Film Review: Missing In Action (1984)

Also known as: Braddock: Super Comando (Brazil), Desaparecido en acción (Argentina)
Release Date: November 16th, 1984
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: James Bruner, John Crowther, Lance Hool
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Chuck Norris, M. Emmet Walsh, Lenore Kasdorf, James Hong, David Tress

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 101 Minutes

Review:

“You leave tomorrow, or you not leave at all!” – Vinh

Missing In Action was the first movie that Chuck Norris did for The Cannon Group. However, it would spawn a film series, as well as open the door for the Delta Force film series and other Norris action pictures from the studio.

This film bombed with critics but it was a huge hit for Cannon. Additionally, the sequel to this movie was supposed to come out first, as they were filmed back-to-back, but Cannon changed their minds and rushed this one out. So the second film is actually a prequel because of that.

Another strange factoid is that this was rushed into theaters to avoid a lawsuit in regards to it being a ripoff of Rambo: First Blood Part II. The story for this film was “inspired” by a story treatment that James Cameron wrote for Rambo II.

Anyway, all that drama aside, this was one of Chuck Norris’ best movies. It is also a product of its time and fits the Cannon style and might be the second most perfect Cannon film after American Ninja. That one gets the edge because it features ninjas.

But this one doesn’t just feature Chuck, it also features M. Emmet Walsh and James Hong, two guys I love in just about everything they do.

Now this picture is a heavy handed, pro-America, patriot film. That’s not a bad thing though, as it was the ’80s and our action movies didn’t have time for pesky communists and people’s wimpy fefes.

Chuck is a one man wrecking ball that goes behind enemy lines into Vietnam to rescue some P.O.W.s and while he’s at it, he’s going to make the bad guys pay for the hell they put him through during the Vietnam War a decade earlier.

The action is intense, Chuck’s bravado is infectious and this just hits all the right notes for fans of this genre from this time period.

I love Missing In Action. This is a quintessential ’80s action flick with high octane, lots of explosions and enough ammo to make every 2nd Amendment hater run for the hills out of fear. This represents a time when men were still men and they didn’t have a clue what the fuck a soy latte was.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Missing In Action movies, as well as the Delta Force film series and pretty much anything by Cannon Films.

Comic Review: The Punisher: War In Bagalia

Published: January 9th, 2019 – May 1st, 2019
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski, Greg Smallwood (covers)

Marvel Comics, 119 Pages

Review:

This picks up right where World War Frank left off.

Overall, this wasn’t as strong as the first Matthew Rosenberg story arc but this builds off of it in an interesting way. However, by the end of it, you’re left empty handed because Baron Zemo evades the Punisher once again.

Still, Rosenberg is doing a stupendous job on The Punisher and I hope he sticks around for some time and keeps this momentum going.

Also, this just hits the right notes for me, as it is Frank Castle, being merciless, trying his damnedest to hunt down and kill Zemo, even if his biggest rival Jigsaw keeps getting in his way.

I’m a fan of the art style by Szymon Kudranski, it’s gritty and works for the tone. However, I have seen some criticism about how he doesn’t make characters with specific physical traits pop off of the panel in ways that you can instantly recognize.

For instance, his take on Jigsaw makes it hard to tell that you’re looking at Jigsaw unless he’s shown in close up. I agree with the criticism but it doesn’t break the book for me, as it is clear who the characters are through the story. But this should be improved upon.

While this was a pretty badass arc, it falls a bit short of the previous one because it seemed to slow the narrative down and with how this ends, it leaves Frank Castle’s hunt for Baron Zemo unfinished. While I love Zemo, he’s one of my favorite villains, period, the Punisher’s apprehension or murder of him is really being dragged out much longer than it needs to be.

But maybe Rosenberg has a solid plan for the next arc. I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: old school late ’80s to early ’90s Punisher and the recent Marvel Knights 20th anniversary event.

Film Review: Mortal Engines (2018)

Release Date: December 5th, 2018 (Belgium, Egypt, Indonesia, South Korea, Philippines)
Directed by: Christian Rivers
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Frankie Adams

Media Rights Capital, Scholastic Productions, Silvertongue Films, WingNut Films, Universal Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“I was eight years old when my mother died. She loved traveling the world and digging up the past. He used to visit all the time, and then one day everything changed. She’d found something, something he wanted.” – Hester Shaw

Mortal Engines seemed to have a lot of fanfare when it was being made. But once it was about to come out, that fanfare had died down and ultimately, it bombed at the box office.

I did have an interest in this because Peter Jackson was behind it. But once I found out that he wasn’t directing this, my interest died down and I figured I’d see what the public’s consensus was before jumping in, headfirst.

This is a pretty weak film. Now it isn’t bad but it completely lacks the spirit of Jackson’s most famous films: the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Maybe that’s because he didn’t direct it or because the story itself just wasn’t strong enough.

Now the idea behind the story is cool. This is a really neat concept as it is about massive cities that move around and steal the resources of smaller settlements. At least, that’s what the film was sold to me as. This picture really just showcases one city: London. Maybe the sequels would have shown more moving cities, which could have been badass had this film succeeded and its sequels weren’t cancelled.

Moving cities battling other moving cities almost sounds like the makings of a kaiju movie where the giant monsters are the cities themselves. That could have been cool but now we’ll probably never see it, unless someone steals the idea for another film or if there is another attempt at this young adult novel series several years in the future. But really, this would probably work better as a television series.

I thought that the acting was pretty good and Hugo Weaving really owned the scenes he was in. However, Stephen Lang’s performance, as the cyborg Shrike, was actually chilling to the bone. He was the best, most complex character in the film and even though you initially see him as an unstoppable force of evil, the more you learn about him, the more you understand what his motivations are and how there is a tortured human being’s soul buried under his metal shell and wires.

By comparison though, a lot of the other characters besides Weaving and Lang, felt a bit flat.

The special effects were impressive but this is a Peter Jackson produced motion picture with his effects studio Weta providing those effects. That being said, you can expect to be as impressed by the visuals of this film as you were with Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations.

It’s a shame that this wasn’t a better motion picture and that it ultimately flatlined upon arrival because it would have been really cool to see another epic fantasy trilogy by Peter Jackson. Also, the video games could have been incredible. But alas, I guess we’ll have to wait to see Jackson wow us once again. But hopefully, the next big fantasy or sci-fi film he’s a part of will see him once again in the director’s chair.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other YA novel adaptations of recent years: The Maze RunnerDivergent, etc.

Film Review: Deathsport (1978)

Also known as: Death Race 2050 (Germany)
Release Date: April, 1978
Directed by: Allan Arkus, Roger Corman, Nicholas Niciphor
Written by: Nicholas Niciphor, Donald E. Stewart, Francis Doel
Music by: Andy Stein
Cast: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch

New World Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“As much as I would enjoy killing you here tonight, I will enjoy watching you die more in the Deathsport tomorrow.” – Ankar Moor

Man, despite being a fan of this film’s style, this was a real challenge to get through, even at just 82 minutes.

Maybe part of the problem was that it had three directors. Also, it was trying to capitalize off of the cult classic Death Race 2000 and was intended to be a follow-up to it but switching out cars for motorcycles. It definitely fails at being anything close to the greatness of Death Race 2000 and another similar film also starring Carradine, Cannonball.

I think the biggest reason as to why this doesn’t have the charm and coolness of those other two films, is that this one wasn’t directed by Paul Bartell. And I think that is most apparent in the dryness of this film and it’s complete lack of clever humor and endearing spirit.

Put out by New World and Roger Corman, this was a bargain basement production. But it was also mired in production issues beyond the budgetary constraints.

The film looks cheap. In fact, it looks cheaper than Death Race even though it was made much later in the same decade. But maybe the clusterfuck of a production just didn’t have the wherewithal to get the best bang for the buck, as Paul Bartell did and as Corman usually does.

The acting is really bad, even for New World Pictures standards. Plus, the action sequences are bizarre and riddled with more mistakes than a typical Corman production.

While the film has an interesting visual style that isn’t too dissimilar from Death Race, it has really bizarre weapons, like transparent swords and these handheld spotlight things that vaporize people.

This also has one of the strangest bits from any Corman production. There are two scenes that feature a naked woman dancing around these suspended silver rods. Then the rods start shocking them, as they dance around, yelping in pain as an old fascist dweeb laughs in amusement.

Deathsport was a real disappointment. Granted, I didn’t go into it expecting it to be on the level of the rare gem, Death Race 2000. However, I had hoped that some of that spirit would’ve made it into this film. It didn’t.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and Cannonball.

Film Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Release Date: September 24th, 1986 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: John McNaughton
Written by: Richard Fire, John McNaughton
Music by: Ken Hale, Steven A. Jones, Robert McNaughton
Cast: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Maljack Productions, Greycat Films, 83 Minutes, 75 Minutes (TV edit)

Review:

“How about those Bears?” – Store Clerk, “Fuck the Bears.” – Henry

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a brutal f’n movie. However, it’s also very slow and drawn out more than it needs to be. Now I get the old school suspense thriller style of building up tension but it’s not effective here and it makes 75 percent of this movie pretty damn boring.

I get that this movie has its fans but I’m really not one of them.

Now this film does have three distinct positives.

One, the acting is superb. Michael Rooker is more chilling than ever and since I’m a big fan of Rooker, I do like this film as far as his performance goes. He went to some really dark places here but what’s most interesting about it, is that he showed how capable of an actor he was even in his younger years.

Two, I like the cinematography and how this film was shot. The lighting was done well, the shot framing was better than one would anticipate and overall, the visual aesthetic enhanced the tone of the story, greatly.

Three, the score is unsettling but interesting in a way that also enhanced the film and its effect.

Sadly, the pacing just undoes a lot of the good.

Additionally, this is an extremely violent picture and while I don’t have a problem with gore, when there’s a real purpose for it, this film seems to use it just to push the bar and maybe that’s because the rest of the picture is so dull. The film does seem like it’s trying too hard to be shocking in those scenes.

I’m not sure if this was trying to pass itself off as high art but it’s definitely not high art. It’s not necessarily a proto-Silence of the Lambs, as much as it just feels like a gore riddled Manhunter.

But for fans of Rooker, it is worth a watch for sure.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs.

Film Review: Sisters (1972)

Also known as: Blood Sisters (Ireland)
Release Date: November 18th, 1972 (Filmex)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!” – Grace Collier

Brian De Palma is a very talented director. This early film from him has him tapping into Alfred Hitchcock territory. While De Palma is no Hitchcock, this is as good as Hitchcock’s ’70s films, after he moved on from his prime.

Funny enough, De Palma got Bernard Herrmann to do the score for this film. For those that don’t know, Herrmann was a regular collaborator with Hitchcock. He also did the scores for Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a slew of other classic pictures.

Herrmann’s score here is incredible and this wouldn’t be the same movie without Herrmann’s melodic, enchanting and otherworldly music. Sometimes the score is slow and beautiful, other times it is pounding, a bit shrill but always interesting.

De Palma channels his inner Hitchcock in his style and narrative structure. This is like a Hitchcockian thriller turned up to 11. This is a murder mystery story but it has very dark and unusual twists. In fact, I had never seen this before and having now seen it, I can see where all these other films and novels I’ve enjoyed have taken cues from the story’s twist.

The visual style is also heavily borrowed from Hitchcock but De Palma does it so well that this is much more of a strong and respectful homage than the director simply emulating a master.

The dream/hallucination sequence towards the end is majestic and nightmarish.

De Palma also taps into Hitchcock’s cinematic obsession of voyeurism. There are elements of Rear Window and Psycho in this but De Palma pulls this all off without a hitch.

This was a really cool film, which makes me appreciate the early work of De Palma even more.

Plus, Margot Kidder was absolutely superb in this. Jennifer Salt was a lot of fun too.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early De Palma films: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury.

Film Review: Suspiria (2018)

Also known as: Suspíria: A Dança do Medo (Brazil)
Release Date: September 1st, 2018 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Luca Guadangnino
Written by: David Kajganich
Based on: Suspiria by Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Christine LeBoutte, Fabrizia Sacchi, Małgosia Bela, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz

K Period Media, Frenesy Film Company, Videa, Mythology Entertainment, First Sun, Memo Films, Amazon Studios, 152 Minutes

Review:

“Movement is never mute. It is a language. It’s a series of energetic shapes written in the air like words forming sentences. Like poems. Like prayers.” – Madame Blanc

There had been rumors of a Suspiria remake for years. I never thought it would actually happen, as it was in developmental hell and it isn’t a film that needs to be remade. The original was unique, haunting, effective and super stylish. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of all-time.

So I was definitely against the idea of a remake. In fact, in my original Suspiria review, I referred to the upcoming remake as “cinematic sacrilege”. But something changed when I saw the trailer for this film.

This was a motion picture that was drastically different and certainly appeared to be its own thing only vaguely inspired by its source material. I was intrigued and once I realized that it was directed by the very talented Luca Guadangnino, who most recently did the Oscar nominated Call Me by Your Name, I was even more intrigued.

Unfortunately, this didn’t get a theatrical release near me but knowing that it was distributed by Amazon Studios, I figured I could just wait until it was available for free with my Prime membership. Once it was, I wasted no time in checking the film out.

I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this movie and even though it isn’t on the level of the original, it exceeds it in some factors.

Primarily, the acting in this picture is utterly superb and it is only enhanced by Guadangnino’s direction. He was able to capture very intimate moments, without the support of dialogue, in a way that added a mystique to the haunted proceedings.

Guadangnino also didn’t take his style cues from Argento’s original, which is actually a very, very good thing. This version of Suspiria was incredibly visual and stylized but in a new and unique way. Instead of employing the intense vivid and contrasting colors of Argento’s patented giallo visual flair, the color palate here is more subdued, full of dark earth tones and a grittiness. However, Guadangnino does sprinkle in some giallo-esque highlights. I think it is clearly an homage to Argento but it is done so subtly that someone unfamiliar with the original picture will miss it.

I thought that both Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton really owned their roles in this film, especially Swinton who had to play triple duty where two of her characters presented real performance challenges. Also, I was really impressed with Mia Goth and her ability to truly wear dread on her face and in her body language.

While the score by Goblin is absent, like the lack of giallo visuals, it is a good thing here. This film’s score by Thom Yorke has real character and it works quite well with the narrative and visual tones. While it is very hard to top that Goblin score, what we get with this film fits pretty flawlessly. Trying to mimic the sounds that Goblin did in 1977 would most likely have been a distraction.

This film also benefits from using the old school method for building suspense. While the picture may feel slow at parts, there really isn’t a wasted moment and everything serves the purpose of adding layers towards the story’s big climax.

As far as the climax goes, it has a pretty shocking twist that almost adds a feeling of disorientation to a sequence that almost comes across as sensory overload. It’s a lot to bear in a film that crawls by at a relaxed pace but it’s is quite incredible when you get to this point in the film.

That being said, I thought that some of the stuff in the finale was a bit over the top and a bit cheesy. I don’t want to spoil anything by pointing out the details but the whole thing hits you in the face like a hammer and by this point, you are mentally spent and the grotesque and hokier bits are buried under the weight of the whole sequence.

And despite my reservations about a few things with that finale, it is that moment that really made this film work for me. It truly showcased that Guadangnino might have started with Argento’s premise but in the end, he crafted his own creation that was much more complex but emotionally and intellectually deeper than the original. That alone allows this motion picture to justify its existence.

I look at remakes like I look at cover songs: if an artist can improve on the source material in some way or present it differently but still well, then it serves a purpose.

In the end, this is a motion picture that shocked and surprised me. While I still prefer the original, this remake is one of the absolute best horror films of the last decade.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Suspiria and it’s first sequel Inferno.