Film Review: Freeway (1996)

Release Date: January, 1996 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matthew Bright
Written by: Matthew Bright
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, Michael T. Weiss, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy, Conchata Ferrell

The Kushner-Locke Company, August Entertainment, Davis-Films, 104 Minutes (uncut), 102 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“Holy shit! Look who got beaten with the ugly stick! Is that you, Bob? I can’t believe such a teeny weeny little gun made such a big mess out of someone! You are so ugly, Bob! And, hey, I heard you have one of those big poop bags that’s like attached to where the shit comes out the side, you’re just a big old shitbag ain’t you, Bob! You just think of me every time you empty that motherfucking thing, motherfucker!” – Vanessa Lutz

Freeway is a batshit crazy movie. I’m not a massive fan of it as many others are and honestly, I wasn’t even sure what to think about it when it came out back in 1996. I was in high school at the time but I found it hard to grasp, as it feels more like a sequence of ideas wedged into a singular film. It also has a disjointed tone and a weird narrative structure.

I never hated the film but it wasn’t my cup of tea when it came out. I’m able to enjoy it more now but that’s also because an extra two and a half decades of life experience and film watching has made me more open to experimental and nontraditional filmmaking.

I mostly liked the film now, seeing it for the first time since it hit VHS. I never had much urge to revisit it but I figured I’d check it out because it’s been so long and my tastes have changed. Plus, I like Reese Witherspoon when she’s not in romantic comedies and I’ve always dug Kiefer Sutherland.

Additionally, this boasts a strong cast that wouldn’t have meant as much to me as a teenager. We’ve got Dan Hedaya, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy and Conchata Ferrell.

The story is a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s vastly different, though, as Witherspoon plays a trashy teen brought up by a speed addicted prostitute and pedophile stepfather. She’s essentially Little Red Riding Hood while Kiefer Sutherland plays the Big Bad Wolf, trying to hunt her down on the way to grandma’s house. The Wolf in this case is a famous (and still at large) Interstate serial killer.

Along the way, Sutherland’s Bob picks up Witherspoon’s Vanessa, after the car she stole broke down. They spend some time together but things get weird as the trip rolls on. Eventually, Vanessa discovers that Bob is the I-5 Killer. She is able to escape and puts several bullets into him. Vanessa ends up getting arrested and Bob survives, although he is severely disfigured.

In the second half of the movie, Vanessa is locked up in juvenile jail while the media makes Bob out to be a victim and heroic survivor. Vanessa eventually escapes juvie and makes her way to her grandma’s house where Bob is waiting for her, disguised as her grandma in bed ala the Big Bad Wolf.

While the film is tapping into the famous Brothers Grimm story, it definitely takes tremendous liberties and only seems to channel Little Red Riding Hood where it is convenient. In a lot of ways, the films plot is all over the place. It’s not hard to follow but it doesn’t follow any sort of structure. Frankly, there really isn’t a three act structure, either. You can break it out into four parts. I’m also not saying that this is a bad thing as it makes for a film that isn’t formulaic or predictable and in some regard, that’s refreshing. I’m actually glad that I forgot most of the plot details over the years since first seeing this.

Furthermore, Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland are both tremendous in this. Witherspoon, in only her fifth film, shows that she’s got real chops. Sutherland also brings his A-game and he’s so nuts in this that he really makes the movie better than it should have been on paper. He does crazy well and this may be the most bonkers role he’s ever played.

I’ve also got to point out the musical score by Danny Elfman. I dug the hell out of it and it’s one of the most unique Elfman scores of all-time. While it has the Elfman aesthetic, it’s different and unusual enough that had I not seen his name in the credits, I might not have realized it was him.

Freeway is nowhere near a perfect film but it’s a damn interesting one that’s carried by two solid performances and a story that takes you on an unexpected and wild journey.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as two other ’90s Reese Witherspoon movies: S.F.W. and Fear.

Vids I Dig 223: For the Love of Comics: ‘Tintin’: An Overview of 22 Albums (In 2 Parts)

From For the Love of Comics’ YouTube description (Part 1): A meander through 22 albums of the Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. This is an overview of an almost complete collection of Tintin books with glancing commentary.

From For the Love of Comics’ YouTube description (Part 2): It was supposed to be a quick glimpse but became a meandering chat, touching upon personal likes, different editions, and a bit of (probably inaccurate!) history.

Starring ancient paperbacks from Methuen and Magnet, as well as hardcover editions from Egmont and hardcover facsimile editions from Casterman.

