Documentary Review: ReMastered: Tricky Dick and the Man In Black (2018)

Release Date: 2018
Directed by: Sara Dosa, Barbara Kopple
Written by: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Music by: Johnny Cash, Glen Matisoff (music coordinator)
Cast: Johnny Cash (archive footage), Richard Nixon (archive footage)

All Rise Films, Triage Entertainment, Netflix, 59 Minutes

Review:

Tricky Dick and the Man In Black is the story of how Johnny Cash and Richard Nixon crossed paths during a turbulent time in America. A time that was more turbulent than now, if you can believe it.

This covers how Nixon reached out to Cash to get him to perform at the White House, which is a hell of an accomplishment for any artist, regardless of who’s got the keys to the country. And this obviously happened before Nixon’s crimes would be exposed and he would go on to severely damage the reputation of the United States government.

Anyway, in 1970, Cash did perform at the White House. However, Cash soon developed some serious reservations about it as it became apparent to him that his ideals clashed with that of the president.

This examines what led up to the concert at the White House and the reasoning behind how Cash ultimately wasn’t happy with the regime that was in charge of the land he loved.

Overall, the subject matter was damn interesting but I feel like this documentary was too short and didn’t really get deep enough into the mud. But this story is mostly told through talking head interviews by people who aren’t Cash and Nixon, as they’re no longer with us.

This was still a worthwhile and entertaining watch, however. It just needed more meat and felt incomplete. 

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Release Date: December 10th, 1962 (London – Royal premiere)
Directed by: David Lean
Written by: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Based on: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole

Horizon Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 222 Minutes (premiere), 202 Minutes (theatrical cut), 187 Minutes (1970 re-release), 228 Minutes (1988 restoration) 

Review:

“I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.” – T.E. Lawrence

My grandmother used to watch this movie a lot when I was a kid. It was always on her television and I’d catch big chunks of it from time-to-time. While I was always enthralled by it, especially its epic scope and cinematography, I never actually watched it in its entirety from start-to-finish until I was in my late teens.

From that point on, this became one of my all-time favorite films. Granted, it’s not something I can revisit too often, as it’s incredibly long and it doesn’t need to be revisited frequently, as its effect is almost otherworldly and sticks with you pretty deeply.

That being said, I’m not sure what it is about this that makes it pretty damn close to perfect and a bonafide masterpiece. But if you look at every element of this picture, there really isn’t anything one can pick apart. I guess some modern filmgoers might think that the pacing is too slow but I feel like the whole story is sort of a slow burn towards the end and once you get there, the payoff far exceeds the time invested in the picture.

Earlier, I mentioned its cinematography. For me, this is probably the first film that I saw that made me start paying attention to these sort of details and craftsmanship in motion pictures. I wanted to be a filmmaker, as a kid, and while I was more inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas back then, it was films like this, Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus that really opened my eyes to the actual art of filmmaking and what was possible using just the beautiful real world outside your door.

This movie also introduced me to Peter O’Toole, who I would go on to love in every role that I saw him in after this, except maybe King Ralph. I thought that one was well beneath his talent level (and also beneath John Goodman’s).

Lawrence of Arabia is an exceptional masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that everyone should have seen at least once. Honestly, even if you don’t think that it’s your cup of tea, you should give it a shot.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other all-time classic films. Specifically those that are true epics.

Video Game Review: Contra (Arcade)

As much as I have played Contra on the original Nintendo, I hadn’t played the arcade version in decades. I always remembered it looking better and having better sound but I wanted to replay it just to see the differences between this original version and its more widely known NES port.

So this obviously does have better graphics and sound but it also has smoother gameplay.

Beyond that, the levels feel more condensed and the bosses take less hits to defeat.

However, even though you have the ability to continue after death, those continues are limited, so it’s extremely hard to actually play through the game in its entirety. In fact, I kept getting put down on the snow level, about midway through the game.

