Film Review: Scandal Sheet (1952)

Also known as: The Dark Page (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Eugene Lind, James Poe, Ted Sherdeman
Based on: The Dark Page by Samuel Fuller
Music by: George Duning
Cast: Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed, John Derek, Rosemary DeCamp, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Edward Small Productions, Motion Picture Investors, Columbia Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Very rare items. Pictures of a dame with her mouth shut.” – Steve McCleary

Scandal Sheet is a lesser known film-noir from the classic era but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t quality.

The film does start out a bit slow and I didn’t know anything about the story. But once the plot really starts to unfold, it is hard to turn away.

The story is about a newspaper man that has converted a paper into a popular tabloid. But you soon find out that this man has a past when his ex-wife shows up to confront him. This confrontation leads to the woman’s murder. The reporter that the newspaper man is mentoring decides to crack the case. As the film progresses and clues turn into evidence, the vile newspaper man has to decide between his freedom and the life of the reporter he cares for.

While the film doesn’t have the most famous cast. it does have Donna Reed. She is the shining beacon of talent amongst the group. That’s not to say that the other players aren’t capable, they certainly are, but Reed’s charisma and charm really shine through. Her presence is almost distracting looking at this through a modern lens. In 1952, however, she was in good company with veteran Broderick Crawford and John Derek, even though his career wasn’t as prolific.

This is pretty well shot and executed. However, there’s not a whole lot of visual allure that makes this stand out like some of the more famous noir pictures. It’s still a fine movie that was shot and captured pretty competently, though.

I’d say that this is definitely a better than average film-noir but it’s nowhere near the upper echelon.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known but good film-noirs: Shockproof, D.O.A., Side Street and The Prowler.

Film Review: The Wraith (1986)

Also known as: Turbocop (Mexico), Interceptor (Germany)
Release Date: October, 1986 (Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Mike Marvin
Written by: Mike Marvin
Music by: Michael Hoenig, J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Charlies Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Clint Howard, Griffin O’Neal

New Century Entertainment Corporation, Alliance Entertainment, Turbo Productions, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You listen to me, you son-of-a-bitch! There’s a kid out there usin’ his car to kill people, not that it’s such a big deal since it seems to be your gang he’s got it in for… so, if you guys try to take the law into your own hands, and that killer turns up dead, I’m gonna see you all sniffin’ cyanide in the Arizona gas chamber.” – Sheriff Loomis

This is one of those movies that used to come on late at night on cable, usually with an introduction by Joe Bob Briggs via TNT’s MonsterVision. I always got glued to the set whenever it was on though, as there is just something so surreal and bizarre about it.

The plot is basically the same as The Crow, except the dead guy looking for revenge isn’t an invincible goth dude with a pet bird. Instead, he’s Charlie Sheen and he has the ability to turn into a ghost car. But then, that’s kind of confusing because he ends up giving the car to his little brother at the end, as he goes off into the sunset on his motorcycle with Audrey from Twin Peaks.

Anyway, Tucson is overrun by a gang of race car thugs. They bully people into racing them, cheat to win and then take their car. Charlie Sheen in his previous, less dreamy form, was murdered by the gang because he was having sex with Audrey from Twin Peaks, who the gang leader is obsessed over.

Sheen comes back, turns into a ghost car a.k.a. a Dodge M4S Interceptor and kills the gang members, one at a time, in races that end with them usually being blown to bits. Although, their bodies remain intact with their eyes looking like they’ve been burnt out. I guess Ghost Car Charlie sucks their souls out through their eyes or something. Honestly, it’s not really clear.

The film also stars Nick Cassavetes, son of John, as the gang leader, Clint Howard, as a a guy that looks like a ginger Beavis with glasses, and Randy Quaid, as the no nonsense sheriff that ain’t got time for all this supernatural shit. But the sheriff doesn’t really care about solving the case, as the ghost car is killing off the scumbags of Tucson.

I can’t particularly call this a good film and really, it’ll resonate with a certain type of movie fan. Mostly, fans of ’80s schlock with a sci-fi and supernatural bent. Really, this is a common late night cable movie of the late ’80s and ’90s, so if that’s your thing, you should enjoy this.

