Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

Documentary Review: Shadowing the Third Man (2004)

Release Date: October 11th, 2004
Directed by: Frederick Baker
Written by: Frederick Baker
Cast: John Hurt (narrator)

Media Europe, NHK, BBC, 95 Minutes

Review:

The Third Man is a movie that I discovered fairly recently but it instantly became one of my favorites. I couldn’t get enough of it, honestly, and I watched it three times over the course of a month.

So when I came across this documentary about the film, I had to check it out. This is streaming on the Criterion Channel for those of you interested in watching it.

This goes into great depth about the film, looking at how it was made, as well as being a love letter to Vienna and the iconic locations where the film was shot.

What’s really cool about this, is that it shows you the same locations in Vienna now, in modern times. Not much has changed in these locations but it’s really neat seeing them in full color, compared to the shots of the film.

This documentary is narrated by the great John Hurt and he adds a certain bit of eloquence to the presentation, as he guides the viewer through this film’s genesis, it’s execution and the impact it had after its release.

Another great thing about this film is that it shows interviews with most of the key people involved in the film. The stuff featuring Orson Welles is compelling stuff.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The Third Man and any Carol Reed or Orson Welles film.

Film Review: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Also known as: Night of the Werewolves (working title)
Release Date: March 22nd, 2002 (Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall
Music by: Mark Thomas
Cast: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham

Kismet Entertainment Group, The Noel Gay Motion Picture Company, The Carousel Picture Company, Victor Film Company, Pathé, 105 Minutes

Review:

“We are now up against live, hostile targets. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch.” – Sgt. Harry Wells

I wasn’t aware of this film until a few years ago but I’m glad that I came across it and checked it out.

To start, I dig werewolf stories but I also really like Sean Pertwee, now most famous for playing Alfred Pennyworth on Gotham, as well as Kevin McKidd, a guy that fanboys were hoping would be cast as Thor before the job went to Chris Hemsworth.

The film takes place in the Scottish Highlands and follows a military unit as they are doing some exercises in the woods. The soldiers soon discover that they are in the country with a pack of werewolves and their training mission gets all too serious. Eventually, they hole up in a suspiciously abandoned house and have to fight off the werewolves that are trying to invade. Primarily, it’s a waiting game, as they need to survive until morning.

The plot has some twists to it, most of which are predictable but that doesn’t make this a bad picture. In fact, it’s still a lot of fun, plays into the werewolf tropes pretty hard but still gives us something cool and unique.

I also like the fact that the werewolves are bipedal, which are my favorite type. In this film, they are large, tall and damn vicious. They almost appear to be wolf versions of the Deathclaws from the Fallout video game series.

Additionally, the special effects, which are almost all practical, physical effects, are impressive.

There are even some funny gags in the film like when a soldier is trying to hold his guts into his body but the dog in the house starts tugging on an intestine.

In the end, this is just a really neat movie that probably deserves more recognition and fanfare than what it has. Pertwee and McKidd were solid together and I really liked Emma Cleasby, the film’s sole female lead.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Howling, Ginger Snaps and The Company of Wolves.

Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

Release Date: October 23rd, 2012 (London premiere)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, Judi Dench

B23 Ltd., Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 143 Minutes

Review:

“What is this if not betrayal? She sent you off to me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you’re likely die. Mommy was very bad.” – Raoul Silva

Everyone seems to think that Casino Royale is the best of the lot when it comes to Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. Well, those people are wrong, as Skyfall is pretty close to perfection with a lot more action and meat than the mostly boring Casino Royale.

While the plot of this movie borrows a lot from the plot of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I don’t really care, as it all works well within the film’s story and the payoff at the end is one of the best in James Bond movie history.

This film, at the sake of spoiling some plot details, brings a character arc to an end. That character is Judi Dench’s incarnation of M. It gives her a fitting and truly memorable exit from the series while examining the wreckage and collateral damage that someone in her position could cause by making the toughest decisions. A ghost from her past comes back to haunt her and even though he ultimately succeeds, this isn’t a film consumed by nihilism, so much as it is a reflection of a person’s life and having to come to terms with past actions.

What really made this work for me was the performance by Javier Bardem as the villainous Raoul Silva. The guy was just creepy as hell and legitimately scary in a way that modern Bond villains aren’t. Honestly, other than Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Spectre, does anyone remember any of the other Craig era baddies? And honestly, Silva blows Blofeld right out of the f’n water!

The plot had lots of layers and a good three act structure that actually had a very different aesthetic from act to act. The big finale in this looked breathtaking and is one of the best shot James Bond sequences of all-time. Plus, it added in Albert Finney and had him trying to get M to safety while Bond took on a small army, a military helicopter and a madman starving for revenge.

I also like that the film finally fleshed out MI6 with the inclusion of Moneypenny, Q and a new M. I had hoped that this would mean more going forward but since 2012, we’ve only gotten one other Bond movie and this new team has sort of lost its momentum. But I hope they get their time to shine some more in the upcoming Bond film, which looks to be Craig’s last.

