Film Review: The Onion Field (1979)

Release Date: May 17th, 1979 (Cannes)
Directed by: Harold Becker
Written by: Joseph Wambaugh
Based on: The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
Music by: Eumir Deodato
Cast: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox, Christopher Lloyd, Priscilla Pointer, John de Lancie

Black Marble Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You’re policemen. Put your trust in God.” – LAPD Captain

I had never heard of this movie until the Criterion Channel put up a neo-noir collection, recently. Going through it, I figured I’d give this picture a watch, as it was one of the few in that collection that I hadn’t yet seen.

This also has James Woods and Ted Danson in it, so I was pretty intrigued, considering I had never stumbled across this.

The story is based on a true crime book and the film is written by the same author, which I guess helped keep things as accurate as possible. With real world stories, accuracy is hardly a priority for Hollywood.

First and foremost, this is incredibly well acted. Once the big, fucked up event in the film happens, John Savage’s acting goes to another level and the film switches gears, showing a once badass man break down because of the death of his partner and because the broken justice system is failing to make the killer pay for the crime.

The first hour of the story gives the background on the people and the events that led to a cop being murdered by a scumbag criminal. At the midway point of the film, we see the traffic stop that leads to the cop’s murder and his partner’s escape. The last half of the film focuses on the fallout and how the surviving cop can’t deal with justice not being served.

This is an emotionally heavy film in the back half and it leaves you incredibly pissed off, as you start to wonder if the scumbag is going to get away with the heinous, cold-blooded crime.

Beyond the great acting, this is a film that has great atmosphere. Watching it, it feels dark, confined and muggy. You feel stifled by the weight of it and feel the emotion pretty intensely. However, even with the genuine emotional connection to the primary character, the film really suffers from its pacing and structure. Something just felt a bit off in that regard and the film drags in points.

Still, I enjoyed this and was glad that I discovered it.

Rating: 6.75/10

Comic Review: Moon Knight by Bendis and Maleev – Ultimate Collection

Published: March 7th, 2018
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev

Marvel Comics, 264 Pages

Review:

After reading through the lengthy Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev run on Daredevil, I figured I’d give their run on Moon Knight a shot.

Reason being, I mostly liked Bendis’ Daredevil stuff other than how he didn’t know how to bring it to a close and his cringe romance shit. I also liked Maleev’s art, for the most part. Plus, I like the hell out of the Moon Knight character and wish I had read more of is stories over the years. I’m trying to rectify that now, as I’m older and have access to so much more.

This story is twelve issues long and it uses that space really well and wraps up much better than Bendis’ Daredevil run. I think that he went into this knowing where it needed to end and that since he had limited space to tell a story, he gave us something well structured that got to the point and gave us a satisfying conclusion.

In this story, we see Moon Knight dealing with his “hearing voices” problem in a fresh way. While he is recruited for a mission by Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man, he also starts seeing versions of them in his mind. Additionally, with such a close connection to them, he starts to use their gimmicks in his battles with L.A.’s criminal underworld.

That underworld is ruled by its own kingpin, similar to The Kingpin in New York City. However, this person’s identity is a mystery and Moon Knight is tasked with luring them out and discovering why exactly they wanted to buy a deactivated Ultron head.

Moon Knight also meets Echo, the two have a reluctant partnership but end up falling in love during their mission.

This becomes more and more high stakes as it rolls on. Out of the twelve issues, none of them are wasted on filler bullshit and the romance stuff is in there but it’s nowhere near as exhausting as what we got in Bendis’ Daredevil. It’s like Bendis improved in that regard and wrote something more natural and to the point. Nothing between Moon Knight and Echo seemed forced like it did between Daredevil and his wife Milla.

I also feel like Alex Maleev’s art was an improvement. It’s cleaner while also looking more detailed. It also fit the tone of the story pretty damn well.

I don’t want to say too much about the story, as there are some big reveals and twists but this is definitely worth reading if you want a superhero, neo-noir tale that isn’t Daredevil-centric.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Release Date: February 15th, 1976
Directed by: John Cassavetes
Written by: John Cassavetes
Music by: Bo Harwood
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, James Lew

Faces Distribution, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a club owner. I deal in girls.” – Cosmo Vitelli

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for far too long. In fact, it was in my FilmStruck queue before that service went kaput and Criterion struck out on their own with their current service in an effort to fill the voice leftover by AT&T killing FilmStruck and crushing the hearts of legit cinephiles that can’t get their fix with crappy Netflix originals.

Anyway, this isn’t a rant about the loss of FilmStruck, I already talked about that here. This is a review of a pretty solid neo-noir picture directed by the multitalented John Cassavetes.

