TV Review: Iron Fist (2017- )

Original Run: March 17th, 2017 – current
Created by: Scott Buck
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Trevor Morris
Cast: Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup, Ramón Rodríguez, Sacha Dhawan, Rosario Dawson, David Wenham, Carrie-Anne Moss

ABC Studios, Marvel, Devilina Productions, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 50-61 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Iron Fist is, unfortunately, the first of the Marvel Netflix shows to be a bit of a disappointment. It is even more disappointing in that this was the show I was most anticipating, as I’ve loved reading Iron Fist comics for years. He is a unique but very cool character, especially in his legendary team ups with Luke Cage.

All is not lost, however, as the show still has some promise and could go to some great places. The first season is just bogged down by origin story crap and a lot of corporate drama that kind of distracts from the story more than it helps it or drives it. A lot of it is just uninteresting but I hope all that stuff is now out of the way to make room for the future.

Also, Danny Ran a.k.a. Iron Fist being like a fish out of water really got old pretty quickly. He had to adjust to life in the modern world after being stuck in Mystical Ninja Land since he was a boy. Captain America, a guy thawed out 80 years into the future seemed to adjust to modern life a lot quicker than Iron Fist, who returned to a world with just an iPod only four models old.

The show also features the evil ninja clan The Hand quite a lot. Frankly, I was kind of over them by the end of the second season of Daredevil. I get that Danny Rand has ties to them but they didn’t need to be such a huge focal point and something fresher and unique would have been much better. I really don’t care about The Hand’s inner politics and how they aren’t all bad.

The villain character played by David Wenham was initially fantastic. I have always liked Wenham as an actor and it was cool seeing him get a little psychotic. Also, it was a neat contrast to him playing Faramir in the Lord of the Rings movies, as Faramir was a man trying to earn the love of a psychotic father and now he is a psychotic father with a son that hungers for his approval. Sadly, the character’s story goes off the rails the longer it stretches on. I obviously don’t blame Denham, as he played it magnificently.

Iron Fist is not necessarily a bad show but it doesn’t live up to what was established with DaredevilJessica Jones and Luke Cage. Nevertheless, I am still excited to see him team up with the rest of these heroes in The Defenders and I still look forward to another season of Iron Fist, where hopefully the origin crap is over and the corporate drama takes a backseat to better stories.

Book Review: ‘Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema’ by John Pierson

I came to know John Pierson through his show from the late 1990s Split Screen. While I had heard about it back then, through message boards and chat rooms (when they were still a thing), I never really had access to it until it was available on FilmStruck’s streaming service through their extra Criterion Channel add-on.

Having watched some of the earlier episodes, some of which featured Spike Lee, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, I got to know Pierson’s story and understand his influence and importance on 80s and 90s indie film. Because of that, I wanted to know more of the details, so when I discovered that he had written this book, I got a copy.

While the book tells these stories from Pierson’s point of view, they aren’t as exciting as one would hope. That’s not a knock against Pierson but he is sort of a bland guy and it comes through. This could also be my mistake for reading this after I just finished a string of Joe Bob Briggs and Hunter S. Thompson books, which put me on a colorful and charismatic high.

The best parts of this book are the sections where Pierson has conversations with Kevin Smith. Had the book featured more of this or just this, as Pierson tells the stories by conversing with those involved, it would have been a much more entertaining read. In fact, those sections feel more like an episode of Split Screen, which unfortunately could only fit in so much with its half hour running time and magazine style format.

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes is still worthwhile, if you care about the filmmakers involved and how they got their start. It is just very straightforward and dry.

Film Review: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Release Date: January 21st, 1992 (Sundance)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino

Live America Inc., Dog Eat Dog Productions, Miramax Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, why am I Mr. Pink?” – Mr. Pink

Every great director has to start somewhere and this is where Quentin Tarantino’s career truly began. This is his origin story and for a first real attempt at creating a full-fledged motion picture, the young director absolutely nailed it and gave the world something exceptional.

The film also has a great ensemble of actors who would go on to do great things, as well as Harvey Keitel, who was already established as a master of his craft, especially in crime pictures.

The bulk of the movie, from a performance standpoint, mostly falls on the shoulders of Keitel and Tim Roth. While Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney were all perfect, it is the bond between Keitel and Roth that drives the picture and gives it the needed emotional weight and purpose.

The majority of this film takes place in one room. It actually only leaves this room when the actors walk out into its parking lot or during a flashback sequence. It is a very confined film but that works to its advantage and for its building of tension.

Reservoir Dogs also showcases Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue. While I feel that his dialogue tends to get really carried away in his later films and almost ruins them, in this picture he has the perfect balance of great dialogue, pivotal plot developments and overall motion. The conversations may go on for a bit but they are the driving force of the film. But never does it go on too long or go off on drawn out unnecessary tangents that don’t work as well on a second viewing. Every scene says what it needs to say and serves a purpose. The film just moves, flows and keeps you on edge in the right way. It is witty and it is fast in a way that Tarantino’s later pictures aren’t.

Now the film is also surrounded in some minor controversy, as people have gone on to notice that this film seems to borrow quite heavily from the 80s Hong Kong film City On Fire. Ringo Lam’s well-known picture in the Hong Kong crime genre predates Reservoir Dog by five years. It features an undercover cop infiltrating a group of jewel thieves, tension around the fact that no one knows who the cop is, a Mexican standoff finale and a whole laundry list of other similar plot points. Tarantino has casually denied that Reservoir Dogs is a sort of remake of City On Fire but it is hard to deny the myriad of similarities when you have seen both films.

The thing is, even if Tarantino ripped it off to launch his career, the fact remains that he made a much better picture than Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Also, Reservoir Dogs, despite its inspiration, is very much a Tarantino picture. Also, hasn’t Quentin Tarantino’s entire career just been made up of artistic homages to all the things he thinks are cool? But I guess the thing that bothers people is that he won’t admit he lifted the plot when he very honestly states that Kill Bill was his version of Lady Snowblood or when he just borrows titles from other movies for his films like using Django in the title of Django Unchained or taking Inglorious Bastards and stylizing it Inglourious Basterds.

At the end of the day, I don’t care how Tarantino came to create Reservoir Dogs. It is still very much his and a work of modern cinematic art. It was, by far, one of the greatest debuts of any director in history and it will always be considered one of the greatest indie films of the 1990s.

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

Film Review: Batteries Not Included (1987)

Also stylized as: *batteries not included
Also known as: Miracle On 8th Street (international)
Release Date: December 18th, 1987
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Mick Garris, Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae, Elizabeth Pena, Dennis Boutsikaris, Michael Carmine

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“The quickest way to end a miracle is to ask it why it is… or what it wants.” – Frank Riley

Batteries Not Included sort of came and went in the theater. At least, I wasn’t really aware of it until it popped up on HBO about a year later. Once I saw it though, I was captivated and would try to catch it every time it was playing on television. It is one of those movies I loved as a kid but hadn’t really seen since. So when I came across it on Netflix, I wanted to see how it played, thirty years later.

The film was actually intended to be an episode of Steve Spielberg’s awesome television show Amazing Stories. Spielberg liked the story so much that he wanted to have it expanded into a feature film. Also, this was Brad Bird’s first time writing for a theatrical release. He would go on to write and direct the beloved animated films The Iron GiantThe Incredibles and Ratatouille.

The movie tells the story of the residents of a rundown building in New York City. The area is being torn down and the residents forced out by thugs hired by developers who intend to build modern massive skyscrapers. The thugs go around destroying the resident’s homes and property. Two tiny alien spaceships show up and start fixing everything. The little spaceships are actually alien lifeforms that take junk and appliances and use them to repair and enhance themselves. They even give birth to three baby alien ships in the film.

The movie is really about miracles and how when you are pushed to your limit and all seems hopeless, sometimes things can happen to pick you back up. Batteries Not Included is about not losing hope and it is also about family and friends and turning to those around you who are good people. It’s interesting that it takes non-human lifeforms to bring the humans in the story together.

For 1987, the special effects are fantastic. The movie still looks stellar today and it held up really nicely.

The cast were all really good but the bulk of the picture rests on the shoulders of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (just a few years before her big Academy Award win for Driving Miss Daisy). It’s kind of nice revisiting pictures like this and Cocoon, as they feature elderly actors as the main characters. It is something that you don’t see very often anymore, at least not in major studio sci-fi releases. But the 80s were a magical time for film.

I was happy that I revisited this, so many years later, because I wasn’t disappointed, as I often times am with movies I once loved as a kid. It was actually just as I remembered it without any extra romantic flourish added to it from my memory.

Batteries Not Included is sort of forgotten today and it wasn’t a big hit in its day, anyway. It is a movie that probably deserves more recognition than it got, though. It just looks good, plays good and most importantly, feels good.

Film Review: The Loved Ones (2009)

Release Date: Septmeber 23th, 2009 (TIFF)
Directed by: Sean Byrne
Written by: Sean Byrne
Music by: Ollie Olsen
Cast: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee

Screen Australia, Madman Entertainment, Mars Distribution, Optimum Releasing, Paramount Pictures, Insurge Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna go to your house now and stab your mummy just like you did my Daddy. Then I’m gonna go find Holly and stab her in the heart just like you did to me.” – Lola

I mostly wanted to check out The Loved Ones because I really liked Robin McLeavy in Hell On Wheels. She’s a damn good actress that I feel should be getting a lot more work now that she isn’t tied up in that fantastic show. Also, I’ve always loved Australian movies and I am a fan of horror, in general. Plus, people have talked this film up quite a bit since it came out.

When I first saw the trailer for this a few years back, I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, it did not show up in my town and then it got lost in the shuffle of the million other movies that came and went. I always have a lot that I want to see on my list and if I am not vigilant enough, the tide of new stuff washes away the old. Luckily, I saw a post about this on a blog and made it a point to watch it that day.

While I’m glad that I have now seen the movie, I wouldn’t consider it anything exceptional. Enjoyable, sure… but not exceptional.

The trailer really gives too much away and while there are a few extra layers of madness thrown into the narrative towards the end, this is pretty predictable and doesn’t really do anything to set it apart from other psycho killer family hostage torture movies. Maybe I’ll just start referring to this sub-genre as PKFHT.

In the story, we see a girl named Lola ask a boy named Brent to the school dance. Brent declines, as he has a girlfriend and is going with her. Brent is then abducted and wakes up tied to a chair at a dinner table with the girl, her father and her father’s lobotomized love interest referred to as “Bright Eyes”. The rest of the film features torture, power drill lobotomies, some moderate gore, a lot of hints at incest and a creepy surprise in the hidden cellar. I’d prefer not to give away too much, as the trailer does just that.

The Loved Ones is only 84 minutes, which is short but you really don’t need more time than that. In fact, it could have been even shorter and still have been effective. There’s a whole side story about Brent’s friend and the girl he takes to the dance, which is mostly unnecessary other than to show she is emotionally broken due to her brother being one of Lola’s victims. Without this side story, you could cut a third off of the film.

The acting is solid, especially from McLeavy and Xavier Samuel and it really is up to them to carry the picture. Despite their best and great efforts, there just isn’t much here that you haven’t seen before. I was sort of expecting some big twist or surprise, considering that the trailer mapped out the entire plot and because the Australians typically surprise me.

The Loved Ones is a better than decent horror flick but it doesn’t deliver anything new or fresh. Although, it is worth your time if you like these sort of pictures.

Film Review: Hatchet For the Honeymoon (1970)

Also known as: Il rosso segno della follia, lit. The Red Mark of Madness (Italy), Blood Brides (UK), An Axe for the Honeymoon (alternate)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Mario Bava, Santiago Moncada
Music by: Sante Maria Romitelli
Cast: Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti, Femi Benussi

Manuel Caño Sanciriaco, Mercury Films, Pan Latina Films, Películas Ibarra y Cía., 105 Minutes

Review:

“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I’m a paranoiac. Paranoiac. An enchanting word, so civilized, full of possibilities. The truth is, I am completely mad. The realization which annoys me at first, but is now amusing to me. Quite amusing. Nobody suspects I am a madman. A dangerous murderer. Not Mildred, my wife. Nor the employees of my fashion center. Nor of course my customers.” – John Harrington

For those who read this site fairly regularly, my love of Mario Bava and the giallo genre in general should be pretty apparent. As I’ve been working my way through Bava’s oeuvre, I have come across several films I know and some I have never seen. Hatchet For the Honeymoon is one I have known of but never had the pleasure of experiencing.

While it is generally a giallo, it differs from what I’m used to in that the identity of the killer is known upfront. There is no mystery about the killer’s identity, although the motive isn’t entirely clear until the end and there is still a bit of mystery thrown in. In fact, this film takes some crazy twists and turns in the narrative, as you never really know what’s real or if the main character is just imagining things.

This film plays kind of like American Psycho well before American Psycho, the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, was even written. Our killer here is a high society type, incredibly insane and violently kills those around him. Except our main character isn’t a successful Wall Street player, he is the head of a very successful fashion house in Europe.

He has an obsession with brides and wedding dresses and believes that a woman should love once and die before marriage. While he is in a disastrous marriage himself, he often times seduces beautiful women he comes in contact with through his work. It doesn’t end well for these women.

Hatchet For the Honeymoon is an alluring picture. It uses the vibrant colors of a typical Italian giallo, employing the visual style that Bava helped to create and that several other directors have tried to emulate for decades. While this isn’t as overtly colorful as Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, it still looks like a painting come to life.

Mario Bava weaved an interesting tale with this picture. While it isn’t my favorite of his films, it still enchants like Bava’s more superior work. It draws you in with its strong grip and doesn’t let go until the final moments. It is engaging and beautiful in all the right ways.