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: The Dead Talk Back (1957/1993)

Release Date: 1993
Directed by: Merle S. Gould
Written by: Merle S. Gould
Music by: Don Cheek, George Rhoden, Van Phillips (uncredited)
Cast: Aldo Farnese, Scott Douglas, Laura Brock, Earl Sands, Myron Natwick, Kyle Stanton, Sammy Ray

Headliner Productions, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Tellin’ them innocent kids stories about the dead and their hauntings! That’s the work of the devil. You’ll pay for it. The Devil! That man is the Devil Himself!” – Christy Mattling, “Oh shut up, you potentate of righteousness!” – Renee Coliveil

The Dead Talk Back was a lost film; shot in 1957, it never saw the light of day. Nearly four decades later, however, it was discovered in a warehouse and then found a video release in 1993 by Sinister Cinema. A year later, it was ripped to shreds courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

At the start of this picture, I was taken aback by the really bad opening titles. But once the film cut to the first scene and the fourth wall was broken by the paranormal scientist guy explaining what we were about to see and the “science” behind the dead’s ability to speak to us, I was sort of captivated.

The opening was so bizarre that it was intriguing. It wasn’t something that you really see from the era in which this was made and it showed me that this schlock-y filmmaker was possibly ahead of his time or that he was so bad he broke the rules of the medium without realizing he was doing so. I think it might be a little bit of both because as hammy as it was, it still aroused my curiosity in a way that was positively effective to the narrative of the movie.

Beyond that, however, everything really does sort of turn to shit.

This paranormal scientist lives in a house with a bunch of roommates. One of the girls is then killed by a crossbow, which is pretty brutal and over the top for 1957. Anyway, the paranormal scientist is pretty sure that one of his housemates murdered her. The police also believe this so they hire the scientist to conduct a paranormal investigation.

The scientist interviews his housemates in an effort to draw out clues or a confession. He can’t really talk to the dead yet so he makes it appear that he can, hoping that the experience will cause the killer to crack under the pressure.

The killer is discovered and then the scientist admits to his ruse but says that he will eventually find a way to communicate with the deceased.

I actually like the concept and thought that the plot was interesting, however, it was unfortunately executed poorly and the film is mostly drab and boring despite a few neat highlights.

It keeps you a bit on edge, thinking that something paranormal may actually happen but I like that it doesn’t and that this is realistic in that way, as opposed to going for a cheap, predictable thrill. I’d like to think that this was an intentional subversion of expectations but I think it had more to do with the limitations of the production.

The Dead Talk Back is mostly a bad movie. But it was still engaging in parts and quite unique.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime/mystery movies shown on MST3K.

Film Review: London After Midnight – Reconstructed Version (1927/2002)

Also known as: Der Vampyr (Austria), The Hypnotist (UK)
Release Date: December 3rd, 1927
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Waldemar Young, Joseph W. Farnham
Based on: The Hypnotist by Tod Browning
Cast: Lon Chaney Sr., Marceline Day, Conrad Nagel, Henry B. Walthall, Polly Moran, Edna Tichenor, Claude King

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 65 Minutes, 47 Minutes (reconstructed version) 

Review:

There probably aren’t many people alive who have seen London After Midnight, as the only surviving print of this 1927 film went up in flames during the 1965 MGM vault fire.

The version of this film that I watched was a reconstruction, which originally aired on Turner Classic Movies back in 2002. So this is a review of that and not the actual finished movie itself. So the final rating below doesn’t reflect the actual film, as I haven’t seen it.

That being said, the reconstruction was done as best as it could be with the material that was available. They worked off of the script and used production stills to represent the scenes.

While this doesn’t have the life of a moving picture and doesn’t really capture the full performance of the legendary Lon Chaney Sr., the stills do a good job of painting the right kind of picture and showing you the tone within the film.

I wasn’t crazy about the film’s score but it does feel accurate to the scores of the time when this originally came out. It just sounds a bit generic, overall.

If you are a Chaney fan, you should give this a watch because it’s as close as one can get to experiencing this film, which was considered to be one of Chaney’s greatest performances.

Hopefully, one day, another print will resurface but being that it’s been lost for 53 years, that may be very unlikely.

Recently, some footage was found but it was just scenes clipped for a trailer. Still, maybe an updated reconstruction with that footage will be edited together in the future.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Lon Chaney Sr. horror pictures of the 1920s.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. The Wolfman (1983)

Also known as: Densetsu-no Kyoju Ookami Otoko tai Gojira, lit. Legendary Beast Wolfman Against Godzilla (Japan)
Release Date: Never released in a completed form (made in 1983)
Directed by: Shizuo Nakajima
Written by: unknown
Based on: Godzilla by Toho Co. Ltd., The Wolf Man by Universal Pictures
Music by: Akira Ifukube (stock music)
Cast: unknown

Unknown Running Time (about 15 Minutes has been released)

Review:

Godzilla vs. The Wolfman is a motion picture that was never completed. So I guess it is hard to review the film as a full body of work but being a big fan of Godzilla and the Wolf Man, as well as kaiju movies and “what ifs”, I had always been curious about this unfinished film.