Cassavetes doesn’t star in his own picture, though. Instead, the film is led by Ben Gazzara, who became one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors to work with. This was the second of their three pictures.

Gazzara was fucking dynamite in this as his character, Cosmo Vitelli, a cabaret club owner with a serious gambling problem. He finds himself in great debt and with that, to square up his bill with the mafia run casino, he is pushed into murdering a Chinese bookie that is cutting into the mob’s business.

Obviously, he doesn’t want to commit murder but when he drags his feet, the mob does their damnedest to make him see things their way. So he does eventually go to the Chinese booker’s home to begrudgingly kill the mob’s rival. Things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the details.

There are a lot more layers to this than just the main plot thread, though. We get to really know this character and see the world and his profession through his eyes. He’s a nice, likable guy that loves women, loves the nightlife but finds himself in way over his head because he couldn’t stop himself from digging his own hole.

This is a great character study piece while also being a solid 1970s neo-noir picture. And with the neo-noir style, you obviously get a film that’s visually vivid and beautiful to look at in spite of the gritty, dirty city that these characters operate in.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a really unique and genuine movie. Cassavetes wrote a compelling story with a really likable character and his direction behind the camera was executed tremendously well.

While I don’t know if this is something I’d revisit in the future, unless I was showing it to another neo-noir fan, it still provided me with a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It also showed me that Ben Gazzara is a better actor than I’d previously given him credit for only seeing him in smaller roles and as the baddie in Road House.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Across 110th Street (1972)

Release Date: December 19th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Barry Shear
Written by: Luther Davis, Barry Shear
Based on: Across 110th Street by Wally Ferris
Music by: Bobby Womack, J. J. Johnson
Cast: Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Franciosa, Paul Benjamin, Ed Bernard, Richard Ward, Anthony Fargas, Norma Donaldson, Gilbert Lewis, Marlene Warfield, Nat Polen, Tim O’Connor, Burt Young, Charles McGregor, Paul Harris, Ric Mancini

Film Guarantors, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Look at me, huh. Look at me! You’re looking at a 42 year old ex-con nigga with no schooling, no trade, and a medical problem! Now who the hell would want me for anything but washing cars or swinging a pick? You gotta get your mind out of that white woman’s dream!” – Jim Harris

While many consider this blaxploitation, I thought it was a bit light in that regard. However, this also came out before that subgenre of film really pushed the envelope. This, honestly, has strong noir vibes and with that, it’s kind of interesting seeing early blaxploitation and a ’70s neo-noir flavor come together.

This also stars Yaphet Kotto just before he did Live and Let Die and Truck Turner, two films I love him in, the former being the one that really brought him a new level of notoriety and a pretty solid future, as an actor.

Kotto is solid as hell in this as the cop that wants to do the right thing, even though he is surrounded by rampant crime, violence and police corruption. Through all of that, he finds a way to win the day and to wreck the nefarious efforts of the Italian mafia and the black criminals who run Harlem.

This is a pretty decent movie from top-to-bottom, especially considering its limitations due to budget. It’s filmed in a lot of tight feeling spaces and while I’m not sure if that was due to the limitations or if it was intentional but it creates a sort of stifling atmosphere that actually adds to the tension of the movie.

The film is also greatly helped by the soundtrack and themes that were provided by Bobby Womack. The title theme would later be re-recorded and that better version was used by Quentin Tarantino in Jackie Brown.

All in all, Yaphet Kotto truly carries this picture, once he arrives on the scene. Without Kotto, the picture wouldn’t have been nearly as good. But he does make it work and it’s a pretty unique movie to begin with.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

Also known as: Greenbriar (working title), El Camino (informal title)
Release Date: October 7th, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Vince Gilligan
Written by: Vince Gilligan
Based on: Breaking Bad by Vince Gilligan
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Krysten Ritter, Charles Baxter, Matt Jones, Scott Shepherd, Scott MacArthur, Tom Bower, Kevin Rankin, Larry Hankin, Tess Harper, Robert Forster, Jonathan Banks, Bryan Cranston

High Bridge Productions, Sony Pictures, Netflix, 122 Minutes

Review:

“You’re really lucky, you know that? You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.” – Walt

I wouldn’t call this movie a disappointment but it was incredibly underwhelming. But I also didn’t have much anticipation for it and the fact that I put off watching it for nearly two years, shows my lack of enthusiasm for it.

The reason being is that I didn’t need this. I very easily assumed that Jesse was headed to Alaska after the finale of Breaking Bad. Seeing this movie just lets me know that I was right.

All this movie really was, was Jesse running a few dangerous errands while having flashbacks before he could actually leave for Alaska. Granted, based off of how much he was wanted by authorities, he really should’ve booked it to somewhere outside of the United States’ jurisdiction. But whatever, there are some other logic flaws with the story.

