Pawn Sacrifice

Official Poster

Release Date: September 25, 2015  

Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport  

Director: Edward Zwick  

Writers: Steven Knight (Screenplay), Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight (Story)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

For this review of Guilty Pleasure Cinema I decided to go with a genre that I’ve not done a review for. I went with a Biopic film. I enjoy Biopic films as they give you a cinematic view of a person or a historical event. I went with an individual biopic. This biopic is based on a person that is arguably the best at what he did. What he did was play Chess. He not only became the first (and only) American to win the World Championship, but he unlocked centuries of secrets that were contained in the game. I’m referring to Bobby Fischer.

I’ve been an amateur Chess player for over a year and I’ve been fascinated with Bobby Fischer as an individual. I’ve read many books on him as well as the award-winning HBO documentary Bobby Fischer Against The World. He is a man shrouded in mystery and lived in his own world which consists of 64 squares and 16 pieces. At age fifteen he became the youngest United States Chess Champion. By the time he was twenty-nine, he won the 1972 World Championship against Soviet Champion Boris Spassky. The match is hailed as the only “physical” battle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The match soared Chess into mainstream popularity. Fischer became a rock star. Right as he won the title, he went into seclusion never playing another professional game until twenty years later. In 2015, a biopic about Fischer and the ’72 Championship was released in limited theaters called Pawn Sacrifice!

Pawn Sacrifice chronicles Fischer’s interest in Chess as a young boy to winning his first United States Chess Championship to his preparation for the World Championship against Spassky. His frosty relationship with his mother, his early signs of paranoia and his all-out desire to be the best in the world weave into the plot.  Directed by Edward Zwick whose credits include numerous critically acclaimed films including Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire, and The Last Samurai the cast includes Tobey Magurie as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s assistant and backup player and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall who becomes Fischer’s lawyer.

Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer in “Pawn Sacrifice”

Let me go ahead and get the negatives out of this movie first before going into the reasons why I enjoy this film. It’s a flawed historical account of Fischer’s rise to Chess immortality. There are a lot of inaccuracies during the timeline of events. I won’t document all the inaccuracies I found out due to not giving out spoilers (although I warn about potential spoilers). I understand that biopic films can’t reveal a full narrative unless you plan on having a four plus hour movie. I think the film trims the fat in the wrong places.

Instead what Pawn Sacrifice does is gives you a psychological story. Throughout the film you watch Fischer slowly deteriorate mentally from his constant studying of the game, to his heightened senses which breaks his concentration to his ever growing distrust for those around him to tearing up telephones and breaking any equipment he thinks the Russians can use to spy on him. Yes, the film focuses on Fischer, but it also focuses on his opponent Spassky. Both are considered the best Chess players by their respective homelands. Both are used as pawns to their countries to show off the superiority of each ideological concept. Each play their own psychological games. For Fischer its constant demands on the rules, setting and prize money. For Spassky it’s doing things like standing up and slowly pacing causing noises to interrupt Fischer’s train of thought.  There are moments in the film where Spassky is suspicious of his assistant’s motives and reasonings. All Spassky wants to do is play Fischer in a battle of wits and skill.

As far as the story, the film starts out with Bobby as a young boy garnering an interest in Chess to his quick rise to being the youngest Chess Grandmaster in history to his legendary match with Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The third act of the movie is the dramatization of the Championship match. The original match consisted of twenty four games with Fischer needing to get to twelve and half points to win the title. What director Edward Zwick does is not bore you with highlights from all twenty four games, but rather shows you the important matches in the game along with some of the issues that arise during the match.

Peter Sarsgaard and Tobey Maguire

The cast of the movie is small which is fine since it centralizes on the two figures. Tobey Maguire is not the ideal actor to play Fischer, but I think he did a good job with the performance. Maguire is short is height compared to the real Bobby Fischer who was tall and lanky. I give the makeup department an ‘A+’ for getting Fischer’s hair and facial features. Maguire gets Fischer’s unique walk down to a science. The voice was hard to nail down since Fischer spoke with a soft Brooklyn accent, but it came out in many scenes where Fischer would be fired up about the Russian’s tactics in Chess and complaints about competitive disadvantage and some tense moments between him, Bill Lombardi and Paul Marshall.  Maguire commanded the screen throughout the film with his tactics which were humorous at times including waiting to the last second to make his first move against a Russian opponent and stopping the clock with one second to spare.