Film Review: Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)

Also known as: New York Calling Superdragon (informal English title)
Release Date: February 17th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget)
Written by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget), Remigio Del Grosso, Bill Coleman, Mike Mitchell
Music by: Benedetto Ghiglia
Cast: Ray Danton, Marisa Mell

Films Borderie, Fono Roma, Gloria-Film GmbH, 95 Minutes

Review:

Secret Agent Super Dragon is just one of several attempts of the Italians trying to capitalize off of the James Bond phenomena. It’s a film that fails in just about every way but luckily for us, it was so bad that it was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is one of those films that is unintentionally funny. It’s not officially a comedy but some of the stuff in it is so ridiculous that it plays like parody in parts.

The story is flimsy but that could also be due to a bad English language dub. But films like this get a lot lost in translation so it’s hard to say if there are actual details left out and if the really atrocious dialogue is just a really atrocious translation.

Still, the movie looks bad. It’s poorly shot, badly lit and shows no signs of competent cinematography. While one could claim it’s at least stylish, I could claim that it’s just due to the time and the country it was made in and that whatever style there is, is just a byproduct of it trying to mimic a James Bond picture.

Apart from its lack of technical and artistic merits, the film is just a dreadful bore to get through. It’s only really worth checking out on MST3K.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible ’60s wannabe Bond movies of which there are many.

Film Review: Mr. Arkadin – The Comprehensive Version (1955)

Also known as: Confidential Report (UK)
Release Date: June 27th, 1955 (Barcelona premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: original radio scripts by Ernest Bornemann, Orson Welles from The Lives of Harry Lime
Music by: Paul Misraki
Cast: Orson Welles, Robert Arden, Paola Mori, Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave

Filmrosa/Cervantes Films/Sevilla, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes (Spanish version), 95 Minutes (public domain version), 98 Minutes (TCM print), 99 Minutes (Corinth version), 106 Minutes (The Comprehensive Version – The Criterion Edit)

Review:

“You are simply a fool. I will not ask you your price, because you have nothing to sell. But, still, I’ll make you an offer. I am going to give you something to sell. And, then, I will pay you for it. Come on. You have tried to threaten me with a secret that does not exist. Now, I will make you a present of a real one. The great secret of my life.” – Gregory Arkadin

Mr. Arkadin is an Orson Welles movie that has eluded me until now. While I’ve known of its existence since I was studying Welles in my high school film studies class, I knew that it was a film that had a half dozen different edits, lots of missing pieces and it wasn’t really a complete body of work.

It’s not quite a lost film, as a 95 minute version of the film has existed in the public domain for quite some time, but much of it was lost and even with the more recent Comprehensive Version, we still don’t have an edit of the film that is Orson Welles’ complete and realized vision.

The genesis of this film is pretty interesting though, as the story was adapted from a few episodes of the radio series The Lives of Harry Lime. Fans of Welles probably already know that he played the character of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s film-noir masterpiece, The Third Man.

Additionally, Welles once referred to this film as the “biggest disaster” of his life. This was because he lost creative control after missing an editing deadline, which then led to the film’s producer taking over and eventually releasing several different edits of the picture. The multiple edits created a lot of confusion and none of the released versions of the film were done so with the approval of Welles.

The Comprehensive Version, which is the edition that I watched and am reviewing here was made by taking pieces from the multiple versions of the film and trying to re-edit them into a form that makes the most narrative sense. However, the film still doesn’t feel whole and it isn’t.

That being said, it’s kind of difficult to review a film that isn’t complete and ultimately, wasn’t a fully realized concept brought to life by the artist that created it.

But you can still see how good it was by seeing some of these segments come to life. Welles employed great cinematography and one can’t deny that the film looks good and consistent with the level of visual storytelling that his movies were known for.

It’s also finely acted, even if some moments might not feel as coherent as they should. That’s not the fault of the actors, that’s the fault of the producer and editor. Well, at least they should take the blame based off of their involvement in making a chopped up and messy version of what this was intended to be.

It’s sad that this film didn’t get to be seen in its best form. The most recent form that exists is seemingly the best and it is still watchable but it just makes me wonder how different Welles’ version would have been. Additionally, for those that don’t know the full story behind this film, how would they see it? As a bad movie, a confusing one or even as an example of Welles not being on his A-game?

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Orson Welles’ other noir-esque pictures.