I feel like this was made just because fans have been clamoring for more Breaking Bad since the show ended. Well, they got the Better Call Saul show, which seems to be doing well and satisfying the fan base.

If a sequel needed to be made, I would’ve rather it come much later and we check in on Jesse years later. Maybe some dangerous character from his past is also hiding up in Alaska and recognizes him, setting off a crazy series of events. But whatever this movie was, I didn’t need to experience it.

This isn’t particularly bad but it isn’t particularly good either. The acting was actually pretty stellar but I didn’t expect it not to be.

El Camino is what happens someone like Netflix comes along and throws a lot of money at a creator who is apparently just out of gas.

In the end, there were only two real highlights in this for me. The first, was the scenes between Jesse, Skinny Pete and Badger. That does hit you in the feels. The second, was seeing Robert Forster go out with a bang, as he died just after this was released.

Rating: 6/10

Comic Review: Daredevil: Return of the King

Published: November 6th, 2014
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Michael Lark, David Aja, Marko Djurdevic (cover)

Marvel Comics, 142 Pages

Review:

Daredevil: Return of the King was a fitting end to the Ed Brubaker run on the series, as well as what was the Marvel Knights run, which saw the comics released under that banner come with more grit, more realism and more adult storylines and themes.

With this story arc, Daredevil returns to the classic “Legacy” numbering, as it ends at issue 500 and then another creative team takes the series over following that impressive milestone.

This kicks off by bringing The Kingpin back into the story. He’s been gone awhile but the way he’s brought back is fucking dark but really cool. This event also changes him and he decides to work with Daredevil in an effort to finally take down The Hand and a very deadly threat to them both: Lady Bullseye.

This also wraps up some of the core storylines that started during the Brian Michael Bendis era and then rolled over into Brubaker’s. By the end of this, the series sort of has a clean slate to go forward in a new way for the next creative team.

For those who read my earlier reviews in this series, you know that I initially liked Bendis’ run but then it felt aimless and sort of got annoying. Brubaker stepped in and really cleaned up Bendis’ mess in a way that worked and sort of reset the series.

This story arc is a culmination of everything that came before it and it’s also an all out war. Honestly, once you get to the end, it feels like you need to let out a very big breath because we’ve reached a definitive conclusion to over 100-plus issues of pretty intense events.

Frankly, this was a prefect ending to a hell of a run. Granted, Daredevil keeps moving forward beyond this but had the series ended, I would’ve been more than satisfied. What a great arc with real meaning and purpose.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: Daredevil: Lady Bullseye

Published: November 6th, 2014
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Michael Lark, Clay Mann, Marko Djurdjevic (cover)

Marvel Comics, 122 Pages

Review:

I remember when I first heard about the Lady Bullseye character, I thought, “Oh, yay… another gender swapped version of a beloved classic character.”

Having read this now, I’m happy to say that the character isn’t simply a gender swapped Bullseye but instead, a complex, well written character with a pretty interesting origin that shows how she was inspired by Bullseye and how that put her on a very different path in life.

I probably shouldn’t have doubted Ed Brubaker, though, as his writing is generally superb and there’s very little he’s done that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.

So this story has a lot going on in it relating to Daredevil’s personal life, as well as this new villain really shaking things up and bringing The Hand back into the picture.

Daredevil’s personal life has been a clusterfuck of retardation ever since Brian Michael Bendis wrote the series. Ed Brubaker has tried to clean it up as carefully as possible, though. Here, it feels like he’s finally washed away all the bullshit with the blind wife and whether or not people know the character’s real identity. And frankly, as a long-time Daredevil reader, I couldn’t give a fuck about those storylines anymore.

The stakes in this story are really high and there are some pretty messed up things that happen and I don’t want to get too much into spoiler territory but the lives of some characters are forever altered.

Overall, this brings the same level of quality that the rest of Brubaker’s Daredevil run has given us, up to this point. I think this is the second-to-last chapter in Brubaker’s run and that leaves me pretty gleeful for the next volume.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daredevil comics from his Marvel Knights run.

Film Review: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Also known as: Eyes (working title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1978
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: John Carpenter, David Zelag Goodman
Music by: Artie Kane
Cast: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia, Frank Adonis, Lisa Taylor

Major Studio Partners, Columbia Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“I’m completely out of control!” – Laura

I’m surprised that I had never come across this film until recently. I just sort of stumbled upon its existence while reading an article where it was mentioned. Considering it was directed by Irvin Kershner, written by John Carpenter and had a damn solid cast, I wanted to check it out.

