9th, 1990 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Based on: Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi
Music by: various
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Tony Darrow, Mike Starr, Frank Vincent, Chuck Low, Frank DiLeo, Henny Youngman, Gina Mastrogiacomo, Catherine Scorsese, Charles Scorsese, Suzanne Shepard, Debi Mazar, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Imperioli, Illeana Douglas, Tony Sirico, Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent Pastore, Tobin Bell, Vincent Gallo

Warner Bros., 146 Minutes

Review:

“[narrating] I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.” – Karen

This is a perfect movie in every way.

Motion pictures like this are hard to review because it’s just going to sound like glowing praise and lack actual objectivity. But man, this is a perfect movie and arguably Martin Scorsese’s best.

Revisiting it now, I’d have to say that it is, indeed, my personal favorite. Considering how great of a director that Scorsese is, this is a film that is in good company but still sits on the mountaintop of the auteur’s stupendous and legendary work.

The film is perfectly cast, top-to-bottom, and features a slew of iconic characters with dozens of memorable lines, which have transcended pop culture and for good reason.

The pacing of this film is perfect, as is the story structure. While I haven’t read the book it was based on and can’t compare the two, this just flows tremendously well from the early backstory part all the way to the end, which sees the main character, Henry Hill, rat out his friend and mentor, Jimmy Conway.

I love that this movie is also full of guys that would go on to star in one of the greatest television series ever made, The Sopranos. You’ve also got really small roles for other actors who would carve out nice careers for themselves like Samuel Jackson, Kevin Corrigan, Debi Mazar, Vincent Gallo, Tobin Bell and Illeana Douglas.

Additionally, one thing that really does wonders for this film is that it doesn’t have a traditional score. Instead, Scorsese filled the movie with the pop tunes of the time in which the scenes take place. The music added a lot to the movie and really made it feel more authentic and genuine.

This is also perfectly edited, never wasting a moment while also allowing you to get to know and like some of the more minor mobster characters… and there are many.

In the end, this is a fascinating crime story about a rat. It’s incredible seeing him go from being so loyal, to hitting the drugs hard and then selling out those closest to him over the course of his entire life. It’s also a true story, which just adds to the weight of it.

Goodfellas is a masterpiece, plain and simple.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Odd Man Out (1947)

Release Date: January 30th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: R. C. Sherriff
Based on: Odd Man Out by F. L. Green
Music by: William Alwyn
Cast: James Mason, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Kathleen Ryan, F. J. McCormick, William Hartnell, Fay Compton, Denis O’Dea, W. G. Fay, Dan O’Herlihy, Paul Farrell

Two Cities Films, Rank Organisation, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I remember. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put way childish things. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become a sounding brass or a inkling cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faiths so that I could remove mountains and have not charity… I am nothing.” – Johnny McQueen

For my 2500th film review, I wanted to do something special. Something that I had never seen but that I’ve wanted to watch for quite some time. So I chose a Carol Reed classic, which came out just two years before his magnum opus, The Third Man.

Like The Third Man, this movie has a strong classic film-noir flavor, narratively and aesthetically, and it primarily follows a man traversing the shadowy alleys and corridors of an old European city.

The story is about an escaped convict, played by James Mason, who has been hiding in his girlfriend’s home for six months. On this night, however, he decides to commit a robbery with his old gang. A security guard is killed and the convict ends up getting shot in the shoulder, which leads to him falling out of the escape car during the getaway.

The man hides in a warehouse, as his gang tries to go back and find him. Most of the gang is killed when they are double-crossed by a dame. The convict then tries to make his way back to his girlfriend’s house and meets different people along the way, as he continues to bleed out and desperately needs medical attention.

The film ends rather violently for the time and I guess some of the shots were edited out, as it rubbed the ethics and decency fascists the wrong way. But ultimately, like all things noir at the time, the bad people meet a bad end because balance must be restored to universe.

Like The Third Man, this movie features incredible cinematography, especially in regards to the use of light, shadow and contrast. The film has visual texture and many of the shots are so layered, that they provided the sort of visual depth that wasn’t very common. For an example of this, there is the scene where the tramp comes home, walks up the dilapidated stairs where an opening in the ceiling is dripping water through the center of the composition. Once in his apartment, the shadow from the bird cage spreads over the dark back wall and gives the film that layered depth and feels almost otherworldly.

There are other notable sequences that really show off how talented cinematographer, Robert Krasker, was – the hallucination sequence for instance. This is probably why he was Reed’s choice for The Third Man. Krasker was noted for being influenced by the German Expressionist style, as well as the other visually stunning film-noir pictures of his day.

