Sunday, September 24, 2017

Stubs - Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Screenplay by Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn Based on Kingsman comic book by Mark Millar Dave Gibbons. Produced by Matthew Vaughn, David Reid, Adam Bohling. Run Time: 141 minutes UK/US Color Action, Espionage, Comedy

While we often rail against sequels on this blog, that is not to say they're all bad. Case in point, the new Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), a bit of surprise hit from three years ago.

There is no giving away what they hadn't already given away in trailers, that the big three from that film: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton and Mark Strong are all back, though if you watched the first film, it's hard to believe Firth's character Harry Hart / Galahad could. (Don't worry this film gives something of a plausible explanation as to how that's possible.)

Mark Strong returns as Merlin in Kingman: The Golden Circle.

Kingsman is a privately run intelligence operation fronted as a London's tailor shop. While they monitor us all, they only seem to get involved in problems that threaten the whole world. In the first film, it was a Silicon Valley megalomaniac, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who threatens the world by using free wifi that he provides the world to transmit a "neurological wave" that will help cull the human population on Earth.

In this film, the entire world's supply of drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.) is controlled by a single person, the aptly named Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). Poppy, who is not happy that she has to stay hidden, has monopolized and poisoned the world's drug supply with a poison that will eventually kill the user, of which includes one of Eggsy's friends, his girlfriend, Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström), who also returns as well as the U.S. President's (Bruce Greenwood) Chief of Staff (Emily Watson).

Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) controls the world's illegal drug supply.

But before the Kingsman can get involved, Poppy takes out all of them, except Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) who are conveniently not home. This leads the survivors to join forces with their American counterpart, The Stateman, who make Kentucky Bourbon whiskey for cover and operating costs. Let the American stereotypes begin.

Kingsman Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Galahad (Colin Firth) work with their
American Statesman counterpart, Whiskey (Pedro Pascal).

While the Kingsman code names are based on knights of King Arthur's roundtable, the Stateman's are all based on types of liquor. Led by Champagne "Champ" (Jeff Bridges), the main agents appear to be Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). Rather than dress in well-tailored suits, the Stateman agents don cowboy boots, hats and belts with large buckles. Instead of umbrella weapons, we have lassos and hunting knives.

Not much for Tequila (Channing Tatum) or Ginger (Halle Berry) to do in The Golden Circle.

There are several callbacks to the original film. Besides Alström's return, there is also an all too brief appearance by Sophie Cookson as Roxanne "Roxy" Morton / Lancelot and a much longer return of Edward Holcroft as Charles "Charlie" Hesketh, a failed Kingman candidate now working for Poppy.
One scene, in particular, is re-enacted with Whiskey teaching manners to roughnecks rather than Galahad or Eggsy. There is the, becoming more commonplace, one shot fight scene. Another reference to the first film explains the appearance of Elton John, who turns in a very solid performance playing himself as performer turned action hero.

Firth, Egerton, and Strong put in their usual best performance as they take up their roles from the original. Julianne Moore seems to be playing against expectations as a ruthless drug cartel leader with a bent for 50's nostalgia. Halle Berry is somewhat subdued as Ginger, the Merlin-equivalent of the Stateman. Jeff Bridges has very little screentime as Champ and fortunately, Channing Tatum has very little as well.

Jeff Bridges plays Champ, the leader of The Stateman.

The original Kingsman was surprisingly good that it would be difficult for any follow-up to match. And while Kingsman: The Golden Circle comes close, it doesn't quite reach the same heights. Still, it is a very funny film and quite enjoyable when all is said and done. Even if you haven't seen the original film, Golden Circle is well worth the price of admission and should not be missed.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Review Hub - Sly Cooper


Since its release in 2002, the Sly Cooper game series has been considered a classic in a similar vein to the Ratchet & Clank and Jak and Daxter series, to where a movie was initially announced to follow Ratchet & Clank, only for it to eventually be put into a state of limbo in wake of that movie's poor box office performance. However, a Sly Cooper television series was later announced, which seems right at home with the tone and style of the games.

Aside from this, as of this posting, this year also marks the 15th anniversary of the franchise. In honor of this, below is a list of every Sly Cooper game and comic book reviewed on this blog, sorted by chronological order. (Links to Second Opinions will be listed next to the main review link in parenthesis.)

