Film Review: Serpico (1973)

Release Date: December 5th, 1973 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Waldo Salt, Norman Wexler
Based on: Serpico by Peter Maas
Music by: Mikis Theodorakis
Cast: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe, Biff McGuire, Barabara Eda-Young, Cornelia Sharpe, Edward Grover, Tony Roberts, Allan Rich, Albert Henderson, Joseph Bova, Woodie King Jr., James Tolkan, Bernard Barrow, Nathan George, M. Emmet Walsh, Ted Beniades, F. Murray Abraham (uncredited), Judd Hirsch (uncredited)

Artists Entertainment Complex, Produzioni De Laurentiis International Manufacturing Company, 130 Minutes

Review:

“The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier.” – Frank Serpico

The early ’70s were a hell of a great time for the still young Al Pacino’s career. Not only did he star in two near perfect Godfather movies but he also starred in two great films by legendary director Sidney Lumet: Dog Day Afternoon and this, Serpico.

Out of the four films, this may be my least favorite but man, it’s still incredible, holds up exceptionally well and boasts one of Pacino’s greatest performances, as he plays former detective Frank Serpico, who was instrumental in shedding light on the corrupt activities of the New York Police Department of his time.

Pacino carries this film from scene-to-scene but honestly, I don’t think that was a difficult thing for him to do, even in the early ’70s. The rest of the cast isn’t full of well-known actors like his other films from the era, so he really steps his game up here. That’s not to say that the actors in this aren’t talented, they certainly are, you just can’t compare them to the large cast in the Godfather films or the other great character actors that were weaved into Dog Day Afternoon.

The greatness of this motion picture has just as much to do with the direction of Lumet, as it does the acting of Pacino, though. The two men were one hell of a team when they were together on the same project.

Lumet proves, once again, that he is a master craftsman behind the camera. This gritty, too real film has stupendous cinematography from the lighting, shot framing and overall visual tone. This is generally a dark movie but it has a lot of texture to it and life within every frame. It’s brooding and haunting yet it has energy and passion. It’s almost like a cinematic yin and yang, executed to perfection.

Additionally, Lumet just knows how to pull the best performances out of his actors. I’m not sure how involved he was in casting the whole film but I’d have to guess that he was either very involved or used someone that he trusted with his life. Everyone in this is perfect for their role, regardless of its size.

Ultimately, this is a damn good movie in just about every regard. While I found the pacing a little slow in a few parts, everything still felt necessary to the story and the end result is impressive.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime films of the 1970s, especially those starring Al Pacino.

Film Review: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Also known as: I Am Legend, The Naked Terror (working titles), The Damned Walk at Midnight (alternative title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1964
Directed by: Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Written by: Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Based on: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi Stuart

Associated Producers (API), Produzioni La Regina, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Another day to live through. Better get started.” – Robert Morgan

When I was a kid, this was a movie that bored me to tears. I didn’t revisit it again for decades because I thought it was so drab and slow. However, I wanted to give it a fair shot and this time around, I liked it a lot. 

I guess my memories of it weren’t all that accurate either, as I just remembered the scenes of Vincent Price driving around with bodies everywhere and then spending all his time reinforcing his house and lying around on the couch as zombie vampires called his name from outside. All these things do happen, however there is much more to the picture.

We do get flashbacks to the time before the virus completely wrecked the planet. We see Price as a scientist who has a hard time believing what’s happening because it’s… well, so unbelievable. After spending so much time with Price alone, these flashback scenes are a welcome sight, as we get to see him interact with human beings again. All the slow, monotonous stuff served a real purpose with the narrative and tone of the film. Like Price, you yearn for more humans and when you get them, you feel that emotional effect.

Apparently, this film was supposed to be produced and shot by Hammer Films. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen and production moved to an Italian company. They were able to lock down Vincent Price and frankly, despite my poor taste as a kid, the end result is something incredibly worthwhile.

This film also features one of Price’s best performances, which is very reserved and somber. Price acts very much in contrast to what most people remember him for, which was his flamboyant and energetic characters. Seeing Price play his role this way, also adds to the emotional effect of the picture. I’ve seen enough of Price to understand his range and this wasn’t the first or last time he played a softer, more subdued character, but this story might make it his best version of that.

The Last Man On Earth is a film that most horror historians look at really fondly. I had a bad take on it for years and I’m glad that I decided to give it a chance. After seeing it now, I feel like maybe I never finished it, as a kid, as all I remembered from it was the stuff that happened in the first act.

