Film Review: Natural Born Killers (1994)

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone, David Veloz
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Russell Means, Evan Handler, Balthazar Getty, Steven Wright, Marshall Bell, O-Lan Jones, Mark Harmon (uncredited), Adrien Brody (uncredited), Arliss Howard (uncredited), Ashley Judd (Director’s Cut), Rachel Ticotin (Director’s Cut), Denis Leary (Director’s Cut), Bret Hart (Director’s Cut)

Alcor Films, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes (theatrical), 122 minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”” – Old Indian

Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for this film and sold it just like he sold the script for True Romance. At the time, he wasn’t an established filmmaker and he was initially trying to get money to make Reservoir Dogs. That money eventually came from a producer and he was able to obtain more for that film than just what he had selling some scripts for the bare minimum.

However, once this movie came out, Tarantino disowned it for various reasons and it’s been a pretty sore subject for him, ever since.

I’m not a big fan of it either, even though the vast majority of my friends in 1994 (and many today) seem to love this motion picture. Since I hadn’t watched it in at least fifteen years, I wanted to revisit it and try to look at it as objectively as possible, since I only remembered a few key scenes.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie but it’s certainly not as good as many people have made it out to be. It’s kind of a mess, narratively. It has a broken, Tourette’s-like pace and it relies so much on wacky visuals that it looks more like a mish-mash of unrelated ’90s music videos trying to tell a coherent story.

I guess you could look at the film as being from the point-of-view of the two insane characters it features. So things may look wacky to them but that doesn’t mean that it can just be dismissed if it has more of a negative impact on the total package than a positive one.

I take Tarantino’s side in regards to him hating the sequence with Rodney Dangerfield. In that sequence, the movie turns into a sitcom with a laugh track. But it deals with the fact that Dangerfield’s character rapes his own daughter. It’s not edgy or cool, it’s actually quite distasteful and I say that as a guy that has loved exploitation movies since he was a kid. I know that it’s supposed to be unsettling but it makes the movie jump the shark and it never really comes back. Sadly, for the picture, this happens really early on.

The only sequence in the movie that I really liked was the one with the Native American. I also think it’s the most important scene in the film and ultimately, it leads to their arrest, after betraying the only figure in the story that potentially could’ve helped save them from themselves.

The film is really split into two very different hours. The first sees the characters meet, get married, go on a spree of murderous violence and come to the Native American that could’ve possibly given them a different path to walk in life. The second, sees these two in prison, now beloved by the violence-hungry media and with millions of fans that see them as some sort of fucked up folk heroes. With that, the television journalist that interviews them for his program, has a severely unhealthy obsession with them and ultimately joins their cause when a prison riot starts.

The movie was trying to paint a picture about the state of America and the media at the time. It was trying to show the media and the public’s obsession with violence and love of terrible people. While this is possibly true to some degree, the picture is so over the top with it that it’s not remotely believable. I grew up in this time, I was the most impressionable then too. I was a ’90s edge lord trying to say and do edgy, stupid shit because it’s what we did back then. And while many were fascinated by serial killers and violent crime, I still can’t believe that these characters would’ve been worshipped by millions. Sure, I could see some shitheads embracing them like the shitheads that embraced the Columbine shooters a few years later. However, these type of people are a very, very small minority in society and don’t necessarily reflect a widespread problem.

I guess I can look at the movie as more of a warning against these things because nothing in this film is presented in a way that should be taken literally. However, I think that Oliver Stone’s impression of the human race was extremely flawed and he was pretty fucking paranoid. In fact, by making this film, he contributed to that very problem, as it was something that the Columbine shooters looked at for inspiration. I’m not blaming Stone, though, as there’s no way he could’ve known this and he’s not responsible for the acts of other people.

Also, I’m not sure how much of this paranoia was due to Tarantino’s original story or how Stone interpreted it and pushed the envelope. But based off of how Tarantino felt about the finished film and specifically about the incestuous rape stuff, I’d have to lean towards Stone on this one.

Getting back to the television journalist, played by Robert Downey Jr., the moment that he so quickly flipped his switch to bonkers and joined the murderous duo in their prison escape, I mentally checked out, completely.

From that point on, it was hard to reel my brain back in and it jumped the shark a second time and even higher than the first. There should be a term for that. Maybe I’ll invent a new one in honor of Downey Jr.’s character and say they “pulled a Wayne Gale.”

