Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

Release Date: October 24th, 1978
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz by William F. Brown
Music by: Charlie Smalls, various
Cast: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene, Roberta Flack (uncredited), Quincy Jones (uncredited), Luther Vandross (uncredited)

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.” – Scarecrow, “That’s beautiful! Who said that?” – Dorothy, “[modestly] I did.” – Scarecrow

It’s been ages since I’ve seen this but I enjoyed it back in the day. Mainly, because I always thought the sets, style and overall visual look of it was pretty awesome. Although, it was also loaded with people I like such as Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and more.

It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered that this was directed by Sidney Lumet with a script by Joel Scumacher. Also, Quincy Jones was very involved in the production. Having a newfound understanding of the talent involved in this made me want to revisit it with fairly fresh eyes and ears.

I’m really glad that I did, as it still captivated me and pulled me into its magical world.

Now the film has its share of flaws but it’s one of those movies that’s so fun and sweet that you don’t really care about the imperfections.

While Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, I still think she’s pretty great in this once you suspend disbelief. Originally, the film was supposed to star the young lead actress from the stage musical but Ross really pulled some strings to get this part. Honestly, I don’t blame her and movies are a cutthroat business.

Anyway, Ross is still Ross and she has immense talent, which shines through in her performance. Also, her scenes with Michael Jackson are so genuine and affectionate that it transcends the picture. The two were great friends before this film went into production and I think that personal connection really boosted their performances.

Nipsey Russell is tremendous as the Tin Man, as is Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion.

I have to say, though, the absolute highlight of the film for me is the grand performance by Mabel King, this film’s version of the wicked witch, as she makes her factory workers slave away. Man, this scene is just amazing to watch from the size of the set, it’s design, the amount of performers in the sequence and King’s perfect performance.

Two other really solid sequences are the one where Dorothy meets the Munchkins, which was filmed at the somewhat dilapidated New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. It was a site built for the 1964 World’s Fair but it created such an interesting looking location for Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The other was the Emerald City sequence, which was filmed at the foot of the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful and opulent scene with great music and considering the world we live in now after 9/11, the scene just has much more meaning now. It makes you really appreciate the beauty and immensity of those two iconic structures.

Overall, this is a lively and jubilant picture. I typically don’t like musicals but this is one of the few that I do enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Dudes (1987)

Release Date: September 18th, 1987 (Toronto Film Festival)
Directed by: Penelope Spheeris
Written by: Randall Jahnson
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Jon Cryer, Catherine Mary Stewart, Daniel Roebuck, Flea, Lee Ving, Glenn Withrow

Vista Organization, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Look, Milo, we’re talking about real life here, okay? Real life is not California. Real life is a shit sandwich and every day you gotta take another bite.” – Grant

Dudes is a pretty cool movie for its time. It sees three teenage punk rockers from Queens go cross-country in an effort to make it to California and hopefully a new, better future.

However, along the way, while camping out in the desert of Arizona, the three teens are attacked by a gang of vicious rednecks and one of the boys is murdered and their stuff is then stolen.

The two surviving teens find the local cops to be useless and ultimately, decide to take down this gang by themselves. Along comes the local tough, hot chick that teaches them how to actually shoot a gun properly.

Now maybe the premise sounds a bit wonky but the story works well within the world that this film creates for itself. Sure, the movie is a comedy but it’s still got a lot of real drama and heart to it. I also think that Jon Cryer was the perfect guy to handle what was needed for the lead role. He’s good at comedy, can handle serious stuff and he’s likable as hell and can give a convincing performance with the right material.

I also really enjoyed Daniel Roebuck as his large, punk rock sidekick. While Roebuck looks like the more imposing of the two, I like that this movie’s plot doesn’t just run with that and it gives us something more realistic where the big punk rocker is more of a gentle giant.

Catherine Mary Stewart was perfect as the local girl. I’ve always loved seeing her ever since I first watched The Last Starfighter, as a kid. Here, she reminds me a lot of her tough girl role in Night of the Comet, which is my favorite role she’s ever played.

Additionally, you have two real musicians in this. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays the friend who is murdered by the gang while Lee Ving of Fear is the leader of the scumbag gang. Both of these guys brought their A-game to the picture and showed they had legitimate acting chops.

Dudes really is a western movie at its core. Being that it takes place in what was modern times when it was made doesn’t really matter, as it follows the beats of that genre. Maybe there are other punk rock neo-westerns out there but I don’t think I’ve seen any others and it’s kind of a cool mix now that I’ve seen it come together.

All that being said, I dug this movie quite a bit. It was well cast, the story was decent but made better by the performances and it leaves you pretty satisfied at the end.

