Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.

TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Also known as: Star Trek XII, Star Trek 2, 2, Untitled Star Trek Sequel (working titles)
Release Date: April 23rd, 2013 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Deep Roy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Chris Hemsworth, Heather Langenkamp, Bill Hader (voice)

Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Productions, K/O Paper Products, Paramount Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“He used my friends to control me. I tried to smuggle them to safety by concealing them in the very weapons I have designed. But I was discovered. I had no choice but to escape alone. And when I did, I had every reason to suspect that Marcus had killed every single one of the people I hold most dear. So I responded in kind. My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?” – Khan

There is one simple thing that ruins this movie. It’s still enjoyable and a lot of fun but this film could have actually been pretty great. What ruins it is the reveal that Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is actually Khan Noonien Singh.

While this film was being made, everyone and their mother speculated that Cumberbatch was Khan. The filmmakers promised us that he wasn’t. It was a pretty big debate at the time going on within the Star Trek fan community. So when the reveal comes in the film, which was no surprise to anyone, it sort of made me go, “Really, MFer?! So you guys lied?!” Did they try to salvage the reveal by denying it? Did they think that would work and then the fans would be pleasantly surprised? Maybe that kind of Hollywood bullshittery is why Disney wanted J. J. Abrams to helm their first Star Wars movie.

I’m not really that pissed about it in retrospect. But it is worth mentioning how this film had some controversy around it because of that. But hey, the normies loved it, as they loved the previous Abrams Trek film and the post-Lucas Star Wars films. But I digress.

I did love Cumberbatch as the villain here but he didn’t need to be Khan. He should have stayed John Harrison and been a character in the same vein as Khan. There could be other genetically modified warlords from Earth’s past that were put on ice for centuries. Or he could have been an acolyte of Khan, leading up to a third film where Khan is unleashed.

The problem I have with Cumberbatch as Khan is that he doesn’t look the part, act the part or feel Khan-like in any way whatsoever. I’m not sure why he was cast, other than he is an incredible actor. He just feels wasted being wedged into a mold where he doesn’t quite fit. But again, he’s damn good, all things considered. Maybe Hollywood was all out of Mexican actors to play Indian despots?

But as good as Cumberbatch is, he is overshadowed by an even more villainous character that became a total curveball and pleasant surprise within the film, Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus. Weller just owns this film in every single scene that features him. Plus, his vessel was one of the most intimidating in Star Trek history. He just fit the part so well and looked like a tyrant king sitting in his captain’s chair like it was a throne over the galaxy.

I also liked that the film finally included the Klingons, even though it got them wrong and made them look bizarre. The Klingons’ look has varied over the years but the look from the original movies and the television shows from Star Trek: The Next Generation on became their iconic look. Deviating from that makes little sense. They could have toned it down and made them look more like they did in the original series from the ’60s but no, Abrams had to make his own stupid version of them.

The crew was good in this but that carries over from the first film. I thought that most of the casting was well done and it’s nice to see them work better as a unit now without Kirk and Spock bickering for 75 percent of the movie. But I guess that’s replaced with Spock and Uhura bickering.

I did enjoy the addition of Alice Eve to the cast as crew member Dr. Carol Marcus, daughter of Weller’s evil admiral. She had great chemistry with Chris Pine and Dr. Marcus was a character I loved from the original movies. But where the hell was she in Star Trek Beyond? But I’ll address that when I review it.

The opening sequence of the movie is beautiful and really cool. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of this Kelvin timeline trilogy. The rest of the movie feels cold, as it primarily takes place in space until we get to see Earth at the end. There’s also about 5 minutes of the Klingon homeworld but it is mostly seen during a spaceship chase that just feels a lot like what Abrams gave us in the first act of The Force Awakens when Rey and Finn escaped the desert planet by flying through shipwrecked Star Destroyers.

Also, the scenes that are call backs to older Trek moments were pretty cringe. The scene where Kirk dies and Spock is on the other side of the glass, a role reversal from the end of Wrath of Khan, was so awkward and off putting that it sucked you out of the film. Plus, you knew that Kirk would be alive again in ten minutes and the emotional impact wasn’t there.