There’s not much plot to muck up the insanity and surrealness, which in these type of movies is a real plus. We don’t need all this wacky shit explained, just serve it to us in mass amounts and let us feast.

I can’t say that this is a movie that helped anyone’s career but I certainly don’t think that it hurt anyone’s either. It’s a hearty helping of ham with a dopey but fun script, executed as well as it could be with ’80s special effects and a tight budget.

Plus, it’s got a lot of solid car action.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The Crow, which may have somewhat ripped this story off.

Film Review: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

Also known as: Space Cobra (working title), Cobra (Norway, France, Finland)
Release Date: July 3rd, 1982 (Japan)
Directed by: Osamu Dezaki
Written by: Buichi Terasawa, Haruya Yamazaki
Based on: Cobra by Buichi Terasawa
Music by: Osamu Shoji

TMS Entertainment, Toho-Towa, 99 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (video cut)

Review:

I never knew about Space Adventure Cobra or the Cobra character until fairly recently. It must have flown under the radar when I was a kid or it was on a secret adult shelf in the video store due to it having boobies and butts in it.

Delving deep into anime space operas and cyberpunk films that I’ve missed, I did find this pretty quickly down the rabbit hole and thankfully, it was free to stream with Prime.

Had I discovered this as a kid, I would have loved it. Not just because it’s pretty racy but because the main character is cool as hell, this universe is cool and I loved the hell out of the animation style.

Tonally, it reminds me of Arcadia of My Youth while also having an aesthetic that reminded me a lot of Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s style in Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku and Ninja Scroll.

It’s part space opera, part swashbuckling and a whole lot of kickass with a character that feels like the best parts of Han Solo and James Bond merged into one being. Plus, he’s voiced by the same actor that played Roy Fokker in Robotech and the character also has a similar look. So that really tapped into my lifelong love of all things Robotech and Macross.

This was just a really cool find and it immediately became one of my favorite anime pictures from its era. Now knowing that there are manga, a television series, other films and OVAs, I want to check them all out. Hopefully, they aren’t too hard to find.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the Space Cobra television series, Arcadia of My YouthGalaxy Express 999 and Venus Wars.

Film Review: Othello (1951)

Also known as: The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (original title), Orson Welles’ Othello (Germany)
Release Date: November 27th, 1951 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: Othello by William Shakespeare
Music by: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, Alberto Barberis
Cast: Orson Welles, Micheál Mac Liammóir, Suzanne Cloutier, Robert Coote

Scalera Film, Marceau Films, United Artists, 90 Minutes, 93 Minutes (TCM print)

Review:

“Oh beware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” – Iago

Othello is one of my favorite plays by William Shakespeare and over the years I’ve seen several adaptations of it. I have to say though, this one is probably my favorite.

While it does alter the story somewhat, the gist of the story is here. I just feel like it’s condensed with some alterations just to keep it at a reasonable running time. But it was also filmed in segments over several years, so the pace of the production could’ve also had an effect on the finished product and the creative liberties it took.

But I think that Orson Welles truly respected the material and tried to do the best adaptation he could. He certainly didn’t fail and the end result is pretty exceptional.

Although, Orson Welles was a true filmmaking auteur and a remarkable actor. So whether he is behind the camera or in front of it, it’s near impossible not to be captivated on some level.

While this isn’t as famous as his pictures Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons, it employs a lot of what he learned on those films.

Welles is a maestro of mise-en-scène and he goes to great lengths in his shot framing, cinematography and lighting to make something so rich and alluring. Hell, just the opening sequence of robed silhouettes walking for five minutes in high contrast chiaroscuro is visually striking and sets the tone for the narrative, as well as the ocular allure.

Welles plays Othello and while in modern times white actors playing roles in blackface is considered highly offensive, it was a product of its day when this was made. That doesn’t make it right but for anyone trying to adapt Othello, this is a challenge that they had to deal with. And it wasn’t because there weren’t talented black actors, it’s due to the fact that there had to be interracial exchanges of romance, which wasn’t allowed by Hollywood in 1951.

