Film Review: The Black Cat (1934)

Also known as: The Vanishing Body
Release Date: May 7th, 1934
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Peter Ruric, Edgar G. Ulmer
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.” – Hjalmar Poelzig

The Black Cat is a film that fits under the Universal Monsters banner, even if it was a one-off and not apart of their bigger series like Dracula and Frankenstein. But it does feature the stars of both those franchises: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

The film was also directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a guy who wouldn’t reach superstardom in Hollywood but would direct some pretty notable pictures and make a few worthwhile film-noirs.

The best part about this film is it puts Lugosi and Karloff together and not as creatures or men in heavy makeup or prosthetics. They actually get to play off of each other as humans, Karloff being the mad man and Lugosi being a heroic doctor that still exudes his Count Dracula vibe.

The name of the film comes from an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Within the film, it is a reference to Lugosi’s character and his abnormal fear of cats.

Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a difficult name to pronounce. He is an Austrian architect. Once our heroes, a newlywed couple and Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast meet on a train, they are stuck together for the rest of the film, most of which takes place at Poelzig’s lavish and futuristic looking home. In fact, the interiors resemble a film-noir set from the late 1940s. The cinematography is also similar and maybe this is what led to Ulmer directing film-noir a decade later.

The Black Cat isn’t a great film but it is a better than decent 1930s horror flick that stars the two biggest horror icons of the time. It is a pretty significant picture for films of the genre and the era.

Video Game Review: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (PlayStation)

*I played the PlayStation version. The game is also available on Windows and Sega Dreamcast.

Man, this game is almost twenty years-old but boy did it feel pretty sweet playing it again. In fact, in 1999, this was probably my favorite game. Although, I was still playing through the first Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on an almost monthly basis. What set this apart from those great games however, was just how massive this game felt in scope. It felt like the most epic video game since I played the first Zelda, as a kid about twelve years prior.

The world in this game is huge and meant to be explored. There is a sequence that you are supposed to play the game in but truthfully, you can skip around if you want and it makes this one of the first games ever to have that sort of freedom. There are several kingdoms to save throughout the game and every one of them is pretty simple to get to and explore. Sure, some are much more challenging and for the true gaming experience and to properly follow the story, they should be done in a specific sequence (similar to a MegaMan game) but the freedom does exist.

The graphics for the time were great. It is blocky and primitive looking today but despite that, it is still a beautiful game to look at and not hard on the eyes at all.

The really cool thing about this game is not just the great story but the entire mythos. Certain things were established in this games predecessor Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen. However, this game expands on that greatly. It takes vampires and presents them in a cool new way. They have evolved and become world-ruling super beings. As the main character Raziel evolves further than his master Kain, he is punished for it and destroyed. He awakens centuries later to see the horrid results of further evolution by his vampiric brethren.

Each vampire brother is a boss in the game and each has evolved in an unusual way that makes each kingdom, each vampire army and each boss a refreshingly new experience. There is nothing repetitive about this game and it has some of the best boss battles in video game history. This, along with Metal Gear Solid, were standard-bearers on the PlayStation One platform for what boss battles could and should be.

I feel like this game and this series has been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is a classic and is still fun almost two decades later.

Film Review: Prince of Foxes (1949)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1949
Directed by: Henry King
Written by: Milton Krims
Based on: Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Tyrone Power, Orson Welles

20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“It is my belief that everything, even death, can be turned into profit.” – Cesare Borgia

Prince of Foxes re-teams director Henry King with his swashbuckling star Tyrone Power. It also adds Orson Welles to the mix as the famous tyrant Cesare Borgia. The fact that I get to see two of my favorite actors play off of each other, is the real treat of this film.

While the poster and the subject matter may make you think that this is a big swashbuckler (albeit in Renaissance Italy), there is very little swordplay and it is more of a historical war drama with a bit of romance and some swashbuckling elements just lightly sprinkled in.

Orson Welles is the perfect Cesare Borgia. While I didn’t live in 1500 and can’t compare the two men, Welles’ personification greatly embodies the spirit of what Borgia was, historically speaking. The power, the boldness, the heartlessness and the ability to conquer for the sake of ego and wealth. Orson Welles captures this and adds in his own cool and eloquent qualities. He also looks like a Renaissance era Sith lord.

Tyrone Power walks into the film with a smile and unrelenting charm but that is why he was a favorite to star in these sort of pictures. His acting chops and masculine presence are strong enough to stand in front of Welles’ Borgia and to hold his ground. While Welles typically outshines most, Power doesn’t lose his presence in the picture and it is still very much his movie.

The film, where possible, made use of accurate locations and historical structures in an effort to make Prince of Foxes as authentic as possible. The world truly feels real and lived in. It doesn’t feel as if these men are just on some Hollywood back lot or in a studio.

The cinematography is lush and lively, even for a black and white picture that came out in the film-noir 40s. The costumes are perfect, the sets are finely ornamented and the attention to detail is pretty astounding. The sound is also pristine, which must have been a challenge with the on location shooting.

Prince of Foxes is neither my favorite Tyrone Power or Orson Welles picture. However, it was still a film of high quality that brought these two giants together. It kind of holds a special place for me because of that. And I’ve always loved tales of the infamous Borgia family.

Film Review: The Final Sacrifice (1990)

Also known as: Quest For the Lost City
Release Date: 1990
Directed by: Tjardus Greidanus
Written by: Tjardus Greidanus, Christian Malcolm (uncredited), Bruce J. Mitchell (uncredited)
Music by: Robert Skeet
Cast: Christian Malcolm, Bruce J. Mitchell

Flying Dutchman Productions Ltd., 78 Minutes

Review:

Canada has made some decent motion pictures over the years. The Final Sacrifice is not one of those pictures.

Truth be told, this could be one of the worst things that has ever come out of Canada. Strangely, I have a weird appreciation for it. It is an awful movie but it is ambitious in spite of its mountain of faults. Okay, maybe not ambitious but it tried some really big special effects at the end. Emphasis on the word “tried”.

Maybe I just like this dumb movie because it was featured on one of my favorite Mike Nelson episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The movie takes place in southern Alberta and it was shot there as well. Apparently, the evil Satanic cult that has plans on ruling the entire world, decided to make their base of operations the rural countryside south of Calgary and north of the Montana border. Seems like as good of a spot as any.

In this film, we follow this kid and an out-of-shape denim-clad mullet-sporting middle-aged hoser. They are on the run from a Satanic cult that wears black wife beaters and ski masks. Most of the time they are running around with machetes too. Their leader doesn’t wear a mask and he dresses nicer but he’s still a total choad. He also has a weird voice. All of this is happening for reasons that aren’t ever all that clear but in the end, some mystical city rises out of the Albertan countryside and then keeps raising up into outer space. Shit’s confusing.

There really isn’t a single positive about this movie other than it did provide a ton of material for the MST3K crew to riff. Plus, the episode poked a lot of fun at Canada, a country that probably deserves it due to giving this movie to the world.

So, does this film deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Yep! And the results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: The 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, Part II (2017)

Having participated in the 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, I wanted to shine a light on the ten finalists. I’ll break this review into two parts, covering the first block of films before the festival’s intermission and then the second block of films after the intermission.

What the film festival does, is it takes thousands of short films from all over the world, narrows it down to ten finalists and then lets the audience from all the participating venues vote on the winner for best film and best actor. Currently, there are more than 250 venues from six continents that participate.

Just Go! – action, adventure – Latvia (2017):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Pavel Gumennikov
Written by: Pavel Gumennikov
Music by: Michael Bahnmiller
Cast: Aleksandrs Ronis, Toms Velicko, Jana Herbsta

11 Minutes

Review:

This wasn’t one of my favorites of the film festival but it was a lot of fun.

The story follows a teen who lost his legs. He is smitten with a girl around his neighborhood. While he is talking to her, she has her purse stolen by two thugs. Without hesitation, the legless teen flies after the thugs in hot pursuit. First he uses his wheelchair, then his car, then moves with just his quick hands, then uses a skateboard and does everything he can to keep up with the thugs until finally being cornered by them in an alley.

The point of this short film is to show that there aren’t really disabilities but just abilities. It is a good representation of this idea and pretty much proves its point while being fast paced and exciting.

The teen wins out, the thugs are defeated and we get a happy ending with a little funny extra scene in the credits.

The teen in the film is actually a player on Latvia’s sitting volleyball team.

Mare Nostrum – drama – Syria (2016):

Release Date: October 26th, 2016 (France)
Directed by: Rana Kazkaz, Anas Khalaf
Written by: Rana Kazkaz
Cast: Ziad Bakri, Zayn Khalaf

Georges Films, Syneastes Films, Philistine Films, 14 Minutes

Review:

At first I didn’t like this film. But the ending and the added context brought everything together like a finely woven tapestry.

Taking place in Syria, on the Mediterranean coast, the film sees a father basically terrify his daughter by throwing her off of a pier, again and again, trying to force her to learn how to swim.

You feel for the girl and understand her pain and the horror that this puts her through but you don’t fully realize why the father is doing this until you get to the end. It is really hard not to hate the father for what he is doing but it makes you understand what a parent’s tough love is and how he only wants his daughter to have a better life.

It also humanizes the struggle of those who are good people that are demonized as enemies because they just so happen to live in a part of the world that many consider a threat. But ultimately, the good people of these faraway lands are victims themselves.

Mare Nostrum is well shot and beautiful. It’s a short film that hopefully gets its message out to more people who might need a reminder that we’re all human beings with our own adversity to overcome.

Viola, Franca – drama, biography – Italy (2017):

Release Date: May 30th, 2017 (Poland)
Directed by: Marta Savina
Written by: Andrea Brusa, Marta Savina
Cast: Antonio Bruschetta, Carlo Calderone, Claudia Gusmano

15 Minutes

Review:

Viola, Franca was damn good and it is almost tied for first place overall with 8 Minutes, but I liked 8 Minutes just a bit more.

That being said, this is the more important of the two pictures and it tells the story of the real Sicilian women that fought against social injustice perpetuated by the Italian government and the Catholic church.

This is Franca’s origin story on how she came to resist what her church and her community tried to impose on her.

In the story, she rejects a despicable local man’s advances. He then waits for her father to go into town and he rapes her. Being that she is now seen as impure by the Catholic church and the community, she is pressured into marrying the very man that raped her. She decides that this is not the course that her life will go and she refuses to conform to the outdated and archaic ways of her culture.

Viola, Franca is the only period piece out of all these films and it feels like it has the highest production value. It employs stock music but the selections work well for the film and the landscape of Sicily is a breathtaking backdrop.

Claudia Gusmano gave the best acting performance in the entire festival.

In A Nutshell – animation – Switzerland (2017):

Release Date: June 9th, 2017 (Japan)
Directed by: Fabio Friedli

5 Minutes

Review:

In A Nutshell is the shortest of all the films in the festival. It is a scant 5 minutes but that’s all it needs to work.

There isn’t a story or actors or anything really, other than everyday objects being animated in an interesting way, showcasing their relation to one another. There isn’t much point to this other than showing these objects evolve from one thing to another forming a perfect metaphorical circle.

The film looks good and is well animated for what it is. But what it is a forgettable art piece reminiscent of a quick time killer segment from a public access children’s show.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to walk away with.

8 Minutes – sci-fi, drama – Georgia (2017):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Giorgi Gogichaishvili, Davit Abramishvili
Written by: Zaza Koshhadze, Mari Bekauri, Giorgi Gogichaishvili
Cast: Slava Natenadze, Ani Bebia, Giorgi Sharvashidze, Donara Gvritishvili, Zanda Ioseliani

12 Minutes

Review:

This ended up being my favorite film of the festival and not just because it went on last and was the freshest in my memory.

8 Minutes told an interesting tale and it really pulled you in.

The film is primarily about a father reconnecting with his son. The father is a career magician. However, the film is set in a time where the sun is about to burn out. In fact, the sun has already burnt out but it takes 8 minutes and 33 seconds for the effects to reach the Earth. This all takes place in that time frame.

The father and the rest of the world know that it is the last moments of life on the planet but the man’s son, who is off on a scientific expedition in the wilderness, doesn’t know what is about to happen. The man doesn’t tell his son but uses the final moments to try and touch him over the phone and to pull of his last great magic trick.

The film is sweet and well acted. It also utilizes some great cinematography and pulls off some magic tricks of its own.

As the world is crumbling and chaos ensues, a father and son find peace.

8 Minutes was fantastic.

Film Review: Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Also known as: Gojira no gyakushû, lit. Counterattack of Godzilla (Japan), Gigantis the Fire Monster (US – original title)
Release Date: April 24th, 1955 (Japan)
Directed by: Motoyoshi Oda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Shigeaki Hidaka
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla Raids Again was a quickly pushed out sequel to the original Gojira. And like its predecessor, the film was shot in black and white, making it the only film in the franchise, apart from the original, that wasn’t released in color.

In the United States, despite the success of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the American re-edit of Gojira, this film didn’t take the Godzilla name and was initially release as Gigantis the Fire Monster. In fact, English dubbed versions of the film still make reference to the monster being called “Gigantis”.

This film introduced the beloved kaiju Anguirus, who fought Godzilla in this picture but would go on to be a top ally for decades. And this is actually the film that gave birth to kaiju battles, as the previous Godzilla picture only featured the title monster.

Compared to the original, which was an exceptional motion picture, this is a very poor sequel to it. While it was successful, maybe Toho wasn’t keen on its quality, as Godzilla was shelved for seven years until he was brought back to battle King Kong in one of the best kaiju epics of all-time.

There are several reasons why this film is lacking compared to the two chapters that sandwich it.

To start, while tokusatsu master Eiji Tsuburaya did handle the special effects, some mistakes were made during the production. The frame rate of the camera was not set correctly and the big kaiju battles are fast paced to the point that the monsters move around at impossible speeds and it almost plays like a slapstick comedy segment every time that Godzilla and Anguirus tie-up. It just looks hokey and doesn’t match up with the action of any other Toho kaiju picture. Plus, it is missing audio effects and the battles just sort of happen to music, looking like a goofy spastic dance.

Another reason why the film suffers is that Godzilla mastermind Ishirō Honda was not behind the camera. Additionally, the script was written by people that weren’t mainstays in the franchise in the same way that Shinichi Sekizawa and Takeshi Kimura were.

The film is still enjoyable for Godzilla fans and it does have its positives.

Toho regulars Hiroshi Koizumi and Takashi Shimura star in the picture and give good performances.

Also, the overall visual look of the film is fairly solid. The scene where Godzilla comes to shore and the military fills the sky with flares looks really cool and holds up well. Also, the scene where Godzilla is walking through the snow covered valley, surrounded by icy mountains, is a beautiful sight where the contrast between the monster and his environment is enhanced by the black and white presentation.

In the long history of Godzilla films, this one is mostly forgettable other than the debut of Anguirus and the kaiju versus kaiju concept that would become the standard in just about every kaiju movie made after this one.

TV Review: Preacher (2016- )

Original Run: May 22nd, 2016 – current
Created by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Preacher by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti, Tom Brooke, Anatol Yusef, Graham McTavish, Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor, Julie Ann Emery, Jackie Earle Haley

Woodbridge Productions, Short Drive Entertainment, Point Grey, Original Film, Kickstart Productions, KFL Nightsky Productions, AMC Studios, Sony Pictures Television, 23 Episodes (so far), 42-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Preacher was a comic book series a lot of my friends have talked about for years. I never read it, actually, but I have always wanted to. After seeing the show, now two seasons into its run, I definitely want to pick up the comic series much sooner than later, even if I am two decades too late.

The show stars the always perfect Dominic Cooper. It also stars Oscar nominated actress Ruth Negga and the super entertaining Joseph Gilgun, as an Irish vampire. The show actually reunites Negga and Gilgun, who both starred in the awesome British show Misfits. Well, maybe not a real reuniting, as they were on that show a season apart.

One of the most surprising things about Preacher, when I first heard about it, was that it was being developed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. AMC did feel like the perfect home for this show though, due to how well it has handled another little comic book property, The Walking Dead.

Preacher follows a preacher who has a special power. He is able to use his voice to force people to do his bidding. He is joined by his crazy ex-girlfriend (Negga) and his new vampire sidekick (Gilgun). Initially, the show takes place in a small Texas town and pits Jesse Custer, the preacher, against an evil and psychotic villain, played by Jackie Earle Haley. Jesse discovers that God is missing, his hometown is destroyed and season two sees our trio head to New Orleans in search of God.

While The Walking Dead pushed the envelope of what you can show on television to new levels, Preacher pushes it even further. This is a really dark show. Dark to the point where even regular viewers of The Walking Dead might feel uncomfortable with Preacher. In fact, I’m not sure how this can exist and not be something that has to be on HBO, Showtime or Starz.

Overall, the show is pretty damn good. Sometimes it feels a bit drawn out, which is its only real weakness. The thing is, Preacher is so unique and bizarre that you’re never really sure where each episode will end up. As of now, it looks as if each season will have its own unique theme and environment. From what I’ve seen thus far, it doesn’t seem like it will be a show that will get stale or trapped in redundancy.

Preacher boasts some of the best actors on television and each season brings in other veteran actors with talent to match. Negga truly is an Oscar caliber performer but Cooper and Gilgun are right there with her from scene to scene.

Preacher is a show with serious gravitas but it isn’t for everyone. I can’t imagine that it could have a large audience, which is why it is such a unique experience and its existence in its current format, a bit puzzling. But over the years, television seems to be getting better and smarter as motion pictures continue to be dumbed down to the point that most are unwatchable.

This is a show that feels fresh and new and brings something to the table that no one has seen before. It doesn’t hurt that it is also a top quality effort by everyone involved, at every level.