  
  

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
The Advenutres of Sly Cooper (Comic)
Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
The Sly Collection
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Stubs - Logan



Logan (2017) Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen Directed by James Mangold Screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green. Based on the comic character: Wolverine created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Romita Sr. Produced by Hutch Parker; Simon Kinberg; Lauren Shuler Donner Run Time: 137 minutes. USA Color Superhero, Drama

Wolverine is perhaps the best-known Marvel character that is not part of the Avengers or part of the MCU. Making his first appearance in the last panel of The Incredible Hulk #180 (Oct. 1974), Wolverine was the creation of Roy Thomas, John Romita, Sr. and Len Wein. Wein, who recently passed, was one of the unsung heroes of American comics. A writer and editor at both DC and Marvel, Wein is created with co-creating DC’s Swamp Thing as well as reviving the X-Men franchise at Marvel. He was also the editor on Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ influential Watchmen series.

Previously, Wolverine has appeared in X-Men (2000), X2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), The Wolverine (2013), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), always played by Hugh Jackman. An Australian-born actor, Jackman first came to prominence in the Broadway stage musical The Boy from Oz (2003) about the life of Peter Allen. His choice as Wolverine was initially not met with applause, as he is a foot taller than how the character has been portrayed in comics.

The film had been in pre-production since 2013, with the studio 20th Century Fox looking for another solo Wolverine film as a sequel to the 2013 film. At the time, it was not confirmed if Jackman would be back in the titular role.

Filming began on May 2, 2016 under the title of Juarez to lower the visibility of the production. With a budget of $97 million, principal photography began in New Orleans and concluded in New Mexico on August 13, 2016. The film received an R rating, only the second of the X-Men films to receive that rating, the other being Deadpool (2016).

Logan takes place in 2029, in a future where no mutants have been born in 25 years. Wolverine is living as Logan (Hugh Jackman), an alcoholic limo driver working in El Paso, Texas. When the film opens, Logan is passed out in the backseat of his limo.

Outside, a gang of hoodlums are trying to steal the wheels off his five-year-old stretch limo. When he approaches them, they shoot him. Even though his healing ability has slowed and his body has aged, he is still Wolverine. Basically, they might knock him down, but he manages to kill most of them; the others flee the scene, leaving their dead friends behind.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is an alcoholic limo driver in El Paso.

Logan continues to drive for bachelorette parties, prom nights and funerals. It is at the latter that he is approached by a strange woman, Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who recognizes him as his alter ego. He, not so politely, tells her to leave him alone.

Next, we see Logan bribing a doctor for drugs. But we’re not alone making his observation; so does Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the intense head of Security for Transigen. He asks Logan if he’s heard from Gabriela. In cryptic tones, he relates that she has something that he wants back. Logan has no plans to cooperate.

Logan takes care of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

Logan next heads down, south of the border, to an abandoned smelting plant in Northern Mexico, where he keeps Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in the care of mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Charles suffers from a brain disease that causes him to lose control of his telepathic abilities, with destructive effects. The medicine that Logan has gotten from the doctor is supposed to keep those seizures to a minimum.

Charles claims to be communicating with a mutant, though neither Logan or Caliban believe him.

Back in El Paso, Logan responds to a ride request that takes him to the Liberty Motel, where Gabriela is staying with an 11-year-old girl, Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen). Gabriela offers Logan $20,000 to take her and Laura to a place called Eden in North Dakota at particular longitude/latitude coordinates. She tells him that Laura is her daughter and that they are in trouble and need to leave as soon as possible.

Logan, who is trying to raise money to buy a boat for him and Charles to live on, reluctantly accepts the job. While he’s back in Mexico letting Charles and Caliban know he’ll be gone for a couple of days, he gets an urgent text from Gabriela.

When he returns to the motel, he finds Gabriela murdered with Laura nowhere in sight. He heads back to Mexico, but is followed by Pierce. Also, unbeknownst to Logan, Laura has tagged along in the trunk of the limo. When Pierce starts to get rough, he is knocked out by a lead pipe thrown by Laura. She also tries to hit Logan with one, but he catches it.

Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is the first to realize they are not alone.

Charles immediately recognizes Laura as the mutant he’s been talking to and about. He takes her in for cereal, while Logan has Caliban take Pierce out and dump his body by the side of the road. But that part goes awry as Pierce revives before Caliban can head back and Pierce’s mercenaries, called Reavers, arrive.

When the Reavers arrive, Logan hurries Charles away from danger.