I can’t put this on the same level as The Third Man but it’s a perfect companion piece to it and if you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll definitely enjoy this one and it will also show you an earlier stage of Carol Reed’s development as a cinematic artist. Everything he employed here, he would employ in his later work.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Also known as: Kaze no tani no Naushika (original Japanese title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1984 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Sumi Shimamoto, Gorō Naya, Yōji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Iemasa Kayumi; English Language: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Frank Welker, Mark Hamill, Tony Jay

Nibariki, Tokuma Shoten, Hakuhodo, Studio Ghibli (unofficially), 117 Minutes

Review:

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!” – Nausicaä

This wasn’t officially a Studio Ghibli film, as that studio didn’t exist yet, but many consider it to be the first and it helped pave the way for that studio’s creation and it becoming the standard barer for what was possible with classic, hand-drawn, 2D animation.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is also the first Studio Ghibli-associated movie that I ever saw. When I fired this up, I didn’t think I had seen it but once certain scenes came on, it flooded back into my memory from childhood. But I’m not sure if I saw this in the theater in the ’80s or if it was on VHS or premium cable. The version I saw would’ve had a different dubbing track than the version that exists now.

Anyway, I absolutely loved this movie from beginning to end. Sure, the story is a bit convoluted and I found some of the details hard to follow, although I am getting older and I partake in edibles in the evening on most nights. So I don’t want to pound too heavily on the plot. Also, some things may be lost in translation, which is common with anime and usually due to how well or poorly the translation and dubbing are.

I felt like the dubbing was pretty damn good, though, and I enjoyed the English voice cast quite a bit. I especially thought that Chris Sarandon’s work really stood out and provided some solid laughs at points, because of how pompous he made his character.

The thing that blew me away, which typically blows people away with Ghibli films, is the animation. It’s just beautiful and smooth and for 1984, I can’t think of any other non-Ghibli movies that looked better.

As I said, this helped pave the way for Studio Ghibli being born. Without this film, we may not have ever gotten all their other iconic work. While I can’t say that this is Hayao Miyazaki’s best feature film, it might very well be his most important.

Rating: 8.25/10

TV Review: What If…? (2021- )

Original Run: August 11th, 2021 – current
Created by: A.C. Bradley
Directed by: Bryan Andrews
Written by: A.C. Bradley, Matthew Chauncey
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Laura Karpman
Cast: Jeffrey Wright, various

Marvel Studios, Disney+, 6 Episodes (so far), 31-37 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Marvel’s What If…? is like all things MCU since Avengers: Endgame, a mixed bag of good and stupid.

So let me start by saying that I did enjoy some episodes of this show, while others were absolute shit like the one that sees Black Panther become Star Lord, which doesn’t make a lick of sense and also had a side plot about Thanos not committing universal genocide because T’Challa simply talked him out of it. That episode made me facepalm, repeatedly, so hard that I broke my nose about seven times.

Anyway, it’s clear that Disney is using this show to push certain social narratives without really caring about what that does to the continuity of the second greatest franchise they’ve ever had. But just like the once greatest franchise, Star Wars, Disney is out to wreck this one too.

So for the positives, I mostly liked the Peggy Carter episode, as well as the Doctor Strange one. While the T’Challa one was, hands down the worst, the others weren’t too bad, they just didn’t do much for me.

I was most excited to see that they would do with the Marvel Zombies concept, as some of those comics were fun as hell. Well, I’m glad that they tried something original with it, story-wise. However, it just didn’t hold my attention and was really underwhelming.

Also, I’m not big on the animation style. I really didn’t like it at first but my brain did adjust to it fairly quickly. The main problem with it, is that it looks almost too generic and in the Marvel Zombies episodes, for instance, I had a hard time telling some characters apart because they looked too similar.

When Disney first announced all the Marvel shows that would be coming to Disney+, this is one of the ones I was most excited for. I have loved the What If? comics since I started reading comics. Out of all of the issues that exist with great premises and alterations to continuity, I found it really disappointing that these were the stories they went with to kick off this series. But I guess I just shouldn’t expect much from Disney, at this point.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)

Release Date: July 11th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Peter R. Newman
Cast: Stanley Baker, Gordon Jackson, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern, David Oxley

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“He knew there’s only one way to fight a war, any war. With your gloves off.” – Captain Langford

Yesterday’s Enemy was the second war movie that I have watched from Hammer Films, who were mainly known for making horror pictures. This came in a Blu-ray set I bought, which included a lot of Hammer’s more obscure stuff.