Anyway, Skyfall, as far as the Craig movies go, is the bees f’n knees. It’s not bogged down by a three hour poker game or a writers’ strike like the two before it. It’s just action packed, classic Bond but retrofitted for modern audiences that want less camp and more gunfire.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daniel Craig James Bond movies.

Film Review: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Release Date: June 24th, 1964 (London & Los Angeles premieres)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell
Based on: The Masque of the Red Death and Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: David Lee
Cast: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee, Nigel Green, Robert Brown

American International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existance. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.” – Prospero

While I can’t talk highly enough about all of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman and Vincent Price, I really can’t talk highly enough about The Masque of the Red Death, which is one of the best of the lot, as well as the most aesthetically pleasing.

Other than a couple quick scenes, the entirety of this picture takes place within the castle walls of the Satan worshiping Prince Prospero. He has entombed his party guests and a few villagers he spared within the structure in an effort to wait out the “Red Death” outside the castle gates.

While trying to avoid the plague, Prospero tries to influence the young girl he feels he saved from death. He shows her his secrets and opens up about his allegiance to the Devil himself. All the while, the reach of the Red Death works its way into the castle to deliver Prospero’s inevitable and unavoidable fate.

There is also a neat side story that was based on Poe’s Hop-Frog. I liked this mini story within the larger story and how it was all tied together.

I also like that this film re-teamed Price with Hazel Court and also threw in Patrick Magee, Robert Brown and Nigel Green. Now it’s not a star studded cast like what Corman delivered in The Raven, a year earlier, but it is a good ensemble of character actors and ’60s horror icons.

This is a pretty imaginative film that is visually stunning and alluring. The big climax is superb, especially for those who are a fan of Corman’s style when it’s rarely at its artistic apex.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations.

Film Review: Ghost In the Shell (1995)

Also known as: Kôkaku Kidôtai (original Japanese title), Armored Riot Police, Shell Mobile Force (alternative titles)
Release Date: September 23rd, 1995 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Based on: Ghost In the Shell by Masamune Shirow
Music by: Kenji Kawai

Production I.G., Bandai Visual, Manga Entertainment, Shochiku, 82 Minutes

Review:

“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.” – Major Motoko Kusanagi

Many consider Ghost In the Shell to be a masterpiece of the anime genre and style. I can’t really disagree with that, even though it’s not my favorite. That will probably always be Akira. However, this has a lot of similarities to Akira but it’s certainly not a clone of it, which is why it stands so strong on its own.

Like Akira this is a cyberpunk neo-noir that focuses on human experiments, high tech labs, lots of action and just a rich, cool looking futuristic world. But the stories are still very different.

While the plot focuses on a cyborg security agent that fights cyber related crime, the real meat and potatoes of the story is about questioning future technology and the morals dilemmas that come with its implementation.

In a way, Ghost In the Shell serves as both a warning regarding tech run amok, as well as being an examination of a person or cyborg’s rights in a world where physical bodies can be augmented with material owned and controlled by corporations.

The film itself is only 82 minutes, which may not seem like a lot of time to really delve into these complicated concepts and ideas but this picture covers a lot of ground fairly well. Ultimately, it leaves you wanting more and the story feels incomplete but luckily, even if it took awhile, there was a sequel and a television series that dug even deeper.

As a standalone anime film, my only gripe is the fact that this feels unfinished. It’s presentation and plot structure makes it come across like the first OVA in a series that didn’t progress beyond one episode.

However, the animation and the ambiance more than make up for the film’s one main flaw.

Ghost In the Shell is still one of the greatest works in the anime medium and I’m pretty sure future generations will continue to hold it in high regard.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and television spinoffs, as well as Akira and other cyberpunk anime.

Film Review: The Big Sleep (1978)

Also known as: Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (UK)
Release Date: March 13th, 1978 (new York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Michael Winner
Based on: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, Edward Fox, James Stewart, Oliver Reed

Winkast Film Productions, ITC Entertainment, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains!” – Philip Marlowe

I never saw this film until now but I had assumed that it was a proper sequel to Farwell, My Lovely, a film that came out three years earlier and also starred Robert Mitchum as the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe.

However, this is its own thing, as this takes place in a contemporary setting, as opposed to being a period piece like the previous movie.

Still, this makes Robert Mitchum the only actor to play Marlowe more than once in a feature film.

Overall, this is a star studded affair with James Stewart, Richard Boone, Oliver Reed, Joan Collins, Sarah Miles and Candy Clark in it. And honestly, everyone does a pretty fine job with the material and you do become invested in most of the characters.

This film is pretty harsh, though. Especially when compared to other films about Marlowe, especially the older version of The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And while this is a modernized noir, it’s grittiness is over the top and it loses some of the luster that the Marlowe movies had when they were traditional film-noir from the ’40s.

I did like this for what it was and it’s worth checking out at least once for fans of noir and Mitchum. However, it seems like it is trying to be edgy while not fully committing to the bit.

This isn’t bad and it has a few memorable moments but it’s far from Mitchum’s best and nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to Marlowe pictures.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Robert Mitchum movie where he plays Philip Marlowe: Farewell, My Lovely, as well as other ’70s neo-noir.