This has been something that I’ve heard about for a few years but wasn’t sure whether or not it was some wild rumor or actually true. Well, I have now seen the footage that still exists and even shared it below, as opposed to the typical trailer I throw at the end of my film reviews.

From what I know of the plot, there is a werewolf loose in Japan. He happens to get irradiated and thus, grows to kaiju size. Godzilla crosses paths with this new menace and a big battle ensues. Godzilla is more similar to the ’50s Godzilla and what we would see a year after this in The Return of Godzilla. What I mean by that, is he isn’t the happy and heroic kid friendly kaiju of the late ’60s and early ’70s, he is more of a badass that doesn’t really care whether or not he ruins your town.

The werewolf transformation looks a lot like what was done in An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, a few years before this was made. For limited resources and not being made by an actual studio, it isn’t half bad.

The full-size giant Wolf Man suit is pretty damn cool. He looks like a white, arctic wolf and resembles a lynx more than an actual wolf but I dig it. As a monster, he is certainly very different than anything Godzilla has faced before. I love the unique take on the classic Wolf Man character. I guess he would be most similar to King Caesar from 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla but even then, he is his own kaiju.

While this film did employ several people who had worked on Godzilla pictures before and after this, this was not being made by Toho like all the other films. This was essentially a fan film made by real kaiju movie makers.

Filming started in 1983 and went into the mid-’80s. The editing, sound design and visual effects production is still ongoing from what I’ve read. Currently, the clips that exist have Akira Ifukube’s old school Godzilla scores mixed into the action. I’m not sure if it is a place holder for something else to come or if this will even be completed. It’s hard to say but director Shizuo Nakajima claims that there is over ten hours of raw footage.

It is really well done for what it is and seeing it actually come together one day would be really cool. I just don’t know if Toho would ever allow that, as they’re very protective of the Godzilla brand.

As for now, I guess the world will have to enjoy the only footage that exists but at least we have something real to look at, as opposed to just rumors and speculation as to whether or not this film was just legend or fact.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: It’s pretty unique as a Godzilla movie but the tone is probably most like 1984’s The Return of Godzilla.

 

Film Review: Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers – The Producer’s Cut (1995)

Release Date: September 29th, 1995
Directed by: Joe Chappelle
Written by: Daniel Farrands
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth, Paul Rabjohns
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Mitch Ryan

Miramax Films, Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 88 Minutes (theatrical), 95 Minutes (Producer’s Cut)

Review:

“I’ve wanted to believe it. But I’ve felt Michael’s presence, behind these walls, just like all those years ago. Plotting, staring, Staring. Waiting for some signal. I can’t go through this again, not alone. Please, as my colleague, as my friend. Help me.” – Dr. Loomis

For those that don’t know, there are two different versions of the film Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. There was the theatrical cut and then there was a producer’s cut, which was lost and never to be released.

In the late 90s, The Producer’s Cut started to circulate at horror conventions on a crappy bootleg VHS tape. The quality was generally poor on every copy in circulation but the fans who did get to see it, considered it a far superior version of the film.

Recently, it was released commercially as an added bonus to the Halloween Blu-ray box set. After demand increased and people didn’t want to have to buy all the movies again, just to access The Producer’s Cut, it was released on its own. I was able to rent it on Amazon.

So is it truly “a masterpiece” as some have said?

No, not really. It is an enjoyable slasher flick if you are a fan of the genre and especially if you like Michael Myers. The problem with it, is that the gist of the plot that made up the theatrical version is still intact. In fact, this version expands on it further. What I’m specifically referring to is all the stuff surrounding Michael’s origin and the cult that commands him.

Yes, apparently Michael Myers has been controlled by a cult all this time. I’m not really sure how it all works and the film attempted to explain some things but it did a poor job of it.

What makes these films work is the mystery of who Michael Myers is. We know he killed his sister when he was 6 years-old and we know he shows up on Halloween to murder his family members but we didn’t need an over bloated explanation. Knowing how the trick works destroys the magic.

I thought that the approach and story they wanted to tell was ambitious and maybe it could have actually added something good to the mythos. The execution was just bad in either version of the film. Yes, I love the Halloween mythos and you have to try and offer up something new with each picture. I’m not against the cult idea, I just don’t like how it panned out.

It was interesting to see a very young Paul Rudd in this film, his debut, but with the stardom he has now reached, he becomes more of a distraction in this tale. But at least you get to see Ant-Man versus Michael Myers – a dream match no one asked for.

