Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.

Film Review: Red Heat (1988)

Release Date: June 14th, 1988 (premiere)
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Harry Kleiner, Troy Kennedy Martin
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Peter Boyle, Ed O’Ross, Gina Gershon, Laurence Fishburne, Richard Bright, Brion James, Peter Jason

Carolco Pictures, Lone Wolf, Oak, TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Since I figure cops are cops the world over, how do you Soviets deal with all the tension and stress?” – Commander Lou Donnelly CPD, “Vodka.” – Ivan Danko

Red Heat was a part of a string of really good Schwarzenegger films (omitting the weak Raw Deal from that string). There was just something great about Arnie in the 80s and Red Heat is another good example of how cool and bad ass the Austrian Adonis was in his prime.

The film also benefits from being written and directed by Walter Hill, another man that was at the top of his game in the 80s, coming off of directing a string of great pictures: Hard TimesThe WarriorsThe Long Riders48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire. He also directed Brewster’s Millions, which wasn’t his normal forte but was still an entertaining vehicle for both Richard Pryor and John Candy.

The film also has some notable other actors in it: Laurence Fishburne, Peter Boyle, Gina Gershon, Brion James and Richard Bright. Then there is James Belushi, the other star and comedic half of the cop duo but oddly, I’ve never been a big Belushi fan and find his presence kind of distracting and the main negative aspect of the picture. But hey, at least this is better than K-9.

Honestly, there was probably a ton of great comedic actors that could have played alongside Schwarzenegger better than Belushi but this film is almost thirty years old and Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray or Richard Pryor probably cost too much. But hell, they couldn’t get Dan Aykroyd or Harold Ramis? Dudley Moore? Dabney Coleman? Roger Dangerfield? Tony friggin’ Danza?

Walter Hill has a very straightforward style with his directing. However, he still captures a certain sort of magic that set the quality of his films apart from others in the 80s action genre. His pictures look crisp and pristine and just very well produced. The mix of the Soviet Union scenes with urban Chicago gives this picture a cool visual dichotomy that enhances the contrast between the Soviet cop and the Chicago Police Department. The urban scenes also have that same sort of lively grittiness that Hill gave us with The Warriors48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire.

Ivan Danko is one of the coolest Schwarzenegger characters of all-time, to the point that it would have been cool to have seen him return in some form in another project or a sequel – preferably without Belushi. Arnie was just able to nail the role and he just looked like a tough as nails manly man in his Soviet cop uniform. He was an intimidating presence and the persona and visual vibe fit the actor to a t.

While this is not the balls out action masterpieces that Commando or Predator were, it definitely fits in the upper echelon of Schwarzenegger’s work. Walter Hill and Arnie worked really well together and it would have been cool to see them re-team but as of yet, that hasn’t happened.

Film Review: Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

Release Date: April 25th, 1980
Directed by: Art Linson
Written by: John Kaye
Based on: The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat and Strange Rumblings in Aztlan by Hunter S. Thompson
Music by: Neil Young
Cast: Bill Murray, Peter Boyle, Bruno Kirby, René Auberjonois, R.G. Armstrong, Mark Metcalf, Craig T. Nelson, Richard M. Dixon, Brain Cummings

Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

There are very few famous people that I give a shit about. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Bill Murray are two of the very few. So if there is a film where Bill Murray plays Hunter S. Thompson, you can most assuredly guarantee that it would be something I would have to watch. Of course, I’ve watched this film at least a dozen times over the years and I would say that I play it just about annually.

I feel like this film should be looked at as a sequel to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, as it is set after those events. Actually, I now see it as the final part of a trilogy which also includes The Rum Diary, which takes place first if you care about chronology.

Out of the three Thompson films, I find this one to be the superior of the three. Again, it has Bill Murray in the lead and I like his interpretation of Hunter S. Thompson slightly more than Johnny Depp’s. Also, he provided the template for Depp to follow. I’m not taking anything away from Depp’s great performance but Murray’s was damned near Oscar caliber (and maybe Depp’s was too).

Where the Buffalo Roam is a hell of a journey and as far as story, it doesn’t follow a singular path. This movie is comprised of a series of events, all of which are entertaining and fun to watch. The only real constant in the film is Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson and the times that Peter Boyle pops up as Lazlo, Thompson’s lawyer. In fact, Lazlo can be seen as virtually the same character or companion as Benicio Del Toro’s role in Fear and Loathing. In fact, both characters are based off of Oscar Zeta Acosta, who was an attorney and politician that was close friends with Thompson.

I love this film. I have heard that Thompson wasn’t happy with it when it was released. I’m not sure if that changed over the years but regardless of his personal feelings, I think it is kind of a hidden gem that many people don’t know about. Hell, most people I know who are big fans of Fear and Loathing either haven’t seen this or haven’t even heard about it.

Is it a masterpiece? No. But it is a lot of fun and it respects the man and the work of the man it was based on.

Film Review: Young Frankenstein (1974)

Release Date: December 15th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn, Gene Hackman

20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes 

Review:

I was fortunate enough to see Young Frankenstein on the big screen this past weekend thanks to one of my local theaters being awesome and featuring films offered by Flashback Cinema. Being that I am a pretty big Mel Brooks fan, it was certainly a treat. Also, the only Brooks film I had ever seen in the theater before this was Dracula: Dead and Loving It. That was a tragedy that needed to be rectified.