Rating: 6.75/10

Documentary Review: Woodstock 99: Peace Love and Rage (2021)

Release Date: July 23rd, 2021
Directed by: Garret Price
Music by: Noel Hogan, Sindri Mar Sigfusson, various
Cast: various

Ringer Films, Polygram Entertainment, HBO Documentary Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I nearly went to Woodstock ’99. In retrospect, I’m glad I missed this disaster but honestly, it would’ve still been an insane experience that stuck with me for the rest of my life, assuming I wasn’t one of the people that died an unfortunate death caused by a myriad of reasons.

This documentary really dives deep into those reasons and exposes the levels of mismanagement, poor decisions, poor conditions, riotous musical lineup, sexual assaults, overpriced everything and the angsty temperament of the youth at the time.

I think that this does a decent job of throwing out a lot of accusations and theories and then analyzes them, allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions. Granted, many of the talking heads try to steer the conversation in their own ways.

All things considered, this was still a really well put together documentary that covered a hell of a lot of ground in under two hours. Plus, there’s a lot of information that I don’t think was readily available or reported on at the time. With all the pieces laid out, this was intriguing and fairly fascinating.

The nearly two hours flew by and I was kind of surprised when it started to wrap up. I’ve got to give credit to the filmmakers for the pacing, editing and keeping this thing as engaging as it was from start-to-finish.

I feel like we’re in an era where documentaries spend more time beating a dead horse and force feeding you their agenda without all the facts. It’s refreshing that this seemed to just lay it all on the table and let you ponder all of it freely.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: Rock & Rule (1983)

Also known as: Ring of Power, Drats (working titles), Fantasia de Rock (Brazil)
Release Date: April 15th, 1983 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Clive A. Smith
Written by: John Halfpenny, Peter Sauder, Patrick Loubert
Music by: Patricia Cullen, various
Cast: Don Francks, Susan Roman, Paul Le Mat, Catherine O’Hara, Debbie Harry (singing voice), Lou Reed (singing voice)

Nelvana, Anaguel Films, Canada Trust, Famous Players, United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 77 Minutes

Review:

“She can sing, or she can scream. But she still pissed me off.” – Mok

While I’d get my mum to rent me adult animated features all the time when I was a kid because she thought they were just cartoons, this is one that I never got to see.

I’m not sure what I would’ve thought about it, as a kid, but seeing it for the first time, as an adult, it’s kind of drab.

Granted, I really liked the music. The bands and musicians that the movie featured were cool and the general concept was interesting too but the story was slow and drab and I just never felt all that invested in it.

Additionally, I liked the character design but the animation came off a bit clunky in places.

I also don’t like leaving reviews that are incredibly short but I don’t know what else to say about this film. It’s not terrible but it’s also not terribly engaging and falls flat in just about every way.

I still can’t call this a bad animated film but I also can’t consider it a good one, either.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other adult animated features of the ’70s and ’80s.

Documentary Review: ReMastered: Tricky Dick and the Man In Black (2018)

Release Date: 2018
Directed by: Sara Dosa, Barbara Kopple
Written by: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Music by: Johnny Cash, Glen Matisoff (music coordinator)
Cast: Johnny Cash (archive footage), Richard Nixon (archive footage)

All Rise Films, Triage Entertainment, Netflix, 59 Minutes

Review:

Tricky Dick and the Man In Black is the story of how Johnny Cash and Richard Nixon crossed paths during a turbulent time in America. A time that was more turbulent than now, if you can believe it.

This covers how Nixon reached out to Cash to get him to perform at the White House, which is a hell of an accomplishment for any artist, regardless of who’s got the keys to the country. And this obviously happened before Nixon’s crimes would be exposed and he would go on to severely damage the reputation of the United States government.

Anyway, in 1970, Cash did perform at the White House. However, Cash soon developed some serious reservations about it as it became apparent to him that his ideals clashed with that of the president.

This examines what led up to the concert at the White House and the reasoning behind how Cash ultimately wasn’t happy with the regime that was in charge of the land he loved.

Overall, the subject matter was damn interesting but I feel like this documentary was too short and didn’t really get deep enough into the mud. But this story is mostly told through talking head interviews by people who aren’t Cash and Nixon, as they’re no longer with us.

This was still a worthwhile and entertaining watch, however. It just needed more meat and felt incomplete. 

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: We Summon the Darkness (2019)

Release Date: February 28th, 2019 (Mammoth Film Festival – US)
Directed by: Marc Meyers
Written by: Alan Trezza
Music by: Timothy Williams
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Logan Miller, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville

Common Enemy, thefyzz, Magna Entertainment, Saban Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

I grew up in the ’80s and I’ve always been nostalgic about that decade (and the early ’90s, as well). However, Hollywood has kind of ruined that, as they continue to tap ’80s nostalgia, again and again, because they don’t have original ideas and want to piggyback off of the success of the phenomenon that was the first season of Stranger Things, which is now five years-old.