While Tobey Maguire may not have the full look of Bobby Fischer, the opposite could be said of Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Schreiber was the perfect choice for Spassky. If you put a photo of Schreiber and Spassky together you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Schreiber speaks Russian throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few tiny moments where he speaks English. Schreiber portrays Spassky like a quiet rock star making entrances with his sunglasses on surrounded by his entourage. Even though he comes from the Soviet Union, we see moments in the film where Spassky is enjoying American culture from listening to music, to playing pinball to taking a swim in the ocean. This does not please his manager who is trying to keep a tight leash on him throughout the movie.

Finally the two remaining cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg play their parts respectively. Sarsgaard plays Bill Lombardi, Fischer’s coach and second and Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, Fischer’s pro bono lawyer who has his work cut out trying to satisfy all of Bobby’s demands. Lombardi is essentially the middle man between Fischer and Marshall. He does his best to keep both on even footing. Sarsgaard plays Lombardi as calm, wise and observational as he can tell right away that Fischer is falling into the same madness that has taken so many Chess prodigies in the past. Stuhlbarg portrays Marshall as somewhat of a weasel as he goes behind Bobby’s back to stay in touch with his sister, Joan who expresses the same concerns that Lombardi has and being a go to contact for people high up in the United States government who have taken a strong interest in Fischer and would like to exploit him to be a shining symbol of American freedom and idealism.

Liev Schreiber and Tobey Maguire

As far as the technical aspects of the film, the visual locations are beautiful and breathtaking as you see the sunny beaches of California to the cold and vast landscape of Iceland with New York being sandwiched in between the two. The film is very bright due to the digital film that was used although it makes up by setting the right lighting and mood during some of Fischer’s darkest moments including his vast breakdown in between games of the World Chess Championship. The music heightens the scenes throughout the movie and add a touch of classic rock and roll music during numerous scenes of Fischer’s dominance of the game when he destroys his opponents left and right.

Pawn Sacrifice is the first film I can think of that focuses on a person from the Chess world. I’ve heard of the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” but that film was never about Fischer. It was a catchy title. If you’re not familiar with Bobby Fischer and would like to learn more about him I would recommend watching this movie. In addition I would watch the documentary I mentioned earlier Bobby Fischer Against The World and read numerous books about him. Fischer is an interesting character study. Who knows? Maybe it will spark your interest in Chess if you haven’t been interested in it already.

TRIVIA

  • A “Pawn Sacrifice” is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
  • The narrator of the conspiracy theory audio that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is listening to is Liev Schreiber, who plays Boris Spassky.
  • In preparing to write the movie’s script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the “Match of the Century”, as well as speaking with people who knew him. “The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed,” said screenwriter Knight. “Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you’d think, ‘there is a curious person’. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well.”
  • The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.
  • Of the movie’s title, the film’s director Edward Zwick said: “You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have [Leonid] Brezhnev [Leonid Brezhnev] and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations”.
  • Bobby Fischer passed away at the age of 64, which is coincidentally the same number of fields on a chessboard.
  • David Fincher was linked to the project for several years.

AUDIO CLIPS

Beaten Everyone He’s Played
Shall We Call It A Draw
Shut Up Size 12
I’m All About The Game
Criticizing A Priest
Speed Chess
All I Want Is Some Quiet
I Screw People
Passed Having Sex For This
Third Best Player In The World
Chess Needs Two Players
Russian Spy Techniques
Cameras Making Too Much Noise
You Don’t Look Well
Like Morphy

Sushi Girl

Official Poster

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller  

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie, Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this.  With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s Sushi Girl.

The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table.  Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.

Cortney Palm as the Sushi Girl.

I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled Sushi Girl. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about Sushi Girl, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.

The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick Reservoir Dogs. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. Sushi Girl follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like Reservoir Dogs, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).

Tony Todd, Mark Hamill and James Duvall in “Sushi Girl.”

The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than Candyman which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.

Mark Hamill, Andy Mackenzie and Noah Hathaway in “Sushi Girl.”