Yeah, that probably won’t stick but whatever.

Anyway, I do think that the movie really is superbly acted from top-to-bottom. One person that I haven’t mentioned yet that really turned it up to eleven was Tommy Lee Jones. Fuck, he was intense in this movie and I believed his character, every step of the way. What a performance, man.

And with that, I have to tip my hat to Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Means, Tom Sizemore and even Rodney Dangerfield, who was exceptional in a sequence that was severely off-putting and cringe.

In the end, it’s the acting that really salvages the picture.

Rating: 5.75/10

TV Review: Q: Into the Storm (2021)

Original Run: March 21st, 2021 – April 4th, 2021
Created by: Adam McKay, Todd Schulman, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller, Cullen Hoback, Alina Solodnikova, Tina Nguyen
Directed by: Cullen Hoback
Cast: various

HBO Documentary Films, Hyperobject Industries, Hyrax Films, 6 Episodes, 57-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I have HBO Max but I didn’t even know this was out there until Joe Rogan was talking to Zuby about it on his podcast. Granted, I also didn’t know what the hell Q was until a few months before the 2020 presidential election when you couldn’t escape mention of it on Twitter, a platform I still use because apparently I’m into torture and pig vomit limited to 280 characters.

Because of all the hoopla regarding Q, especially over the last twelve months, I figured I should watch this to learn more about what it is, why it is, how it is and the people that are connected to it. It’s become this strange, cultish, conspiratorial phenomenon and whether you agree with any of it or not, it’s still pretty fucking fascinating.

Being that this was put out by HBO, I was skeptical about it, as I wasn’t sure how objective and unbiased it would be. And frankly, that’s a real issue that I have with most documentaries these days that deal with political and/or social issues.

I ended up seeing this as pretty objective, though. It let all sides of the story that participated, clearly give their points of view on QAnon and everything surrounding 8Chan and its effect on the world of social media, American politics and the minds of those caught within its orbit.

That being said, this did feel more like a documentary about 8Chan than Q and QAnon. Sure, this does try to solve the mystery about who Q is and even though it does try to point to someone in the documentary, the viewer is still allowed to take the evidence presented and draw their own ideas and theories. But, at the same time, does it even really matter who it is?

All in all, I thought this was well-made, well-edited, well-paced after the first two episodes and it was hard to turn off and not watch in a single sitting. In a lot of ways, I guess this became my Tiger King for this year.

In the end, I don’t think this came close to solving this mystery but it was an entertaining journey and pretty damn informative, overall.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

Release Date: February 29th, 1940 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Joe May
Written by: Lester Cole
Based on: The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: George Sanders, Vincent Price, Margaret Lindsay, Dick Foran, Nan Grey, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier

Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

I’ve always wanted to see this movie but it’s just evaded me over the years. It was streaming on something I have, though, so I figured it was as good of a time as any to finally check it out.

Man, Vincent Price is super young in this. The only other film that I have seen where he’s actually younger is The Invisible Man Returns, which is from January of the same year. He’s also invisible throughout that picture.

This story isn’t a horror film despite Price’s penchant for those roles. Although, some in this wealthy family believe that there is a family curse and thus, make some pretty heinous and drastic decisions based off of that fear.

The family, falling on some fairly hard times, is contemplating selling their mansion. This pits the two brothers against each other. The villainous one of the two, believes that there is a fortune hidden in the house and that with it, he can survive, living life at the pampered level he’s accustomed to. With that, he frames his nice brother, played by Vincent Price, for the murder of their father. In prison, years later, Price’s Clifford meets Matthew, who is part of the family that “cursed” Clifford’s. The two actually become friends and devise a plan to clear Clifford’s name and to expose what his dastardly brother did to him and the family, since his imprisonment.

Surprisingly, a lot happens in this movie that it is just shy of 90 minutes. It’s well paced, doesn’t waste a moment and you really like the virtuous, honest characters in this. You want to see the villain get what’s coming. Plus, the performances are solid and even for still being in his twenties, Price showed great promise, here.

I ended up liking this more than I thought I would. I didn’t expect it to be bad but it was a short, dramatic film with a young Price lacking the mileage he had by the time he became a horror icon with 1953’s House of Wax.

Rating: 6.75/10

Comic Review: Cyberfrog: Unfrogettable Tales, Vol. 3

Published: August, 2021
Written by: Ethan Van Sciver
Art by: Ethan Van Sciver, Kyle Ritter

All Caps Comics, 32 Pages

Review:

I actually forgot that this was something that was coming my way, as it was packaged with another Cyberfrog release and I ordered that sometime last year. But I don’t remember half of what’s coming from the stuff I bought on crowdfunding sites, as many projects are severely delayed and with that, I stopped caring.

Granted, Ethan Van Sciver’s stuff always shows up and the work is always top notch.

This was the third release under the Unfrogettable Tales title and with that, it features an old school, original Cyberfrog comic, remastered and recolored for modern fans, who might not have even been alive when this was originally released. And even if they were, Cyberfrog was still pretty damn underground in the character’s early days.

This was pretty fun to read, I loved the art, the humor and the new color work by Kyle Ritter is just f’n amazing. That dude has immense talent and I’m glad to see him keep getting work with Van Sciver while also working on his own series, Starblades.

Because this is an old school, ’90s Cyberfrog story, it takes place way before the current stories, which see Earth overrun by an alien threat with small pockets of humanity hiding in the shadows. So with this, we see Cyberfrog still in the world when it was normal. We also get to see one of his earliest encounters with Heather Swain, who would become his best friend and confidant.

For fans of the modern revival of Cyberfrog, reading this old stuff will add more context to the stories that are currently being produced. So if you love world building, nuance, context and all that important shit that gives exciting tales deeper meaning, then you should be reading these as well.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Saw (2004)

Also known as: Jigsaw (working title)
Release Date: January 19th, 2004 (Sundance)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell, James Wan
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Tobin Bell, Leigh Whannell, Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, Makenzie Vega

Evolution Entertainment, Saw Productions Inc., Twisted Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Congratulations. You are still alive. Most people are so ungrateful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore.” – Jigsaw

I’ve said for nearly two decades that if they had left Saw alone and not pumped out sequels annually to capitalize off of this movie’s success, that it could’ve very easily been perceived as one of the greatest horror films ever made. I still stand by that statement.

Now I haven’t seen this in at least fifteen years. I gave up on the franchise after seeing the third film in theaters. At that point, I definitely felt like the film series had exhausted itself and run out of gas. But silly me, they made like half a dozen more! And shockingly, none of the sequels were straight-to-video. They all had theatrical releases.

Looking at this movie, as a single body of work, it’s really damn good. The concept was great and the story was well-crafted and made for one hell of a cinematic experience. I’d consider this James Wan’s magnum opus, even though the dude probably still has a lot of time to top it.

The best part about seeing this for the first time is that you didn’t know much about the plot or why these guys were locked in a room together. Everything slowly reveals itself and the movie knows how to build suspense and keep the viewer on the edge of their seat until the shocking end, which no one saw coming. Frankly, it’s an incredible reveal.

This is also the best acted film out of the three I’ve seen. In fact, the other movies don’t hold a candle to this one in the acting department, except for the scenes where Tobin Bell is front and center. Without Bell, this series probably couldn’t have lasted as long as it did. Even after his character was dead, his presence was still very much felt and a driving force behind the stories. Crazily enough, he’s barely in this movie, even though he’s the big bad.

Anyway, this movie is superb and it’s still effective, even though I know the ending and all the surprises. But since this is so well-crafted, it makes repeat viewings kind of cool, as you pick up on more of the clues that were planted throughout the movie.

The later films would get more gory. This one has some pretty good gross out moments but a lot of the gore is more implied and relies on your imagination to see things that aren’t actually onscreen. In a lot of ways it reminds me of how effective that approach was in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Saw has held up tremendously well in spite of it being the first chapter in a very long franchise. It’s definitely worth watching but once you’re finished you might want to stop and not let the sequels ruin it for you.

That being said, I’m going to work my way through all of the sequels and review them.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Sorceress (1982)

Also known as: The Barbarian Women (working title)
Release Date: October 1st, 1982 (Atlanta premiere)
Directed by: Jack Hill (as Brian Stuart)
Written by: Jack Hill (uncredited), Jim Wynorski
Music by: James Horner (reusing themes from Battle Beyond the Stars)
Cast: Leigh Harris, Lynette Harris, Bob Nelson, David Millbern, Bruno Rey, Ana De Sade, Roberto Ballesteros, Douglas Sanders, Tony Stevens, Martin LaSalle

CONACINE, New World Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I did not train you men in my arts so that you would hunt down and butcher women.” – Krona, “You never could understand the greater values!” – Traigon

This is an ’80s sword and sorcery film that I had never seen. Reading up on it before watching it, it looked like the critical and public consensus were trying to warn me away. For the most part, no one seemed to have a positive take on this movie but I also didn’t care, as I’ll watch anything once.

Considering that this was produced by Roger Corman, I kind of had an idea of its overall quality and style. However, it was directed by Jack Hill and even though he leans heavy into the schlocky side of things, he’s made a few films I kind of adore.

So this is, by academic standards, a bad movie. However, I liked it, as it’s the sort of bad that I enjoy and its wonderful level of cheese was the right flavor.

The costumes and sets are very basic and fairly hokey. The special effects are cheap but kind of cool. The acting is borderline atrocious. Yet, all these parts compliment each other, creating a smorgasbord of B-movie awesomeness.

I like the characters, regardless of how bad their line delivery is. The hero ensemble of the hot twins, the Viking, the satyr and the barbarian was really neat. I especially liked the satyr character and frankly, there aren’t enough satyrs used in movies. Mr. Tumnus doesn’t count because technically he’s a faun.

Anyway, this features a cookie cutter, paint-by-numbers sword and sorcery plot. Being that it came out in 1982, though, it was ahead of the curve in the emerging genre. It certainly came out before the genre peaked and was then beaten to death by schlockmeisters around the world.

The finale of this movie is pretty great. Once the two gods show up in the night sky and have their strange deity battle, things truly turn up to eleven and it’s hard not to enjoy unless you’re a heartless snob that pisses on fun and thinks every movie should be akin to The English Patient.

I know, most normal people couldn’t sit through ten minutes of this flick. However, most normal people, these days, lack imagination and embrace lowest common denominator blockbusters.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: The African Queen (1951)

Release Date: December 26th, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, John Collier
Based on: The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Music by: Allan Gray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Romulus Films, Horizon Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William the Second I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” – Captain of Louisa

Seeing two absolute legends like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn come together in a motion picture is a pretty special occasion, if handled and managed correctly. Being that this was directed by another legend, John Huston, the task was achieved and what we got was one hell of a film.

This is a mix of really emotional drama, romance, war and adventure.

It’s a great mix and it’s executed exceptionally well with the bulk of the film relying on the performances of just two characters, stuck together, traveling down a perilous river, against impossible odds and two personalities that clash quite often.

However, with both characters being strong people and having to rely on each other, they bond. In fact, they fall in love. And while this is a story that’s probably been done to death by now, Bogart and Hepburn did it better than any other onscreen duo that I have ever seen. It’s this bond, above all the other great things, that makes this picture so damn good.

But speaking of the other great things, I thought that all the other actors were good as well. I especially liked Robert Morley in this. He was mostly a portly, often times comedic, British character actor. However, he brought some real gravitas to his role, here. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least a half dozen times, I’m still saddened by his death early on in the picture. Although, without it, the real story doesn’t start.

Additionally, Huston’s direction is perfection. He took the great script and really massaged it into something greater than a less capable director would’ve been able to do. He also pulled out great performances from everyone. Granted, when you have Bogart and Hepburn at your disposal, that might not be too hard.

I love that this was actually filmed in Africa. It gave the movie a real authenticity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had if it was primarily shot in a studio or somewhere like central Florida, which was used as a stand-in for lots of jungle/swamp pictures.

Allan Gray’s score is pretty iconic but it stands strong on its own despite being forever linked with this classic picture.

I only have one real gripe about the movie and that’s the ending. To be clear, I definitely wanted the two main characters to survive and live a happy life together. However, I thought that the way they were saved from their execution was way too convenient, even for 1950s Hollywood. Still, I’m pretty okay with it because these characters should definitely not have had a tragic ending.

For this type of movie, there really aren’t any greater than The African Queen. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of romantic adventure movies. Unfortunately, for those others, this one takes the cake and probably always will considering how shit the film industry has become.

Rating: 9.75/10

Comic Review: Nightwing, Vol. 6: To Serve and Protect

Published: July 18th, 2017
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Greg Land, Kieron Dwyer, Patch Zircher

DC Comics, 256 Pages

Review:

This chapter in the long Chuck Dixon run on Nightwing was a bit laid back compared to the previous installment but that one swung for the fences and after its ending, you kind of needed a bit of a breather.

Like the other volumes, this includes multiple story arcs while still progressing the larger arc of the series forward.

The highlight of this stretch of issues, at least for me, is that we get to see Dick Grayson go into the field as a beat cop for the first time. Seeing him have to balance that life and its responsibilities while also being Nightwing was really interesting.

I actually kind of wish they kept him as a cop. Although, I won’t go to deeply into where the Nightwing comics went in the last year or two but it did completely wreck the series and had me remove it from my pull list after being on there for nearly fifteen years.

Anyway, this also features some stories with some really cool new villains. It also features a good story with Catwoman.

The artists do change a few times over this stretch but like the last volume, I think I most enjoyed the issues that were done by Greg Land, which was a real step up from the art of the series before he got the gig.

The other artists are also pretty good in this and overall, it’s a better looking comic series than it was over its first four volumes.

Ultimately, this is still leading towards an eventual showdown between Nightwing and Blockbuster. I’d have to assume it’s coming soon, as they’ve been planting the seeds since way back in volume one.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Amityville Horror (1979)

Release Date: July 27th, 1979
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
Written by: Sandor Stern
Based on: The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton, Don Stroud, James Tolkan

Cinema 77, Professional Films, American International Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

GET OUT!” – The House

The Amityville Horror was a fairly terrifying picture when I first saw it. I was probably seven years old, give or take. It’s always had an effect on me ever since and that’s probably because I saw it at such a young age.

While it’s not a movie I revisit often, I still always like it and get somewhat enchanted by it whenever I revisit it.

It’s a slow movie but the more serious horror films of this era were. It uses its time to build up both suspense and dread and this film does that exceptionally well. It’s a slow burn to a pretty terrifying and effective payoff.

This is also a movie that is enhanced greatly by its atmosphere. That atmosphere is really thick and brooding. The house has the right look, as does the area around it. But watching this and being immersed in it, it almost feels like it’d be hard to breathe in that house once the supernatural shit really kicks up.

The movie is also helped by the actors. All of the key players are immensely talented and they really threw themselves into this picture. James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger, especially, gave their all in this and because of that, this was elevated from just a simple, run-of-the-mill haunted house story to a film that’s become moderately iconic and is still sequelized and remade to this day.

I also think that Lalo Schifrin’s musical score helps with the atmosphere and the growing dread.

The Amityville Horror had a bigger impact than what the filmmakers probably could’ve predicted. That impact, still felt today, has helped shape horror and the haunted house subgenre of horror ever since this was released.

Modern franchises like The Conjuring and all its spinoffs, owe a lot to The Amityville Horror and its effect on filmgoers over forty years ago. 

Rating: 7.5/10

Documentary Review: Console Wars (2020)

Release Date: September 23rd, 2020
Directed by: Jonah Tulis, Blake J. Harris
Based on: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris
Music by: Jeff Beal
Cast: various

Circle of Confusion, CBS Television Studios, Legendary Television, Paramount+, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Whenever you’re at war, you always hit the guy in the mouth as hard as you can. If you can’t hit him hard, you might as well not even fight. That’s the attitude in real war and it’s the attitude in business. You’ve gotta be prepared to take on the competition and win.” – Paul Rioux

When I was a kid in the early ’90s, I was all about Sega Genesis. Sure, I liked some of the games on Super Nintendo when it came out but Genesis was just my cup of tea from the speed, the graphics, the sound and the game selection.

However, I was also growing up and by middle school age, I wasn’t into the kiddie games.

This documentary tells the story of how Sega emerged as a video game powerhouse in the United States in a time when Nintendo owned the vast majority of the market share. Sega didn’t care, though, and they went all in, creating a system that was much more impressive than the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and honestly, better than Nintendo’s rebuttal, which was the Super Nintendo.

There’s no hate here, though. I truly loved both systems but Genesis had the edge for me.

Anyway, this was well put together, well researched and it features interviews with the majority of the key players in this story.

Rivalries in business are great and for preteen me, this was the greatest business rivalry I could ever care about. Video games were a huge part of my life.

So seeing all these key people talk about this rivalry now is pretty f’n cool. There’s so much I didn’t know about the behind the scenes stuff because I was a kid and all I cared about was being entertained by the games I loved.

Well, I was also pretty thoroughly entertained by this documentary.

Rating: 7/10