Movie Reviews 492 – Comic Book Villains (2002)

September 24, 2021

I love comics just as much as I love movies so it would only be natural for me to have a special fondness for films that are comic related. By that I don’t mean the current trend of lavish, CGI overloaded glittering Marvel or DC superheroes (which honestly I have less and less interest in) but rather those that deal with comics as subject matter or in which comics are a backdrop. 

The low budget comedy Comic Book Villains falls right into that category and hits a number of comic chords as it deals with the fanaticism of collectors and the sometimes insanely obsessive spell that they and dealers fall under. Much like an old comic that may be tattered and ragged around the edges with rusty staples, the contents are what matter and to be appreciated for what they are, which is the case for the film.

When a customer of a comic store slyly lets it be known that a longtime, older comic collector in town recently passed away, it piques the interest of shop owner Raymond (Donal Logue). While hesitant that there may really be anything of value, he cannot pass up on the possibility. Initially rebuffed by the mother of the deceased who now hoards the comics as a reminder of her lost son, she caves in and allows him a few brief minutes to view the material. What Ray discovers is that the collection is the mother lode of pristine, golden age vintage comics and worth a fortune. Monetary reasons aside, the mere fact that he can be associated with such a find is topmost in his mind. Without a penny to his name to even make an offer and a crumbling comic shop to add to his woes, Ray begins scheming to get his hands on the treasure. 

Across town, rival comic shop owner Norman (Michael Rapaport) also hears of the collection. While he has some resources at his disposal his problem is convincing wife Judy (Natasha Lyonne) to invest in the find. He manages to convince her by giving her a copy of the annual Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide – the ‘bible’ of sorts when it comes to such matters – which she peruses as bedtime reading. Before the night is over dollar signs are floating in her dreams and she joins her husband on his quest to acquire the trove.

Standing in the middle of all this is Mrs. Cresswell (Eileen Brennan), the bereaved mother who has no intention of selling the “Funny Books” to anyone. While Ray, Norman and Judy try to win over Cresswell by helping her out with errands, favours and friendly chit-chat, it is young Archie (DJ Qualls), one of Ray’s friends, with whom she strikes a bond as they discuss life and a surprising shared interest in Spain.

As the war between the comic shop owners escalates, Cresswell’s continued refusal to part with the comics leads to Ray taking drastic action and enlisting the services of small-time hood and former high-school nemesis Carter (Cary Elwes) to steal the stash. Carter however is no comic neophyte himself and has plans of his own.

This film has bits that will please everyone. The comic aficionados will appreciate the geek  banter relating to legendary creators, titles, character origins and even some of the revered historic collections that have been unearthed in the past. The comical (as in funny) aspects are served up nicely by the juxtaposition of the exaggerated stereotypical greasy haired Ray and Norman and his wife who are in it for the money, also all too common albeit arguably a necessary evil of the industry. Those not interested in comics will enjoy the underlying poignant story that is actually a damnation of comic collecting, one of two of the surprises we find as the film ends. 

A laudable “stop and smell the roses” moral tale hidden within the multi-layered back stabbing nature that is the world of comics. (Rated 8.4 for those CGC comic rating obsessed!)

Model build: Weird-Oh Francis Foul

September 15, 2021

At some point in the last year a local Canadian hardware store chain acquired a slew of Hawk models “Weird-Ohs” and sold them in their bargain bin for $7 a piece. When I found out I went as fast as I could to the two local outlets here in the city and managed to snag five of these 1960’s designs of outlandish goofy caricatures. It’s been nearly ten years since I built my only other prior Weird-Oh, the Testors variant Daddy-Oh (see the link for a bit of background on the history of these kits) and I was looking forward to building another.

These kits, sold as original Hawks, were repopped in 2006 according to the markings and are different in detail to the originals from the 1960’s originals but more or less have the same features. The kits I was able to find this time were Killer McBash, Sling Rave Curvete, Wade A. Minut, another Daddy-Oh, and this kit here, the basketball hoopster Francis Foul.

This kit comes with a fairly huge Francis (17 cm from bottom of base to small tuft of hair at the top of his head) and with an eye-popping referee as a second complete figure. With a decent sized court as a base including a wall, the kit has a floating basketball and scoreboard  more on the scoreboard later).

