Film Review: The Wild One (1953)

Also known as: Hot Blood, The Cyclists’ Raid (both working titles)
Release Date: December 25th, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: László Benedek
Written by: John Paxton, Ben Maddow
Based on: The Cyclists’ Raid by Frank Rooney
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin

Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“I love you, Johnny. I’ve been looking in every ditch from Fresno to here hoping you was dead.” – Chino

I have never seen The Wild One, which is probably a crime, but I am a fan of biker movies, especially those of the ’60s and ’70s and this was sort of a template that many of them built off of. Granted, this isn’t as hard or edgy as the pictures that would try to emulate it but it also didn’t need to be. This was sort of a sweet story, if you look beyond the rough exterior and get right down to the human emotion.

Marlon Brando was exceptional in this, even if he wasn’t quite up to the levels of talent he would reach. His scenes with Mary Murphy were what carried the picture. However, I also enjoyed him playing off of Lee Marvin, who made a good villain, even if Brando was very far from being any sort of hero in this.

There is nothing exceptional about this motion picture, though. It is certainly heralded for all the right reasons and deserves to be held in high regard for being a trendsetter in its genre but biker movies after this would definitely find ways to push the envelope more. And this is damn good but it doesn’t present you with stellar acting or cinematography and the direction is pretty standard. It’s just really a cool movie with a cool leading man and examines a part of society that Hollywood shied away from until this made bikers a bit more mainstream. But the Hollywood of this era still had to be wholesome due to the morality code imposed on its filmmakers.

This is really just a drama film that happens to have a mean biker as its main character. In a lot of ways, this is a real character study, as it examines Brando’s Johnny much deeper than what is on his surface. The film humanizes him but it also doesn’t try to turn him into an easily reformed goody two-shoes. The hard nosed cop cuts him a break and is a bit taken back by Johnny’s apparent lack of gratitude but at his core, Johnny doesn’t know how to express his thanks. It really isn’t something he’s ever really experienced before this moment, as he is a guy that has been beaten down by life and has adopted a tough persona to shield him from real world emotions and genuine human connection.

This film wasn’t really what I expected it to be. I thought it would be an examination of counterculture but in that light ’50s Hollywood way before artists behind the camera could actually let loose and challenge their audience. Instead, this is a film that has biker culture in it but it moves most of its focus towards Johnny and the apple of his eye, the lovely Kathie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The LovelessRebel Without A CauseEasy Rider and The Wild Angels.

Film Review: The Initiation (1984)

Release Date: December 7th, 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart, Peter Crane (uncredited/fired)
Written by: Charles Pratt Jr.
Music by: Gabriel Black, Lance Ong
Cast: Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Hunter Tylo

Georgian Bay Productions, Initiation Associates, New World Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Well, the nightmare ends with this stranger coming in and fighting with my father. And the strange man ends up catching on fire and burning to death. It’s always the same; the last image is of his whole body engulfed in flames.” – Kelly Fairchild, “That’s beautiful. You’ve got all the classic symbols there; mom, dad, fire, strange men…” – Peter

The Initiation was better film in my memory than it was revisiting it for the first time in a couple of decades. It’s one of those great midnight movies I loved watching as a kid in the ’80s and I sort of had a thing for Daphne Zuniga when I first saw her in Spaceballs, a few years after this came out.

The coolest thing about this movie is the setting in the second half. While this is really a typical slasher with some mystery and a twist, the plot is pretty pedestrian and the twist isn’t shocking in the least. Still, the finale is kind of neat and pretty fun.

The setting is supposed to be inside of a large department store but the script was written and the filmmakers couldn’t find a suitable department store in the Dallas area to shoot. So they actually shot this in the massive and tomb-like Dallas Market Center. It doesn’t look anything like a department store but it houses hundreds of showrooms for anything and everything you could possibly throw money away on. It’s also fifteen stories tall and looks like the interior of a modern pyramid hollowed out and adorned with all the flags in the world. The corridors look more like a corporate office building with windows full of consumer goods. It really is a strange and unique setting and I’ve always wanted to see this place in person. Sadly, it’s not open to the public.

The film’s plot surrounds a sorority. The pledges are forced to sneak into a department store after hours to steal a security guard’s uniform. Kelly’s (Zuniga) father has keys to the store so she takes them and plans on just stealing a uniform from the inventory of spare ones. The queen bitch of the sorority has her own plans and sneaks in with some frat bros to scare the pledges on their mission. Of course, there is a slasher on the loose and people get murdered.

I liked that Zuniga’s parents were played by veterans Vera Miles and Clu Gulager, as it added a sense of legitimacy to this canned slasher picture. Vera Miles did some strange movies in the ’80s and Gulager would do just about anything thrown his way, which is why I’ve always loved and respected the guy.

As an ’80s slasher picture, I’d say this is a hair bit above average but it isn’t anything special once you take away the unique location. It has a lot in common with The Dorm That Dripped Blood, which also had Zuniga in it. But college based slasher pictures were a dime a dozen circa 1984. In fact, it feels like there was probably a new slasher movie every week in the mid ’80s, as I never seem like I’ve run out of ones to watch and still discover new ones all the time. But it was the peak of the genre and this film was just capitalizing off of the trend.

I still really like The Initiation but it isn’t a film that I want to revisit too often, unless I’m having a marathon or trying to pair up a few movies for a get-together.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Chopping MallThe Dorm That Dripped BloodFinal ExamThe MutilatorGraduation DayThe Prowler and Night School.

Comic Review: Ghostbusters, Vol. 1

Published: March 20th, 2014
Written by: Erik Burnham
Art by: Dan Schoening, Tristan Jones
Based on: Ghostbusters by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

IDW Publishing, 104 Pages

Review:

I read the first Ghostbusters/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover before this and it inspired me to checkout IDW’s regular Ghostbusters series, which starts with this collected volume.

I have been an avid fan of Ghostbusters for as long as I can remember. I watched the movies constantly and had The Real Ghostbusters cartoon on my television every single day after school.

So when IDW got the rights to publish comics on my favorite ghost busting heroes, I was pretty stoked. Granted, I didn’t pick them up until now but life is a busy bitch and there are so many damn comics to read between all the franchises I love and all the heroes I have a hard time keeping up with already.

One thing about IDW’s handling of this universe is that it feels like a true extension of the film series. This almost reads like it is Ghostbusters 3. It’s sadly missing Dana and Louis but watching the boys and Janine ham it up is always fun. Plus, that evil pencil pushing pinhead Walter Peck is back to be a thorn in the Ghostbusters’ sides.

This collection covers the first story arc in the IDW comic but it is still pretty open ended when you get through the last chapter. It calls back to Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the original film while trying to add more to the Gozer mythos. We also see the reappearance of Slimer.

Strangely, there are two weird cameos in this comic, the first is Jake from The Blues Borthers and the second is Roger Murdock from Airplane! They aren’t called by their names but it is very obvious who they are supposed to be.

This book was fun but it left me wanting more meat to sink my teeth into. Still, it was a good, quick and enjoyable read.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other IDW Ghostbusters comics, also the Ghostbusters/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossovers.

Film Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Also known as: Dr. Strangelove (informal title), Edge of Doom, A Delicate Balance of Terror (both US working titles)
Release Date: January 29th, 1964 (UK & US)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George
Based on: Red Alert by Peter George
Music by: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Shane Rimmer

Hawk Films, Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.” – President Merkin Muffley

This is my 1000th film review since starting Cinespiria back in November of 2016. That’s a lot of movies watched in 18 months. Granted, I did filter in reviews from other sites I worked on before this one. Anyway, I wanted review number 1000 to be something special. I chose Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb not because it was my favorite film but because it was partially responsible for putting me on my path of not just loving to watch movies but loving to intimately understand them.

When I was in film studies in high school, back in the mid-’90s, Dr. Strangelove was the first Stanley Kubrick film that we watched out of three; the other two were 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. While I had seen some of Kubrick’s films before this, it was this experience that really made me learn who the director was and why he was so important and one of the greatest auteurs that ever lived.

Dr. Strangelove isn’t my favorite Kubrick picture but it is still one of my favorite movies of all-time. But I’d say that Kurbick would probably own four spots in my personal top ten.

I love this movie. It is exceptional in a way that films aren’t anymore. I’m not saying that filmmakers today aren’t capable of greatness, they certainly are, but Kubrick could touch any genre and leave a very distinct and very powerful mark.

Dr. Strangelove is a terrifying film, at its core, but it mixes a war story with comedy. Yet, despite its absurdity in several scenes, none of what happens seems all that implausible. Kubrick had that power, the ability to make something seemingly ridiculous and also very real, at the same time. I can only imagine that this film was even more effective when it was current during the height of the Cold War and just over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kubrick did an amazing job shooting and capturing this film. He collaborated with cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who over his career, worked with Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, Roman Polanski and Mike Hodges. The two men really capture lightning in a bottle in nearly every scene. All of the material shot in the War Room is superb. In fact, the War Room scene has gone on to inspire countless films over the last half of a century.

The centerpiece of the film is Peter Sellers, who performed three different key roles within the film. All three roles were very different characters. The reason why this happened, is that Columbia Pictures originally wanted Sellers to play four roles, as they believed that the success of Kubrick’s previous film Lolita was due to Sellers’ character in that film assuming different identities. Kubrick reluctantly accepted Columbia’s demand in order to get the picture made. But frankly, it worked and it worked wonderfully. All three of Sellers’ roles in this film have become pretty iconic and all of them would steal the show if not competing for screen time against one another. Sellers should have won the Academy Award but he was beaten out by Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady.

Everyone in this really takes command of the screen, however. There are great performances by George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens and James Earl Jones, who plays a small but important role.

Additionally, the music selections for this film are fantastic and help drive the emotional narrative and growing tension.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a masterpiece that still plays well over fifty years later. It is stupendous and truly is a perfect motion picture.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other Kubrick films that deal with war: Paths of GloryFear and DesireFull Metal Jacket.

TV Review: The Last Man On Earth (2015-2018)

Release Date: March 1st, 2015 – May 6th, 2018 (original run)
Directed by: various
Written by: Will Forte, various
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mel Rodriguez, Cleopatra Coleman, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Sudeikis, Boris Kodjoe, Mark Boone Junior, Kenneth Choi, Kristen Wiig, Keith L. Williams, Chris Elliot, Fred Armisen, Will Ferrell (cameo), Alexandra Daddario (cameo), Jon Hamm (cameo), Laura Dern (cameo), Jack Black (cameo), Martin Short (cameo)

The Si Fi Company, Lord Miller Productions, 20th Television, Fox, 67 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Oh, farts.” – Phil Tandy Miller

*Written in 2015.

Now that the first season is over, I can give a proper review to Fox’s The Last Man On Earth.

In short, I really like this show.

Will Forte is great as the lead character Phil Miller. Kristen Schaal is fantastic as the fairly neurotic yet very lovable Carol Pilbasian. Add in January Jones, Mel Rodriguez and as the show progresses further, Mary Steenburgen, Cleopatra Coleman and Boris Kodjoe, and you’ve got a pretty diverse and enjoyable cast.

The show starts with Phil traveling the country in search of other human beings. He paints “Alive In Tucson” on billboards throughout the United States and as the show progresses, characters start to show up every few episodes.

Due to the title, I was wondering how Fox would make an ongoing show out of a single character but I’m glad it has expanded. While it isn’t a post-apocalyptic world per se, it has similar themes as The Walking Dead. Sure, there aren’t zombies and the feeling of danger around every corner but it shows human beings trying to govern themselves and reestablish their place in the world.

Forte’s Phil Miller is mostly unlikable but there is a quality to him that has you siding with him and pulling for him, even though his dastardly deeds cause him to continually lose favor with other members of his tiny community despite the fact that he is the reason everyone has come to Tucson. Miller’s faults are easy to understand and relate to and even though he gives into them, he ultimately just wants to find his place and has a need to feel useful and loved – understandable for someone who was alone in the world without human contact for so long.

The show is entertaining, the cast is amazing and without spoiling anything, it looks like the show isn’t afraid to reinvent itself along the way. Based off of some things that happened in the finale, it will be interesting to see how things pan out in season two.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Well, it’s pretty unique. If you have any ideas, post them in the comments.

Ranking All 30 Second Series Episodes of ESPN’s 30 For 30

*Written in 2015.

Luckily for us, ESPN decided to do another set of thirty films to expand this series. Now that this series has also reached 30 films and we got the soccer spin-off series, I’m hoping we get a third generation.

But for now, here are the 30 films of the second series ranked. And to be honest, all of these are really good.

1. Survive and Advance
2. Of Miracles and Men
3. Requiem for the Big East
4. Ghosts of Ole Miss
5. No Más
6. I Hate Christian Laettner
7. Big Shot
8. Bad Boys
9. You Don’t Know Bo
10. Benji
11. Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau
12. Brothers In Exile
13. The U Part 2
14. Bernie and Ernie
15. Free Spirits
16. Angry Sky
17. Rand University
18. This is What They Want
19. When the Garden was Eden
20. Sole Man
21. The Price of Gold
22. Brian and the Boz
23. The Day the Series Stopped
24. Slaying the Badger
25. Broke
26. 9.79*
27. There’s No Place Like Home
28. Playing for the Mob
29. Elway to Marino
30. Youngstown Boys

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch (uncredited)
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, MJW Films, DefyNite Films, Summit Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep… a final gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope… an opportunity to grieve unalone. And your son… took that from me.” – John Wick, “Oh, God.” – Viggo Tarasov, “Stole that from me… killed that from me! People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!” – John Wick

Well, I finally got around to seeing John Wick after putting it off for four years. Why did I put it off? Well, people hyped it up so damn much that I knew that if I went in with said hype, I’d probably walk away disappointed. I needed some time for that to cool down and to separate myself from it. I actually intended to watch this before John Wick 2 hit theaters, last year, but I was incredibly busy around that time.

Having now seen it, it doesn’t live up to the hype but it is still a balls to the wall, unapologetic motion picture and I love seeing Keanu as a complete and total badass murdering the crap out of scumbags in such an amazing and calculated way that he makes the Punisher look like Richard Simmons.

It is quite obvious that John Wick takes some cues, in style and narrative, from the the Hong Kong gangster pictures of the ’80s and ’90s, especially those directed by John Woo. It also has very strong film-noir tones, whether it knows that or not. There’s crime, plot twists, deception, a femme fatale character and a visual style that borrows heavily from classic noir as well as neo-noirs from the ’60s through the ’80s. I see a lot of visual similarities to the neo-noir work of Wim Wenders, most notably The American Friend, as well as notes of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

As far as the story goes, John Wick is pretty much the greatest assassin in the world. Just after his wife dies, a crew of shitheads break into Wick’s home, kill his dog and steal his car. The shitheads have ties to the Russian mob boss that Wick used to work for. Wick goes on a one-man killing spree for revenge and doesn’t care who crosses his path: his old boss, his old rivals and his old allies. With Wick reentering the world that he left years earlier, he is once again in the thick of it and won’t be able to just walk away when the dust settles. Of course, this was established to setup all the future sequels, which I have a feeling, Keanu Reeves will do until his body won’t let him anymore.

And speaking of Keanu’s body, he trained like a madman for this role and continues to do so now that this has become a franchise. He does all the driving, all the fighting and has become a legit badass in the real world because he wanted to play John Wick as realistically as possible. Seriously, if you want to be impressed, go watch some of Keanu’s training videos for these movies.

This is in no way a perfect film but if you are a guy that wants his action raw and soaked in diesel fuel next to an open fire, then you will enjoy this. It reminds me of the spirit of those ’80s Cannon Films except with much better cinematography and more capable talent in front of and behind the camera.

I was surprised to see so many actors I love pop up in this. I guess I never paid close attention to the cast details other than knowing that this had Keanu Reeves and John Leguizamo in it. But anything with Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane in it, automatically gets a hefty helping of gargantuan gravitas piled on to whatever is already there. Plus, you’ve got small roles for David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters and “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. I also have to point out the good performance by Adrianne Palicki, who always seems to play the same character, but definitely came with a harder edge in this movie.

John Wick is solid. Damn solid. It doesn’t need to be a perfect film and it doesn’t want to be. It’s fun and manlier than an Everclear drinking lumberjack piledriving a bear through the hood of a Hummer.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: John Wick 2, I’d have to assume. As well as, Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.