With the Reavers on the way, Logan takes Charles out to the limo, leaving Laura to fend for herself. When Pierce sends in three of the men to get the girl, she turns out to be more than they can handle. To prove this, she comes outside with the head of one of the Reavers.

Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) leads mercenaries called The Reavers as they look for Laura.

In the confusion, Logan tries to escape, collecting the girl as they go. They make it out of the complex, but the Reavers are in hot pursuit. Logan manages to outrun them to a nearby railroad track, where a long train shields them from their attackers and they manage to get away.

Laura (Dafne Keen) is more than the Reavers can handle.

But Pierce isn’t too worried, as he coerces Caliban to help them or be tortured.

Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) coerces Caliban into helping them find the girl.

When they come to a convenient store on the road, Logan and Charles look at a video Gabriela had left for him to watch on her cell phone, while Laura rides on a mechanical horse out front. In the rather elaborate video, considering it was all shot on a cell and narrated throughout, Gabriela explains that she worked as a nurse at Transigen in Mexico City, where she and other nurses were hired to take care of gene-altered babies, X-23s, who were born at the company under the direction of Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant).

The company was trying to grow their own mutants and, in the video, we see different ones who can move objects with their mind, make ice with their breath, set people on fire and, like Laura, display wolverine style claws. When the children resist being used as weapons, we see one boy jump to his death, Transigen changes plans and develop their own non-human soulless fighting machine, X-24, and set out to euthanize the children. Nurses like Gabriela set out to save as many of the children as they can, seeking a location known as Eden where the mutants will be safe.

The battery on the phone dies and Logan takes Charles into the restroom. With the quarters used up, Laura goes into the shop, where she shoplifts some Pringles, a drink and a pair of sunglasses before the store’s clerk (Dave Davis) stops her. Laura, who is also feral, attacks him and is about to claw him, when Logan intercedes. He apologies to the attendant before stealing a phone charger as they flee the scene.

The trio stops in Oklahoma City at a hotel/casino to get some rest and to change cars. There, Logan finishes watching the video on Gabriela’s phone and pieces together that she got the concept of Eden from one of the X-Men comic books that she took to be real accounts.

Meanwhile, Charles and Laura watch the movie Shane (1953), which he recalls fondly from his youth, recounting for her when he first saw the film when he was her age.

Logan is gone for more than hour getting a new ride, a pick up, and getting new tires put on. When he returns to the hotel, he notices that the Reavers are there as well. But before he can get inside, Charles has one of his seizures, which affects everyone in and around the hotel. Logan, who is not as affected as everyone else, can still move, though he needs his Wolverine claws to propel himself through the hallway to their room.

Logan has to use his Wolverine claws to manuever down the hallway when Charles has a seizure.

But the Reavers are already there, guns drawn and pointing at Charles. Logan kills all of the attackers in the room and then injects Charles with a suppressant which ends the seizures. While everyone, including Pierce, is still recovering, Logan, Charles and Laura manage to escape.

Meanwhile, Dr. Zander Rice manages to convince Caliban that no harm will come to Logan and Charles if Caliban helps them find Laura.

Back on the road with automated high speed trucks and there is a traffic incident that sends the Munsons, a farming family, along with their horse trailer, off the road. Charles uses his telepathy to help wrangle the horses and Logan helps them push their truck out of the ditch. Father Will Munson (Eriq La Salle), mother Kathryn (Elise Neal) and their son Nate (Quincy Fouse) are grateful for the help and invite the trio back to their house for dinner. While Logan wants to keep moving, Charles accepts the invitation.

After dinner, Will discovers that there is a problem with their water. Apparently, it is part of a feud he’s having with the Canewood Beverage company that had tried to buy him out and then force him out. Logan goes with Will to fix the pump. On the way, they pass through a field of tall corn, which Will tells him have been genetically modified and taste terrible. But the corn is not for eating, but for use in sports and soft drinks.

After making repairs, the two are confronted by Jackson (Lennie Loftin) and his henchmen about trespassing. When Jackson brandishes a rifle, Logan takes it away and breaks the stock over his knee. In the process, he also manages to break Jackson’s nose, causing the henchmen to flee.

Meanwhile, back at the Munson’s, Charles is awakened from his slumbers and tells Logan how good he feels. But unfortunately, it is not Logan he is talking to, but rather X-24 (Hugh Jackman), a Transigen clone of Logan, who kills Charles and grabs Laura. Nate and Kathryn are killed as well, even while Will and Logan are downstairs. When Will goes in to check on his family, X-24 stabs him. Logan runs upstairs to check on Charles, but finds him dead, before he chases after the girl.