Clocking in at 98 minutes, Sushi Girl may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.
  • The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.
  • This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.
  • Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.
  • One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).
  • Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games

AUDIO CLIPS

Your Idea Of Shelter
Full Service
Sushi Free Girl Not
Four Fifths of a Reunion
Where’s The Fifth Wheel?
Your Welcome Back Party
Fugu
Can’t Wait To Eat Shredded Blowfish
Are You In Or Out?
He’s One Of Us
You Always Clean Your Shitter Before A Job
Non Theater Masks
Who Called The Plumbers?
Jeff Fahey Screams
Mr. Tooth Decay on the March

Eternal Code Review

Official Poster

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Director: Harley Wallen

Writer: Harley Wallen

Starring: Damien Chinappi, Richard Tyson, Scout Taylor-Compton, Billy Wirth, Erika Hoveland, Yan Birch, Mel Novak, Vida Ghaffari

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

As I’ve previously mentioned in my review for Attack of the Unknown, there are times here on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” where I receive an opportunity to watch a film sent to me directly from the distributors or producers. This review is going to be another special review since it falls a little outside the normal reviews I’ve put on here. There won’t be any audio clips or trivia. Instead it’s going to be a straight up review as to why I recommend you check out this particular film. With that being said, I had the pleasure this past weekend of watching a unique film that was written and directed by Harley Wallen, whom has appeared in over forty feature length films and TV shows. His filmography includes Agramon’s Gate which stars B Movie icon Laurene Landon, Betrayed starring John Savage and Abstruse starring Tom Sizemore. I’ll be reviewing his latest release, Eternal Code.

Eternal Code follows the story of Corey (Damien Chinappi), an Iraq War Veteran who is in an unfortunate position like many veterans as he is homeless and unable to find work, not to mention having suicidal thoughts. Sitting on a park bench, he befriends a prostitute named Stephanie (Kaiti Wallen) along with two teenage girls who bring him food and money, Miranda (Angelina Danielle Cama) and May (Calhoun Koenig). Miranda’s mother is Bridget Pellegrini (Erika Hoveland), who is the head of a biological company that is developing technology which could bring eternal life to human beings. She is fighting against a merger that is being led by Oliver (Richard Tyson). To make sure the merger goes through, Oliver assembles a team to kidnap Bridget and her husband Mark (Billy Wirth) and hold them hostage while intimidating the other members of the board to vote yes for the merger. Miranda manages to not be taken and enlists Corey’s help to rescue her parents. Using his combat training and skills, Corey seeks out to find Miranda’s parents as well as protecting her from being kidnapped.

Damien Chinappi in “Eternal Code.”

Clocking in at a runtime of 105 minutes, Eternal Code is a dramatic thriller with science fiction elements. The film deals with the concept of life, death and afterlife. While the concept of life after death remains a mystery to humans, science is hoping to solve the mystery. It also deals with the morals and ethics of this research. You have Bridget who is wanting to use this breakthrough for peaceful purposes while Oliver is wanting this for his own personal ambitions, which you will uncover as you watch the film. He’s not going to let anyone nor anything stop in his way even if it means using retaliatory measures which we find so often in our business world today.

The performances are strong in this film especially from the main leads. Chinappi plays Corey as a lost soul in the beginning, but it would take the decency and good heart of Miranda for him to snap back into a sense of purpose as he is determined to pay his debt to her by rescuing her parents. Chinappi’s performance reminds me of a mix between Jack Bauer and Bryan Mills (24 and Taken for those who aren’t getting the reference). He doesn’t rely on torturing his suspects to extract information. Instead he uses stealth, cunning and the old fashioned gun pointed at the head to get what he needs to move forward. Richard Tyson is in a familiar antagonist role as he has been known for playing villains for most of his career, most notably in Kindergarten Cop. His character of Oliver is cold, calculating and is done reasoning with others. The rest of the supporting casts play their parts appropriately and each bring something to the story. There’s two special appearances in the movie. The first is from Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II) as Charlie, who is in charge of watching over Bridget and Mark and gets easily annoyed by their constant complaining and her frustration shows during her screen time. The other is Mel Novak (Game of Death, An Eye For An Eye) who plays board member Pomeroy. His appearance is a mix between Cliff Robertson and a certain United States President whom shall remain nameless. Novak is known in the film industry for playing villains, but it was a breath of fresh air to see him play a different role as one of the more reasonable executives and would not be beaten into submission even if it meant losing his life.

Richard Tyson and Vida Ghaffari in “Eternal Code.”