We Summon the Darkness sets itself in 1988 rural Indiana, which is also the state where Stranger Things takes place. However, once you watch the film, it could’ve taken place in any time and didn’t need to be an “eighties” flick. Heavy metal still exists, as do crazy, religious fanatics. But whatever.

The film is also predictable as hell and pretty damn disappointing. I actually like Alexandra Daddario and not just because she’s fucking gorgeous. However, she’s insufferable in this and that’s not because she’s the main villain. Something about the performance is just off-putting where it should actually be really sexy and cool in the same way that hot horror villainesses of the past were sexy and cool.

Maybe this is due to Daddario also being a producer on the movie and she felt like she had to try a lot harder. And really, her performance feels like one of an actor trying way too hard.

The rest of the cast is just okay. No one really stands out but I did enjoy Maddie Hasson’s character, as the sidekick killer that always had to pee. I thought her performance was more natural, less forced and she brought some good comedic timing in at points.

Everyone else is totally forgettable except for Johnny Knoxville, whose role is minor but is still really effective. In fact, there’s one scene where he really has to act and he does fine with it.

As far as the plot, the film follows three females that lure three metal heads to their country mansion after a concert. They then drug the dudes, tie them to chairs and try to murder them in the same fashion as a Satanic cult. They actually aren’t a Satanic cult but they are trying to use the Satanic panic of the time to lure people towards their Jesus cult… or something. I don’t know, the whole premise is kind of retarded.

We Summon the Darkness is just dull and unimpressive and it’s also derivative as hell while believing itself to be cool, edgy and unique.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other horror films about cults, killer families or weird small towns.

Documentary: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995)

Also known as: The Lost Films of Orson Welles (UK TV title)
Release Date: October, 1995 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: Orson Welles, Vassili Silovic, Oja Kodar
Written by: Orson Welles, Vassili Silovic, Roland Zag
Music by: Simon Cloquet-Lafollye
Cast: Orson Welles, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Charles Gray, Jonathan Lynn, Oja Kodar

Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), La Cinquieme Boa Filmproduction Ag Zurich, 88 Minutes

Review:

When Orson Welles died in the mid-’80s, he left behind some unfinished work.

None of it really saw the light of day until the ’90s when his creative and life partner Oja Kodar started compiling these works together and teamed up with other creatives in an effort to release them in some form. This is one of those releases.

This first debuted in 1995 and it’s really an anthology of unfinished films. Although, it feels more like of an anthology of shorts due to it being a varied mix of stuff, mostly little segments or scenes.

Overall, this isn’t all that cohesive and plays like a video mixtape of random Welles ideas that were put to film but never truly realized or massaged into what they could’ve been. That certainly doesn’t mean this is bad but it feels more like peering into his creative process and his experimentation. Honestly, I’m not sure what his plan was, if any.

I guess it’s hard to interpret what’s here but it’s still entertaining and the man was a fucking legend.

I can see people that are unfamiliar with Welles or who don’t already appreciate his work not digging this film at all. That’s fine. But for those who are intrigued by the man’s creativity and charm, it’s a fun look into what could’ve been.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Orson Welles documentaries and films, many of which have already been reviewed here.

Video Game Review: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Arcade)

As much as I loved playing the Sega Genesis version of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, I was always a bit bummed that it wasn’t the same game as the arcade version, which I loved even more but barely got to play, as the arcade machines weren’t very common in my area.

Most people probably only know the Genesis version, which is a side and vertical scrolling game. The arcade version is a top-down view.

Now the gameplay and mechanics are damn near the same but the robot mode in the arcade is a lot better.

Fans of the Genesis game should remember how f’n cool it was to turn into the robot but if you just missed the shooting star on the screen, you missed out on robot mode. In the arcade version, the monkey just shows up and blesses you with the robot transformation and then you get to rain down superior laser fire on the baddies!

The game still has the special attack, which sees you break out into the “Smooth Criminal” dance, as your enemies join in and then die. Well, unless they’re super strong like some of the baddies late in the game.

For the most part, this has cool level design, it’s easy to navigate and less of a maze than the Genesis game.

Also, I think it’s fairly short. I was surprised that I beat it as quickly as I did but as a kid playing this, I never got very far.

Overall, this is the superior version of the Moonwalker video games. It’s held up well and it’s still fun to play.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the very different Sega Genesis version of the game, as well as other action arcade games of the late ’80s/early ’90s.