Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.

TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

Film Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Also known as: Mad Max 3 (working title), Mad Max III (Philippines)
Release Date: June 29th, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: George Miller, George Ogilvie
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.” – Dr. Dealgood

I always thought of this as the worst of the original Mad Max trilogy. However, revisiting it now, just after watching the first two, I think I enjoyed it more than the original. In fact, I have a lot more appreciation for this film after watching it this time. Plus, it was the first time I had seen it since before Mad Max: Fury Road came out four years ago.

Now this doesn’t have the hard edge of the other films and it does feel like a Hollywood recreation of the franchise with a bigger budget, the addition of Tina Turner (a huge star at the time) and the larger scope of the movie. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, though, and I think that Hollywood sort of legitimizing this film series with a larger, more polished production, is probably what gave it the cultural longevity it’s had.

You also have to keep in mind that these films are really all that Mel Gibson was known for in 1985. Lethal Weapon and a much more lucrative, mainstream career didn’t come until 1987.

What makes this work so well, is the fact that Mel Gibson is so comfortable in this role by this point. Even though we got to know him in the first film, everything changes when his family dies and then in the second picture, he was sort of an unemotional husk with just a glimmer of humanity shining through. Here, that hard, outer husk is torn away and we’re left with a man that has found a way to live again. At least, he’s found a surrogate family and something that he must fight for. While that’s similar to the second film, it’s a much more fluid and human journey here. You don’t feel like he’s just playing the hero because it’s something to do and he hates scumbags, you actually sense love growing inside of him.

However, as much as I love Tina Turner in this, her being the primary villain also tames this movie when compared to the others. She kind of likes Max throughout the picture and she’s just a tough woman trying to maintain order in a town full of shady degenerates. She’s not pure evil like Lord Humongous, Toecutter or Immortan Joe and that kind of makes the threat in this film feel like a minor one.

Granted, the big finale which sees vehicle mayhem and the inclusion of a train car is still quite good. I don’t enjoy it as much as the finale from The Road Warrior but it is very close in quality to that one. In fact, this finale is better shot, looks crisper and has some stellar stunts. However, it is less gritty and thus, not as badass as the finale from the previous film. But it is fun seeing the kids in the film get in on the action during this big chase.

Speaking of the kids, there are a lot of them in this movie. But all the ones that have lines and are key characters are really good. This movie could have gone south really quickly with its overabundance of child actors but they certainly add more to the film than they take away.

This is definitely a film with three acts and each act has a very distinct feeling and tone to it. From a narrative standpoint, this is the best structured film and tells the best story out of all four Mad Max pictures.

Beyond Thunderdome gets a bad rap from some and while I wish it had been more of an R rated film than a PG-13 one, I’m still pretty satisfied with it and I think it’s aged pretty darn well.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: Pet Sematary Two (1992)

Release Date: August 28th, 1992
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Richard Outten
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Mark Governor
Cast: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Jason McGuire, Darlanne Fluegel, Lisa Waltz, Sarah Trigger

Columbus Circle Films, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No Brain, no pain… think about it.” – Gus Gilbert

While this isn’t as good as the first film, which I do see as fairly overrated, I did enjoy watching this one a bit more. I think a lot of that had to do with this movie being batshit crazy, though.

First off, Clancy Brown makes this entire film work for me. He’s absolutely great in this, completely committed to his role and elevates this picture much more than it deserves to be. While this isn’t on any all-time best horror film lists, his performance here should definitely be considered for lists about monsters or horror villains. He’s simply great and even if he knows he’s in a mostly shitty film, he certainly isn’t phoning it in. Brown makes you believe he is an insane, undead, dickhead sheriff with so much enthusiasm, you can’t deny that the guy is a master of his craft.

The film also stars Edward Furlong, coming fresh off of his film debut in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as well as Anthony Edwards, who will always be Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds to me, and Jared Rushton, most known as the best friend of Tom Hanks in Big.

This doesn’t feature any returning characters from the first film, even though it takes place in the same town and there are mentions of the characters in subtle ways throughout the movie. What’s weird though, is that this one wasn’t filmed in Maine like its predecessor and was instead filmed in rural Georgia. So the landscape has a different look to it. There are still lots of trees but everything has a different visual feel.

Furlong is the main character and the movie starts with him witnessing his actress mother get electrocuted to death on a horror movie set. He and his veterinarian dad move to this small town. He then draws the ire of the school bully, befriends the fat kid with the mean cop stepdad and then later learns about the “pet sematary” off in the woods.

Of course, one thing leads to another and little Eddie Furlong eventually digs up his dead mommy and re-buries her in the “pet sematary”. She comes back, along with other zombie people like the mean cop, the school bully and a pet dog.

