Film Review: Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

Also known as: Fanatismo (Italy – alternative title), Voodoo (Greece – alternative title), Paperino (France – alternative title)
Release Date: September 29th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, Gianfranco Clerici
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, Marc Porel, Georges Wilson

Medusa Distribuzione, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Which would you prefer, a kiss or money?” – Patrizia

This isn’t a giallo that I had seen but being that I like the films I’ve seen from Lucio Fulci, I really had to give this a watch. And man, I’m glad I did, as it is a damn good motion picture and possibly Fulci’s best out of the movies I’ve seen.

It does what the best giallos do and that’s tapping into a noir structured narrative with a grittier, harder edge and elements of horror. Fulci would go on to be one of the best Italian horror directors and this film really shows the guy experimenting with his stylized violence and fairly gory practical effects.

What I liked best about the film is that even if you figure out who the killer is early on, which I did, the movie still throws so many curveballs that the reveal doesn’t matter as much as the journey. This is well structured and well written with several layers that enrich the the larger story and give it a lot of depth.

There’s a lot to take away from this movie and a lot of prime meat to chew on.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot, as I don’t want to spoil anything. However, it does do a lot of taboo things that are designed to make you feel uncomfortable. But it’s those moments of discomfort that really show you how great of a visual storyteller that Fulci is. He conveys pretty stark messages in his moving imagery and not much has to be explained. That’s real talent, especially when compared to many of the films today, which insult their audience’s intelligence and have to spell out everything and usually more than once.

The cinematography is superb, as were the locations used in the film. As an American watching this, it feels otherworldly or like it is set in a time much earlier than when it actually takes place.

The musical score by Riz Ortolani is also one of my favorites of his that I’ve heard. The music really gives a major assist to the visuals and they work in harmony like a perfect marriage: conveying emotion, tone and texture.

Plus, the acting is great. It’s hard not to crush on Barbara Bouchet, let’s be honest, but man, she’s so damn good in this. But then, so is Tomas Milian, who I mostly know from the spaghetti westerns he did in the ’60s and ’70s. They had real chemistry together and both of them enhanced each other’s performances. It’s a pairing I wish I could’ve seen more of in other films.

All in all, this may be the best of Fulci’s pictures that I’ve seen and it makes me want to delve headfirst into his other giallo offerings.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other giallo films, primarily those by Fucli, Argento and Bava.

Film Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Release Date: June 25th, 1962 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Music by: Edwin Astley
Cast: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I am going to teach you to sing, Christine. I am going to give you a new voice! A voice so wonderful that theatres all over the world will be filled with your admirers. You will be the greatest star the opera has ever known. Greater than the greatest! And when you sing, Christine, you will be singing only… for me.” – The Phantom

My memories of this film were much fonder than they probably should have been. Granted, I love Hammer horror, especially the films directed by Terence Fisher. Plus, this had Michael Gough in it and that guy’s typically fantastic.

I still like this film and I thought that the look of it was great and akin to what one would expect from a Hammer horror movie of this era. I also love the look of The Phantom and thought that his mask is one of the best the character has ever had in this story’s long history and countless adaptations.

My biggest issue with this film, though, is that it is really slow and kind of boring, as some segments just drag along at a snail’s pace.

Also, the alterations to the plot didn’t really seem to benefit the story and I have to question why this deviated so much. I mean, that’s something that Hammer did often, as they wanted to tell their own story while using these famous literary characters but The Phantom of the Opera is already a pretty one-note story with a pretty one-note monster. This is probably why there weren’t a slew of Phantom sequels in the classic horror runs of Universal Studios and Hammer Films, which saw several Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies.

Still, this is a good, competent film. It’s just not Hammer or Fisher’s best and it sort of feels like it was half-assed at the production stage. Maybe Hammer kept striking oil with all of Fisher’s other films based on classic monsters and all parties involved just phoned this one in.

I used to think of this as one of my favorite film adaptations of the story but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lon Chaney or Claude Rains versions.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer films of the late ’50s through early ’70s, especially those directed by Terence Fisher.

Film Review: Ben (1972)

Release Date: June 21st, 1972 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Gilbert Ralston
Based on: characters by Stephen Gilbert
Music by: Walter Scharf
Cast: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell, Rosemary Murphy, Meredith Baxter, Bruce Davison (archive footage)

Bing Crosby Productions, Rysher Entertainment, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[singing while showing his Ben marionette to the real rat, Ben] Start the day, oh come along now, Ben. Come on out, before I count to ten. If you stay, you will miss all the fun and there’s room for everyone.” – Danny Garrison

Well, this is a very different movie than its predecessor. But I think a lot of that is due to the main character being a young, sick boy who has a passion for making marionettes and singing his own show tunes.

It’s a weird film in that the tone is completely inconsistent throughout, as on one hand, it feels like a dramatic kids movie about a sad boy that likes being creative and theatrical, while on the other hand, it’s about rats that eat people. These two things can work together but in this film, they don’t.

Also, coming off of how dark the first film ended, this comes off as even stranger and not really sure of what it’s supposed to be building off of.

That being said, I still kind of enjoyed it. Not to the point that I’d probably ever watch it again but it’s such a unique and disjointed picture that it’s hard not to be somewhat lured into it.

Also, the kid is really charming and you do feel for him and his situation, even if there are moments where he show signs of being a totally evil little shit.

This also feels more like a TV movie than an actual theatrical motion picture. It felt like a two-hour pilot to a TV series sequel of the first film. Weirdly, it plays like its trying to appeal to kids.

Anyway, a boy finds Ben, the leader of the rat army from Willard, befriends him and sees him as his only friend because the only other kid in the movie is a bully. The kid lies to his sister and mother about what’s actually going on and he even covers up for the rats when they try to eat the bully kid.

There’s not much to really sink your teeth into with this one and honestly, it’s probably most famous for the theme song Michael Jackson provided and simply because it’s the sequel to a cult classic film. 

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s predecessor Willard, as well as the 2003 Willard remake with Crispin Glover.

Film Review: I Come In Peace (1990)

Also known as: Dark Angel (original title), Lethal Contact (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1990 (South Korea)
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
Written by: Jonathan Tydor, David Koepp
Music by: Jan Hammer
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas, Michael J. Pollard, Al Leong

Vision PDG, Epic Productions, Trans World Entertainment, Triumph Releasing Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Either you’re Santa Claus or you’re dead, pal.” – Jack Caine

At least this movie isn’t as bad as its poster.

That’s not to say that this is a good film by any stretch of the imagination but I enjoyed it for what it was, a pretty mindless, hard-edged action flick starring Dolph Lundgren at the height of his earlier career.

The story follows a badass, no nonsense, “fuck playing by the book”, ’80s movie cop. He discovers that an alien drug dealer has arrived on Earth and is killing people to steal endorphins from their brains, as that’s a powerful narcotic on his home planet. He uses some snake-like tendril that shoots out of his wrist and sucks the endorphin juice out of humans like a crazy straw.

The alien has a goofy weapon that is basically a CD disc what flies around, slitting throats and chopping off body parts. He also has a pretty badass gun that looks like a fairly normal pistol but it fires more like an attack from an Apache helicopter. It’s absolutely ridiculous but it definitely gives this film a few extra badass points.

Let’s not talk about the acting, the direction or the paper thin plot that makes you suspend disbelief at record levels. The quality of those things are exactly what one would expect from a cheesy sci-fi action flick from this era.

I like the tone and the visual style of the movie. It’s certainly derivative of the other schlock-y goodness one can compare this film to but it utilizes these things much better than average and setting it in Houston, as opposed to L.A., New York or Chicago, was a nice touch that gave the viewer something cool to look at, as far as the background environments.

Honestly, this isn’t a motion picture that I’d really recommend to anyone, other than those that really like the combination of the action and sci-fi genres from a time when action films were still unapologetic, balls out bonanzas. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dolph Lundgren action pictures of the era, as well as other R-rated sci-fi action flicks.

Film Review: Panic In the Streets (1950)

Also known as: Outbreak, Port of Entry (working titles), Quarantine (script title)
Release Date: July 1st, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel

Twentieth Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you’d always find some good, but I don’t know.” – Lt. Cmdr. Clinton ‘Clint’ Reed M.D., “With apologies to your mother, that’s the second mistake she made.” – Capt. Tom Warren

While most urban film-noir pictures take place in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s always cool to see one set in another city. In the case of this film, we’re taken to one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world: New Orleans.