Still, this was a hell of a lot of fun and it should be considered an arcade classic in the same vein the NES version is considered an original Nintendo classic.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the arcade and classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Film Review: 1941 (1979)

Also known as: The Night the Japs Attacked (working title)
Release Date: December 13th, 1979 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, John Milius
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Penny Marshall, Nancy Allen, Eddie Deezen, Slim Pickens, Dianne Kay, Wendie Jo Sperber, John Candy, Frank McRae, Lionel Stander, Michael McKean, Joe Flaherty, Don Calfa, Elisha Cook Jr., Mickey Rourke, John Landis, Dick Miller, Donovan Scott, James Caan, Sydney Lassick (uncredited)

A-Team, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, 118 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 142 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“You get me up in that plane, then we’ll talk about forward thrust.” – Donna Stratton

Considering that this was directed by Steven Spielberg and is loaded with dozens of stars that I like, having not seen this until now seems like a crime. But honestly, it came out when I was a year-old and it wasn’t something that I saw on TV growing up in the ’80s. Frankly, it flew under my radar for years and even if I saw the VHS tape in a mom and pop shop, the box art wouldn’t have piqued my interest.

I have now seen the film, though, and while I enjoyed it, I can see why it wasn’t held in the same esteem as Spielberg’s other work at the time.

This features a lot of characters and ensemble pieces like this can be hard to balance. With that, this felt more like an anthology of separate stories that don’t really come together until the end, even if there is a bit of overlap leading to the climax.

Everyone was pretty enjoyable in this but at the same time, they all just felt like tropes and caricatures, as none of them had much time to develop. That’s fine, though, as this isn’t supposed to be an intense dramatic story about war coming to US soil.

One thing I will point out as great in this movie is the special effects and being that this featured World War II military vehicles, it almost felt like Spielberg’s test drive before directing the Indiana Jones ’80s trilogy, which employed some of the same techniques and effects style that this film did.

The miniature work was superb and I loved the sequence of the airplane dogfight over Hollywood, as well as the submarine sequence at the end. The action was great, period.

I also generally enjoyed the comedy in this. It’s almost slapstick in a lot of scenes and it kind of felt like Spielberg’s homage the comedy style of Hollywood during the time that the movie takes place in.

That being said, the costumes, sets and general design and look of the film was great and almost otherworldly. This felt fantastical but in the way that the films of the 1940s did. There was a cinematic magic to the visuals and the film should probably get more notoriety for that.

What hurts the film, though, is that it just jumps around so much and it’s hard to really get invested in anything. There’s just so much going on at all times that your mind loses focus and starts to wander.

The story, itself, isn’t hard to follow but nothing seems that important, other than the Americans need to defend their home from this rogue submarine that appeared off the coast of Los Angeles.

In the end, this is far from Spielberg’s best and I’d call it the worst film of his uber successful late ’70s through early ’90s stretch. However, it’s still an enjoyable experience.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi or other Saturday Night Live cast members of the era.

Film Review: Wizards (1977)

Also known as: War Wizards (working title)
Release Date: January, 1977 (Avoriaz Fantadtic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Ralph Bakshi
Written by: Ralph Bakshi
Music by: Andrew Belling
Cast: Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, Steve Gravers, Mark Hamill, Susan Tyrrell, Ralph Bakshi (uncredited)

Bakshi Productions, Dong Seo Animation, Twentieth Century Fox, 82 Minutes

Review:

“I’m too old for this sort of thing. Just wake me up when the planet’s destroyed.” – Avatar

This is a movie I first saw when I was really young and as a kid, I didn’t really understand it. As an adult, it’s still a pretty bonkers picture but I understand what’s happening in it a bit better.

I think fans of Ralph Bakshi’s work will greatly enjoy this, as it’s definitely one of his most unique and otherworldly films. It also mixes mediums and experiments with its visual style throughout the movie’s 82 minute duration.

Wizards isn’t just a straight up fantasy epic like you might expect if you’ve only seen Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings adaptation or Fire and Ice. This mixes fantasy and science fiction and it’s a real clash of magic versus technology.

Out of everything I’ve seen from Ralph Bakshi, this is his strangest film but it’s also damn cool and pretty original.

