Film Review: Walk the Line (2005)

Release Date: September 4th, 2005 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Gill Dennis, James Mangold
Based on: Man In Black: His Own Story In His Own Words and Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash
Music by: T Bone Burnett
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts

Fox 2000 Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 136 Minutes (theatrical cut), 153 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“You wear black ’cause you can’t find anything else to wear? You found your sound ’cause you can’t play no better? You just tried to kiss me because “it just happened?” You should try take credit for something every once in a while, John.” – June Carter

I’ve been a big fan of Johnny Cash since the age I first sprouted ears. That being said, I hadn’t seen this film until recently. Reason being, there were a ton of musical legend biopics popping up in the early 2000s and whether they were critical successes or not, I was pretty burnt out on them.

To be honest, I’m kind of glad that I waited, as I saw this at the right time, when I needed to. Plus, being a good distance away from the slew of other biopics that were in abundance back then, allowed me to appreciate this better than I would have in 2005. Also, my knowledge on old country and rockabilly is richer than it was in 2005, so I was really drawn in to all the other famous characters worked into this picture’s narrative.

Besides just being a really good movie, Walk the Line really gave me an understanding of who June Carter was and why Johnny loved her. The film gave me an appreciation and a respect for her that I didn’t have before. I have to give a lot of the credit for that to Reese Witherspoon, who won an Academy Award for her performance here and deservedly so. She also held her own musically and her performance of “Juke Box Blues” was energetic and awesome. Her duets with Joaquin Phoenix were quite amazing, as well.

Speaking of which, Phoenix truly knocks it out of the park with his performance as Johnny Cash. He had the voice, the mannerisms and exuded the presence of Cash. His covers of Cash’s songs were also well done and more than convincing. One thing that really worked extraordinarily well in this movie were the live performances. Everyone involved in this picture created musical magic.

The film was directed by James Mangold, who most recently directed Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine, the stupendous Logan. From his work on this film, I can see why Mangold was given the reins to helm two Wolverine films, both of which were really good.

Walk the Line isn’t a perfect movie but it is a solid biopic that is only enhanced by the talent of its stars, its director and its stellar musical performances.

TV Review: The Punisher (2017- )

Original Run: November 17th, 2017 – current
Created by: Steve Lightfoot
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., Ross Andru
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah, Paul Schulze, Jason R. Moore, Michael Nathanson, Daniel Webber, Jaime Ray Newman, Deborah Ann Woll, C. Thomas Howell, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Clancy Brown, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

ABC Studios, Marvel, Bohemian Risk Productions, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 49-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This was the first of Marvel’s television series for Netflix that just didn’t resonate with me. Luke Cage wasn’t on the level of Daredevil or Jessica JonesIron Fist was a big step down and The Defenders was a pretty huge disappointment. Plus, Daredevil season two was nowhere near as good as season one. The Punisher, however, is the worst of the bunch.

The problem, is that I anticipated the Punisher doing what he is most known for, shooting the shit out of everyone and everything. The bigger the guns, the better.

Instead, we get a Punisher that just talks and talks and talks and talks and occasionally finds himself in a firefight. We also have to wait like ten episodes to see him wear the iconic skull logo again. Most of the time, he’s a depressed and brooding, angry brute trying to woo the wife of his partner.

Jigsaw is in this, which I was excited about, but I shouldn’t have been. I mean, he’s in just about every episode but he’s Jigsaw before Jigsaw and his origin isn’t even close to what its supposed to be. In The Punisher, we get Ben Barnes looking all pretty and shit. The show should have followed suit with the Punisher: War Zone movie, which featured Jigsaw and did a fine job with the character, even if they botched his real name.

The first season of this is also capped off with a shootout on a carousel. Wasn’t there a carousel scene with the Punisher in Daredevil already? Also, Bernthal had a massive shootout with the mob in Mob City. If you’ve seen that show, which luckily for Netflix, no one else really has, then this feels like familiar territory. Why wasn’t Bernthal on set going, “Guys, I’ve already done this scene before and it was a lot better!”… why?

The only thing I really liked about the show was Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who played Microchip. He was, by far, the best actor in this thing and his work made his character more interesting than it otherwise would have been. In fact, he was more interesting than the Punisher, who just mumbled and grunted through thirteen boring episodes.

I’ll watch the eventual second season but only if Marvel’s Netflix stuff starts getting back to basics and getting as good as it was in the beginning. Besides, I’m pretty close to cancelling Netflix anyway, as the shows I like are ending or falling off, other content is dwindling away and their price keeps getting higher.