The story follows a group of British soldiers retreating from the Japanese by going into the Burmese jungle in the hopes of getting back over their defensive line and to safety. With that, this is a pretty intense film that does a great job of building suspense and having pretty decent payoffs whenever their is a skirmish in the thick, dense, swampy jungle.

The movie really maximizes its environment well and the jungle really is the main character of the film. Even though this is a 62 year-old picture and in black and white, you do feel like you’re there with these guys and I found that to be pretty impressive due to the limitations of the production and the era in which this was made.

That being said, I can’t call this a very memorable film and it really just stands out in the moment due to it’s environment and atmosphere.

I thought the acting was also decent enough but no one really stands out here. Granted, no one was bad either. But maybe that also helped with the immersion into this tale, as you weren’t distracted by a grand performance and these guys just came across as totally natural.

If war films were my thing, I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more. They never have been, though, except for an elite few. But still, this did work and was effective and it certainly exceeded my expectations going into it. 

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The Gladiator (1986)

Release Date: February 3rd, 1986
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: William Bleich
Music by: David Frank
Cast: Ken Wahl, Nancy Allen, Brian Robbins, Robert Culp, Stan Shaw, Rick Dees, Rosemary Forsyth

Walker Brothers Productions, New World Television, ABC, 98 Minutes

Review:

“There’s order to the chaos of the universe – as above, so below. I mean, even here, there’s a natural order posed by me, because here: I am God.” – Joe Barker

I really like Ken Wahl and Nancy Allen, so I thought a movie where Wahl turns vigilante and makes his truck a weaponized killing machine would be pretty badass! Well, I was let down.

Wahl’s truck is actually just reinforced with some heavy add-ons and a harpoon gun that basically immobilizes vehicles. He’s not really doing Mad Max shit but he is still trying to clean up the streets while hunting for the killer driver that murdered his brother and several other people.

I thought that Wahl was pretty good in this but the movie was slow as hell. It has some good, action-packed moments but it just leaves you wanting more and never really delivers in the way that you’d hope.

I felt like Nancy Allen was barely in it, as well.

But this was a movie that was made for television and there is only so much that you could get away with on network TV in the ’80s.

This is just one of those films that sits in limbo: it’s not necessarily a waste of time but it also isn’t worth going out of your way to watch.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Release Date: June 14th, 1991
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Written by: Pen Densham, John Watson
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Geraldine McEwan, Michael McShane, Brain Blessed, Michael Wincott, Nick Brimble, Jack Wild, Sean Connery (cameo, uncredited)

Morgan Creek Entertainment, Warner Bros., 143 Minutes (theatrical), 155 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“Locksley! I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!” – Sheriff of Nottingham, “Then it begins.” – Robin Hood

I remember seeing this in the theater and loving the hell out of it. But I think I’ve only seen it once or twice since then and those viewings were in the ’90s. So I kind of didn’t know what to expect from it, seeing it decades later. And sure, I remembered some of the more iconic moments and lines but that’s about all I remembered.

This film starts out interesting and gives Robin Hood a neat backstory that saw him held prisoner in a dungeon in Jerusalem, far from his home in England. He is able to escape and saves the life of a Moorish warrior in the process. This warrior swears a life debt to Robin and follows him back to England.

Azeem, the Moorish character, was created just for this film but I liked the character a lot and it was cool seeing Morgan Freeman bring him to life while also getting to partake in the action heavy parts of the movie. Also, he paired up well with Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have watched these two go on further adventures.

The story is your standard Robin Hood tale for the most part but it takes some liberties, as all interpretations of the legend do. This one also pushes the romance pretty hard between Robin and Marian but honestly, it doesn’t get in the way of the action or the larger story. This version also has a witch character, who gives advice and directions to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Alan Rickman plays the Sheriff and frankly, it’s one of his best roles. He gets some great lines in this and he came off as very formidable against Robin in their final battle. Rickman turned the role down twice but finally took it when he was told that he’d have the freedom to play the character in the way that he wanted. I think that his influence and creative decisions made the character unique and memorable and it takes a great villain to shape a great hero.

I also like that the Sheriff of Nottingham had Michael Wincott as his main henchman. I’ve dug the hell out of Wincott for as long as I can remember and he was a good addition to this cast.

I also liked Christian Slater in this even though I felt like he was a bit underutilized.