I certainly didn’t remember the ending, which is quite impactful.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: early zombie films, as well as other films based off of this story like The Omega Man and I Am Legend.

Documentary Review: Easy to Learn, Hard to Master: The Fate of Atari (2017)

Release Date: February, 2017 (Italy)
Directed by: Tomaso Walliser
Written by: Tomaso Walliser
Cast: Bill Herd, Nolan Bushnell, Manny Gerard, Ray Kassar, Al Alcorn, Ralph H. Baer, Joe Decuir, David Crane, Howard Scott Warshaw, Dannis Koble, Ed Rotberg, David Rolfe, Steve Russel, Chuck Peddle, Steve Wozniak, Eugene Jarvis, Steven Kent, Chris Kohler, Walter Day, Minoru Arakawa

Junk Food Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I watched this a few years back but for some reason didn’t review it. I’m often times suffering from whiskey-induced Swiss cheese brain.

Anyway, I recently revisited the documentary The Commodore Story: Changing the World 8-Bits at a Time and it got me thinking about this similar documentary about Atari, so I figured I’d revisit it.

For fans of retrogaming, this is definitely worth a watch as Atari’s story is really interesting and full of colorful characters who were actually involved in this documentary.

Like most good documentaries about pop culture things, this one is loaded full of talking head interviews with the people who were there and lived the story.

This goes back into how Atari came to be, what initially inspired it and how they went to the moon and eventually came crashing back down to Earth.

Overall, this is a fun, engaging film about a company everyone should love. Granted, not everyone has a love of old school gaming but there are also people who pay to be pissed on.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other historical documentaries about the video game industry.

Film Review: Dolls (1987)

Also known as: Ghost… Dolls! (Thailand), Bonecos Assassinos (Portugal), Bonecas Macabras (Brazil)
Release Date: March, 1987 (Los Angeles International Film Festival)
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Ed Naha
Music by: Fuzzbee Morse, Victor Spiegel
Cast: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy Gordon, Cassie Stuart, Bunty Bailey, Carrie Lorraine

Taryn Productions Inc., Empire Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“And they remember you, Ralph. Toys are very loyal, and that is a fact.” – Gabriel

I originally saw this years ago and then a few more times on VHS when I was a teenager. It’s been a really long time, though, and it’s one of those movies that I enjoyed but hardly remember. I also didn’t realize, until more recently, that it was directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna, the guys behind Re-Animator and a slew of other mindfuck horror pictures.

What stood out the most to me, seeing this with pretty fresh eyes, is how damn good the special effects were. Considering this was made for very little money by a production company I’ve never even heard of (and I’m a massive ’80s film buff), the practical special effects were absolutely impressive.

However, I guess the level of craftsmanship in regards to the effects should be somewhat expected, as these guys did so much with so little in Re-Animator and From Beyond. The effects here are very different, though, as they had to create tiny dolls and have them interact with full-sized humans.

I’m assuming that they relied on stop-motion animation, some animatronic and puppetry work, as well as having some actors in costume or partial costumes to create the doll effects.

Beyond that, the story is pretty hokey and the acting isn’t anything to write home about but the film is still very enjoyable because the spectacle of it is really entertaining and as I’ve already said, technically impressive.

While I can’t consider this a classic or even near the top of Gordon or Yuzna’s best, it’s still a hell of an accomplishment that worked out satisfactorily. It’s just a goofy, fun flick with a lot of creativity put to good use and executed well.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other doll-centric horror films of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Also known as: Heyday (fake working title), M:i:III (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: April 24th, 2006 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J. J. Abrams
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Laurence Fishburne, Eddie Marsan, Greg Grunberg, Aaron Paul

MI 3 Film, Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes, 124 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“You can look at me with those judgmental eyes all you want, but I bullshit you not, I will bleed on the American flag to make sure those stripes stay red.” – Brassel

Mission: Impossible II was such a disappointment when I saw it in the theaters, that I never saw another Mission: Impossible film after it. However, I’ve heard great things about the more recent sequels and I’ve been motivated to go back and give the franchise another shot.

Having already revisited the first two films for review purposes, I have now reached the third one, which is the first one I’ve never seen. Granted, I knew about the gist of the story as a former roommate used to talk about the movie a lot. He was also a J. J. Abrams mark until 2009’s Star Trek kicked his hard-on into the sun.