The end is silly, the plot makes very little sense and the motivations of the characters are confusing, especially Edward Furlong turning crazy, realizing his dead mother is murderous and then switching back to normal almost immediately.

There’s some stuff I like in this other than just Clancy Brown, though. The biggest thing that sticks out, is when the school bully is murdered with a fast spinning dirtbike tire grinding into his face. Also, the car chase scene where the zombie cop is trying to murder his family was fun to watch, even if the action played out in a nonsensical way.

Pet Sematary Two is a goofy movie. But it’s that fun sort of goofy that makes a hardcore ’90s horror fan smile. It’s really just one of many Stephen King adaptations or spinoffs from the early ’90s that missed the mark, as far as its source material, but still delivered and entertained in spite of its flaws.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Comic Review: Killmonger

Published: December 5th, 2018 – March 6th, 2019
Written by: Bryan Hill
Art by: Juan E. Ferreyra

Marvel Comics, 117 Pages

Review:

I didn’t pick this series up until it was a few issues in. A friend of mine told me to check it out and said it was my cup of tea.

It was pretty damn entertaining and it felt more in line with the current runs of The Punisher and Daredevil than an actual Black Panther comic. Also, this is an origin story of Erik Killmonger’s earlier life in the New York underworld.

We see him form a cool squad with a chess piece theme. They initially work for the Kingpin but have a falling out pretty early, which pits Killmonger against Bullseye at the midpoint of this five-part miniseries’ arc.

This is mostly just focused on the criminal underworld and gritty action, as opposed to being a fantastical superhero sci-fi story. But it does a fantastic job of fleshing out the comic book incarnation of Erik Killmonger while also taking some cues from the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the character that was played by Michael B. Jordan in the Black Panther movie.

The story is action packed and just cool. It almost feels like an old school ’70s or ’80s action film with a grindhouse vibe to it. My only real complaint about the series is that the final issue felt weak comapred to everything leading up to it and for the most part, the story played out a bit too predictably.

Regardless of that, this does build the character up in a great way and it makes me hope that Bryan Hill will get to do something more with the character in the future. Hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing an ongoing series continue on from this miniseries.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: current runs on The Punisher and Daredevil. It doesn’t pair well with the current run of Black Panther, which is more of an intergalactic space opera.

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Also known as: Star Trek XII, Star Trek 2, 2, Untitled Star Trek Sequel (working titles)
Release Date: April 23rd, 2013 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Greenwood, Deep Roy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Chris Hemsworth, Heather Langenkamp, Bill Hader (voice)

Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Productions, K/O Paper Products, Paramount Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“He used my friends to control me. I tried to smuggle them to safety by concealing them in the very weapons I have designed. But I was discovered. I had no choice but to escape alone. And when I did, I had every reason to suspect that Marcus had killed every single one of the people I hold most dear. So I responded in kind. My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?” – Khan

There is one simple thing that ruins this movie. It’s still enjoyable and a lot of fun but this film could have actually been pretty great. What ruins it is the reveal that Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is actually Khan Noonien Singh.

While this film was being made, everyone and their mother speculated that Cumberbatch was Khan. The filmmakers promised us that he wasn’t. It was a pretty big debate at the time going on within the Star Trek fan community. So when the reveal comes in the film, which was no surprise to anyone, it sort of made me go, “Really, MFer?! So you guys lied?!” Did they try to salvage the reveal by denying it? Did they think that would work and then the fans would be pleasantly surprised? Maybe that kind of Hollywood bullshittery is why Disney wanted J. J. Abrams to helm their first Star Wars movie.

I’m not really that pissed about it in retrospect. But it is worth mentioning how this film had some controversy around it because of that. But hey, the normies loved it, as they loved the previous Abrams Trek film and the post-Lucas Star Wars films. But I digress.

I did love Cumberbatch as the villain here but he didn’t need to be Khan. He should have stayed John Harrison and been a character in the same vein as Khan. There could be other genetically modified warlords from Earth’s past that were put on ice for centuries. Or he could have been an acolyte of Khan, leading up to a third film where Khan is unleashed.

The problem I have with Cumberbatch as Khan is that he doesn’t look the part, act the part or feel Khan-like in any way whatsoever. I’m not sure why he was cast, other than he is an incredible actor. He just feels wasted being wedged into a mold where he doesn’t quite fit. But again, he’s damn good, all things considered. Maybe Hollywood was all out of Mexican actors to play Indian despots?