The only truly odd thing in the film is that Kevin Costner, as the legendary British hero Robin Hood, uses his American accent, as opposed to doing a British one. I guess this was decided during production, as there are some scenes where Robin sounds a bit British-y. However, the director thought that it might be too distracting and break the film. I guess the critics of the time felt the opposite, though, as they got really hung up on the American sounding Robin Hood.

While the accent didn’t bother me too much, the running time did. I just thought this was 20-30 minutes too long and there was a lot that could’ve been whittled down. Once Robin gets back to England, early on, it felt like it took awhile for the film to really get going.

I thought that the action was pretty good and the big battles were exciting and hold up well. However, the final swordfight didn’t feel swashbuckling-y enough. I think that the director wanted a more realistic fight but part of Robin’s appeal, at least to me, was his athleticism, playfulness and mastery of the sword. Furthermore, the Sheriff of Nottingham truly gets the best of Robin and the hero only wins due to a distraction and a dagger he had hidden. It just felt kind of meh and cheap.

Still, I did like seeing this again and it was an entertaining experience. Costner was fine as Robin Hood but Rickman stole every scene that they shared.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Onion Field (1979)

Release Date: May 17th, 1979 (Cannes)
Directed by: Harold Becker
Written by: Joseph Wambaugh
Based on: The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
Music by: Eumir Deodato
Cast: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox, Christopher Lloyd, Priscilla Pointer, John de Lancie

Black Marble Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You’re policemen. Put your trust in God.” – LAPD Captain

I had never heard of this movie until the Criterion Channel put up a neo-noir collection, recently. Going through it, I figured I’d give this picture a watch, as it was one of the few in that collection that I hadn’t yet seen.

This also has James Woods and Ted Danson in it, so I was pretty intrigued, considering I had never stumbled across this.

The story is based on a true crime book and the film is written by the same author, which I guess helped keep things as accurate as possible. With real world stories, accuracy is hardly a priority for Hollywood.

First and foremost, this is incredibly well acted. Once the big, fucked up event in the film happens, John Savage’s acting goes to another level and the film switches gears, showing a once badass man break down because of the death of his partner and because the broken justice system is failing to make the killer pay for the crime.

The first hour of the story gives the background on the people and the events that led to a cop being murdered by a scumbag criminal. At the midway point of the film, we see the traffic stop that leads to the cop’s murder and his partner’s escape. The last half of the film focuses on the fallout and how the surviving cop can’t deal with justice not being served.

This is an emotionally heavy film in the back half and it leaves you incredibly pissed off, as you start to wonder if the scumbag is going to get away with the heinous, cold-blooded crime.

Beyond the great acting, this is a film that has great atmosphere. Watching it, it feels dark, confined and muggy. You feel stifled by the weight of it and feel the emotion pretty intensely. However, even with the genuine emotional connection to the primary character, the film really suffers from its pacing and structure. Something just felt a bit off in that regard and the film drags in points.

Still, I enjoyed this and was glad that I discovered it.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: While the City Sleeps (1956)

Also known as: New Is Made at Night (working title)
Release Date: April 19th, 1956 (London premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Casey Robinson
Based on: The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein
Music by: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cast: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, John Drew Barrymore, Ida Lupino, James Craig, Robert Warwick, Mae Marsh, Leonard Carey

Bert E. Friedlob Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“What a beautiful nightgown; and it’s a shortie!” – Ed Mobely

I love Fritz Lang’s work, especially in regards to the noir narrative and visual style. And while noir films were waning in popularity by 1956, Lang still managed to make a pretty good one with this picture.

The film is about a serial killer that is terrorizing the city. All the while, a media tycoon dies and leaves the business to a son he despises. The son, played by Vincent Price, doesn’t know much about running a news company, so he creates a new “second-in-command” position. He holds a contest between the company’s best investigative journalists to catch the killer. The one who does will be given the new position and some lucrative perks.

The movie has a weird but interesting premise and all the core actors in this do a good job with the material.

One thing Lang does exceptionally well in his films is how he builds up tension and suspense. He does a fantastic job in this one, as well.

I think the serial killer stuff is also a bit darker and more gruesome feeling than other serial killer movies before this. But going all the way back to 1931’s M, Fritz Lang showed that he didn’t shy away from the darkness and was able to really push the envelope in spite of the limitations of what was deemed acceptable at the time.

This movie is full of characters that are entertaining and fun to watch. However, there is still this haunting presence looming over everything.

Ultimately, this isn’t Fritz Lang’s best noir picture but it also solidifies the fact that the guy never made a bad or even mediocre one.

Rating: 7.5/10