Film Review: Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Also known as: Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (original Italian title), Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (original English title), Hercules Conquers Atlantis (UK), Hercules and the Haunted Women (alternative title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1961 (Italy)
Directed by: Vittorio Cottafavi
Written by: Vittorio Cottafavi, Sandro Continenza, Duccio Tessari, Pierre Benoit, Nicolo Ferrari
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr., Armando Trovajoli
Cast: Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin

Comptoir Français du Film Production (CFFP), SpA Cinematografica, 101 Minutes (original Italian cut), 94 Minutes

Review:

“Uranus… to rule over all!” – Androclo, Re di Tebe, “What you say is blasphemy!” – Ercole

After seeing about a half dozen (maybe more) of these Hercules films, as well as other sword and sandal schlock, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, they all sort of blend together in my mind. It almost doesn’t matter that this is the most recent one that I watched, most of it already got flushed down the memory hole.

I mean, if anything was truly a dime a dozen, these Italian sword and sandal flicks would take the cake. While there probably aren’t as many of them as there were spaghetti westerns, which took over when these died out, the quality is generally pretty poor. This film is not an exception to the rule and other than dudes yelling about Uranus the whole movie, there’s not much worth remembering.

Hercules in this outing was played by Reg Park, birth name Roy Park because he’s surprisingly not Italian. In fact, he was an Englishman and won Mr. Universe in 1951, 1958 and 1965. He also played Hercules four times. Most importantly, though, he was an idol and mentor to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Park couldn’t save this movie, however, but what Mr. Universe has ever saved a film apart from Schwarzenegger?

This is a pretty mundane and monotonous movie where a whole lot of nothing happens, other than a buff dude solving problems by lifting heavy things.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Hercules picture, which means there’s not much to give a shit about. If you feel compelled to watch it, just watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Italian Hercules movies, as well as the other sword and sandal pictures of the era.

Documentary Review: Portrait: Orson Welles (1968)

Release Date: June, 1968
Directed by: François Reichenbach, Frédéric Rossif
Written by: Maurice Bessy, François Reichenbach, Frédéric Rossif
Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Pierre Vaneck (narrator)

41 Minutes

Review:

Orson Welles has always fascinated me. Well, at least since I learned about him extensively in my high school film studies course.

Luckily, there are a ton of biographies and documentaries about the man and his work.

This documentary is unique though, as it was made for French television in the ’60s. I guess it didn’t actually air and was sort of lost to time and only resurfaced after being included in a Criterion Collection featuring some of Welles’ work.

The short film doesn’t play like a standard biographical documentary, though. It really just follows Welles around a bit, talking about his struggles in getting his art made, while also editing in some clips of Welles interviews.

This is a pretty up close and personal peek into Welles’ life at the time that this was made and honestly, it feels kind of like a time capsule.

While I wouldn’t call this a spectacular piece or the best of the many Welles documentaries, it is still worth a look for those who feel like they may want to see the man, as himself, more intimately.

I also couldn’t find a trailer for this short ’60s documentary, probably because one doesn’t exist, so I instead posted one of my favorite Welles scenes of all-time.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Orson Welles documentaries, which there are plenty of.

Documentary Review: Los Angeles: City of Film-Noir (2015)

Also known as: Los Angeles: Cité du Film Noir (original French title)
Release Date: February 28th, 2015 (France)
Directed by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Written by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Cast: James Ellroy, Eddie Muller, Alain Silver

Wichita Films, 52 Minutes

Review:

This is a short one hour documentary that specifically focuses on film-noir that has encapsulated the City of Los Angeles.

The documentary features only three people, which doesn’t seem like enough but all three men do have extensive knowledge on the subject.

James Ellroy has lived in L.A. his entire life and has written noir-esque crime novels, two of which were made into major neo-noir motion pictures: L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia.

Eddie Muller is a film-noir historian that runs the Film-Noir Foundation, restoring lost noir classics to HD beauty, as well as having gone on to host the Turner Classic Movies weekly program, Noir Alley.

Alain Silver is a film producer and author that has spent extensive time working in the realm of noir.

So there’s a lot of meat and potatoes here to chew on in regards to the subject matter.

Still, more talking heads would’ve been great and I think that this is something that could’ve gone on for longer than 52 minutes because of how interesting the subject matter is.

If you dig classic film-noir, this is certainly worth a watch. In fact, as opposed to just a trailer, I posted the full documentary below.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on film-noir. Several can be found on YouTube.