Zander Rice, X-24’s minder, is waiting down the road in a truck with Pierce and Caliban, but on his way X-24 is mistaken for Logan by Jackson and his henchmen, who have come to get even with Will. They don’t realize who they are tangling with and X-24 rips them apart.

Meanwhile, Caliban steals two grenades and blows up the truck, killing himself, several Reavers and wounding Pierce. While he’s recovering from his wounds, Pierce goes through some evidence taken from the Munson house, including a photo Laura had been carrying of other mutants from Transigen. On the back, Pierce finds the coordinates for Eden.

Mad about what he’d done to Charles, Logan attacks, but he is overpowered and is about to be killed when Will, who has recovered, drives his truck into X-24, pinning him against some farm equipment. Will takes out a rifle and fires several shots into X-24. He then turns to Logan, but just as he lifts the rifle to shoot him, Will falls over dead from his wounds. Logan and Laura manage to escape with Charles’ body in the bed of the truck.

Logan saves Laura after Caliban blows up the Reavers' truck in the background.

After he buries Charles next to a lake, Logan is enraged when the truck won’t start. He attacks the disabled truck with a shovel before collapsing in the street, presumably from exhaustion. He wakes up in an urgent care facility, where a doctor (James Handy) recognizes him as a mutant. Despite the doctor’s warnings to check himself into a hospital or at least submit to some testing, Logan leaves.

He finds out that Laura has commandeered a truck and when he thanks her for taking him to the doctor, she speaks for the first time, “De nada." After that, she won’t shut up until Logan relents and agrees to take her to the North Dakota rendezvous. Even though he insists on driving, when he passes out, Laura drives the rest of the way.

Logan reluctantly agrees to drive Laura to Eden.

The other mutants are waiting for Laura high on a mountain top retreat, but when Logan tries to follow her, he collapses and is brought up the side of the cliff on a stretcher by a pulley. Eden is run by Rictor (Jason Genao) and they welcome Logan, who rests there for several days. But while he’s sleeping, the children laughingly cut his hair and beard to match his old Wolverine comic book look. Laura discovers that Logan is carrying an adamantium bullet which he tells her he thought about using to commit suicide. When he passes out again, she pries the bullet from his hand.

When the children plan to journey to Canada, Logan, much to Laura’s dismay, decides to stay behind. But the Reavers are onto their trail and swoop in to capture them. It’s not easy, as the mutants have some powers, but the Reavers do manage to capture most of the children.

Logan takes an overdose of serum given to him by Rictor that increases his physical abilities and restores his healing ability. Singlehandedly, he slaughters most of the Reavers and rescues Laura, but the serum wears off very quickly. As Pierce holds Rictor at gunpoint, Rice confronts Logan. They confirm that Logan killed Rice's father years ago while escaping from Weapon X. Rice confirms that the decline of mutants is due to a Transigen virus that Rice created and distributed through corn syrup.

Logan fights to save the children.

Logan shoots Rice dead and attacks Pierce, making him lose his robotic arm. X-24, who has been regenerated from the wounds he suffered at Will’s hand, is enraged by Rice's death. He attacks Logan.

Laura takes down one of the Reavers in the woods.

The children take advantage of the distraction and attack and kill the Reavers, including Pierce. Rictor uses his seismic powers to flip a large truck onto X-24. Logan encourages the children to run, anticipating the inevitable. X-24 manages to push off the truck and resumes his attack.

Grabbing the tired and wounded Logan, X-24 impales him on a tree branch. But before he can finish him off, Laura shoots X-24 through the head with the adamantium bullet, immediately killing him.
Laura tries to save Logan, but he’s too far gone from his wounds. After they have a touching father and daughter moment, he dies.

The children hold a burial and Laura’s eulogy consists of Shane’s speech to Joey Starrett at the end of that film:

Shane: Joey, there's no living with... with a killing. There's no going back from one. Right or wrong, it's a brand. A brand sticks. There's no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her... tell her everything's all right. And there aren't any more guns in the valley.

As the band of mutants continue on to Canada, Laura returns to the grave site, turning the cross at its head on its side, making an X. She then hurries to catch up with the other mutant children on their journey.

After premiering at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival on February 17, 2017, Logan was released in the US on March 3, 2017. The film would go on to gross $226.3 million in the United States and Canada and $616.2 million worldwide.

For a film that was part of the X-Men franchise, Logan doesn’t require that the viewer had necessarily seen any of its prequels. While it would certainly help to have seen some of these films, it is not a requirement, as the film does a fairly good job of setting up its characters. It might help to know who Charles is and what his powers are, but you can pick up what you need to know from the film.

The film earns its R rating. Violent and bloody, there is a fair amount of cursing as well as a fleeting shot of a bridesmaid (Laura Gros) flashing for Logan from the backseat of his limo. The violence includes a lot of impaling, at least two decapitations and X-24 getting part of its head blown off. This is not your usual super-hero film and was not intended for the usual audience.

The acting is really very good. Hugh Jackman is quite a talent with both a physical and emotional presence. He seems very comfortable in the role of Logan/Wolverine, a part he has played off and on for seventeen years.

As much action as Jackman does as Logan, Patrick Stewart as Charles is pretty much the opposite, as he is relegated to either a wheelchair or a bed for most of the film. Still, he gives a very captivating performance.

Stephen Merchant, as Caliban, the mutant hunter turned caregiver, provides some comic relief to an otherwise serious film.

[In a fit of anger, Logan smacks Caliban's drink from his hand, shattering the cup]
Caliban: That was my favorite mug.

Boyd Holbrook plays Donald Pierce in Logan.

The villains are also well-represented by Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce, who, like the Energizer Battery Bunny, never gives up in his relentless pursuit of Laura and her fellow mutants. His mild southern accent provides just enough of the good-old-boy turned evil that punctuates the character. Richard E. Grant as Dr. Zander Rice brings a little sophistication to his character, sort of like a Bond villain, his cultured exterior covering up his internal evil. He might talk like a well-educated man, but in reality he is heartless.

But the biggest surprise is Dafne Keen, the Spanish-British actress who plays Laura. At 11 years-old she has a presence even though she doesn’t speak a word for most of the film. In only her first feature, it is easy to say a star has been born. But while it is too early to say, if she can continue to give the type of performance she gives here, then that will be true.

Overall, the film was quite good and is perhaps the first truly serious take on a comic-hero movie. Logan/Wolverine for the first time is human with human frailties. It makes you feel sad that it is more of an end to the series than a beginning. There is no telling what comic-book movies might have been like if they followed this blueprint.

But unlike most of the films say from the MCU, this is not a child-friendly take on superheroes and the R-rating should be adhered to, even if you’re watching it at home.

ADDENDUM

Logan Noir (2017) Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen Directed by James Mangold Screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green. Based on the comic character: Wolverine created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Romita Sr. Produced by Hutch Parker; Simon Kinberg; Lauren Shuler Donner Run Time: 137 minutes. USA Black and White. Superhero, Drama

When director James Mangold took photographs on the set, he noticed how striking the photos translated to black and white. Mangold and his Director of Photography, John Mathieson, did a lot of night shooting with sculptural black & sidelight separating actors from the background. This led to a black and white master that was eventually released for a short run in theaters and was released on home video.

It is exactly the same film, there are no special edits or cuts specific to this version. It is sort of like listening to a mono remix of your favorite stereo album. Nothing is really taken away but in some cases new images emerge.

Logan Noir is the same movie but shown in black and white.

Black and white reminds you of all of the film noirs from the 1940s and 50s. Like most of them, some of the best action in Logan takes place at night. While the monochromatic visuals provide a striking retake of sorts, they don’t really add or subtract from the overall story. One thing it does do, and that might not have been intended, is that it seems to mitigate the gory quality of the original. For some reason, the blood (and there is plenty of it) is not as pronounced in black and white, but make no mistake, it is still just as violent as its color counterpart.

The imagery looks more stark in black and white.

Modern audiences may not be used to seeing black and white films, which is a shame. Hopefully, Logan Noir might be used as a gateway to introduce them to the vast Hollywood repertoire that was not filmed in color. There is so much there to explore that perhaps seeing a modern film get this treatment will make it okay to keep digging.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stubs - Key Largo


Key Largo (1948) Starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor. Directed by John Huston. Screenplay by Richard Brooks and John Huston. Based on the play Key Largo by Maxwell Anderson, as produced by The Playwrights Company (New York, 27 Nov 1939). Produced by Jerry Wald. Run Time: 100 minutes. USA. Black and White. Drama, Crime, Film Noir.

Tell me if this sounds familiar, a deserter of the Spanish Civil War redeems himself in death by defending the family of a true war hero against Mexican bandidos on the tiny island of Key Largo, Florida. No? Well, that’s the story of the play Key Largo that was the basis for the film. With World War II still on everyone’s mind, it is no surprise that the story was updated. Mexican Bandidos are replaced with prohibition-era gangsters. There are some other changes made to the point that the original story is all but impossible to see in the finished film. But that’s Hollywood.

At this point in his career, Humphrey Bogart was getting top-billing. After such films as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942), Bogart was finally a full-fledged star. But so was Edward G. Robinson.

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Robinson had been a star since Little Caesar (1931). Often cast as gangster, Robinson had worked with James Cagney, Bette Davis and Bogart. But he had also shown his versatility starring in comedic send ups of his tough guy image, A Slight Case of Murder (1938), as well as a political film, Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), and biographical films as Paul Ehrlich in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) and Paul Julius Reuter in A Dispatch from Reuter's (1940). He also made film noirs including Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944), Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945); and Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946) and Irving Reis’ All My Sons (1948).

In their four previous films, Bullets or Ballots (1936), Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) and Brother Orchid (1940), Robinson had received top-billing. Now, while Bogart would receive top-billing, Robinson’s name would appear in second place, but slightly higher than Bogart’s on the poster to show that he was an equal.

Edward G. Robinson gets second, but equal billing to Bogart.

The film is also notable for Bogart’s teaming with wife Lauren Bacall. After success in To Have and to Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) and Dark Passage (1947), Key Largo would represent their fourth and final pairing.

Key Largo would be in production between December 1947 and mid-March 1948. The hurricane footage was stock, having been shot for a Ronald Reagan melodrama, Night Unto Night (1948).
Following the end of World War II, disillusioned ex-Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) arrives on the island of Key Largo, Florida to visit the family of George Temple, a friend from the Army who had served under him and was killed in the Italian campaign.

In the hotel's bar, Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) meets (from left to right) Janes Temple (John Barrymore), Ralph Feeney (William Haade), "Toots" Bass (Harry Lewis), Curly Hoff (Thomas Gomez), Angel Garcia (Dan Seymour) and George's widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall). 

Entering the rundown Hotel Largo, where Frank is to meet George’s father, the wheel-chair bound James (Lionel Barrymore) and George’s widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), he encounters guests in the hotel’s bar: Curly Hoff (Thomas Gomez), "Toots" Bass (Harry Lewis), Angel Garcia (Dan Seymour), Ralph Feeney (William Haade) and Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor). Frank is informed by Curly that the hotel is closed for the season, but he still seeks out the Temples, who invite him to spend the night.

Frank tells James and Nora about George's bravery under fire.

Frank tells James and Nora about where George is buried and recounts his heroism under fire. Nora seems taken with Frank, stating that George frequently mentioned him in his letters home. Frank tells them that George had told him personal and confidential details about the Temples and that he had committed to memory the small and cherished details George had spoken of, to relieve the boredom, stress, and terror that was the stark reality of combat.

Nora offers that the guests have offered Mr. Temple an amount of money that he couldn’t refuse to open the hotel even though it was closed for the winter and there is a Hurricane expected. He also learns that there is a sixth guest who remains secluded in his room. The guests insist that they are in the Florida Keys on a fishing trip and have a charter boat waiting down by the docks.

With a hurricane coming, the three go about preparing the hotel. They are interrupted when Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) and his deputy Sawyer (John Rodney) arrive looking for the Osceola brothers, John (Jay Silverheels) and Tom (Rodd Redwing), a pair of Seminole Indians who escaped custody after being arrested on minor charges. Mr. Temple promises Sheriff Wade that he has some influence with the local Indians and will get the Osceolas to surrender. But soon after the Sheriff leaves, local Indians come to the hotel seeking refuge from the approaching hurricane, including the Osceolas.

Back inside the hotel, Curly, Ralph, Angel and Toots pull guns and take the Temples and Frank as their hostage. The sixth member and leader of the group finally makes an appearance. Frank recognizes him as notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who was exiled to Cuba some years before for being an undesirable alien. Rocco has entered the country illegally in order to make a delivery of counterfeit money, but his contacts have been delayed by the approaching storm.

Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) is an old-style gangster who has already been deported from the U.S.