You’ll need to be patient when watching this movie as the pacing starts out very slow, but then picks up around the thirty minute mark. From there you have many moments on screen that will make you tense.For those of you who are expecting long shoot em up scenes or explosions, there’s none of that in Eternal Code. There are fight scenes and dead bodies, but it’s minimal. Instead, Wallen’s direction makes you use your brain and think about what would you do in the situation that they find themselves in. The presentation fits with a real life situation if your loved ones were kidnapped, what would you do? How far involved would you be to get them back? The only gripes I had other than the uneven pacing was I felt some scenes could’ve been trimmed down as they would dwell on matters that have already been established.

Eternal Code is a pleasant flick that is a nice breather from all the blockbuster action films that need car chases, things blowing up and a high body count to keep the audience’s attention. It’s not going to fit everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for something that is a little more clever and dramatic, then this is worth a viewing.

Erika Hoveland and Billy Wirth in “Eternal Code.”

Happy Heavenly Birthday! My 10 Favorite Larry Cohen Movies

Larry Cohen: 1936-2019

On March 23, 2019, the film industry lost a true auteur. Larry Cohen was the king of B-Movies. He started his career in the industry as a writer for television creating cult shows such as The Invaders, Coronet Blue and N.Y.P.D. Refusing to bow to Hollywood, Larry Cohen went out and created the movies he wanted to create. He wrote, produced, and directed numerous films of different genres. He was also known for giving up and coming African American actors and actresses their big break in the business as well as giving forgotten legends a second wind. His guerilla style of filmmaking was bold and risky. If Cohen were making movies without permits today, he would be arrested multiple times. I consider Larry Cohen my second favorite filmmaker only to John Carpenter. His movies are refreshing to watch for its originality, characters, and the reflection of the world during the particular time. Larry Cohen has claimed to be a writer first as it is notable through various scripts that have been produced into hits such as William Lustig’s Maniac Cop trilogy and the early 2000s suspense thrillers Phone Booth and Cellular. To celebrate his birthday today, I’m sharing with you my ten favorite movies from Larry Cohen’s filmography. These films are listed in order.

10. Original Gangstas

Fred Williamson in “Original Gangstas” (1996).

The first film in the list ends up being the last feature film directed by Larry Cohen and teaming up again with Fred Williamson who starred in the movies Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. Original Gangstas tells the story of John Bookman (Williamson) who returns to his hometown of Gary, Indiana upon hearing the news that his father got shot by some local gangsters. A former gang member himself, Bookman enlists the help of Jake Trevor (Jim Brown) and Laurie Thompson (Pam Grier) to bring a sense of order and justice to the one flourishing city that has been reduced to rubble, poverty and chaos. The film is notable for being shot on location in Gary during a time where there were more than three thousand crimes reported and hundreds of people murdered as well as Cohen hiring the local gangs to not only perform in the movie, but work alongside the crew. Original Gangstas is a tribute to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s filled with traditional action scenes of the era and a dramatic story. This film was a personal project for Williamson who was born and raised in Gary and wanted to show the audience that Gary is not the murder capital of America, rather it’s a city looking for it’s sense of place and there are hard working people who are trying to make a difference in improving the community. Original Gangstas is the perfect movie to watch especially during these divisive times in America and by watching should give a glimmer of hope that things can be turned around for the better.

9. Bone

Yaphet Kotto and Joyce Van Patten in “Bone” (1972).

Larry Cohen’s film debut was not a horror flick, but a strange dark comedy. Bone stars Yaphet Kotto as a criminal who breaks into the home of a wealthy couple who are having marital problems. He gets to know the couple and comes up with a resolution to their problems. The movie also stars Andrew Duggan and Joyce Van Patten as the married couple. The film is dialogue heavy with some good acting, early foreshadowing and surreal moments. The film was shot inside and outside Larry Cohen’s house to save money on the budget (he would use his home for scene locations in future movies).  Many consider Bone part of the blaxploitation film library, but it really isn’t. Bone is essentially a social commentary piece about race relations along with the attitudes of upper-class society and their opposition to those who they feel are beneath them. The film features the first interracial sex scene shot on film involving an African American male and a white woman as Van Patten helps Kotto with his own sexual insecurities.

8. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Broderick Crawford in “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” (1977).