I love New Orleans and it’s really neat seeing a film that was shot in that city’s streets circa 1950. It’s a very different place from what it would become but at the same time, it has such a rich history and really it’s own style that all of that comes through and gives you one of the most unique looking urban noir pictures ever made.

The film also gave us the debut of Jack Palance, who would go on to be one of the greatest character actors of all-time, as well as a multiple Academy Award nominee.

On top of that, we get such incredible performances from Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas that just on acting alone, this eclipses most of the other noir pictures of its day. Add in superb direction from a true maestro, Elia Kazan, and you’ve got a true classic.

While it’s not a masterpiece, it was a gritty, energetic and engaging motion picture from the first frame to the last.

The City of New Orleans really becomes a character in the film and apart from Kazan’s visual style, I think a lot of the credit also has to go to cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who has a pretty impressive filmography, himself.

The story is about stopping a potential outbreak, as a small crew of criminals murders a man and it’s discovered that the victim had pneumonic plague. This forces a police captain and a military doctor to have to begrudgingly work together in an effort to solve the mystery of the man’s execution, find his killers and stop a pandemic from happening in New Orleans.

This is a movie that packs a real narrative punch that is punctuated by an incredible finale in a banana factory. In fact, there’s so much squeezed into this energetic and very layered film that I’m surprised they were able to get it all in the movie at just 96 minutes.

It is well-paced and even if it moves by fairly rapidly, Kazan did a masterful job in executing his vision on the screen and with real energy.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures of the era, as well as Elia Kazan’s other films.

Film Review: Mayhem (2017)

Release Date: March 13th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Joe Lynch
Written by: Matias Caruso
Music by: Steve Moore
Cast: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, Dallas Roberts

Circle of Confusion, Royal Viking Entertainment, RLJE Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“My mother used to say that no one raindrop ever thought it caused the flood. I now know what she meant by that.” – Melanie Cross

The Last Drive-In had it’s worst week ever when it showed this, paired with Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Both of these are films I hate but I’ll save my criticism of Tetsuo for that review.

As far as Mayhem goes, fuck this turd.

It basically takes the concept of 28 Days Later and sets it in an office building. The story sees people get infected with a virus that causes them to act out their most violent and sexual impulses. Due to this infection, the entire office building is locked down in quarantine for several hours.

We then get treated to terrible people doing terrible things to one another in what is one of the most derivative and low brow edgy boi movies I’ve seen in quite some time. 

This is a film that wants you to think that it is pushing the bar but you might only fall for that if you’re thirteen. It doesn’t push the bar and in fact, it pulls its punches. Hell, when the two main characters decide to give into their animalistic urges and fuck, they don’t even rip their clothes off. By the end of this film, they should’ve been running around naked, covered in blood, screaming and killing with reckless abandon. I mean, that is if you want me to buy into the juvenile and done-to-death premise.

It’s like this film was written by a deranged middle schooler after a wet dream nightmare following a night of drinking mass amounts of cough syrup while binge watching Workaholics.

It’s so poorly acted that it actually has me second guessing its star, Steven Yeun. Maybe it is best that he got his brain bludgeoned in by Negan on The Walking Dead. Honestly, I was secretly hoping for Negan to show up and do that again.

I guess Samara Weaving was the best thing about the picture but I’m still not sure if she’s got the potential to be an actress that deserves more than this. This film certainly didn’t do her any favors despite being the only real bright spot.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: The Belko Experiment and bad, edgy horror films that try to pass themselves off as high art.

Film Review: The Long Goodbye (1973)

Release Date: March 7th, 1973 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Leigh Brackett
Based on: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Arnold Schwarzenegger (uncredited)

E-K-Corporation, Lion’s Gate Films, United Artists, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Listen Harry, in case you lose me in traffic, this is the address where I’m going. You look great.” – Philip Marlowe, “Thank you.” – Harry, “I’d straighten your tie a little bit. Harry, I’m proud to have you following me.” – Philip Marlowe

I find it kind of surprising that this is the first movie I’ve reviewed with Elliott Gould in it, considering the guy has done so much and I’ve already reviewed 1914 movies on Talking Pulp. But hey, I guess I’m correcting that by finally watching The Long Goodbye, which has been on my list for a long-time.