If they would have fine tuned this movie a bit more, not made Cumberbatch reveal himself to be Khan and not meddled with establish canon and character design, then this could have been a damn fine space adventure. At its core, it still doesn’t feel like Star Trek in spirit but there are very few modern filmmakers that I think could pull that off, especially when trying to appeal to the widest modern audience possible.

There is a lot to like with this movie but there are so many things wrong with it that it’s bogged down by its own bullshit.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek and Star Trek Beyond.

Film Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1999 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I want to tell you my secret now.” – Cole Sear

For those that don’t remember the world in 1999, The Sixth Sense scared about as many people as Y2K.

This is a creepy film that penetrated the subconscious of its audience and went on to make its director, M. Night Shyamalan, one of Hollywood’s new “it boys” at the time.

I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater but being that this is its twentieth anniversary, I wanted to revisit it.

It’s not as good as I remembered it and for a long time, I considered it Shyamalan’s second best film after Unbreakable. It is still a much better than decent picture but it is sort of ruined by knowing the twist. However, it was also sort of diminished by knowing young Cole’s secret thanks to the marketing of the film in 1999.

Seeing this now, it is eerie from start to finish but the fact that you were clued in to the fact that Cole can “see dead people” before ever seeing the film, really takes away from that reveal. Plus, you go through half of this film before you actually see a ghost on screen. The first half of the film, had you not known the secret, could have been interpreted as Cole having severe mental issues.

Cole’s secret isn’t the big plot twist though, that comes at the end when it is revealed that Bruce Willis’ Crowe has been dead since the opening scene. I remember being in the theater and hearing everyone gasp when this was spelled out to the audience. That caught me by surprise, as I detected the twist pretty early on and just assumed the audience was supposed to know this all along. There were just too many hints that spelled it out for me before it had to be audibly stated and confirmed by the characters.

I think that the film is effective in how it creates atmosphere and makes you connect to its characters. The thing is, this feels more like a solid pilot for a show than a self contained story within a single film. I think that maybe this should have been a film series or at least found a way to be ongoing on television or books even. I left this film wanting to see Cole do good work in bringing tortured souls some peace.

This film did a nice job of sort of legitimizing horror and making it a bit more mainstream at the time. But the following decade wouldn’t be too kind to the genre, anyway. And this isn’t so much horror at its core, as it just happens to be a solid drama about a child psychiatrist and his very troubled patient. There just happens to be dead people in the story.

My biggest mark against the film is that it is really drawn out and moves at a snail’s pace until dead people start showing up about 50 minutes into the movie. I do like slow builds and suspense but the first half of this movie could have been whittled down.

In the end, this still does a good job of making a real human connection with its audience and it conjures up a thick sense of dread. But I can’t really call The Sixth Sense a classic, despite its cultural impact for the time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Film Review: Dead Reckoning (1947)

Also known as: John Cromwell’s Dead Reckoning (complete title)
Release Date: January 18th, 1947 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: John Cromwell
Written by: Steve Fisher, Oliver H.P. Garrett, Gerald Drayson Adams, Sidney Biddell
Music by: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott

Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I hated every part of her but I couldn’t figure her out yet. I wanted to see her the way Johnny had. I wanted to hear that song of hers with Johnny’s ears. Maybe she was alright. And maybe Christmas comes in July. But I didn’t believe it.” – Captain Warren ‘Rip’ Murdock

I’ve wanted to see this motion picture for quite some time. It stars my favorite leading man, my favorite leading lady and it’s considered a film-noir classic.

Dead Reckoning was also directed by John Cromwell, who only did a handful of noir pictures but still had quite a lengthy career behind the camera.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit but if I’m being completely honest, it was a bit underwhelming. Sure, Bogart and Scott were both absolutely dynamite and had a great, dynamic chemistry but the film was just lacking in energy.

It’s not boring, it’s just a bit slow and it takes awhile to get moving. It features a decent scheme but nothing quite as remarkable as some of the top tier film-noirs of the day.

Had this film starred some other actors, it would be pretty forgettable. It’s kept afloat because of the charisma of its two leads.

There’s nothing special about the cinematography, the lighting, the set design or the camera work. Everything looks and feels pretty standard for the day. As I said, noir wasn’t a big chunk of the director’s lengthy filmography and everything here just felt like a clean, crisp, major studio production. I love RKO Radio Pictures because they were a master of the style, where Columbia, the studio that made this film, spent more time making larger, more publicly accessible spectacles for general audiences.