But as good as Cumberbatch is, he is overshadowed by an even more villainous character that became a total curveball and pleasant surprise within the film, Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus. Weller just owns this film in every single scene that features him. Plus, his vessel was one of the most intimidating in Star Trek history. He just fit the part so well and looked like a tyrant king sitting in his captain’s chair like it was a throne over the galaxy.

I also liked that the film finally included the Klingons, even though it got them wrong and made them look bizarre. The Klingons’ look has varied over the years but the look from the original movies and the television shows from Star Trek: The Next Generation on became their iconic look. Deviating from that makes little sense. They could have toned it down and made them look more like they did in the original series from the ’60s but no, Abrams had to make his own stupid version of them.

The crew was good in this but that carries over from the first film. I thought that most of the casting was well done and it’s nice to see them work better as a unit now without Kirk and Spock bickering for 75 percent of the movie. But I guess that’s replaced with Spock and Uhura bickering.

I did enjoy the addition of Alice Eve to the cast as crew member Dr. Carol Marcus, daughter of Weller’s evil admiral. She had great chemistry with Chris Pine and Dr. Marcus was a character I loved from the original movies. But where the hell was she in Star Trek Beyond? But I’ll address that when I review it.

The opening sequence of the movie is beautiful and really cool. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of this Kelvin timeline trilogy. The rest of the movie feels cold, as it primarily takes place in space until we get to see Earth at the end. There’s also about 5 minutes of the Klingon homeworld but it is mostly seen during a spaceship chase that just feels a lot like what Abrams gave us in the first act of The Force Awakens when Rey and Finn escaped the desert planet by flying through shipwrecked Star Destroyers.

Also, the scenes that are call backs to older Trek moments were pretty cringe. The scene where Kirk dies and Spock is on the other side of the glass, a role reversal from the end of Wrath of Khan, was so awkward and off putting that it sucked you out of the film. Plus, you knew that Kirk would be alive again in ten minutes and the emotional impact wasn’t there.

If they would have fine tuned this movie a bit more, not made Cumberbatch reveal himself to be Khan and not meddled with establish canon and character design, then this could have been a damn fine space adventure. At its core, it still doesn’t feel like Star Trek in spirit but there are very few modern filmmakers that I think could pull that off, especially when trying to appeal to the widest modern audience possible.

There is a lot to like with this movie but there are so many things wrong with it that it’s bogged down by its own bullshit.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek and Star Trek Beyond.

Film Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1999 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I want to tell you my secret now.” – Cole Sear

For those that don’t remember the world in 1999, The Sixth Sense scared about as many people as Y2K.

This is a creepy film that penetrated the subconscious of its audience and went on to make its director, M. Night Shyamalan, one of Hollywood’s new “it boys” at the time.

I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater but being that this is its twentieth anniversary, I wanted to revisit it.

It’s not as good as I remembered it and for a long time, I considered it Shyamalan’s second best film after Unbreakable. It is still a much better than decent picture but it is sort of ruined by knowing the twist. However, it was also sort of diminished by knowing young Cole’s secret thanks to the marketing of the film in 1999.

Seeing this now, it is eerie from start to finish but the fact that you were clued in to the fact that Cole can “see dead people” before ever seeing the film, really takes away from that reveal. Plus, you go through half of this film before you actually see a ghost on screen. The first half of the film, had you not known the secret, could have been interpreted as Cole having severe mental issues.

Cole’s secret isn’t the big plot twist though, that comes at the end when it is revealed that Bruce Willis’ Crowe has been dead since the opening scene. I remember being in the theater and hearing everyone gasp when this was spelled out to the audience. That caught me by surprise, as I detected the twist pretty early on and just assumed the audience was supposed to know this all along. There were just too many hints that spelled it out for me before it had to be audibly stated and confirmed by the characters.

I think that the film is effective in how it creates atmosphere and makes you connect to its characters. The thing is, this feels more like a solid pilot for a show than a self contained story within a single film. I think that maybe this should have been a film series or at least found a way to be ongoing on television or books even. I left this film wanting to see Cole do good work in bringing tortured souls some peace.

This film did a nice job of sort of legitimizing horror and making it a bit more mainstream at the time. But the following decade wouldn’t be too kind to the genre, anyway. And this isn’t so much horror at its core, as it just happens to be a solid drama about a child psychiatrist and his very troubled patient. There just happens to be dead people in the story.

My biggest mark against the film is that it is really drawn out and moves at a snail’s pace until dead people start showing up about 50 minutes into the movie. I do like slow builds and suspense but the first half of this movie could have been whittled down.

In the end, this still does a good job of making a real human connection with its audience and it conjures up a thick sense of dread. But I can’t really call The Sixth Sense a classic, despite its cultural impact for the time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other M. Night Shyamalan movies.