Spanning six decades and eight United States presidents, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is one of the first film biopics about America’s number one crime fighter. Cohen chronologically walks through Hoover’s career in law enforcement from recruit to establishing the FBI and his continual rise to power and influence while at the same time focusing on the dual nature of his morality. James Wainwright plays a young J. Edgar which then transitions to Broderick Crawford playing him in his formidable years. The film also features an ensemble cast including Michael Parks, Jose Ferrer, Dan Dailey and Rip Torn. The film notably known for Cohen and his crew shooting on location in Washington D.C. and notably at Hoover’s home without permits while getting permission to shoot at the FBI Training Center and inside the FBI building himself, thanks to the first lady at the time Betty Ford. Crawford is the highlight of the film as he portrays Hoover as stoic and stone faced and is determined to hold on to his power by any means necessary. It’s a reminder that power can corrupt a person. Compared to Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is more accurate account of his life and career.

7. Special Effects

Eric Bogosian in “Special Effects” (1984).

Featuring a small cast including early roles for Zoe Lund and Eric Bogosian, Special Effects is a Hitchcockian style film that gives viewers a behind the scenes look at the process of a film being made. Bogosian plays filmmaker Christopher Neville whose career is in jeopardy after he is fired from a multimillion-dollar project. He has an unexpected visitor in Lund who is an aspiring actress. After an attempt to sleep with her to which she refuses his advances, Neville kills the actress. He uses this experience to make his comeback film. The cast of the film as well as the police are suspicious about the details he puts in while shooting the film. While the pacing of the film is slow and focuses on way too many behind the scenes details, Special Effects is a decent thriller with beautiful cinematography, a heavy synth score and very convincing performances from Bogosian and Lund, who actually plays two roles in the film as the victim and the leading actress of the movie. Special Effects also depicts the seedy side of the movie business as Cohen throws in numerous examples of how cast and crew are treated and how far someone will go to make sure that their vision is completed.

6. The Ambulance

Scene from “The Ambulance” (1990)

Larry Cohen’s first movie in the 90s, The Ambulance is a quirky suspense thriller mixed with some unexpected comedy. The Ambulance stars Eric Roberts as a comic book artist is currently working on a project for none other than Marvel Comics (featuring a cameo from the late great Stan Lee) who meets a young woman on a New York City street named Cheryl (Janine Turner). Suddenly, Cheryl collapses on the street and within a matter of minutes, an ambulance arrives to take Cheryl to the hospital. Josh heads to the nearest hospital to check up on her. When he arrives at the front desk to find out what room Cheryl is in, the staff tell him that she was not admitted to the hospital. Now Josh is convinced there is something going on with the ambulance and the people who are associated with it. After asking for help from the local police department, specifically Lt. Frank Spencer (James Earl Jones) who is not convinced of his story, Josh continues his investigation hoping to find Cheryl before it’s too late. Larry Cohen based this movie on his own frightening experience involving an ambulance. The movie features great performances from Roberts who uses his skills as a comic book artist to his advantage in his finding of Cheryl. Jones plays a cynical meaty role as the rundown detective Spencer who is not convinced of Josh’s story. Legendary comic Red Buttons provides zingers and one liners throughout his screen time as New York Post reporter Elias Zacharai. One thing that struck out to me about The Ambulance was its cinematography. It was sharp, bright, and fit what films would look like in the 90s. The Ambulance itself is a character much like Stephen King’s Christine. Although it’s not a car that comes to life, but it comes to life from the look and the individuals who are driving it. Whenever the ambulance appears on screen, you know something is about to go down and not for good intentions. The Ambulance is a fast-paced thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

5. It’s Alive

Scene from “It’s Alive” (1974)

Larry Cohen’s first take on a monster movie continues to be one of his scariest and iconic in the film world. It’s Alive tells the story of the Davis family who become parents of a killer mutant baby. From there local and government authorities attempt to track it down and kill it. However, the father hopes to find the child before they do. It’s Alive is the quintessential film for horror fans with plenty of scares and gore with a monster that lurks in the shadows. The first fifteen minutes of the film are the most tense and shocking moments captured on film. There are many things to love about It’s Alive from the pacing to the special effects and especially the music which was composed by longtime Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann. Cohen uses the techniques from Spielberg’s Jaws by showing little of the mutant baby and having the audience interpret what is happening to the victims of its murderous rampage. It’s Alive is also a social commentary about the behavior of newborns and the changes of habitat and effects of chemicals that can cause harm to those in the womb. It’s Alive became such a financial success in the United States and overseas that it spawned two sequels.