Speaking of which, this is directed by J. J. Abrams. I actually have to say that this is one of the best films he’s directed, if not the best from the ones I’ve seen.

This actually doesn’t get wrecked by relying on too many of the tropes that have made some of Abrams’ other films and television shows, predictable and tiresome. Sure, there’s the whole MacGuffin thing and the big swerve and he also borrows heavily and obviously from other films, even ones in this picture’s own franchise, but the final product was entertaining and palatable.

The film is also helped by the performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise and most of the other key players. Hoffman really stands out in this and I might even say that his talent far exceeded what was needed for this movie.

The action sequences were good, even if some of them felt familiar. The bridge battle, for instance, was very True Lies. However, at least sequences like that didn’t just outright copy their influences and tried to do something unique. Now had we had Cruise reaching for his wife to save her from her car going into the ocean, I probably would’ve called shenanigans much louder.

One thing I did like about this film is that it seemed more serious than the two before it. With that, it kind of reinvents the series and wipes away the gigantic misstep that was the second film. Because of that, this is the best film out of the first three.

In the end, this was a solid, fun movie with good action, good characters and a few performances that were much better than they had to be. Although, the twist ending about the bad guys having someone on the inside was just a rehash of the ending from the first movie and it was kind of lame. But I guess Abrams couldn’t help himself.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: The New York Ripper (1982)

Also known as: Psycho Ripper, The Ripper (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1982 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci, Vincenzo Mannino, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Francesco De Masi
Cast: Jack Hedley, Paolo Malco, Almanta Suska, Alexandra Delli Colli

Silent Warrior Productions, Fulvia Film, 91 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 80 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“But you won’t understand me, you’ll never understand me! You’re too stupid! Quack! Quack! Quack!” – The Ripper

Not all Lucio Fulci movies are created equal. Some are very good and some are not so good. This one falls somewhere in the middle but actually gets some extra credit points for its ending, as I thought it was a good double twist that I didn’t see coming.

Anyway, this is pretty much a perfect marriage between giallo and slasher but it’s much grittier than a standard, vividly colored giallo. Maybe that has to do with it taking place in New York City and Fulci was trying for a Martin Scorsese aesthetic. But honestly, his giallos have never been as colorful as Argento’s or either Bava’s.

This is a really violent film that mixes gore and sexploitation in a way that only an Italian director can properly do. It has some seriously gruesome moments akin to that infamous eye scene from Fulci’s Zombi 2. One in particular sees the mysterious killer cut and torture a naked woman while laughing at the police over the phone, as they fell for his ruse and failed to stop him.

The killer is also interesting in how his serial killer personality talks like Donald Duck. He boisterously quacks between his threats like a sadistic, evil cartoon character and while that may sound kind of hokey, it’s actually effective and pretty unsettling.

Overall, this is pretty straightforward for a giallo or an urban slasher flick. It adds in a lot more sex stuff than average but I wouldn’t call any of that shocking. The only thing really shocking and pretty unnerving is the gruesomeness of some of the kills.

For whatever reason, this film is pretty highly regarded by die hard Fulci fans. I don’t think it’s a classic of the genre like many do but it’s certainly worthwhile for fans of similar films.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci horror movies, as well as Maniac and The Last Horror Film.

Film Review: Tenebrae (1982)

Also known as: Unsane (US alternative title)
Release Date: October 27th, 1982 (Tortona, Italy premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Music by: Goblin (credited as Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Massimo Morante)
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma

Sigma Cinematografica Roma, 101 Minutes, 91 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Let me ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver… Do you go and interview the president of Smith & Wesson?” – Peter Neal

Tenebrae or Unsane, as its also been called, is one of the Dario Argento movies that I’ve seen the least. In fact, it’s probably been twenty years since I last watched it. I kind of regret not revisiting it sooner, though, as my experience with it this time was pretty incredible.

While it’s not the best of Argento’s stories, it is one of his best directed films and it has some of the best visuals he’s ever done outside of Suspiria and Inferno.

This isn’t as stylish as his earliest giallo pictures but it feels more fine tuned and refined. It feels like the giallo style actually adapting and moving into a new decade. Now while the style was starting to disappear into the ’80s, this kept it alive for a bit longer and I think that’s because it feels like a more mature film. It certainly shows that Argento had really found his stride and in some regard, it almost plays like an Italian version of an early ’80s Brian De Palma neo-noir picture.

It’s almost uncanny that this was able to look so clean yet be so gritty and raw at the same time.