I am also a bigger fan of the Universal Monsters franchise. While this isn’t a film put out by Universal, parodying itself, it still is a wonderful comedic homage to those films and it’s pretty cool that 20th Century Fox put up the cash to make it.

Written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, from a humor standpoint, it seems to have a bit more Wilder in the script. The great thing about the man, is he knew how to write comedy for himself. Brooks, on the other hand, was very good at making things work well for an ensemble of hilarious characters. He also makes completely absurd situations work. Together, these two men had a perfect marriage with the script for Young Frankenstein.

The film is as close to perfect as a parody movie can get. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of parody films, except for those put out by Mel Brooks because he just has the ability to capture the spirit and magic of the films he pokes fun at. Brooks’ parodies are more like an old school classic Dean Martin Roast of movies he loves, where the modern parodies done be filmmakers (with less than a tenth of Brooks’ talent) are just an atrocious string of racist, dick, fart and fat jokes that could be better executed by first graders on a playground. Needless to say, Brooks has mastered an art and no one else has even come close to his level. Young Frankenstein is one of the Brooks films where this is completely apparent.

Young Frankenstein is magic. It recaptures the look and feel of the James Whale Frankenstein pictures of the 1930s almost flawlessly. It is impressive how authentic the sets and props feel. The cinematography is a near match of those films, especially the lighting and the tone. The use of contrast creates a great sense of depth that makes it feel like those old classic horror pictures. It is also worth mentioning that the great score really adds a lot of character to the film’s presentation and helps to enhance the visual side of things.

This is one of the absolute best roles that Gene Wilder has ever played. The same can be said for Teri Garr and Marty Feldman. Peter Boyle has had a weird mix of fantastic and different roles over the years but he’s perfect in this as the Creature. Madeline Kahn is also stupendous and utterly hilarious. The one character I have always loved though, is the Inspector played by Kenneth Mars.

Young Frankenstein is a great movie and certainly a classic that deserves its fanfare. I think its biggest strength is its story. While it parodies the many Frankenstein pictures put out by Universal in their horror heyday, it is its own unique tale backed by complete hilarity and a talented cast and director.

Film Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

Release Date: February 8th, 1976
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd, Joe Spinell, Martin Scorsese

Bill/Phillips, Italo/Judeo Productions, Columbia Pictures, 113 Minutes

taxi_driverReview:

Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors. I was thinking about his work and then it dawned on me that I haven’t yet reviewed a Scorsese film for Cinespiria. Since I hadn’t seen Taxi Driver in a really long time, I decided to revisit it.

As great as Robert De Niro is, this is the film I most remember when thinking about his acting prowess. It is hard for me to envision how this film played for theatergoing audiences when it was released almost three years before I was born but when I discovered it as a teenager in the 90s, I was enchanted by De Niro’s Travis Bickle.

Taxi Driver is a film that is incredibly well-acted, and not just by De Niro, but by the entire cast all the way down to the smallest part. Even Scorsese’s small cameo in the film, as a taxi passenger admitting that he is going to kill his wife violently, is so chilling that it made me want to see more of Scorsese as an actor.

Martin Scorsese, as director, created a fabulous work of art and social commentary with Taxi Driver. Despite being modern for the mid 1970s, when it was released, the film doesn’t feel dated or ineffective. The picture is still very compelling and unsettling due to the harsh reality of its subject matter. No matter how many times I see this film, I will never be comfortable with Jodie Foster’s portrayal of a 12 year-old prostitute or Harvey Keitel’s sick obsession with her. But that’s the point, really.

Taxi Driver shows us the worst parts of American society and it deliberately makes us uneasy and angry at the world around us. Travis Bickle is our eyes, ears and an extension of how we feel. His fall into what some may deem is madness, isn’t completely implausible. There are reasons why the Bickle character is considered an anti-hero and why we, the American people, cheer for characters like this. He is a person with some emotional and social issues but isn’t that most people, to some degree? And don’t we accept him because he does what we all wish we could do in similar circumstances? He is a character that encapsulates justice in a world where none seems to exist. He takes the bull by the horns and runs with it.

Granted, I can’t get behind his attempt at assassinating a powerful political figure, which he fails to carry out, mind you. However, I can understand his reasoning, even if he has slipped into the realm of the mad and extreme.

Scorsese created a violent and dark world but it is really a reflection of our culture. He created an instrument of justice that was fitting for that world. The real magic, is looking back at it over 40 years later and seeing how it still reflects aspect of our current society and how it is still a film that works today.

Now there are things I didn’t like about the movie but they don’t detract from the overall package or the legacy of this being one of the greatest American movies ever made.

For one, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. Although, I understand that it shows America’s obsession with celebrity and that Old West mentality that will probably never go away. To be more specific, Bickle survives, he isn’t arrested and he is deemed a hero by the public, despite the violent way he took justice into his own hands. In a way, it seems to reward Bickle for what he did. But I also don’t think that such a situation is implausible.

Any other issue I have is just sort of nitpicky and isn’t that important to the overall experience.

Taxi Driver is a fine film. It is still an effective film. In the sea of great motion pictures that Martin Scorsese has directed, this is in the upper echelon and possibly his greatest.