4. God Told Me To

Tony Lo Bianco and Richard Lynch in “Gold Told Me To” (1976).

Perhaps the strangest movie Larry Cohen ever made, God Told Me To stars Tony Lo Bianco as Detective Peter Nicholas who investigates a series of murders all around New York City with the suspect proclaiming that God told them to do it. His investigation leads to a cult leader and from there unleashes starting revelations about himself and his beliefs. God Told Me To is a cryptic and challenging film as Cohen creates a world that is focused on religion, cultism, the duality of mankind and the questioning of one’s existence. It’s a complexed than Cohen’s other movies, but provides enough in terms of action, suspense, and imagery to keep you focused. Besides Lo Bianco there are solid performances from respected character actors including Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sydney and Richard Lynch. The film is notable for Andy Kauffman’s appearance as a New York City police officer walking in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade along with the rest of New York’s finest. You can see the different reactions from the officers when they recognize Kauffman, all thanks to Cohen’s trademark of stealing shots. God Told Me To is a venturous film with twists and turns that dig deep into the mystery of whether or not man is alone in the universe.

3. Black Caesar

Fred Williamson in “Black Caesar” (1973).

One of the most underrated gangster films, Larry Cohen’s second feature Black Caesar is a jewel of the 70s blaxploitation cinema which launched Fred Williamson’s post NFL career as an actor. Black Caesar is a film that has a ton of attitude filled with charismatic characters, a cohesive storyline, violence that would make The Godfather jealous and a phenomenal soundtrack from the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Williamson owns the role of Tommy Gibbs as a man who grew up in poverty in Harlem harassed by racist cops to taking over his home territory and gradually building his own empire under the noses of his employers. At the rise of his power is when his past comes back to haunt him and becomes suspicions of those close to him. The film is the first to show off Cohen’s guerrilla style of film-making as it was shot in New York City and Harlem with zero permits. The reactions you see from the bystanders in the movie are unscripted. Black Caesar became Cohen’s first financially successful film that a sequel was immediately green-lit which was shot and released in the same year as Black Caesar titled Hell Up In Harlem. This film would become the blueprint to how Larry Cohen would create his future works. 

2. The Stuff

Scott Bloom in “The Stuff” (1985).

Perhaps the most regarded and well-known film in Larry Cohen’s filmography, The Stuff is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties was the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling, and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits. The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects, and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. Featuring a cast which includes Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris and Paul Sorvino. Oh, there’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures. It even features a great tag line, “Is it eating it or is it eating you?”

1. Q: The Winged Serpent

Scene from “Q: The Winged Serpent” (1982).

Unquestionably my favorite Larry Cohen film of all time. Q: The Winged Serpent perfectly blends the genres of a monster flick with a crime noir filled with off beat characters and amazing performances by the actors that bring them to life including the memorable role of Jimmy Quinn played by Michael Moriarty in which has been described by many critics as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen for a small film. Larry Cohen wrote this film in six days and began shooting quickly after he was fired from directing I, The Jury. Like all his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture. Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun. Q continues to be a timeless classic for me that I can watch repeatedly. It’s a great homage to the monster movies of the past.

Larry Cohen from “King Cohen” (2017).

So what did you think of the list? Do you agree or disagree? What movie from Larry Cohen’s library would you replace? If you’re interested in learning more about Larry Cohen’s career and his films, check out the award-winning documentary King Cohen. It’s one of the best documentaries of a filmmaker I’ve seen in the past five years.

RIP Joel Schumacher. My 10 Favorite Films.

Joel Schumacher passed away Monday, June 22 from cancer at the age of 80.

This past Monday the movie world lost another influential filmmaker. Joel Schumacher made films that had a sense of style, deep mystery, emotionally developed characters and were risk takers. While many associate him with directing the last two Batman movies of the 90s and essentially ruined the Caped Crusader’s continuing on the big screen for a while, Schumacher made emotionally gripping movies that were successful in their own right. He took on projects that numerous directors would not touch due to the subject matter. For Schumacher they were challenges and they paid off. In honor of his legacy, here is a list of my ten favorite movies from Joel Schumacher. These are listed in order so debates are welcomed.