I think that some people may see this and think of it as watered down when compared to Argento’s earlier work but I think he really just tried to make a more palatable movie for a wider audience. Granted, Argento also doesn’t betray himself, as the finale gets incredibly bloody. However, the more reserved tone actually sets the climax up perfectly, as seeing an immense amount of vibrant red blood spray across a plain, white wall is pretty fucking jarring in an awesome way.

Additionally, this film features amazing camera work. There is a long tracking shot done by crane that is breathtaking to see and it has held up tremendously well. Also, some of the shots during the murder sequences are fantastic. The moment where you see cloth tear to reveal a woman filled with terror just as blood splashes across her face is, hands down, one of the best shots Argento ever captured.

Lastly, the score by three of the four members of regular Argento collaborators, Goblin, is one of their best. The film’s main theme would even be sampled by the French band Justice for two songs on their 2007 album Cross.

While this isn’t my favorite film of Argento’s from a story or even visual standpoint, it’s still a breathtaking experience that hit all the right notes and made me appreciate the director even more. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Dario Argento’s other giallo pictures.

Film Review: Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

Release Date: July 29th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Castellano & Pipolo (Italian version), Louis M. Heyward & Robert Kaufman (US version)
Music by: Les Baxter (US version), Lallo Gori (Italian version)
Cast: Vincent Price, Fabian, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Laura Antonelli, Mario Bava (cameo – uncredited)

Italian International Film, American International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“That’s not Rosanna. That’s a jigsaw puzzle.” – Bill Dexter

I haven’t seen this film in a long time and the two Dr. Goldfoot movies blended together in my memory. I was a bit intrigued to check this one out, though, as I noticed that it was directed by giallo and horror maestro, Mario Bava. He’s a director that has a fantastic style.

Sadly, this was a bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the first movie was great by any stretch of the imagination but it was entertaining and full of charming whimsy. This picture is a big step down.

I think that this may just be a problem with the American version of the film, however, as the jokes and gags don’t seem to land. This could be due to this being an Italian production, unlike its predecessor, and some of the humor got lost in poor translation.

The film does seem more concerned with showcasing gags than any sort of interesting, coherent story though.

I still enjoyed Vincent Price in this but his performance is weaker, overall, because he didn’t have his assistant from the first movie, who was a good goof for Price to play off of. They had good banter and decent chemistry but in this film, the new henchman barely speaks and just sort of follows orders.

The film’s humor is also goofier, as it relies pretty heavily on slapstick and people falling all over the place like a Benny Hill sketch.

Still, this isn’t a complete waste of time if you like ’60s era spy parodies and Vincent Price. He’s surrounded by a weaker cast but at least he’s still fun to watch when he gets to ham it up.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Dean Martin starring Matt Helms films.

Film Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Release Date: September 4th, 1971 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Paolo Cavara
Written by: Marcello Danon, Lucile Laks
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach

Da Ma Produzione, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.), 89 Minutes, 98 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

Paolo Cavara was better known for making mondo films. However, he also made two giallo pictures, this being one of them.

Since I had never seen this but heard good things, I figured I’d check it out. It also stars a young Giancarlo Giannini, as well as the immensely beautiful ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach.

Like many giallo pictures, this one plays like a proto-slasher movie. And while it is very artistic and vivid, as giallos go, it doesn’t look as overly stylized as the works of Argento or the two Bavas. Still, it is a beautiful looking picture, a product of its unique time and country of origin, but it feels a bit more grounded in a gritty reality.

The method of the killer in this movie is unique and kind of cool, as he kills his victims in the way that a spider wasp kills a tarantula: paralyzing them with the sting of a needle and then slicing open their stomachs as they are conscious and can feel the agonizing pain without the ability to fight back or scream.

Giannini plays the detective trying to stop the killer but in doing so, finds himself and his girlfriend as targets of the deranged, mysterious killer.

While I can’t put this on the same level as the best giallos to come out of Italy, it is still memorable because of its killer’s methods, as well as the superb cast.

This also came out just as the genre was finding its style and getting its stride. So it might not feel as refined, beautiful and as opulent as later films in the genre but it did help pave the way for them.

Overall, this was pretty enthralling from the perspective of one who generally likes these sort of films. I can’t necessarily call Cavara a giallo maestro just based off of this one film but it did make me want to check out his other giallo picture: Plot of Fear a.k.a. Bloody Peanuts.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’70s Italian giallo pictures.