Film Review: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2017 (Edinburgh premiere)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Porno and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson

Film4, Creative Scotland, Cloud Eight Films, DNA Films, Decibel Films, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Nostalgia! That’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth. Just ’cause you had a near-death experience and now you’re feeling all fuzzy and warm. What other moments will you be revisiting?” – Simon

It is hard to come back and make a sequel to anything twenty years later but Danny Boyle did just that. He had talked about a Trainspotting sequel almost as long as it has been since the first one in 1996. Originally, he talked about it picking up with these characters nine years later. Well, it actually took just over twenty before we got to see where these guys ended up.

T2 Trainspotting is a much more sober picture than its predecessor but it still matches that original film in style and tone. Granted, it is hard to match the level of darkness that the first film had and really, these characters aren’t in that same sort of chemically induced rut. They still have problems but they’re different problems, even if their old lifestyle still hovers over their heads like a black cloud, always ready to rain down and remind them of where they’ve been and the pain they shared.

The story catches up with Renton and his return to Edinburgh, two decades after he pulled a heist with his friends and double crossed them, taking the money for himself. He has no choice but to return home and in the process, has to try and repair the damage he did. He tries to help Spud and goes into business with Sick Boy, who now just uses his real name: Simon. The real x-factor is Begbie, who may be even more insane than he was twenty years earlier, before spending years in prison.

There are a lot of twists and turns with this film and I might almost call it a neo-noir. There is crime, betrayal and a sort of femme fatale in the mix. Plus, it deals with some pretty dark subject matter and has a pretty impressive visual style.

I like this on the same level that I like the first film but I like them for very different reasons, because even though they deal with he same people, the same place and the same sort of scheming, they are both very different pictures. Danny Boyle did a superb job in resurrecting this world and giving it new life that wasn’t just derivative of the first. Like life, it showed how people evolve and change but are ultimately who they are at their core.

Also, like the first, the film is propelled by the pop music selections of the director. There isn’t a traditional score but there is a real energy running through the film due to the great music Boyle has sewn together from scene to scene.

I don’t think that all Trainspotting fans will enjoy the sequel, as much as I did. It really depends on what you’re looking for in it. But for me, I’m someone that isn’t too far off from the age of these characters. I understand the place they were in twenty years ago and I see how I have evolved in that time and how these characters can and should be different than who they were in their youth.

This film brings Boyle’s original picture full circle and it does leave you with hope for most of these characters. Also, after this second chapter, you feel much more connected and emotionally invested in Renton, Simon and Spud.

Film Review: Gone In 60 Seconds (1974)

Also known as: Gone In Sixty Seconds (alternate spelling)
Release Date: July 28th, 1974
Directed by: H. B. Halicki
Written by: H. B. Halicki
Music by: Ronald Halicki, Philip Kachaturian
Cast: H. B. Halicki, Eleanor, Marion Busia, Jerry Daugirda, James McIntyre, George Cole, Ronald Halicki, Markos Kotsikos

H. B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company, 105 Minutes

Review:

“This job is ruining my sex life.” – Maindrian Pace

For those who love the Nic Cage movie Gone In 60 Seconds, you might not know that it was a remake. In fact, it was the second attempt at a remake. There was 1989’s Gone In 60 Seconds 2, which actually wasn’t completed due to the death of H. B. Halicki during production. Before that though, there was this film and a couple similar ones by Halicki: Deadline Auto Theft and The Junkman.

This film is unique in that Halicki directed, wrote and starred in the film and only hired friends and family members to play the other roles. This was done in order to keep the cost of production down. The police officers, fireman and paramedics are all real. Halicki even did his own stunts and the cars destroyed in the film were owned by him. The emergency vehicles in the film were bought at an auction for an average price of $200 each.

The big car chase in the film takes up the last forty minutes or so and sees 93 cars get wrecked. It is still the longest car chase sequence in movie history.

The premise of the film is about a group of thieves tasked with stealing 48 cars over the course of just a few days. While the setup is cool, most of the film drags on and isn’t as interesting as it could have been. The lengthy action finale certainly makes up for the first fifty minutes or so but it is a drag trying to get there, except in the few earlier scenes that provide a bit of car action.

Considering that this film was made by an unknown in the film industry and he made an impact due to his resourcefulness and skill, Gone In 60 Seconds is pretty impressive. It’s certainly not a great movie but it is hard to deny how fun and how well executed the massive car chase is, as it plows through five California towns and sees the destruction of nearly 100 vehicles. If anything, this film has got me interested in checking out Halicki’s other films.

If you love car action movies, this will be your cup of tea after surviving the first fifty minutes.

Film Review: Pushover (1954)

Release Date: July 30th, 1954
Directed by: Richard Quine
Written by: Roy Huggins
Based on: stories by Thomas Walsh and William S. Ballinger
Music by: Arthur Morton
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Phil Carey, Kim Novak, Dorothy Malone, E. G. Marshall

Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t spot it, but something’s wrong somewhere!” – Rock McAllister

This is the only film-noir, other than Double Indemnity, that I have seen Fred MacMurray in. I like the guy, especially in these roles. He was pretty damn good in this and really helped give birth to Kim Novak’s career, as this was her debut and he gave her a very capable opposite to play off of and learn from.

This came out as the noir style was sort of dwindling away, even though a few great noir pictures followed this.

It is an enjoyable film due to the work of MacMurray and Novak but there isn’t much else here to make it stand out from the pack. It’s a good and entertaining movie but it’s nowhere near the level of MacMurrat’s Double Indemnity or the films Novak would do later on in her career.

Still, I was engaged for 88 minutes and that’s a positive.

The cinematography is decent but really just average. The direction of Richard Quine was good but like his stars, he’d move on to bigger and better things outside of film-noir.

Pushover isn’t bad but to be frank, there are dozens of better noir pictures out there to check out before this one.

Film Review: Keoma (1976)

Also known as: Django Rides Again, Django Returns (both US informal titles), Desperado (US cut version), Keoma: The Avenger (US dubbed version), Coolman Keoma (West Germany video title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1976 (Italy
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, Enzo G. Castellari, Joshua Sinclair (dialogue – uncredited)
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Woody Strode

Uranos Cinematografica, Far International Films, 101 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (US cut version)

Review:

“I need to find out who I am. To give the simplest of my actions a reason. I know by being in this world has some significance, but I’m afraid that when I found out what it is, it will be too late. In the meantime, I’m a vagabond. I keep traveling. Even when the earth sleeps, I keep traveling… chasing shadows.” – Keoma

Who doesn’t want to watch a movie where Franco Nero and his chiseled visage and dreamy eyes take on the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth as a badass gunslinger? Okay, he isn’t Jesus of Nazareth, he is Keoma, but damn, he looks like some sort of spaghetti western Messiah here to save us from mundane and derivative spaghetti schlock. I mean, it’s like Jesus and the original Django had a baby and gave him tight pants, a cool hat and some big guns. Never has a man looked so manly, so pretty and exuded some sort of mystical sexual fire by simply standing within the frame of scratchy and grainy celluloid.

I’ll admit, I have never seen Keoma, even though I am a big fan of Nero and spaghetti westerns. Now that I have, it is pretty high up on my list of Nero gunslinger pictures. Man, he is so damn good in this and his gaze is chilling when he needs to communicate that he’s coming for your ass. Franco Nero just has a presence and never has that presence been as strong as it is here, even if he isn’t spraying down dozens of evil soldiers with a giant Gatling gun yanked out of a casket.

The film is directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a guy not necessarily known for quality but known for having a real sense of style and accomplishing a lot with very little. The man made magic with the 1978 film The Inglorious Bastards, a film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to “borrow” its title. He also did the extremely low budget but impressive 1990: Bronx Warriors, a sort of Italian ripoff of Walter Hill’s classic The Warriors.

Keoma is damn good for what it is. It isn’t just a throwaway spaghetti western in a sea of similar films. It is ballsy and gritty and showcases the great Franco Nero in his best kind of role. It is also one of the best films Enzo G. Castellari ever directed.

Ranking the Films of Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone is my second favorite director of all-time (following Stanley Kubrick). Like Kubrick , I don’t think that he was capable of a bad film. When watching a Leone film, at least for me, I am not just watching a movie, I am living an experience. Here, I have ranked the motion pictures he directed.

1. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (Dollars Trilogy, Part III)
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. Duck, You Sucker! (a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite)
4. For A Few Dollars More (Dollars Trilogy, Part II)
5. A Fistful of Dollars (Dollars Trilogy, Part I)
6. My Name Is Nobody
7. Once Upon A Time In America
8. A Genius, Two Partners & A Dupe
9. The Colussus of Rhodes
10. The Last Days of Pompeii