In fact, 1957’s Island In the Sun is said to be the film with the first interracial kiss but it actually isn’t. The kisses that were shot were edited out and the filmmakers only gave viewers a passionate dance and a romantic embrace. The first actual interracial kiss didn’t come until 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and even then, it was obscured and shown in reflection.

The point is, Welles’ Othello predates Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by 16 years. Had Welles cast a black actor, this is a real issue he would have had to deal with in how the picture was filmed and ultimately, in how it would have been received by audiences and within his own industry, who were still not willing to get past their own bigotry.

I think that the point of the Othello story is its examination of racism. Regardless of how Welles had to present his vision, the film still carries that message and frankly, it’s films like this that helped eventually open some of the doors in Hollywood. I think that Welles knew this and he acted out the role of Othello with real passion. And it’s hard to deny the level of craftsmanship he put into the film as the visionary behind it.

Besides, it was Welles himself who wrote in a 1944 issue of Free World magazine that, “Race hate must be outlawed.” He would also go on to star alongside Charlton Heston (in brownface) in 1958’s Touch of Evil, a film-noir dealing with racial tensions in a California/Mexico border town.

Getting back to the film itself, I’d say that the only thing that somewhat hinders the picture is the rest of the cast. It’s not that they are bad or incapable but next to Welles, they seem out of their depth and overpowered. While Welles certainly won’t downplay his performance, his best films are well cast with other players who can hang with him and enhance his scenes. For instance, the aforementioned Charlton Heston, as well as frequent collaborator Joseph Cotton and his wife of four years, Rita Hayworth.

Now while I feel that the pace and running time were fine, I was actually so into this that I wouldn’t have minded if Welles took this motion picture to the three hour mark. I think it would have made the production more difficult than it already was but with Othello, he crafted a silvery and majestic film that carried a strong, worthwhile message.

It does what it sets out to do within 90 minutes, though. So I’ll take it and appreciate it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Orson Welles films, specifically Macbeth and Chimes at Midnight.

Film Review: The Ice Pirates (1984)

Release Date: March 16th, 1984
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Written by: Stewart Raffill, Stanford Sherman
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Bruce Vilanch, John Carradine, John Matuszak

JF Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid I have some bad news… well maybe its not that bad. The princess is pregnant.” – Wendon

I have weird memories of The Ice Pirates. I remember it being on TV a lot when I was a kid and I watched it all the time. But I didn’t have a nostalgic fondness for it like I do similar pictures. Watching it now, I did enjoy it but it just doesn’t connect for me in the right way.

It’s lighthearted, fun and amusing. You like just about all of the characters and it’s highly energetic. There’s not much of anything to dislike but even for all of its positives, it does fall kind of flat for me.

I guess my biggest gripe is that the pacing is really odd and sometimes you are just pulled along for the ride and it isn’t even all that clear as to what’s happening on screen. There is a disjointedness to the film that makes it hard to follow if you’re actually trying to take it somewhat seriously.

While the big conclusion that deals with rapid aging and time travel shenanigans is a neat sequence, it feels sloppily done and it feels like the gag is more important than the climax of the film itself.

Honestly, The Ice Pirates plays like a string of sketch comedy scenes, following a sci-fi theme with just a small plot thread holding them together in any sort of cohesive way.

I do like the performances though, everyone looked to be enjoying the production and because of that, it makes the movie more exciting. Plus, I’ll watch Bruce Vilanch in anything.

But, in the end, I have a hard time considering this to be a classic, as many would suggest.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Battle Beyond the Stars, The Black Hole, Spacehunter: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone, Space Raiders and Cherry 2000.

Comic Review: Cerebus, Book 4: Church & State II (Issues #81-111)

Published: December, 1985 – June, 1988
Written by: Dave Sim
Art by: Dave Sim, Gerhard

Aardvark-Vanaheim, 630 Pages

Review:

While I’ve been a fan of Cerebus, thus far, as each book continues to build off of its predecessor, this is the first chapter I’ve come to that feels like it’s taken a bit of a step back.

That’s not to say that I’m not still a fan, I am. It’s just to say that this massive Church & State era of the comic was so large that it had to be broken into two massive books, the first one, which was the high point of Cerebus thus far, and this second book, which kind of falls flat after a few key moments happen that drastically shift the narrative and one’s view of the title character.

This was the book where the big rape scene happened. I’ve heard people talk about it for years but I wanted to read it for myself with full context of the rest of the series behind me and in my memory bank.

So the scene itself is pretty damn off putting and really catches you off guard, even if you are aware that the moment exists somewhere in the Cerebus story. It kind of took me out of the book for a minute even, as it gives this series a real harshness that it didn’t have before. A harshness that feels so heavy it completely wrecks the somewhat jovial tone of what the series has been up to that point.

I can’t exactly say that it is a moment that was necessary, even if it conveys Cerebus being overrun with his own political power and as a reflection of his view of women and other people in general. Sure, he threw a baby, which was also controversial in Church & State I but where one could dismiss that as edgy comedy, this dark turn for his character is on another level completely.

Point being, if you liked the character of Cerebus before this, despite his other faults, it becomes impossible to like him after this moment in the story.

But with that being said, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way for the character to find a way back from this. It’s damn hard and near impossible but it makes you ask yourself that question about whether or not there is a point of no return that someone can cross and not be worthy of redemption at a later point? But I also don’t know if that idea is something Dave Sim has in the cards for the Cerebus character.

I also don’t know how I am going to feel about the series, as a whole, reading beyond this book. It changed everything and nearly every issue after the rape issue just came across in a much darker tone because of the effects of that event.

Ultimately, Cerebus leaves his role as Pope behind and this ends, moving him into a new phase beyond what we’ve become accustomed to with High Society, Church & State I and Church & State II.

No longer is this just a parody of sword and sorcery or anthropomorphic animal comics of the ’70s. It hasn’t been that for awhile but this book really solidified how far this series has evolved from its earliest form.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Cerebus story arcs, especially the earlier stuff.

Film Review: To Have and Have Not (1944)

Also known as: Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not (complete title)
Release Date: October 11th, 1944 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Written by: Jules Furthman, William Faulkner
Based on: To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: William Lava, Franz Waxman
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael

Warner Bros., 100 Minutes

Review:

“Drinking don’t bother my memory. If it did I wouldn’t drink. I couldn’t. You see, I’d forget how good it was, then where’d I be? Start drinkin’ water, again.” – Eddie

I don’t know what it was about the pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall but all four of their movies are absolute classics. This one is no different and it’s the last one for me to review.

But maybe their chemistry was just infectious. They ended up married in real life and their passion just comes through every time you see them together, even as just fictional characters.

However, a lot of the greatness of these films can just be because the star was Bogart and at this point in his career, he was on top of the world. His pictures got the best directors, the best scripts and usually a pretty strong budget. His films really encapsulate what Hollywood was in his era.

I really like the story in this one though and it has some strong similarities to the setting and tone of Key Largo.

This takes place on a different island, however. The film is set on Martinique but it has a similar ’40s tropical island ambiance that gives the picture a somewhat magical quality.

The story is about an American boat captain that helps transport a French Resistance leader and his wife. It’s set during World War II, which plays a lot into the plot and the film’s political climate. Also, between all of this, the boat captain tries to romance a lounge singer he meets while on the island.

Overall, the plot was really good but everything is greatly enhanced by the performances of Bogart and Bacall. But a lot of credit should also go to director Howard Hawks, who has made some real cinematic magic in his day, this just being just one of his many great pictures.

To Have and Have Not also boasts some stellar cinematography from Sidney Hickox, whose resume is longer than a cross country drive on a moped.

Everything just looks and feels majestic and wonderful in this picture. While not a pillar of perfection, it should definitely sit pretty high up on anyone’s list of best classic film-noir pictures.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other films that team up Bograt and Bacall, most notably Key Largo.