One thing I noticed right away was these kit parts do not adhere well (or at all) with Tamiya glue so be prepared and make sure you have some Cyanoacrylate (i.e., CA or “super glue”) handy before you start. Otherwise, the fit was fine, requiring very little putty and I don’t recall there being any flash.

Given their silly nature these kits are ideal for modifications and enhancements and in my case I ended up making four, two by design and two by necessity. For three of my modifications I used clear styrene from recycled CD cases so you may want to get some of those if you intend to recreate mine.

One immediate mod I knew I would make right away was the addition of an elongated flapping tongue, fitting as some of the other Weird-Oh kits have tongues sticking out. For this I simply cut out a long strip of CD styrene and rounded one end. With a heated small tip soldering iron I made a quick straight gash down the middle and then poked random indents of various sizes on both sides for a taste bud texture. I then lightly heated the plastic to give the tongue bends and folds keeping one end straight so that I could later insert it into the mouth. Paint was a dark red base with dry brushing and washes of lighter red and green tones. lI must say this came out great and even beyond my expectations. 

CD case cutout and final look of DIY tongue

As Francis’ sneakers, reminiscent of the vintage Converse ‘Chuck Taylor’ high tops, sadly do not come with any laces, the second mod I wanted to try was adding some. For this case I used single strand 22 gauge copper wires so that I could later bend them into loose, haphazard shapes. As I did not have pure white wires I had to lightly sand some orange striped ones to get to the underlayer white sheathing. I drilled holes in the shoes to hold them and added a few ‘laced’ stitches to each shoe. To finish them off I painted a bit of Tamiya clear orange at the tips to simulate lace aglets. Having ‘real’ fully rounded 3D laces look much better than anything that could have been molded on the kit.

Adding wire laces to sneakers

The kit came with a small scoreboard plate that attaches to the wall backboard. As the decals provided for this were nothing more than a few plain digit characters I knew I wanted to have a more elaborate and appropriately goofy layout. I wanted to print out something that I could simply adhere to the plate provided. After designing one and having a friend print it out on a color printer I seemed to have misplaced the plastic backboard. While I knew I could easily replace it with any similar sized rectangular plastic I took advantage of my misfortune to make a much bigger and better scoreboard.


Since I was going to cut out a rectangular plastic I thought it just made sense to cut out a clear plastic (CD case to the rescue again!) that can look like a glass front. I cut out a second identical one to use as backing and then sandwiched the new design between them, using spare thin styrene from my Saturn V rocket. This was secured to the backing wall with more recycled CD case clear plastic, but only after I first glued a spacer plastic to the rear of the wall to make a surface that just juts out back a bit. I created the scoreboard with Inkscape, one of the best free image editors using a variety of online images, specific fonts and a few free drawn items. (Contact me if you want the SVG file which is fully scalable).

There was no stand or structure to hold the referee figure in the kit. What few reference pictures I could find online indicated that some builders opt to just have him just sit next to the model while a few others created wire supports. I decided I wanted to build a separate support, but was leery of using wires as that would have the referee sway when disturbed.

I opted once again to craft clear CD case plastic for the support. My first attempt was to build one that would curve around to the back of the wall which would be the least visible option. But after building it I found that the referee sat much too close to the Francis figure and the ball. In the end I built another that was much simpler, longer and being supported from the bottom with a tongue that slid under the model base. While much more visible even using clear plastic, this does have the advantages of being removable to transport, adjustable at any time if you want to bring it closer or further from the base, and if you desire, the referee can be removed completely at any time.

First attempt and final design of referee stand

One of the biggest decisions when building a Weird-Oh figure is deciding what color to use for the ‘skin’ of the figures. As the box art indicates, Francis should be lavender if built as intended. Others have used a variety of colors but I decided to make mine using regular flesh tones, hoping that the exaggerated features would be silly enough. I airbrushed simple craft acrylics and while I do not regret the color choice I did notice the particular flesh colored craft paint I used is highly prone to scuffs and scratches. I made his jersey and shorts “Boston Celtics” green with yellow striping as I already had the “Bahstun Celt-icks” gag in mind for the scoreboard.

Final Francis Foul

As always, there were a few things I would have done differently if I had to build this kit again. I chose to keep the head, arms and hands separate as I went through the priming and painting process thinking that the joints would fit well, but once glued I realized that it would have been better to glue them together and use putty as the seams were not as clean as I had hoped. I liked the tongue I made but while it looks fitting being long, I think I made it a bit too long even for a Weird-Oh. 

All in all I thought that the kit ended up nicely especially with the modifications I made. Looking forward to building more of these from my stash in the not too distant future.

From a Buick 8 – Stephen King (2002)

September 10, 2021

I was a bit hesitant in picking From a Buick 8 as the next Stephen King book to read as I knew almost nothing about it other than it certainly sounded like a car was involved. The very fact that this has yet to be adapted into a movie close to twenty years after being published is an oddity in itself given the haste to production for the majority of King’s books and stories. There have in fact been ongoing efforts throughout the years, but nothing has been filmed yet. In the end I believe that the reason for these halting attempts at adaptations is one that also made me tentative of reading the book itself: Hadn’t King already tacked a demonic car in Christine?

Let me clear the table right now by stating that while this story is indeed about an evil car, the titular Roadmaster Buick (not given any specific name in the book), this is no Christine. In fact it isn’t even any classifiable car given the oddities of it’s design features and structure. Those oddities range from the minor issue of the number of portal windows not being the same on either side to a full glass exhaust system and non-functional, faux knobs dashboard. If you get right down to it, despite looking a hell of a lot like a car, it is never seen driven, is undriveable in many respects, and spends almost the entire novel languishing in a shed. Now that may not sound very ominous but as always King manages to elicit the terror nonetheless.

The story is told from the viewpoint of a modest squad of small town police officers who take possession and hide the vehicle from the public’s prying eyes for many years in a rear shed behind their station. The story unravels as the various officers recount the history behind the car to a newly minted officer, Ned Wilcox.

Appearing under mysterious circumstances many years ago the Buick is quickly shuttered but kept under the vigilant eyes of the police unit as it had an immediate aura about it. Over the years the car experiences episodes that are unexplained and defy logic.These intermittent incidents range from minor meteorological phenomena to what can only be explained as creature emissions, both alive and dead. But more troublesome are the unexplained human disappearances of individuals connected to the car. 

Ned is no mere random rookie however as his father Curtis, a former officer in the unit, was the de facto caretaker of the car. Using alternating chapters told from the point of view of the officers, principally that of Sandy Dearborn the current “Sergeant Commanding” of Troop D (as they call themselves) and now also principal Roadmaster caretaker, we learn about the bizarre events and how each situation was handled by the squad. Ned’s interest however is an unhealthy one going beyond mere curiosity, and one that may have the most severe consequence than any of the Buick’s previous episodes.

King delivers his usual uniqueness to all the characters adding inconsequential but gruesome details as to how many ended up dying (this is the King of horror after all) and fans won’t be disappointed with the novel in that regard. However some readers may be dismayed by the many unanswered questions regarding the origin and substance of the car. Is it sentient? A portal to some other dimension? Those and other questions are left for the reader to decide.

All in all another thrilling ‘ride’ by King.

Movie Reviews 491 – The Night of the Hunter (1955)

September 3, 2021

While Robert Mitchum has deservedly been recognized for his portrayal as the psychopathic killer and con man in The Night of the Hunter, the great Charles Laughton, revered for his acting career, has been criminally denied the kudos and honors he should have received for directing the film.

Set sometime during the Great Depression, a man (Peter Graves) scurries home after a botched bank robbery and has just enough time to hand over the loot to his young son John and daughter Pearl with explicit instructions not to even tell their mother where the money is hidden before being arrested and hauled to jail. While paired in a cell with “Reverend” Harry Powell (Mitchum), he is smart enough to deter all attempts by his mate to learn the fate of the money right up to his execution.

Undeterred, Powell makes a beeline for the hometown of his departed mate and with his altruistic preaching charms quickly makes his way into the lives of the newly widowed Willa (Shelley Winters) and the kindly townsfolk . It soon becomes clear that the kids know where the money is stashed and that Willa is blissfully ignorant of its whereabouts. John, suspicious from the beginning, knows what Powell is up to but worries that his naive younger sister will fail to obey their father’s last instructions.  When Willa, now married to Powell, is murdered when she accidentally learns of his true intentions leaving the kids to make a last ditch getaway via a downriver trek . 

With some good luck for a change the kids are rescued by a Rachel Cooper (former silent film star Lillian Gish) running an ad-hoc orphanage and for a while all is good. But Powell is determined as much in his god fearing ways as his money loving ways and this time he will make sure the kids don’t give him the slip.

This cautionary tale of a sheep in wolf’s clothing is notably exceptional on a few fronts beginning with unique filming techniques that renders the film to being a near fantasy. The film begins with visions of children’s faces dancing as Cooper/Gish poetically recites biblical verses, a common thread throughout the movie. Shots of skyward and superimposed stars, cutout silhouettes and overhead views, a novelty given the era in which it was made, are all standout cinematographic effects that still stand the test of time. Not a bible thumper myself, I’m sure I’m missing out on the significance of a menagerie of animals and reptiles appearing along the screen as the kids propelled their boat down the river, but the images evoke an eerie feeling regardless. Speaking of bodies of water there is one scene with a underwater dead body that gave me some honest shivers, but I won’t spoil it other than to say it was both jarring and yet fitting the circumstances of the overall theme.

Mitchum as Powell is no faux preacher but a true God fearing man, often discoursing with the lord when alone, imbues those beliefs in his own sociopath monochromatic world of absolutes as symbolized by the words “Love” and “Hate” tattooed across the fingers of each hand, and which he is prone to use as displays of that struggle whilst hand wrangling as he preaches.

Not that I was keeping score or anything but there are a few other sins from the Good Book broken here. If you haven’t seen this one already I heartily recommend you to “Repent Thyself” and give it a good watch.

Nothing Without Us – C. Gordon, T. Johnson [Ed.] (2019)

August 26, 2021

One of the most abused attributes when describing a book (or other forms of media) is that the content will be ‘different’ from anything else that we have already seen before. It’s an overused cheap ‘goto’ sales gimmick, a stretch at best and outright lie more often. But the collected stories in Nothing Without Us are deserving of the trait.

In this collection by Renaissance press, editors Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson have assembled stories about, and written by, people that are indeed ‘different’ in one sense or another. Disabled in one manner in another, physically or mentally, characters (and authors) get to tell their own stories without being mere tokens or marginalized personalities. As Derek Newman-Stille points out in his forward, they get to shed being mere plot devices rather than realistic characters.

Mixing in contemporary settings with a smidgen of horror and fantasy, I enjoyed all but a few of the stories and highly recommend reading it. The stories really are ‘different’ in more ways than the impediments the characters endure.

Not to be overly analytical (especially considering the brevity of some of the stories) I’ve just jotted down the gist of the tales below to give a taste of what you can expect.

The Bellwoods GolemMyriad Augustine

A mythical Jewish golem, often a creature portrayed as monstrous, arrives as the comforting and helpful companion to an unsuspecting chronic pain sufferer. The story is accompanied by a context setting prelude that I did not think was needed but I enjoyed the discovery and puzzling assessment phase of the protagonist’s initial encounter with the golem.

Knit One, Purl TwoCarolyn Charron

An arthritic old lady is miffed to learn that her basement lodger is a vampire. And what do you do when he’s not just charming and a good friend, but hot in the sack as well? But she has a little secret of her own. A delightful comic tale.

NamesJennifer Lee Rossman

Peculiar horror story that barely fits the theme of the collection other than hinting the protagonist not really being true to themselves. Blends native legends with Chinese folklore that confuses matters in so short a story.

Mafia Butterfly – Raymond Luczak

Story about deafness and ASL being both a tool and a gauge of acceptance. It also tackles how the deaf community can be a fractured one which was a revelation of its own in a way.

Dress RehearsalNicole Zelniker

A young woman is hesitant to visit her dying mother in the hospital, dealing with the fact that genetic disposition has already sealed her own eventual similar fate. The coyly chosen title is apropos in more ways than one.

The DescentJamieson Wolf

A wizard with MS concludes his journey to meet the Oracle upon whom his hopes are pinned. His only companion on this journey is the very disease. Great inspirational ending. 

Bug HuntJoanna Marsh

A troupe of ill equipped and neurologically impaired Mecha grunts are sent on a death mission against a traitor turned formidable foe on Mars. All is not as bleak as it seems.

Oliver Gutierrez and the Walking Stick of DestinyElliott Dunstan

The author was a tad overambitious in having a bipolar, queer, rheumatoid arthritic, deaf character supposedly hallucinating that their medical aids have become animated, yet supportive. The story was doubly confusing by not using the apostrophe s as the possessive form for those aids despite each having a name. Did I miss something? Possibly.

Crutch, Cage, Sword, KerfuffleDorothy Ellen Palmer

An Arthurian sword demands to be stolen, trading witty barbs with its rescuer is just the beginning of this story that is as whimsical as the title suggests. A mix of dream and reality that also goes to a few dark places.

Iron BoneJ. Ivanel johnson

Dreams for equestrian sportsmanship must meet the challenges of spinal injuries in this odd tale that includes brushes with royalty and a touch of self doubt. 

Sometimes You…Tonya Liburd

A woman dealing with the scars of mental illness begins to heal and deal with the passing of her mother who was similarly afflicted.

Search and SeizureShannon Barnsley

A continually misdiagnosed chronic pain sufferer ends up paying the price with her life leading to her disembodied living within the confines of the hospital in which she died. But one day, years later, she regains the ability for slight physical interaction and slowly sets in motion a plan to correct the earlier negligence.

Backbone Madonna Skaff

What begins as a simple story about a boy growing up and dealing with his walking impediment transforms into a story about friends and enemies before switching gears again into a bit of a thriller. The beauty is that the transitions are seamless and the end result is both emotional and powerful.

The Case of the Silenco ScientistMaverick Smith

Two private investigators probe the disappearance of a shared custody child and her scientist father in this short thriller. Too many leaps in logic along with flawed assumptions ruined this one for me.

FlightGeorge Zancola

Tom and Cathy are psychiatric patients who manage to flee the institution in which they were patients, but Tom’s anxieties soon have him question his decision to leave. The reader shares his indecision and his conflicted mindset.

Panic in ParadiseDiane Koerner

Sensitized to smells and a plethora of chemicals after a workplace toxic accident, a woman must endure her haven home being destroyed by a volcanic eruption caused by fracking.

The Blessing CookiesLaurie Stewart

A post apocalyptic fantasy where survival means appeasing the God that saved them by having an annual sacrificial lottery ritual. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” bundled as a Grimm’s fairy tale is the best way I can describe this gem.

Jungle DemonTom Johnson

An odd selection of this story of a man-swamp monster (I could not get the image of DC comics’ Swamp Thing out of my mind as I read) embracing the collection’s theme. A decent fantasy but better suited for a pulp collection.

The Living Among the DeadTasha Fierce

A dreamlike sequence of someone deciding they will not die. But reality is sometimes like that.

AloneNathan Frechette

A short story in which a multiple personality person(s) tries to cope with the departure of a loved one.

No Room at the InnEmily Gillespie

A mentally troubled patient wakes up in a hospital waiting room and amid her confusion and delirium must decide what to do next.

Charity ™Derek Newman-Stille

In a near future where government disability payments have been replaced by sanctioned fundraising balls a leg amputee contemplates the associated objectification and debasement he must endure. After breaking rules and being faced with losing that last line of support he is propositioned with a new drug. But is the cure worse than the ailment?

Movie Reviews 490 – Rituals (1977)

August 20, 2021

It was a hot summer afternoon in 1977 when a friend and I decided to take in a movie. Having already seen that summer’s blockbusters Star Wars (perhaps more than once), CE3K as well as the many Jaws sea terror knock off films including  The Deep and Orca, between the two of us we had already seen anything of note. So we did what all kids did back then and that was to scan all the movie playing ads in the local newspaper. Despite not knowing a single thing about it, the only remaining movie we hadn’t seen yet was the oddly titled Rituals, so off we went. 

Five minutes into the movie was enough to discern that this was clearly a low budget knock off of Deliverance. Ten minutes into the movie I was hooked and satisfied that this was not just a knock off at all, but a unique film that despite the low budget was much realistic, gritty, and in its own way, a groundbreaking horror film.

A ragtag group of five medical doctors, both longtime friends and occasional acquaintances, partake in an annually planned faraway exotic weeklong excursion vacation to get away from it all. Their latest expedition takes them to the remote northern Canadian back country for some fishing and camping. Shortly after being dropped off two hundred and twenty-five miles from nowhere with the promise to meet again with their floatplane pilot in six days, they find that their boots have been stolen as they lounged by a river shore.

With some personalities already on edge, clashes between the joking, drinking and occasional reefer, lead to accusations that one of them may be playing overzealous pranks amongst themselves. The hostile climate festers until the last of the men with shoes is sent to what they believe is an active dam that should have people capable of rescuing the lot. But as they trek onwards and are presented with ever more ominous signs and dangerous obstacles it becomes clear that someone or some group is behind their struggles and their lives are at stake. The arguments of medical ethics between some of the men at the start of the film eventually crosses over to be at the root of the attacks by their unknown assailant.  

Loews Theater Montreal 1977

As luck would have it, a picture in a Facebook group dedicated to vintage and historical pictures of Montreal captured a photo with “Rituals” on the marquee of the very theater in which I saw this film that day in 1977, the former Loews theater, which in a surprising turn of events also happens to be the very theater this film premiered in.

While comparisons to Deliverance are inevitable, the movie is it’s own beast both figuratively and literally. While not without its faults mostly due to budgetary shortcuts, the film, which has also been released as The Creeper, stars Hal Holbrook as the lead protagonist. But don’t let the issues deter you from watching this little known horror gem.

Movie Reviews 489 – Ninja Wars (1982)

August 13, 2021

Few people know or remember that Sonny Chiba (Shin’ichi Chiba) was a star long before Tarantino cast him as Hattori Hanzo in the Kill Bill films. In fact his illustrious career goes back 60 years (and counting) with his heydays being the headliner of The Street Fighter films. But even a star of his magnitude had humble beginnings with small roles (such that in Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler) and today those films have become bankable assets to some of the less than reputable movie distributors. The folks at Mill Creek Entertainment extrapolated that concept to a new low with their 2009 Sonny Chiba DVD 4 film box set where some of the movies have Chiba but not in starring roles. In fact Chiba’s role in Ninja Wars (original title Iga ninpôchô) is so small it is uncredited. The good news is that despite Chiba’s lack of prominence in the film, it is certainly an entertaining one.

A sorcerer intrudes on Lord Danjo (Akira Nakao) and prophecizes that whoever is to wed the beautiful Ukyo (Noriko Watanabe) will get ’heaven and earth’ and become ruler of the land. The fact that Ukyo is already promised to wed another Lord seems of little consequence and five “Devil” monks with super abilities are sent to assist Danjo to get his gal. Led by devil monk Rasetsu who yields a scythe which he can boomerang with pinpoint precision, the monks proclaim that they will make a love potion for Danjo to use on Ukyo.

The prophecy has consequences for ninja-in-training Kagaribi (once again Noriko Watanabe) and her trainer and lover Jotaro (Hiroyuki Sanada) since Kararibi is in fact Ukyo’s twin sister. She is kidnapped by the monks who need her virgin tears as one of the critical ingredients of the potion which is to be mixed in a particular Spider pot. Despite a particularly drastic measure taken by Kagaribi, the monks are able to get her coveted tears. As Danjo and his monks try to complete their dastardly plan, Jotaro and Ukyo get some unexpected help from five mysterious ninjas.

While certainly convoluted, the plot is fairly easily followed (a rarity with many of these poorly translated Asian movies) and it does have a number of nice twists and surprises. For those seeking thrills and gore there are a few decapitations (some even self inflicted) and some of the odder folkloric powers on display, my favorite being the projectile acid vomit. While this is certainly not a battle centric fight movie, there are a few nifty ‘flying’ sequences to offset that lack. The crux of the story relies on a particularly gruesome and yet sometimes comically played out, physical procedure that I won’t spoil here, but I will say that it is one that has been explored in horror films and seminal golden age EC horror comics. The relationships are complex and it is a love story as much as it is a moral tale. There is some mild tasteful nudity but also barbarous rape scenes. 

Chiba’s character is only onscreen for a few minutes (not much more than a cameo really) but this film is worth checking out on it’s own merits. Tarantino fans will be delighted to also see Yuki Kazamatsuri (also of Kill Bill fame as the frantic proprietor of the House of the Blue Leaves restaurant) in another small role.

For those content to watch a low grade version, you can watch a dubbed (surprisingly uncensored) version for free on YouTube

Movie Reviews 488 – Compulsion (1959)

August 6, 2021

I must admit that while familiar with many of Orson Welles’ oeuvres including his sensational panic-inducing radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds and his many cinematic contributions culminating in his masterpiece Citizen Kane, I had never seen Compulsion until now. To say that the movie was a revelation is an understatement not only because of Welles’ superb acting, but more so upon learning that the film, as shocking as it was, is a very accurate adaptation of the 1924 real life tabloid murder case of Leopold and Loeb of which I was also unfamiliar with until now.

While the names of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb are changed to Judd (Dean Stockwell) and Artie (Bradford Dillman), the story of how these two affluent, egoistic university students believed they were smart enough to plan and execute a ‘perfect’ murder is chillingly factual. 

Guided by a Nietzschean philosophy of the “Ubermensch” and their own superiority, the planned kidnapping and execution of an innocent young boy begins to unravel almost as soon as the body is disposed of. The two friends are soon revealed to be just as inept as other bumbling criminals, digging one hole after another as they try to evade suspicions.

This film can largely be viewed as two parts: the initial crime and it’s immediate effects, followed by the defence mounted by lawyer Jonathan Wilk (Welles). The real life lawyer was the celebrated Clarence Darrow and his tactical about-face is brilliantly reenacted by Welles right up to the poignant closing argument he made. While religion is brought up briefly, the emphasis is on Wilk’s anti death penalty stance as well as the very meaning of justice and how his precedence setting defence changes the course of the trial.

I don’t want to spill any details of the crime or the proceedings as every detail including the relationships with other characters drive the suspense. While it is clear from the very beginning that we are dealing with two psychopaths, both convinced of their superiority and intent on committing the crime, they are almost polar opposites in every other respect with the exception of their wealth and having a dysfunctional family. There is also a bit of tension introduced with a hinted love interest (Diane Varsi) but even that merely adds to the suspense in the end.

Having learned about this harrowing crime I was saddened that my 2006 Fox video DVD did not include any special feature about the backstory to the story. Even the film itself makes no mention that this is a ‘true story’, a moniker often abused by other films when they are often highly embellished takes on reality. If there ever was a film that could be claimed to be based on a true story, this is the one as almost every detail is accurate and the story complete. I was more than curious about the case itself and was glad to find that the episode The Perfect Crime from the PBS series American Experience is freely available for viewing on Youtube.

Compulsive viewing to be sure.

Movie Reviews 487 – Junk (1999)

July 30, 2021

Not one to turn down the opportunity to watch a film, any film, good or bad, I’m sure that a lot of people would say I watch a lot of junk. So who could blame me for purchasing and then watching a film called Junk? I’ve already scoured to depths of cinematic debasement by watching films like 2-Headed Shark Attack, the revisionist history Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and arguably my lowest point, the much slagged Troll 2. So how bad can a movie that demeans itself be?

To begin with, I’m even baffled as to why this movie is even titled “Junk” (or Junk: Shiryô-gari in the original Japanese). This is a zombie movie, pure and simple, that employs the near universal premise of clandestine military experiments unleashing the living dead menace. There is no garbage/refuse/trash/rubbish or even ‘man-junk’ (for curious fetishists out there) other than a rundown military base where most of the action takes place.

The movie is constructed from two merging narratives. On the one hand we have four young folks who rob a jewellery store with the intent to sell the stolen goods to a yakuza fence who instructs them to a shutdown military base for the transaction. But the defunct US operated base was formerly used to test an experimental reanimating concoction named DMX which was devised by local scientist Dr. Nakata (Yuji Kisimoto), and unbeknownst to the doctor, a rogue military scientist continued with the experiments long after the project was terminated.

The thieves first encounter just a handful of zombies but once the yakuza arrive and try to renege on the deal they accidentally unleash the DMX serum on a stockpile of dead yakuza victims that were disposed of in the abandoned facility. Meanwhile the military has been alerted to the fact that something is amiss at the facility and send in Nakata to solve their little problem. But unlike most of the horde of zombies stomping the base there is one in particular which is ‘special’ both in her afterlife prowess and her past as a human.

The main protagonist is Saki (Kaori Shimamura) who was only along for the caper as the getaway driver so that she could scrape up enough dough to purchase a car from an unscrupulous dealer. Aside from this somewhat recurring joke of her bargaining for the car throughout the film and from a few other moments here and there, there is little in this Re-Animator wannabe to make it stand out of the junk heap. The low budget production team is evidently Japan’s answer to Troma films and there are a number of issues with the movie. While in Japanese except for a few minutes of American military personnel speaking their native tongue, for some strange reason it was decided that Dr. Nakata would speak in what I would loosely term English, evidently not a language Kisimoto spoke. He thus delivers his lines as memorized phonetically and as a result is unbearably hard to understand. I can’t fathom why he was not just dubbed and imply that the Americans he talked with just understood Japanese, given that they were based there.

The production notes on the Unearthed DVD reveal that director Atsushi Muroga “borrowed” prodigiously from some of the classics and there are certainly a few nods among the scenes of heads being blown up, but that includes trench coated characters that look more like inspector Columbo than Neo from the Matrix and what seems to be eviscera from the same butcher as George Romero used in Night of the Living Dead.

While I would not rate this as pure Junk it is more sediment than sentiment so unless you really need another dose of zombies this may be a “waste” of time.

Movie Reviews 486 – Dr. Strangelove (1964)

July 23, 2021

While Stanley Kubrick’s prominence as one of the greatest film directors is unquestionable, deciding which of his masterpieces to be his crowning achievement is harder to pinpoint and admittedly a subjective selection. Many here would be forgiven for believing that The Shining would hold that distinction for myself given my love for horror movies and Stephen King as a writer. But while it is a close call I have to admit that Dr. Strangelove (or more precisely Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) holds that distinction.

Yet another film decrying the ever proliferating cold war nuclear arms race of the era, the film depicts a psychotic B-52 bomber base commander, general Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who goes rogue and decides to initiate a nuclear war in the belief that a first strike could lead to victory despite the inevitable great casualties that would result. Ensuring that his own men are under the belief that the US is under attack he issues the strike command to a fleet of armed bombers en route on patrols. A foreign transfer RAF officer learns of the deception but is stymied at all efforts to get the truth out and stop the bombers.

The military upper echelon and the president of the United States quickly convene in the pentagon war room to deal with the situation. As the realization sinks in that the entrenched Ripper holds the code able to recall the bombers they bring in the Russian ambassador and despite the objections of wary General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) the president makes the call to his iron curtain counterpart with the bad news.

Far away somewhere above the arctic on their merry way to complete the mission, Stetson wearing Major T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) and his crew (including a very young James Earl Jones) patriotically carry out their duty even after a recall has been issued but missed by them due to a malfunctioning transponder.

The call to the Soviet premiere comes with the surprise revelation that the ‘rooskies’ (as Kong would say in his western drawl) had activated a doomsday machine as a deterrent to attacks but which yet had been announced effectively defeating the very purpose of the device. Thus failure to stop Kong from achieving his target would annihilate the entire world. Can Buck, the president, or Strangelove save the planet?

I don’t want to give away the epic ending but let’s just say that a lot of vintage military ‘test’ footage was used and plays to the sombre tune of We’ll Meet Again. There are several remarkable aspects to the film aside from the very fact that Kubrick even decided to film the story based on the austere novel Red Alert as a black comedy only after initially broaching it as a purely dramatic film. The most glaring is standout Peter Sellers playing three distinct, significant and equally laudable roles: the RAF officer, the president and the titular closet Nazi Dr. Strangelove being the most memorable.

This is a classic that has become even better with age, perhaps because the imminent threat portrayed while still all too real has diminished somewhat since – although the threats that have emerged since are just as unpalatable. The wit and irony are razor sharp in just about every scene. The insanity among the characters is universally applied from Ripper’s obsession that the Russians are out to sap all our bodily fluids, to Buck’s indignation that a “fight” is breaking out in the “war” room.

As further irony would have it, Kubrick fought and successfully delayed the release of Fail-Safe, a film with a similar basic premise but entirely different in tone. But as evidenced from the featurettes and interviews on the Columbia Pictures Special Edition DVD, there were a lot of other on and off set events that shaped the film, including the very look of Sellers’ Strangelove persona.

Political satire at its funniest.

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