The actual plot could’ve been a bit better and finely tuned but you’re so captivated by the intense and alluring visuals that you find yourself in somewhat of a mesmerized daze. Wizards has a hypnotic quality about it and if you went frame-by-frame, you could be lost, analyzing all the artistic detail for days.

In fact, this has so much detail worked into every panel, I feel like you will just miss most of it, as the film flows pretty quickly from moment-to-moment.

I absolutely love the art in this. I don’t like to throw the word “awesome” around too carelessly because it means “to inspire (or cause) awe”. But this is visually awesome, as I had to pause certain parts to appreciate just the detail of the background illustrations.

Also, seeing this now, it brought me to a realization. Even though I didn’t understand the movie as a kid, it had an artistic impact on me. The reason I say that, is I remember a lot of the art I did in elementary school and my style reflects a lot of the things seen in this film, most specifically the buildings and architecture Baskshi used throughout the story.

The detail and look also reminds me of the architectural design and detail that Dave Sim and Gerhard (more effectively) used in the Cerebus the Aardvark comics.

Wizards is a really neat film. It’s not a great one, as an overall package, but the art, itself, makes watching it a really worthwhile experience.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Ralph Bakshi animated features, as well as the theatrical animated films of the era.

Video Game Review: Green Beret (Arcade)

Many of you that are my age probably haven’t played Green Beret, at least the original arcade version. However, I bet a lot of you have played it’s Nintendo port, which was retitled Rush’n Attack. It was a pretty popular game and it’s something I used to play for hours on end.

I actually didn’t know that Green Beret existed. It wasn’t in any of my local arcades and if it was, I overlooked it for some reason.

So having now played it, it’s pretty much exactly the same as the more familiar version, except the controls, the graphics and the sound are better. Not by a heck of a lot but it is noticeably better and smoother.

My issue with the game is that when you die, you respawn at a checkpoint, as opposed to reappearing on the same screen like an arcade beat’em up game. I think this was a mistake on Konami’s part, as it makes the game much harder and with that, it breeds more frustration, and with that it makes it less likely that players will continue to drop quarters in the machine if they feel like they aren’t advancing in any way.

I found the gameplay of Green Beret to be more difficult and faster than Rush’n Attack, a game I’ve learned to conquer fairly easy. I had some difficulty with this game and couldn’t advance enough in the final level. I ended up rage quitting in frustration with the intent of trying again in the near future.

All in all, this is a good, well-crafted game for its time but the checkpoint respawning just makes it more frustrating than it needs to be.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games of the classic arcade era or on the classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.

Film Review: Battle For the Lost Planet (1986)

Also known as: Galaxy (original title), Galaxy Destroyer (Spain, Germany)
Release Date: January 1st, 1986
Directed by: Brett Piper
Written by: Brett Piper
Music by: Zon Vern Pyles
Cast: Matt Mitler, Denise Coward, Joe Gentissi, Bill MacGlaughlin, Helene MIchele Martin

Horror Enterprises, 91 Minutes, 101 Minutes (Blu-ray cut)

Review:

“You wrecked my goddamn car and you killed my freaking broad!” – Mad Dog Kelly

This is another movie that I needed to clean out of my queue, as it’s languished there for a few years now. I didn’t have a lot of urge to see it but it was recommended by a friend when we were talking about the countless Mad Max ripoffs during the ’80s.

This is kind of a weird mix of space opera and post-apocalyptic action film with both of those things being done really poorly.

However, it’s also a perfect mix of bad with over-the-top performances that helps make this enjoyable if you’re really into hardcore ’80s sci-fi schlock.

Not much in this movie makes sense and it’s poorly edited. For instance, there’s a scene where the main dude is working out on his spaceship and there’s food fragments splashed all over the white walls behind him. Then in the following scene, we see him throw the food against the wall.

The plot starts with the main dude evading capture and stealing a spaceship from an Earth military base. Once in space, the planet is decimated by a massive alien attack. The main dude then floats through space for five years until he can return. Once he does, he has to fight of mutant humans, pig-faced aliens and a gang of Mad Max villain wannabes. Luckily, the leader of the gang, an obvious NYC Italian named Mad Dog, decides to help the hero take down the pig aliens.