Bogart was a Warner Bros. guy and that was a studio that had a better grasp on the film-noir style, which is why his other noir pictures are much better, in my opinion. Scott was actually borrowed from Paramount for this film, where she was in some solid noir movies. Columbia originally intended for their biggest star, Rita Heyworth, to be in this but she was tied up working on The Lady From Shanghai with husband Orson Welles. Good thing for Columbia, that noir film was a true classic.

I really don’t want to sound like I’m bashing this film or Columbia, it just noticeably lacks when compared to the other films featuring its stars.

Dead Reckoning is still worth watching if you are a fan of Bogart, Scott, Cromwell or film-noir in general. It’s certainly a better than the average film in the style, even if it doesn’t live up to the hype I built up in my mind.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott.

Film Review: Red Rock West (1993)

Release Date: May 14th, 1993 (Italy)
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, Timothy Carhart, J. T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Robert Apel

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Roxie Releasing, 98 Minutes

Review:

“You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat.” – Lyle

John Dahl started out making neo-noir films in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This was the second one of three and comparing it to its predecessor, Kill Me Again, I’d say that the films are very consistent.

Two of the most intense actors of the last few decades, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper, face off in this film and man, it is really entertaining to watch.

These are my favorite types of roles for Dennis Hopper. I love it when he’s a murderous psycho or just a twisted bastard in a neo-noir cinemascape. It is hard to watch him here and not have your mind make connections to his roles in The American Friend and Blue Velvet.

I thought the cast in this was pretty good, other than Lara Flynn Boyle. I’ve never really been keen on her, even though I know she was popular with a lot of filmgoers and Twin Peaks fans at the time. She just doesn’t work as a noir-esque femme fatale for me. I can’t really peg why but when I compare her to Joanne Whalley’s femme fatale in Dahl’s Kill Me Again, there is no comparisson. Whalley nailed the role, Boyle didn’t. Also, Whalley looked like a goddess, Boyle looked like a small town mayor’s wife. Sure, that may seem incredibly superficial but this is a femme fatale we’re talking about. The trope is the trope and here it wasn’t convincing.

Red Rock West seems a bit more refined than Dahl’s previous picture but I preferred the story of the first one better. This excels because of the scenes with Cage and Hopper playing off of one another. While I thought Val Kilmer and Michael Madsen also had a good rivalry in Kill Me Again, the two male leads here take the cake.

Overall, the two films are very similar and pretty much equal. Where one lacks, the other gains. It’s almost as if you could cherry pick the good bits of each and make one incredible movie out of them.

I can’t yet compare these two films to Dahl’s The Last Seduction, as I haven’t seen it yet. But it is on the docket and I’ll probably review it very soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: John Dahl’s other neo-noir films: Kill Me Again and The Last Seduction.

 

Comic Review: Doom Patrol, Vol. 2: The Painting That Ate Paris

Published: 1989-1990
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Richard Case, John Nyberg

Vertigo Comics, 228 Pages

Review:

I’m really digging the Grant Morrision run on Doom Patrol.

While the first volume was better overall, the first half of this collection was probably the high point for me, thus far. The second half of this is mostly filler and comes off at a slower pace but there are still some things of importance within it.

The first half is the story arc that gives this volume its name: The Painting That Ate Paris. And while the name may sound metaphorical, it isn’t. This is Grant Morrision’s Doom Patrol and a painting literally eats Paris. And with that, the Doom Patrol has to find a way into the painting in an effort to save the city. All the while, the Justice League shows up and stands idly by, staring at the painting, confused by the whole ordeal.

I feel like the Justice League here represents the more casual comic book reader, who would probably be baffled by the insanity, absurdity and surrealism of Morrison fully and creatively unleashed.

Richard Case’s art is some of my favorite from the era and man, it just lures you in and is a perfect compliment to Morrison’s writing. Case’s art is clean, crisp, colorful and fluid. I love his character design and the life his style gives every person in these stories.

This was just a really exciting comic to read. It loses steam with the second half but it is still entertaining and serves to setup what’s to come after this.

If you’ve never given Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol a shot, you really should. It’s a superhero team book but it is so unique that you really should experience it.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol.