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.

Documentary Review: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004)

Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title)
Release Date: September 12th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker
Written by: Ed Singer
Music by: John Williams
Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite

Prometheus Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, A&E, 151 Minutes, 120 Minutes (TV Edit)

Review:

“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford

I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.

Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.

Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.

If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?

Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.

Video Game Review: Kid Icarus (NES)

I never understood why Kid Icarus didn’t get sequels on the original Nintendo. It was a pretty solid and fun game that was damn challenging. It also took place in an interesting world and the hero of the game was featured in every episode of the super popular Saturday morning cartoon: Captain N: The Game Master.

But then I look at a game like Metroid, a mega hit, and it never got a sequel on the Nintendo either. Who the hell made these decisions at the company, back in the day?

Kid Icarus, like Metroid, Rygar or the Konami space shooter Lifeforce, is both a side scrolling and vertical scrolling game. Some levels are horizontal, some are vertical and then the dungeons are both, as you move from room to room similar to the labyrinths in the original Zelda game.

The mechanics for the game are good, even if there may be a period of adjustment for new players. Some of the platform hopping can be tedious at first but once you get the flow of the game’s controls and physics, it’s not too difficult.

I think that the level design could have been better though, as each level just seems to be sporadic without a lot of logic or sense in the design. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing and it doesn’t hinder your progression through the game itself, it wouldn’t have taken much effort to improve this quite a bit. However, other than the dungeons, each level follows a straight, direct path.

My biggest issue is the boss battles. They all just kind of suck and are too time consuming. Maybe I was supposed to use some special item I didn’t pick up or something but having to hit a boss 200 times with a simple arrow just drags down the whole game, kills the momentum and sucks the fun out of the experience.

Still, Kid Icarus is a fun game to play and for it’s era, it gives you a ton of gameplay time from start to finish.

A Nintendo sequel would have been nice though, as it could have refined things, corrected some of the mistakes and been a much better version of this already entertaining game.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other NES action fantasy or sci-fi games like the two original Zeldas, Rygar or Metroid.

Comic Review: Action Comics, Issue #23 – First Appearance of Lex Luthor

Published: March 31st, 1940
Written by: Jerry Siegel
Art by: Joe Shuster, Paul Cassidy

DC Comics, 14 Pages

Review:

I had never read the first appearance of Lex Luthor but I had always heard that he was a weird ginger dude that may have been smart but was not very Lex Luthor-ish.

Well, that’s an accurate description. And frankly, I’m glad that Luthor, as he’s just called here, evolved into something more akin to his modern form. Honestly, I couldn’t see him lasting in the form that he took here.

However, I guess this issue was popular enough to have the character return, albeit retooled and repackaged into the bald, power hungry tycoon he’s most most recognized as.

The story is pretty short and it just sees Lois Lane get kidnapped. Superman gets a clue to her whereabouts and tracks her down in Luthor’s lair. He bests the ginger madman and saves Lois, the end.

I’d have to go back and read more on the history of kryptonite but there is a sequence here where Luthor weakens Superman with a green laser beam. It’s unclear what the beam is but maybe this was an early version of kryptonite being used.

Anyway, this wasn’t a terribly exciting comic but it was okay for what Golden Age comic stories were.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Golden Age Superman comics.

Film Review: Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Release Date: November 10th, 1990
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Graeme Revell, Bernard Herrmann (original themes)
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Henry Thomas, Olivia Hussey, C. C. H. Pounder, Warren Frost, John Landis, Kurt Paul, Sharen Camille

Smart Money Productions, Universal Pictures, NBC, Showtime, 96 Minutes

Review:

“All that faith and no potatoes.” – Norman Bates

For being a made-for-TV movie and the third sequel in a series, Psycho IV isn’t half bad. Hell, I even like it a bit more than the third film, even if it is missing Jeff Fahey, who killed it in that picture.

The cast in this one is really well-rounded though between the returning Anthony Perkins, as well as Henry Thomas, Olivia Hussey and C. C. H. Pounder. Honestly, this is a really well acted picture that saw its main players give it their all with really solid and compelling results.

The picture starts with Norman Bates being cured but we’ve seen that in the two previous pictures until events pushed him over the edge and back towards his serial killing slasher self.

What’s different and unique about this picture is it involves Norman calling a radio show discussing boys who have murdered their mothers. He uses the name “Ed” while on the air but he talks through his past, primarily his early years, in an effort to fight off his killer tendencies from returning.

With that, this film serves as both a sequel and a prequel. It takes place after Psycho III but it spends a great deal of time flashing back to his life before the events of the original Psycho. It delves into his bizarre relationship with his mother and how it shaped him into the man he became.

Henry Thomas, most famous for playing Elliot in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, shows that he was a good actor and he creates a young Norman that is sympathetic yet disturbed.

However, his performance is enhanced by the talent of Olivia Hussey, who plays his mother Norma Bates. The film examines the sexual tension between mother and son and it’s really the plot of this movie that gave birth to the concept that became the Bates Motel television series. And honestly, I prefer this version of a Psycho prequel.

Adult Norman, still played by Perkins, who really committed his life to this role and who always delivers an A-plus performance, shared most of his scenes with the always good C. C. H. Pounder. While the scenes they share are over the phone, as both act out their scenes in different rooms separate from each other, the two had perfect chemistry and their discussions are emotional and believable.

But giving credit where credit is due, a lot of this also probably has to do with the quality of the editing and the overall film direction. These two actors were on completely different sets, probably filming on completely different days but their combined efforts worked and it carries the picture at its most important parts.

What’s fantastic to me, is that I never expected much from Psycho sequels. The first one is perfection and anything else, I thought, would diminish it. But I was wrong. While none of the sequels are as good as the original Hitchcock film, each is still good in their own way and every chapter feels like it enhances the larger story that is Norman Bates’ complete life.

I hope that Anthony Perkins was pleased with the end result of all these films.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 1’ by Roy Thomas

Man, this was a really cool book to read. Any fan of the ’70s Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics should love this, as it gives deep insight into every one of the first 51 issues.

The best part, is all this insight is given by Roy Thomas, the man who wrote and managed the creation of each of these issues.

Each chapter in this book covers a single issue. Each chapter is also typically four-to-five pages, which really is a lot when looking at the bigger picture. In fact, I’m surprised that Roy Thomas was even able to remember so many details, even with the help of his own notes.

I mean, I’m in a field where I create art every day and even on the biggest brands I’ve designed, I can’t remember all the reasons why I made certain creative choices. And I’m a lot younger than Thomas and my work wasn’t done decades ago.

This is a fun and impressive read. It gives you Thomas’ point-of-view on the character, the mythos and how to stay as true as possible to Robert E. Howard’s vision when there isn’t enough material to use over a lengthy amount of time creating monthly Conan stories.

Also, this book is labeled as a “volume one”. So I guess there is more coming. I hope so, because this was so enjoyable. But I also hope that I don’t have to wait too long for “volume two”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.

Comic Review: Avengers, Issue #6 – First Appearance of Baron Zemo & The Masters of Evil

Published: July 8th, 1964
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Chic Stone

Marvel Comics, 24 Pages

Review:

I recently read Avengers issue #8, the first appearance of Kang the Conqueror and I really enjoyed it. And since I actually now own a high quality original issue of this comic, the first appearance of the original Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil, I figured that I’d read this one too.

Granted, the comic I own is graded and slabbed, so I read this digitally. It’s actually free for Comixology Unlimited members.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed this issue immensely. Even more so than the Kang issue.

This was a pretty high energy issue that was mostly action, as the Avengers didn’t fight one big villain but instead, fought a group of villains that were very aware of each hero’s weakness.

The story also ties back to the death of Bucky and how personal that tragedy was for Captain America. We learn that Zemo was behind Bucky’s death and that gives some added emotional weight to the story, cementing him, immediately, as one of Cap’s greatest rivals.

I loved Stan Lee’s writing here, especially his dialogue. I also appreciated the extra layers added to the plot that called back to past events that existed before Stan was even writing comics.

This is, of course, all enhanced by the stupendous artwork of Jack Kirby, who is still my favorite person ever to draw Captain America. He also really gives Zemo a presence and style that no one else has been able to replicate with the same sort of impact.

For those of you that just like old school comics when stories were told over just one issue, this is a great representation of that bygone narrative style.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Stan Lee and Jack Kirby era Marvel stuff, especially The Avengers and Fantastic Four.