The ending in both versions of the film are different. They are also both pretty bad. At least the theatrical film ended with some action, where The Producer’s Cut ended with (*spoiler alert*) Paul Rudd dressing up like a warlock and putting runes on the floor, which basically just turned Michael Myers off – allowing the good guys to escape. I thought Michael Myers was really just Rain Man and he was counting runes like Dustin Hoffman counted toothpicks.

Additionally, The Producer’s Cut has less gore than the theatrical version. I don’t really care about that either way but the studio wanted an overabundance of violence and that was added to the film after re-shoots. Also, the character of Jamie Lloyd lived longer and had more of a story in The Producer’s Cut.

It was cool to finally see this version of the film but it wasn’t the over-hyped magnificent Michael Myers magnum opus that horror snobs who saw it, bragged about. I was left disappointed by what I was anticipating but pretty satisfied with what the film was overall. And, at least, it is better than any Halloween film that came after it, except for H2O, which is better than I remembered but I’ll review that one next.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other Halloween films.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films’ by John LeMay

I am a big fan of John LeMay’s first two big books on kaiju film history, so when I found out about this one, I had to get a copy.

The subject of this installment also really peaked my interest, as I already knew a lot about existing kaiju pictures but this book was all about the lost films in the genre. It looks at films that were actually made but are now lost or destroyed, films that went into production but were never made, alternate versions of films that were scrapped, as well as some fan produced movies.

This is one of the best books I have ever read on the kaiju genre and it is certainly a must own for kaiju fans. It was just stacked with so much information on films that the vast majority of people have never heard about. It truly digs deep and fleshes out all these kaiju pictures that were lost or just not meant to be.

With a third book on the subject, John LeMay, in my opinion, has become the best English speaking writer on these types of films. I can’t imagine how much time was devoted to researching all the titles covered here. There are literally dozens of films discussed and analyzed with a few appendices added on at the end for dozens more where he wasn’t able to get enough info to write up anything larger than a blurb.

I have always been a big fan of “what ifs”, especially in regards to movies. This book is cool as hell and a lot of fun. LeMay deserves a ton of props for the work that went into this. I hope it pays off, in that this book lives on for years to come.

Film Review: Miami Connection (1987)

Release Date: August 26th, 1988 (Central Florida theatrical run), December 11th, 2012 (re-release)
Directed by: Y.K. Kim
Written by: Joseph Diamond, Richard Park, Y.K. Kim
Music by: Jon McCallum
Cast: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, William Ergle, Siyung Jo, Kathie Collier, Joseph Diamond, Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti

P.J.K. Group, Drafthouse Films, 83 Minutes

Review:

Why this film never got real distribution in the 1980s is beyond me. Y.K. Kim, the director and star of the film, almost bankrupted himself making this picture. Distributors, at the time, laughed at him and told him to throw his work away because it was trash. While it had a small three week run in Orlando, Daytona and Melbourne, Florida, it wasn’t until an employee of Alamo Drafthouse theaters bought this, sight unseen on eBay in 2012, that the film got real recognition.

Alamo Drafthouse put this film out through their distribution company Drafthouse Films. Since that time, people have seen it, it has been riffed on the big screen by RiffTrax and it has gained a big cult following. After breaking himself financially and after decades of his film being lost seemingly forever, Y.K. Kim got to see all that hard work finally pay off.

Miami Connection is a film that would have blown my mind, had I seen it in the 80s. While I could see it not doing well theatrically, it would have been huge on the rental market. It is a film that is superior to most of the low budget pictures trying to capitalize on the martial arts fandom that existed in huge numbers, at the time.

While the acting in Miami Connection leaves a lot to be desired, it is a perfect mix of martial arts, pop music, friendship and fucking ninjas! Yes, ninjas! Ninjas make everything better. Ninjas can make a turkey sandwich turn into a 36 oz. tomahawk ribeye.

The action in this film is better than great. It certainly surpasses what was the norm in 1987. It is heavy on the Tae Kwon Do, which featured a lot of amazing looking kicks. Again, it is heavy on ninjas. In fact, the big grand finale that pits our heroes against a gang of ninjas in the Florida swamps is so damn good that it makes solid 80s action films feel pretty mediocre by comparison.

The story isn’t even important here. Hell, the story is pretty bad and incredibly cheesy. But it does serve the purpose of making this group of friends a bad ass pop band that kills ninjas on the reg. So maybe the story is actually friggin’ amazing!

The absolute best thing about this movie is the music. It is ahead of its time. You see, it is 80s synth tunes but it sounds more like one of these modern retro DJs that uses modern technology to create throwback 80s instrumental jams. It sounds like something Kavinsky would make now. What that means, is that it has a strong 80s flair but there is something about it that makes it more refined and almost modern.

Look, you’re probably going to love this film or hate it. If you hate it, you probably aren’t all that cool, to be honest and I don’t want your film recommendations.

Also, the Maurice Smith in this picture is the same Maurice Smith that was a pretty good MMA fighter in the 90s and early 00s.