The special effects are stupendously bad. Even for the absolute lack of budget this film had, they’re really bad. At the same time, the effects give this movie an otherworldly and bizarre look that works for me. It won’t work for most people but I do enjoy seeing what filmmakers can come up with with little to no resources and no CGI to fall back on.

For the average Joe, this movie is absolute crap. For the schlock aficionado, there’s a lot of stuff here to appreciate.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other extremely low budget, straight-to-VHS ’80s sci-fi films.

Book Review: ‘El Borak and Other Desert Adventures’ by Robert E. Howard

I had never read an El Borak story until now but since I was collecting all of the Robert E. Howard collections, I couldn’t pass on any of them and I’m glad that I got to discover this character, who is really unique when compared to the other characters that Howard spent most of his time writing.

What makes El Borak so different?

Well, these aren’t sword and sorcery, fantasy tales for one. Well, there is one story with some fantasy elements but the El Borak character was written as more of an adventurer who existed in real world historical times.

El Borak’s real name is Francis Xavier Gordon. He’s a skilled gunfighter from El Paso, Texas. He traveled the world and ended up settling in Afghanistan of all places. From there, he went on to have many adventures throughout the Asian continent.

Generally, El Borak spends his time trying to keep peace between waring tribes in different regions. Often times, he can use his cunning to convince cooler heads to prevail but these stories also wouldn’t be as badass if some direct violence didn’t come into play and it does.

These are all pretty cool short stories but I think that they’re weaker, overall, than the best of Howard’s sword and sorcery work. The reason being is that Howard is just so creative in the realm of fantasy and Lovecraftian style horror and making these stories more realistic, somewhat limits that creativity. That’s not to say that he doesn’t shine with these tales but they just lack that patented Robert E. Howard fantastical magic that makes me love the author in the first place.

However, comparing these to similar stories from other authors of Howard’s day, they hold up. These are just solid, grounded adventure tales in a foreign land and through the eyes and minds of readers in the 1930s, when El Borak first saw print, these had to have had a hell of an impact.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Comic Review: Deathblow – The Deluxe Edition

Published: March 25th, 2014
Written by: Brandon Choi
Art by: Jim Lee, Tim Sale

Image Comics, Wildstorm, DC Comics (reprinted), 292 Pages

Review:

Back when I was pretty hardcore into Image Comics, the company was still fresh, new and helmed by the coolest creators of the early ’90s. I used to buy everything I could get my hands on.

Jim Lee’s Deathblow was one of those titles and I remember first seeing the title character in the Darker Image one-shot, which was used to introduce a few characters with a darker or harder edge about them.

Deathblow really stood out, even though most people remembered that comic for bringing Sam Keith’s The Maxx into the mainstream.

There was just something super cool and brooding about this character, though. He felt like a much darker version of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger character with a bit of Punisher sprinkled in for extra flavor.

However, Deathblow’s solo series never really resonated with me like I had hoped but as I got older, I thought that it might have had a lot to do with my age at the time. So I always wanted to go back and read it to see it with fresh eyes and a few extra decades of life experience.

Unfortunately, this didn’t blow me away and I actually found it kind of boring once I got to about the midway point of this beefy collection. It just didn’t captivate me and it felt too much like a product of its time, embracing certain tropes, but not really offering up anything unique or different.

However, I have to point out that the artwork is absolutely stupendous and some of the best work I’ve seen from Jim Lee, a real legend in his field. I loved the muted colors and the high contrast and it was the cool art that at least kept me engaged where the story waned.

Looking back and also having read some of the Image Comics stuff as an adult, I think that this was really the issue with a lot of their comics. The art was always top notch and incredible but the stories were always kind of lacking. Maybe this is why Image never became another Marvel or DC, focused on superhero stories, and eventually moved well beyond that genre with things like The Walking Dead, East of West, Paper Girls, Chew and Saga.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other comics from Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe.