Film Review: Brick (2005)

Release Date: January, 2005 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Music by: Nathan Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, Matt O’Leary, Noah Segan, Meagan Good, Emilie de Ravin, Richard Roundtree, Lukas Haas

Bergman Lustig Productions, Focus Features, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Throw one at me if you want, hash head. I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.” – Brendan Frye

This reminds me of that 2017 neo-noir Gemini. Reason being, I saw the trailer for it, was lured in and captivated by the visuals and tone but then upon seeing the movie, realized that it had nothing much to offer other than atmosphere and shitbabble conversations from characters written to appear as cool but actually coming off as pretentious douchewads.

With Brick, everything starts to come undone and loses its luster, as soon as you hear the first bit of dialogue.

Additionally, a lot of this isn’t well shot or well lit. It doesn’t employ anything beyond early film school level cinematography. The visual allure of the trailer was obviously just a selection of the movie’s best shots, probably handpicked by the producers in an effort to at least get enough people to watch this just so that the film could break even. Because even though Brick is sort of a cult film now, no one really knew about it for years.

To put it bluntly, Brick is a fucking headache. It has some talented people in it but what could have been great performances and maybe even iconic ones, is undone by director and writer Rian Johnson’s middle school dialogue.

It’s like Johnson is a teen that just discovered classic film-noir and crime fiction and just lifted 1940s dialogue from those sources, applied it to teenagers in a contemporary setting and thought that it was some sort of genius that would make him the new millennium’s Fellini.

But Hollywood apparently loved this film and Johnson’s horrendously bad Looper because he went on to make a Star Wars picture. Granted, it was the worst Star Wars film ever made and pretty much derailed the franchise.

The point is, the warning signs of Rian Johnson’s inability to actually make a competent film were very apparent with Brick.

This tried so hard to be cool but it failed, just as Rian Johnson tries so hard to be a filmmaker but fails, time and time again.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other overly stylized and quippy, shitbabble movies that miss their mark because they can’t see their mark.

Film Review: Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Also known as: Q (original title), Serpent, The Winged Serpent (working titles), American Monster (Germany)
Release Date: September 8th, 1982 (France)
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Robert O. Ragland
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree

United Film Distribution, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Stick it in your brain. Your tiny little brain!” – Jimmy Quinn

This was originally added to the lineup for the first season of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder. However, it was bumped up in the lineup after the passing of Larry Cohen, the man behind this film, as well as so many other great pictures from a multitude of genres but mostly all fitting under the exploitation, grindhouse or horror umbrellas.

Larry Cohen was one of those guys that video store junkies fell in love with. Me, being a video store junkie, saw most of his films multiple times. But strangely, this is one picture that had eluded me until now. Which is made even stranger due to my love of giant monster movies.

What’s unique about this film is that it was filmed on location in the real Chrysler Building. Cohen went into areas of the building he wasn’t supposed to go but he shot this almost guerilla style while the building’s security weren’t paying enough attention. He went into attics, had actors hanging out of holes in the top and even had them firing off rounds, as shotgun shells rained all over pedestrians on the street 77 stories below.

Unfortunately, the story of this film being made is more exciting than the movie itself. I still like the picture but it’s very slow moving and pretty dry. It’s real saving grace is Michael Moriarty, who Cohen also used in his cult classic The Stuff. Moriarty gives such a powerful, over the top and charismatic performance that I don’t know how the heat he brought to the set didn’t melt the damn celluloid. And that’s not an overstatement. He brought the fire and man, he owns absolutely every scene that he’s in.

The film also stars two greats: David Carradine and Richard Roundtree. But even their natural charisma pales in comparison to Moriarty’s.

I liked the monster part of the story but I think that the monster really just comes off as a very generic winged serpent. I felt like Cohen could have come up with something more creative in the creature’s overall design. But really, it still works and this was a film on a scant budget, which was Cohen’s modus operandi.

In the end, this is an entertaining picture if you are familiar with Cohen’s work and have become a fan of it. Plus, if you love giant monster movies, here’s one more to add to your kaiju spank bank.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Godzilla 1985, The Stuff and It’s Alive.

Film Review: Shaft (1971)

Release Date: June 25th, 1971 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Gordon Parks
Written by: Ernest Tidyman, John D. F. Black
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Issac Hayes, Johnny Allen
Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t let your mouth get your ass in trouble.” – John Shaft

When I was a kid, two movies introduced me to the blaxploitation genre and black cinema of the ’70s. Those films were Dolemite and Shaft. Since that time, I have gone on to immerse myself in the genre and to try and soak up all it has to offer. While I still like Shaft, it feels like diet blaxploitation, as it is pretty light when compared to some of the edgier and less commercially marketable stuff of the era.

But the thing is, Shaft really kicked the door down and left it wide open for all the other movies to come rushing in right after it. It wasn’t the first film of its kind but it was the first to make a massive impact and to help these films crossover with a bigger audience. Shaft went beyond the inner city theaters and bled into suburban America and eventually, it grew beyond that as well. Today, it’s widely considered to be a classic from its time period.

Shaft is just a really refined picture for what it is. It feels bigger and larger and less grindhouse-y. It was put out by a major studio and when compared to the blaxploitation films before it, it just has a sort of professional touch and a magic about it. That’s not to take anything away from Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and Cotton Comes to Harlem but Shaft had a feel of Hollywood legitimacy to it. Granted, I prefer a lot of the lower budget blaxploitation stuff like Dolemite but I have to respect Shaft for what it accomplished and what that meant for its era in black filmmaking.

Plus, Richard Roundtree is perfect as the super cool, no nonsense, badass John Shaft. There aren’t a lot of men that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Roundtree and have his sort of presence. Okay, maybe Fred Williamson and Jim Brown but you get the picture, Roundtree is one badass MFer.

Moses Gunn is also in this and he has a strong presence as well. Gunn is a well versed actor that can be tough as hell and also quite sweet. He’s great as a domineering gangster in this film yet he was also incredible in The NeverEnding Story, which saw him play a role that was really the antithesis to his role here. I just love seeing Gunn in things and he also has these very powerful looking hands that draw attention to themselves and add an extra bit of mystique to his characters.

Shaft has good action elements to it but not as much as I’d like in an action crime film. Roundtree’s attitude and swagger certainly makes up for the lack of gun play and fisticuffs though.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Shaft sequels and TV series, as well as the Shaft reboot with Sam Jackson. Also goes well with SuperflyCotton Comes to Harlem and Detroit 9000.

Film Review: Maniac Cop (1988)

Release Date: May 13th, 1988
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Richard Roundtree, Robert Z’Dar, Laurene Landon, William Smith, Sheree North, Buck Flower

Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

This is a film that stars four incredible bad asses. First you have Tom Atkins, who kicks the bejesus out of anything in his path even if he doesn’t look like a traditional action star. Then you have Bruce Campbell a.k.a. Ash Williams from Evil Dead and Brisco County Jr. from The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Add in Richard Roundtree, who will always be known as Shaft, and Robert Z’Dar, most famous for his role here, as the Maniac Cop, but who has also been in a slew of bad ass roles over his career.

If that isn’t enough to sell you on this film, I don’t know what is.

In the film, there is a serial killer who seems to be picking random people to murder. It isn’t long before it is discovered that the killer is a cop. Bruce Campbell’s character gets blamed for the killings but he isn’t the guy doing it. Tom Atkins is leading the investigation and has to answer to his boss, Richard Roundtree. The killer is a hulking giant of a man in a police uniform. The Maniac Cop is actually Robert Z’Dar and the story tries to put the pieces together in an effort to discover his identity and why he’s become a murderous maniac.

While this film fits the slasher formula, it is more of a whodunit mystery. This film is also more of a crime thriller, whereas its sequels went the more traditional slasher route.

It is a pretty decent film overall but it isn’t anything exceptional. The cast makes it much better than it should be. The movie is bogged down by poor editing, direction and a shrill and incomprehensible score. The music is fine to a point but there are scenes where the score takes over and is a distraction, most notably in the shower fight scene.

The cinematography is pretty good though. While the film is dark, for the most part, the highlights and subtle lighting work add a depth to the visual side of storytelling. The scene where the Maniac Cop is flashing back to his demise in prison, is a good example of how a really dark shot can have life, as the sliver of light highlighting the character’s eye while his body is a black silhouette adds a sense of humanity to the monster.

Maniac Cop is not so much a classic, as it is just a really cool slasher picture that is different from the norm. It takes itself more seriously and it has a bit more gravitas than your run of the mill 1980s masked killer movie.