Also, it’s a ’70s psychic thriller flick and those tend to be right up my alley. It also has slasher-y vibes too and a neo-noir-esque flavor. So in some ways, it reminds me of those damn good neo-noir movies that Brian De Palma did in the early ’80s.

This stars Faye Dunaway, who truly ruled the ’70s and this is just another great role to add to her impressive filmography. She’s pretty much perfect in this and even if she finds herself in the killer’s crosshairs and is very afraid, she plays the role with confidence and some real chutzpah, not being an incompetent damsel in distress. Frankly, this character and Dunaway’s part in bringing her to life feels real.

Dunaway is supported by several top tier male actors, many of whom were up and coming and on the verge of breaking out into bigger things: Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Raul Julia and Rene Auberjonois. Each of these guys brought something worthwhile to the film and each one had a good, strong presence, that just made the picture better, overall.

The film also does a good job with its red herrings. As it got closer to the end and a certain character is murdered, I thought the identity of who the killer was, became pretty apparent. However, the movie does keep you guessing for about 85 percent of its duration.

Beyond that, the film looks great but then again, Irvin Kershner is a fine director, who is unfortunately mostly just known for being the guy that directed Empire Strikes Back. While I love Empire and its immense success and iconic place in motion picture history, it does overshadow all of Kershner’s other great movies.

Eyes of Laura Mars is entertaining, creepy and kind of marvelous from top-to-bottom.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s and ’80s psychic thrillers and horror films.

Film Review: Golden Eyes (1968)

Also known as: Hyappatsu hyakuchû: Ôgon no me (original Japanese title), Booted Babe, Busted Boss, Ironfinger Strikes Back (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 16th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Jun Fukuda, Ei Ogawa, Michio Tsuzuki
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Beverly Maeda, Tomomi Sawa, Andrew Hughes, Makoto Sato, Yoshio Tsuchiya

Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

Since I thought Jun Fukuda’s Ironfinger was a pretty solid spy comedy, I wanted to give its sequel a watch, as well.

Fukuda is mostly known, at least in the States, for being one of the two most prominent directors of classic Godzilla pictures. While he doesn’t seem to be held in the same regard as Ishiro Honda, I always saw the two directors as fairly equal. Honda, however, did more of the earlier Godzilla films, where Fukuda did more of the later ones, which some fans like less due to them becoming more and more kid friendly as the franchise rolled on.

Fukuda did lots of other pictures over his career, though, especially for Toho, who loved pumping out quick sci-fi/tokusatsu fare. But between those movies, Toho also had Fukuda do these cool, ’60s spy flicks.

It’s obvious that these films are inspired by the James Bond movies of the era, as well as other spy flicks. At the time, there were many spy comedies like this, which sort of parody the genre but don’t completely deconstruct it like the Austin Powers movies would do later on.

This one pretty much follows the beats and tone of its predecessor but I didn’t enjoy it as much. There are some insanely goofy moments and some of the more over-the-top antics felt like they were too hammy.

For instance, there’s a gunfight scene where the heroes throw two assault rifles closer to the baddies and then shoot the rifles with their own guns, lifting them into the air from bullet ricochets where they fire and kill the villains. It’s f’n ridiculous and while it’s funny, it’s a “jump the shark” moment that happens pretty early into the film.

Still, I did enjoy Akira Takarada in this, as the spy hero. He’s just a good, fun actor and he was in dozens of Toho pictures and also worked with Jun Fukuda quite a bit.

Now I did miss Mie Hama in this one but since these movies are essentially ripping off James Bond, we can’t have the same chick in both films.

In the end, this isn’t as good as Ironfinger but it’s still cool and enjoyable if you like ’60s spy comedies.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, Ironfinger, as well as other ’60s spy comedies.

*No trailer available online.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Cruel and Unusual

Published: October 30th, 2014
Written by: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka
Art by: Michael Lark, Mike Perkins, Marko Djurdjevic (cover)

Marvel Comics, 131 Pages

Review:

So far, this is my least favorite story arc that Ed Brubaker has written during his Daredevil run. It’s still a good story but it’s mostly about court drama and trying to uncover a mysterious plot that sees an innocent man, who is actually a real monster, confessing to murders he didn’t commit.

I think this is a good break from the intensity of the series since Brubaker started, which saw Daredevil in prison fighting for his life, his final show down with Kingpin’s wife and then the irreparable damage that Mr. Fear did to his personal life.

This is kind of slow but it’s still interesting and there are real stakes here, as Dakota North gets severely fucked up at the hands of those behind this mysterious ruse.

Also, the mystery itself was pretty unpredictable and interesting.

Still, this felt like a halftime break between the two halves of Brubaker’s run.

That being said, I really look forward to what he has left and how he ends his run.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daredevil comics from his Marvel Knights run.