Film Review: The New Barbarians (1983)

Also known as: Warriors of the Wasteland (alternate), Metropolis 2000 (West Germany)
Release Date: June 10th, 1983 (West Germany)
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Tito Capri, Enzo G. Castellari
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Fred Williamson, Giancarlo Prete, George Eastman

Deaf International, 91 Minutes

Review:

“The world is dead. It raped itself. But I’ll purify it with blood! No one is innocent! But only we, the Templars, are the ministers of revenge!” – One

Between 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape From the Bronx, Enzo G. Castellari made this terrifically badass flick. And like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, this film stars Fred Williamson in a supporting but show stealing role.

This is one of ten dozen Mad Max ripoffs but the post-apocalyptic genre of film was at its height in the ’80s thanks to the surprise success of Mad Max. There were ripoffs galore, some good, some atrocious, but some of them at least brought something new to the table. I can’t call this a good film but I like it a lot because it takes an oversaturated formula and gives it some sweet style.

The Italians could have really taken what they did with spaghetti westerns and started a whole spaghetti apocalypse trend. While they made films like this, as this is one of them, they never quite took off like the spaghetti western trend in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Enzo G. Castellari really made his mark in spaghetti westerns and dabbled in some horror. The two really prepared him for making post-apocalyptic movies, as they share similar qualities: barren wastelands, gunslingers, violence and terror. And hell, trade out the horses for motorcycles and you’ve got a spaghetti apocalypse movie, as I call these pictures.

The New Barbarians or Warriors of the Wasteland, as it is also called, is an energetic and engaging picture for what it is. It wasn’t intended to be a game changer or exceptional, it was just made to cash in on a genre craze but still had enough of its own originality and style to stand apart from its primary influences.

Castellari was the master of these sort of films and The New Barbarians just solidifies that. It is well executed with awesomely shoddy effects and surreal action. It has weird dialogue, weird characters and weird costumes. It’s like some sort of bizarre European post-apocalyptic themed fashion show from the ’80s. I don’t really know how else to sum it up in a single sentence.

This film, along with Castellari’s Bronx movies sort of form an unofficial trilogy in my mind. They have similar themes, similar style and are cool to experience. This is a better film than the two Bronx movies: slightly beating out the first and completely surpassing the second, which actually isn’t very good.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape From the Bronx. It also has a lot of similarities to the more modern film Turbo Kid.

Film Review: Family Plot (1976)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, Deceit, Deception, Missing Heir (working titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1976 (Filmex)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Based on: The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Ed Lauter

Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[to Fran] We’re gonna have to kill these two ourselves.” – Arthur Adamson

Family Plot has the distinction of being Alfred Hitchcock’s last film. It also proves that even in old age, the director was a true auteur that never lost his mojo. This is an engaging and entertaining motion picture that while it isn’t Hitchcock’s best, probably deserves more recognition than it has gotten over the years.

The plot is about one giant misunderstanding. Unfortunately for the nice duo, it becomes a big mess, as the other duo locked in this cat and mouse game aren’t nice people and in fact are pretty evil and dangerous.

Barbara Harris plays a fake psychic that swindles rich old ladies out of their money. She partners up with a crafty cab driver played by Bruce Dern. The two of them are given a job that will reward them with $10,000 upon completion. That job is to find a long lost heir to a family fortune and return him to the fold. What they don’t know is that this heir is a career criminal and conman. The conman thinks that he is being pursued by the duo because of something heinous from his past. The heir is teamed up with a often times reluctant accomplice played by Karen Black. The film becomes a chase where the mostly good guys keep finding themselves in over their heads and the bad guys are running in fear of what these do-gooders may have on them.

The plot is well structured and executed marvelously for the most part. My only real complaint about the film is that it seems a bit too drawn out. Hitchcock loved a two hour-plus running time and frankly, this could have been 100 minutes and been just as good.

I loved seeing a younger Ed Lauter in the movie and with Bruce Dern and Karen Black, this just has a really cool cast. The fact that these actors also got to work with Hitchcock is kind of impressive. Not because they aren’t capable, they certainly are, but because it’s a teaming of great talents from different generations.

Speaking of which, it was also really neat that John Williams got to score a Hitchcock picture. Two different artists that defined two different generations in very different ways came together and made something that worked to benefit both parties. Williams score here isn’t anywhere as well known as those that he’d do for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg but it enhanced the overall experience of Hitchcock’s Family Plot and gave it some life it might not have had with a less capable composer.

I really enjoyed Family Plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it exceeded any expectations I could have had, even if I knew more about it before diving in.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: A lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s later work from the late ’60s into the ’70s.

Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.

Film Review: Bug (2006)

Release Date: May 19th, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Tracy Letts
Based on: Bug by Tracy Letts
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O’Byrne, Harry Connick Jr.

DMK Mediafonds International, Inferno Distribution LLC, L.I.F.T. Productions, Lionsgate, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I guess I’d rather talk with you about bugs than nothing with nobody.” – Agnes White

William Friedkin is most associated with directing The Exorcist. This film, however, leaves you with a similar sense of disgust and dread.

In this picture, we meet Agnes, a lonely Oklahoma woman that works in a gay bar and lives in a rundown hotel. She does drugs and fools around with a lesbian, has a psycho ex-husband that just got out of prison and is still emotionally wrecked from the loss of her child.

Agnes is introduced to Peter and immediately develops in infatuation with him. Peter and Agnes get very close and intimate, even though Peter “isn’t into women” or anyone for that matter. Soon, we learn that Peter believes in all sorts of crazy conspiracies and even thinks that he was implanted with flesh eating bugs as some sort of military experiment.

As the film rolls on, Peter gets more erratic and insane and Agnes follows suit, believing him every step of the way. She starts seeing what Peter is seeing.

The film is magnificently shot. The opening scene that pans over a dark and barren landscape, slowly moving towards a small hotel in the distance, is beautiful and haunting. The cinematography in the last twenty minutes or so, showing these two insane people in a confined space of tin foil walls glowing from bug zappers is eerie and enchanting. This film certainly looks spectacular.

Bug also benefits from the tremendous performances by both Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, who sell their characters to the point that their slip into madness feels organic and terrifying.

Despite the solid acting, though, the characters aren’t nearly developed enough in the script and it is hard to feel anything deeper for them beyond their psychotic surface. Sure, your heart aches in a way but you don’t necessarily like these two people or find them to be that interesting. Watching anyone slip into a horrible state of mental health is always engaging to some degree but this film lacks the soul it needs to really make it as profound as it was trying to be.

Besides, everything just sort of happens and once the crazy ball gets rolling, we’re off to the races and it goes from 0 to 60 in record time.

Bug is a film that has a lot of strengths but doesn’t do much to capitalize on them other than just throwing them on the screen and hoping it works on its own. It’s hard to say whether or not the script was lacking, although it seems as though it was, or if Friedkin failed to bring it all together. I think the blame is really on both of those things, though.

Plus, you’re supposed to wonder if Peter is actually telling the truth and isn’t just nuts. I never once thought he was anything but nuts and saw this all as a shared delusion. I know that I was supposed to question it but that just didn’t work for me.

Additionally, the ending is pretty terrible and didn’t add anything to the narrative. Things just sort of end very badly and very blandly.

This is a creepy and disturbing movie that will certainly make you uncomfortable but it is just as much unsatisfying as it is mesmerizing.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other body horror films: The BroodThe Fly, etc.

Film Review: Alien³ (1992)

Release Date: May 19th, 1992 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Vincent Ward, David Giller, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 114 Minutes (Theatrical), 145 Minutes (Assembly Cut), 138 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“[to the Alien] You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” – Ripley

Alien was such an incredible movie that it was damn near impossible to follow up while hitting that same level of grandeur and artistry. Aliens happened to achieve this, however. Many people even debate which of the two films is better. So when a third Alien film came along, it couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle for a third time could it?

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t good. It is still one hell of a ride and it certainly isn’t short on terror and dread.

Also, this was the directorial debut of David Fincher, a young man who got his start as an assistant cameraman and a matte photography assistant on films like Return of the JediIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The NeverEnding Story.

On paper, this probably looked like it was setup to fail. However, the young Fincher made it work and helped establish his own style enough to whittle out a pretty prolific Hollywood career for himself. He followed this movie up with Se7enThe GameFight Club and since the turn of the millennium he’s done Panic RoomZodiacThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social NetworkThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. Without Alien³, those other films either wouldn’t have existed or they would have been adapted by people with a very different visual style.

And that’s the thing, Fincher has a unique style. Some love it, some don’t. Regardless of how you feel about it, the Fincher visual style is on full display in Alien³. In a way, it’s kind of impressive because Fincher had his own stylistic stamp out the gate. One could argue that he is an auteur. I wouldn’t quite call him that but you could argue for it and maybe in another decade he will be able to achieve that status.

In this chapter in the franchise, we see Ripley’s escape ship crash land on a prison planet. It picks up from the ending of Aliens, as Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop are still floating in space, asleep. When Ripley comes to, she realizes that everyone else died and soon after that, she comes to discover that an alien xenomorph stowed away on the ship. The rest of the film is about Ripley and the male prisoners trying to kill the alien that wants everyone for lunch. There is one catch, however… Ripley’s body is playing host to an alien queen. It’s almost Shakespearean in how the aliens get the last laugh in regards to Ripley’s fate.

One really cool thing about this film that actually blew my 13 year-old mind was that I saw the xenomorph emerge from a dog as it’s incubator/host. The alien took on characteristics of that animal, making it different and unique. My mind started exploding with ideas as to what would happen if the alien egg was incubating in other creatures. I guess toy makers got a similar idea because in the ’90s, there were a slew of Alien toys featuring all sorts of weird hybrid xenomorphs. My cousin had a really cool xenomorph rhino action figure.

The special effects in this film looked really good for 1992. However, now that this thing has been remastered in modern HD, it’s a mixed bag. Some of the shots that once worked don’t look so hot now but they’re not terrible, they’re just really noticeable. But one of the things I really loved about this picture was the first-person POV used for the xenomorph when hunting prisoners. These sequences are still really cool and it almost feels like a nod to first-person shooter games, which were just becoming the rage in this era. It’s also very similar to playing as an alien in the Alien Vs. Predator games.

Alien³ is not the grand spectacle that Alien and Aliens were. It is still a solid followup and helps enrich the mythos instead of bastardizing it like the fourth Alien film did.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The first two Alien movies.

Film Review: Suddenly (1954)

Release Date: October 7th, 1954
Directed by: Lewis Allen
Written by: Richard Sale
Based on: Active Duty by Richard Sale
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Nancy Gates

Libra Productions, United Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not an actor, bustin’ my leg on a stage so I can yell ‘down with the tyrants’. If Booth wasn’t such a ham he might’ve made it.” – John Baron

This film was pretty heavy stuff for 1954. While there had been films about presidential assassinations before this one, never had their been one that took place in modern times. And on top of that, Frank Sinatra plays the man gunning for the President.

The film sees a widowed mother, her young son, her father-in-law and a cop that has the hots for her, held hostage in her home, as a gangster and his men are planning to use the home’s vantage point to stage a presidential assassination.

Sinatra plays a scumbag and there are no bones about it. I feel like it was probably hard to accept him in this role, given the time and for the fact that he was such a lovable icon. Still, his performance is solid and he carries himself well. He brought some gravitas and machismo to the screen and was unrelenting as this sinister killer.

Sterling Hayden plays the cop trapped with the mad man in the house. He is a good foil to Sinatra and their dialogue exchanges are engaging and serve to paint Sinatra’s John Baron as something darker than what you first assume. He’s a man with a screwed up history and a vendetta.

Nancy Gates plays the mother and she really is the heart and soul of the picture, even if she feels overshadowed and outnumbered by the men in the film. She has this likable sweetness and it is easy to understand her concerns, as the mother of a small child who has been threatened to be killed if any of the adults try to play hero.

Suddenly is well shot, well acted and has held up quite nicely.

The film ended up being at the center of some major controversy, however. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, it was said that Lee Harvey Oswald was inspired by this film. While that wasn’t necessarily true, Frank Sinatra was deeply upset about it, as he was close friends to the real-life president. It’s said that Sinatra pleaded with the studio to pull the film from circulation and that he tried to buy up all the prints in an effort to destroy them. This also wasn’t true but Sinatra did have some regrets about playing a part in this movie. And regardless of the true story or not, this film has very strong similarities to that dark day in American history and sort of foreshadowed it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Manchurian Candidate, another Sinatra film with similar themes.

Film Review: Deadly Prey (1987)

Release Date: November 7th, 1987
Directed by: David A. Prior
Written by: David A. Prior, Richard Connell
Music by: Tim Heintz, Tim James, Steven McClintock
Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Troy Donahue, Ted Prior

Action International Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Suck this!” – Lt. Thornton

If you’ve never seen a David A. Prior film, you’re probably a fairly normal person. If you have, you’ve probably been changed by the bizarre insanity of his work.

The only Prior film I’ve watched in recent memory was The Final Sanction, which I also reviewed. Other than that, I haven’t seen any of these in a long time. Deadly Prey, however, is probably Prior’s best known picture and even spawned a sequel that was made just a few years ago.

This movie stars Ted Prior, David’s brother and a ripped, blonde mulleted badass. Most of David’s movies, at least all the ones I’ve seen, feature his hard bodied brother.

Like other Prior movies, this is a violent spectacle that features bad acting, crazy situations but just enough heart and charm to make it something that’s better than just a forgettable pile of shit. The Prior boys put their souls into these movies and Deadly Prey is probably their magnum opus. Everything in it just feels right for the type of picture that this is.

The story in this one is about this private military group that trains its killer elite by kidnapping real people and staging manhunts somewhere outside of Los Angeles. This time, they kidnap the wrong guy, as he’s a super soldier that was once trained by the same commander that leads the psycho commandos. What we get is one man’s war against a corrupt commander and his super solider mercenaries.

I once used this movie as a test with some girl on a date. We never dated again but I had to know if she was down to get dirty or just some chick that would make me take her to Kate Hudson movies. Better to learn these things sooner rather than later.

Deadly Prey certainly isn’t a movie for most people or those who think they have taste. Taste is subjective anyway and usually what’s considered the the most tasteful films are really just dumpsters overflowing with overrated garbage.

The only thing this movie needed for an extra edge was some Robert Z’Dar.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Anything else from David A. Prior