My real interest in this is due to it being an adaptation of one of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. Also, I’m a big fan of classic film-noir, as well as neo-noir, especially from the ’70s. From what I understand, this is one of the best ones I hadn’t seen yet.

That being said, this did not disappoint, as I was immediately immersed into this version of Marlowe’s world and I enjoyed it immensely.

Elliott Gould is incredible in this and while this statement may come across as really bold, I don’t know if he’s ever been better. On paper, he seems like an odd choice to play the super suave Marlowe but he nails it and gives the character a certain life and panache that we haven’t seen before this. Sure, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum are masters of their craft but Gould, in this iconic role, shines in a very different way making the character even cooler and more charming. While my assessment of Gould’s Marlowe is certainly subjective and a matter of preference and taste, seeing this film truly made me wish that Gould would’ve played the character more than once.

I love this film’s sense of humor and its wit. Gould really brings all this out in a way that other actors couldn’t. There is just a certain charisma he has that worked perfectly here and the end result is the greatness of this picture, which may be the most entertaining neo-noir of its decade.

Additionally, the rest of the cast was good and I especially loved seeing an older Sterling Hayden in this, as he was involved in some of the best classic film-noir movies ever made. Nina van Pallandt also impressed and it was neat seeing Henry Gibson and an uncredited Arnold Schwarzenegger pop up in this too.

The craftsmanship behind the picture also deserves a lot of credit from Robert Altman’s directing, Vimos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the interesting and instantly iconic score by John Williams.

One thing that really adds a lot to the picture is the locations. Whoever scouted out these places did a stupendous job from Marlowe’s apartment setting, to the beach house to the Mexican locales. It’s just a very unique yet lived-in environment that sort of makes the locations characters within the film.

In the end, I can’t quite call this the best noir-esque movie of the ’70s but it might be my favorite and it’s certainly the one I’ll probably revisit the most, going forward.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir films of the ’70s, as well as any movie featuring Philip Marlowe.

Film Review: Toy Soldiers (1991)

Release Date: April 26th, 1991
Directed by: Daniel Petrie Jr.
Written by: David Koepp, Daniel Petrie Jr.
Based on: Toy Soldiers by William P. Kennedy
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, Keith Coogan, Andrew Divoff, Denholm Elliot, Lou Gossett Jr., George Perez, T.E. Russell, Shawn Phelan, R. Lee Ermey, Jerry Orbach (uncredited)

Island World, TriStar Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Great, the school gets taken over by terrorists and I’m still on pots and pans.” – William “Billy” Tepper

I thought this movie was pretty badass when I was twelve years-old. I mean, it’s still okay but it hasn’t stood the test of time very well. Plus, I think at twelve, I still believed that being a real G.I. Joe was an obtainable life goal.

Toy Soldiers like Red Dawn, Iron Eagle and The Rescue before it, sees its teen stars pick up arms to take down some corrupt, evil motherfuckers.

In the case of this film, the teens’ military school is taken over by a Colombian drug cartel because the cartel’s leader’s daddy is being held captive by the United States government. The reason he chose the school was because the son of one of the U.S. government officials is enrolled there. However, he was pulled out of the academy just before the evil shitheads arrived. So the bad guys already suck before the ball really gets rolling.

Anyway, we see a pretty solid cast of Sean Astin, Keith Coogan and Wil Wheaton (before he totally sucked) work with their other buddies in an effort to stop the drug cartel and take their school back.

The adult officials in the movie are also pretty solid, as they’re played by Louis Gossett Jr. Denholm Elliot and R. Lee Ermey.

Seeing this now, almost thirty years later, all the film’s extra excess of cheese is very apparent. Sure, I noticed it when I was a pre-teen but having just come out of the ’80s, cheesiness was still at the forefront of American pop culture. So was patriotism and kicking foreign ass, as we had just won the Cold War, conquered mainstream communism and were embroiled in the first Gulf War. Also, for kids my age, we had guys like Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan preaching to us about the awesomeness of Americana. Don’t talk to me about Slaughter becoming an Iraqi sympathizer because that wasn’t real, you imagined it.

