Film Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin ikaru (original title), The Return of Giant Majin (US TV title), Majin (Spain)
Release Date: August 13th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Shiho Fujimura, Taro Marui, Takashi Kanda

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 79 Minutes

Review:

Return of Daimajin was the second of three Daimajin movies, which were all filmed at the same time and were all released in Japan in the same year: 1966.

All the films have a very similar premise in that they see a giant, stone protector arrive to smash the hell out of tyrannical warlords who try to exploit the weak and the poor.

These are also period pieces and have the feel of a jidaigeki picture until the big demon monster shows up and essentially transforms these into kaiju movies in their third act.

Overall, I found this film’s story to be a bit weaker than the first picture but that was offset by the big finale, which I liked a lot more in this installment. I think a lot of that has to do with Daimajin literally parting the water like the Red Sea in the Bible and slowly walking towards the village full of tyrants, building tension and horror.

Also, the evil tyrant’s death was simply awesome.

I also thought that the special effects felt a bit more refined and perfected. The miniature work was solid and it holds up over fifty years later.

The action also played better and it was just cool seeing the big demon crush these scumbags while tearing down their town.

While at face value, this movie might just come across as “more of the same”, it’s the subtle differences that make it work. I guess it’s kind of like Friday the 13th movies where they follow a predictable formula in the same type of setting but if you’re a fan of the films, you don’t care and each one just has something special and unique within it.

Most people probably won’t dig these movies and that’s fine. However, for kaiju cinema fans that haven’t experienced any of these, you really should check them out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

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.

Film Review: Orcs! (2011)

Release Date: June 6th, 2011 (UK)
Directed by: Andrew Black (as James McPherson)
Written by: Anne Black, Jason Faller, Kynan Griffin, Justin Partridge
Music by: Panu Aaltio, Ben Carson
Cast: Adam Johnson, Maclain Nelson, Renny Grames, Barta Heiner, Michael Behrens, Brad Johnson

Rub Pictures, 3 Men in a Tub Productions, Camera 40 Productions, 78 Minutes

Review:

When I first read about this movie, I thought the concept was damn cool and if handled correctly, this could’ve been a great, entertaining and badass cult film. Then a few months later, I saw the trailer and it was hard for me to muster up any interest in watching it until now, a decade later.

The main reason for watching it was that it was free on Prime Video and it was only 78 minutes. Sure, part of me hoped I’d be wrong and that I’d find something amusing and entertaining in the picture. While I didn’t hate every aspect of it, it was dull, overall, and it suffered from what appeared to be a PG-13 rating.

The only real positive was the lead actor, who had charisma, was legitimately funny and at least kept this movie from being a total waste of time.

Apart from that, this was a disappointing, tame fantasy horror flick that needed some old fashioned gore and over the top badass moments. Had this been directed by someone like James Gunn or Peter Jackson before he actually made his own orc movies, we could’ve been treated to an exceptional picture that would’ve lived on for decades as a real cult classic.

Instead, we’re given a neutered, mostly boring movie that shies away from the brutality that one should expect from a film about deranged orcs savagely murdering every human being they come in contact with.

I thought that the orcs actually looked pretty good for the budget and limitations of this movie but they were wasted because of their lack of actual brutality on the screen.

In the end, this could’ve and should’ve been great. I don’t understand the creative direction of the movie and the filmmakers didn’t seem to understand what this picture needed to actually deliver.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other modern, really low budget horror movies.

Documentary Review: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Release Date: August 24th, 2014 (London FrightFest Film Festival premiere)
Directed by: David Gregory
Written by: David Gregory
Music by: Mark Raskin
Cast: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Rob Morrow, Robert Shaye, Hugh Dickson, Oli Dickson

Severin Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

I saw the mid-’90s Island of Dr. Moreau film in the theatre. But it was so bad that I barely remembered anything about it other than how damn weird and terrible it was. I also didn’t really know the story behind it until years later when I read articles about the problems on the set and the ousting of director, Richard Stanley.

This documentary does a pretty good job of covering the details and allowing several of the people involved in this fiasco to tell their stories from their points-of-view.

Most importantly, it let Stanley tell his side of the story while also cluing the viewer in on what he had planned. Frankly, his ideas and his vision for the picture sounded incredible, even if what he wanted to do was probably unachievable even before the producers started meddling with his plans.

It also didn’t help that two massive egomaniacs, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, were hired to star in the picture. With that, they developed a rivalry that truly derailed the production and caused even bigger problems.

Even knowing what I did going into this documentary, I still wasn’t prepared for the whole story and the dozens of additional details I never knew. Fairuza Balk’s stories about the experience were really interesting and allowed you see how this unfolded through the eyes of someone who was trapped in this production and pretty powerless to do anything about it.

All in all, this was informative and it shed a lot of light on one of the most troubled productions in motion picture history. It’s a compelling story and certainly deserving of having that story told.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about failed films, as well as all the Dr. Moreau film adaptations.

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.

Film Review: Eye of the Tiger (1986)

Also known as: The Tiger (international alternative title)
Release Date: November 28th, 1986
Directed by: Richard C. Sarafian
Written by: Michael Thomas Montgomery
Music by: Don Preston
Cast: Gary Busey, Yaphet Kotto, Seymour Cassel, Bert Remsen, Denise Galik, William Smith, Judith Barsi, Kimberlin Brown, Ted Markland

Action Brothers, International Video Entertainment, Scotti Brothers Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Doing that time in there didn’t do a damn thing for you, did it? You were an asshole then and you’re a ‘bigger’ asshole now!” – Sheriff

Bruh… how did I never know of this movie’s existence? It’s pretty incredible if balls out unapologetic ’80s action is your thing. Why wouldn’t it be your thing? It should be everyone’s thing. We should still have movies like this made, today, as it might’ve stopped Generation Snowflake from existing in the first place.

Shit, I haven’t even told you yet that this stars Gary Busey and Yaphet Kotto! You also get Seymour Cassel playing a crooked, slimy sheriff in league with the villainous biker gang. Plus, you have the insane leader of the biker gang, who is an actor I don’t know, but still came off as completely chilling and intimidating as fuck.

In addition to a biker gang and a lot of motorcycle action, this movie has a bomb dropping bi-plane and a heavily armored, heavily weaponized super truck! I mean, seriously, what’s not to fucking love?!

Alright, so the script is a bit sloppy and the acting is weak once you look passed the four primary characters but the action is solid and you want to see the scumbag pieces of shit get crushed, shot up and blown to bits by Busey, who is actually playing the film’s hero.

Honestly, I wish Busey would’ve gotten to make more movies like this where he just murders the crap out of human garbage. If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1986 and make a motorcycle vigilante flick with Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer called Murder Brothers. It’d have about seven sequels featuring previously unmentioned brothers replacing the originally leads that noped out after the first movie.

Anyway, this is as high octane as high octane gets. I mean, it’s not Death Wish 3 or anything but I know for a fact that I’m going to revisit this movie a lot over the rest of the years I have on this planet.

More people should know about this picture. I only found out about it because it was in an ’80s action DVD collection that I bought just to get a physical copy of The Exterminator 2. You can get that and this with two other movies in the same set for like nine bucks on Amazon.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other badass ’80s action movies.

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.