10. Batman Forever

Val Kilmer as the Caped Crusader in “Batman Forever.”

Yes, I know Batman Forever is more like Batman Forgettable, but I have fond memories of the movie going back to when I was ten years old and my mother took me to the theaters to see it opening night. Schumacher takes the Dark Knight in a different direction combining the dark storytelling of Tim Burton with campier villains complete with costumes that have a bit of the tv show influence and are placed in a much bigger and brighter Gotham City. The themes of the film involve deep secrets, revenge and overcoming fears. Val Kilmer puts on the cape and cowl for his only appearance in the franchise as he deals with his nightmares that are triggered after the death of Dick Grayson’s parents who were murdered by Two-Face. Kilmer’s Batman is one dimensional at times not differentiating between the Bruce Wayne persona and Batman. Nicole Kidman plays the love interest who seduces Batman throughout the movie in order to know the man behind the mask. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal as Harvey “Two Face” Dent looks like someone who is high on coke rather than someone with a dual personality struggling to deal with what’s right and wrong. Then there’s Jim Carrey playing himself in a Riddler costume that is heavily influenced from Frank Gorshin’s look in the TV show and then there’s Chris O’Donnell as the boy wonder Robin complete with puns that would make Burt Ward cringe. Nevertheless, there is something about Batman Forever that makes it a guilty pleasure viewing.

9. Blood Creek

A deadite in “Blood Creek.”

Joel Schumacher returns to horror in a film about a Nazinecromancer raising the dead to do his bidding. It’s up to two brothers to stop him. Features a great cast including Henry Cavill, Dominic Purcell and Michael Fassbender in once again another haunting performance, Blood Creek is great from a stylistic standpoint which has always been Schumacher’s strongest trait as a filmmaker. Unfortunately the story falls under its own weight as it turns from what could’ve been a great premise into a typical group is trapped with a monster and must kill it before it kills them. If you’re a horror devotee like myself, Blood Creek is worth a viewing.

8. St. Elmo’s Fire

St. Elmo’s Fire introduced the world to the “Brat Pack.”

The movie that gave birth to the “Brat Pack,” St. Elmo’s Fire is a film that continues to be a influential film generation after generation. Schumacher tells a story about growing up and the struggles that come with adulthood. St. Elmo’s Fire feels over dramatic at times, but I enjoyed the film through the performances. Each character in the film not only had their own distinct personalities, but their own flaws which make them relatable. You may not understand the decisions they make throughout the story, but it’s decisions that we may have found ourselves having to make those decisions that are in the best interests. St. Elmo’s Fire is a film that reminds us that life isn’t perfect and we’re not perfect people, but we continue to move forward.

7. Falling Down

Michael Douglas goes postal in “Falling Down.”

Falling Down took me a long time to discover. I’ve heard of the film, but could not for the life of me figure out the title. I also didn’t know that this was a Joel Schumacher film until I finally watched it for the first time. Falling Down is a simple concept of a man who is at his breaking point and starts to violently lash out at those he comes across as he walks the streets of Los Angeles in order to get to the home of his ex-wife so he could see his daughter for her birthday. Michael Douglas plays William “De-Fens” Foster, an unemployed defense engineer for the government who is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. He is not intimidated by the people he comes across and won’t let them get in his way of going home. While Douglas plays the anger and rage of the film, Robert DuVall plays the calm and collective detective Pendergast who is working his last day on the job before retirement and is caught up in the events that are going on. Douglas and DuVall are essentially the yin and yang of the movie. Falling Down represents how we as humans have our breaking point and finding the difficulties adapting to an ever changing world and the fear of being obsolete. It’s an intense thriller that you must check out if you haven’t already. Thank goodness for streaming!

6. A Time To Kill

Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson in “A Time To Kill.”

Based on the best selling novel by John Grisham, A Time To Kill is an example of a film where Schumacher took high risks and paid off both commercially and critically. The movie deals with a sickening act and a man being put on trial for simply defending his daughter after being violated. With over powering performances from a eclectic cast, A Time To Kill is set at a time that Americans continue to deal with to this day. Schumacher’s direction is spot on and well paced. It is a film that is emotionally charged and can bring a sense of hope that justice still works in the favor of those seeking it.

5. The Client

Brad Renfro and David Speck in “The Client.”

Schumacher’s first John Grisham adaptation is a dark, tense and heart pounding thrill ride with great performances and careful pacing. The Client features Brad Renfro in his film debut as Mark Sway, who becomes a witness to the suicide of a mob lawyer who reveals to him where the body of a missing Louisiana Senator may be. Being sought by the U.S. Attorney’s office and it’s ambitious prosecutor “Reverend” Roy Foltrigg, played by Tommy Lee Jones in another brilliant performance, Mark hires Reggie Love, played by Susan Sarandon for a dollar to defend him. The Client reminds me of another influential drama piece, The Fugitive. Both films are similar in nature. What stands this movie out is the building of the relationship between Mark and Reggie. Both of them slowly learn to trust each other if they’re ever going to get out of the situations they find themselves in. This is one of the few films that follows the book page by page without hacking it to pieces in order to add flair and dramatic emphasis. The film also features early roles for future well known actors including Kim Coates, Anthony LaPaglia and Will Patton.

4. Flatliners

Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts and Olvier Platt in “Flatliners.”

Featuring an ensemble cast including Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt, Flatliners is the story of five medical students who conduct experiments on themselves in order to physically prove the existence of life after death. As each of them cross over, they see visions of their past which begins to trigger and traumatize them when they are revived. Flatliners is a tense flick with a dark atmosphere and a cast of characters that provide a cocktail of intelligence, cockiness and fear. Sutherland and Roberts’s chemistry carries the film as they each deal with their own nightmares of past situations they experience when they were children. The film’s plot gets repetitive after awhile, but there is so much going on in Flatliners to literally make your heart stop.

3. The Lost Boys

BillyWirth, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke McCarter and Alex Winter in “The Lost Boys.”

Perhaps the most beloved movie in Joel Schumacher’s filmography, The Lost Boys has a deep meaning for many fans. A new take on vampire lore, The Lost Boys is filled with elements taken from different genres and blends them into a wild ride viewing for the audience. The movie is known for its beautiful cinematography, it’s California setting, killer soundtrack and some of the best makeup and special effects in a movie of this nature. How could I forget the cast? I love the performances in this film especially Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander as The Frog Brothers. Did I mention this was the film that gave birth to the Two Coreys? The Lost Boys deals with themes of youth, innocence and trying to fit in which is something we’ve all had to deal with. The Lost Boys is a staple 80s film that continues to pick up a new legion of fans.

2. Phone Booth

Colin Farrell in “Phone Booth.”

Phone Booth is a suspense thriller that is a callback to the style of film making legend Alfred Hitchcock. Schumacher directs the movie taken from a script written by B-Movie auteur Larry Cohen about a publicist who enters a phone booth only to be trapped in it when a sniper calls him and tells him that he has a rifle pointed at his head. From there it leads to a triangular standoff when the police get involved. Phone Booth takes place in one location all throughout the movie which again is a callback to Hitchcock and his film Rear Window. There is so much tension and pressure in the movie that you could easily miss with the blink of an eye. The small cast including Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker give heart pounding performances. It’s odd seeing Sutherland playing a bad guy in this since 24 started around the same time and launched his television career playing Jack Bauer. Phone Booth is a great tribute to the suspenseful films of the Hollywood golden era.

1. 8MM

Nicolas Cage and James Gandolfini in “8MM”

There’s something about 8MM which makes this my absolute favorite Joel Schumacher film. After the condemnation of Batman & Robin, Schumacher rolled the dice and took on a film that no one wanted to touch. 8MM brings to life the myth of snuff films and ventures into the dark and dangerous world of underground pornography. Nicolas Cage plays a private detective hired by the widow of a industrial millionaire to seek out if the film found in his private safe is real, who made the film and the identity of the victim. He teams up with a purveyor of porn named Max California played by Joaquin Phoenix to help make contacts and get him one step closer to solving the case. Cage finds himself getting dragged deeper and deeper into the seedy world which warps his mind. The best line in the movie sums up Cage’s character when Phoenix warns him that, “You dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. The devil changes you.” 8MM is filled with dark, grizzly images and the biggest lowlifes portrayed on film. Peter Stomare and James Gandolfini play characters you just loathe and hope nothing but the worse for them. The movie does leave some questions unanswered, but there’s so much going on in this movie that these questions will slip your mind.

So what did you think of this list? Was there a movie I missed? Feel free to leave a comment. Thank you for reading!