So the movie is still enjoyable in spite of its goofiness and its awkward stars trying so hard to be tough guys. It’s hard to buy into, especially when you see little Willy Wheaton shooting a machine gun on the steps of the school, only to be gunned down in an effort to give this meaningless movie more meaning.

As mindless entertainment goes, you could watch much worse. This is a pretty forgettable film but it had some good young actors for its time. I only wish it would’ve been retooled into a Pauly Shore movie because that would’ve taken it to a whole other level.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other teen soldier movies like Red Dawn, Iron Eagle and The Rescue.

Film Review: Sorcerer (1977)

Also known as: The Wages of Fear (alternative title)
Release Date: June 24th, 1977
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Walon Green
Based on: Le Salaire de la peur by Georges Arnaud
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Cast: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri, Karl John, Joe Spinell

Film Properties International N.V., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes, 92 Minutes (international cut)

Review:

“He robbed my church, shot my brother. I don’t care where he is or what it costs. I want his ass.” – Carlo Ricci

Sorcerer is a really interesting movie that follows a group of criminals on the run, strangers to one another, who have to transport gallons of volatile nitroglycerin 200 miles through a South American jungle. Along the way, they have to deal with many threats that make their highly explosive cargo, a death trap that must be protected.

My only real problem with the film is that the mission doesn’t start until you’re about halfway through the picture. That’s fine and the first act is very good but there’s this bit between the multiple prologues and the mission that drags for quite awhile. Once the mission starts, however, things pick back up.

Overall, this is pretty well acted and I thought Roy Scheider did exceptionally well in this and it might be my favorite role of his outside of his two Jaws movies and 2010. The rest of the cast is also good and you even get a small Joe Spinell cameo thrown in.

The story is pretty engaging and this would’ve probably been an incredible film if it didn’t have the pacing issues with the second act. I felt like the actual adventure across the jungle should’ve been a larger part of the story and there is so much more that could’ve been done with that.

Granted, this is also based off of a French novel, so maybe the source material was written the same way, only showcasing the adventure for the second half of the whole story.

That being said, there is also a 92 minute cut of this film and I wonder if that one actually flows better and cuts out some of the duller moments while putting more emphasis on the journey itself.

In the end, I like this movie quite a bit. It definitely needed to pick things up a bit and could’ve used some extra sizzle but it was a worthwhile experience, capped off with a really cool second half.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s adventure and crime pictures.

Comic Review: V for Vendetta – 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Published: November 20th, 2018
Written by: Alan Moore
Art by: David Lloyd

DC Comics, Vertigo, 397 Pages

Review:

While I had several singles issue of V for Vendetta, as a kid. I’ve never actually completed the run and I’ve never read the ten-part maxi-series in its entirety.

That is until now, and because Comixology recently had a sale on the 30th anniversary edition, which was pretty pricey for a digital comic before the sale.

Being a long-time fan of Alan Moore’s work, most specifically Watchmen, and a fan of the V for Vendetta film adaptation, reading this was long overdue.

For the most part, I was really impressed with the story in its original form. It was more fleshed out than the film, which I can now say was a really good adaptation of the source material despite having limited time to fit as much in as possible.

The comic, however, was able to convey things in a deeper way while also showing things that couldn’t have been used in the film due to the differences between the two mediums and major studio Hollywood’s tendency to self-censor.

I can’t say that I was blown away by David Lloyd’s art style but that’s also pretty subjective and it does fit the tone of the story well. It’s just not my general cup of tea and it came across as pretty subdued with muted colors and action that didn’t feel as dynamic as it could have been. Still, it works for the story and I don’t want to sound like I’m just shitting on it.

If you’ve seen the film but never read the comic, the plot is basically the same. There’s just a little more meat and potatoes with the comic.

While many comics that have been labeled as “masterpieces” don’t live up to the historical hype, I’d say that V for Vendetta does. It’s a long read, packed with almost too much dialogue but it’s certainly not boring and it has solid pacing where every scene feels necessary.

Frankly, it truly is one of Alan Moore’s best.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Alan Moore’s Watchmen, as well as his more political work.