It is revealed to the Temples and Frank that the gang had discovered Sawyer looking about, so they beat him up and knocked him unconscious. As they are held at gunpoint, Temple lets go a stream of insults toward Rocco, who responds by taunting Temple, explaining how he will one day return back to prominence.

Rocco makes an inappropriate pass at Nora.

Rocco is impressed by Nora's feistiness and makes a pass at her. In response to his overtures, she spits in his face.

She spits in his face.

Angry, Rocco wants to kill her, but Frank stops him with some fast talking. Mocking Frank's heroics, Rocco gives Frank a pistol and tells him that he can rid the world of Rocco if he is willing to die in the process. To the disappointment of both Nora and Temple, Frank refuses to shoot, stating that he believes in self-preservation over heroics and that "One Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for!" After Frank throws the gun down, Sawyer grabs it and tries to use it to escape, but Rocco shoots him. Turns out the gun Sawyer picked up, the one given to Frank by Rocco, wasn’t loaded.

Claire Trevor plays Rocco's ex, Gaye, who is now an alcoholic.

James wants to believe Frank knew that Rocco gave the gun to him unloaded, but Frank is adamant that he didn’t. Rocco orders his men to take Sawyer's body by boat to deep water and throw it overboard.

Rocco then demands that Gaye, his alcoholic former mistress, sing a song before she can have another drink. She sings "Moanin' Low," (words by Howard Dietz, music by Ralph Rainger) a capella, but doesn’t sing very well. Rocco still refuses to give her a drink and Frank takes pity on her. Frank goes to the bar, pours a drink and gives it to Gaye. While Gaye says "Thanks, fella" to Frank, Rocco slaps him in the face several times for disobeying his orders. Frank ignores the slaps, and says, "You're welcome" to Gaye.

Rocco slaps Frank for disobeying him and giving Gaye a drink.

The full force of the hurricane then hits, which terrifies Rocco and Frank uses the opportunity to “shame” him:

Frank McCloud: You don't like it, do you Rocco, the storm? Show it your gun, why don't you? If it doesn't stop, shoot it.

The storm also gives Nora a chance to challenge Frank about his disillusionment. Nora tells Frank that she knows his story about her husband's heroism was false and that Frank was the real hero. Mr. Temple then invites Frank to come live with them at the hotel, a prospect that seems to intrigue Nora.
After the storm has passed, Sheriff Wade returns looking for Sawyer and finds his body on the road, where it had been washed up during the storm. Rocco blames the murder on the Oceola brothers.

Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) finds the body of Officer
 Sawyer after it is washed up after the Hurricane.

Along with the other Seminoles, they hadn’t been been allowed inside the hotel at Rocco’s orders. Sheriff Wade then goes out to the dock where the Indians are preparing their own boats to leave. When the Oceolas try to escape, Wade shoots them down.

After Wade leaves with Sawyer's body, Rocco's contact, Ziggy (Marc Lawrence), arrives to conclude their business deal. Rocco sells Ziggy a large amount of counterfeit money. Even though the meeting is tense. Rocco and Ziggy are old friends and joke about better days ahead for gangsters like themselves.

Curly looks on as Ziggy (Marc Lawrence) and Rocco do some business.

Once the business is concluded, Rocco is ready to leave. It is then that he finds out the Skipper (Alberto Morin) of the boat, against Rocco’s direct orders, has moved it to deeper water to avoid damage from the hurricane. They need another boat and commandeer Temple’s. Rocco then forces Frank, who has skills as a seaman, to take him and his henchmen back to Cuba on the small boat.

Even though Rocco threatens him, the Skipper (Alberto Morin) moves the boat of out the way of the Hurricane.

Rocco pays James Temple for their stay and has his henchmen gather everyone's bags, except for Gaye's. Even though she wants to come with him, Rocco tells her he won’t be taking her with him. Instead, he gives her some money for expenses.

Both Nora and Gaye try to convince Frank to make a break for safety once he is outside the hotel, but he agrees to take the men to Cuba. Gaye appears to make a last-ditch attempt to convince Rocco to take her with him. She hugs him and, while embracing him, steals Rocco's gun. She then manages to slip the gun to Frank.

Gaye makes a last desperate attempt to get Rocco to take her with him.

Once they’re out at sea, Curly worries that Gaye will tell the authorities about Ziggy, but Rocco tells him that is exactly what he wants to happen.

Up on deck, Toots is sea sick. Frank sees his opportunity. He first tricks Ralph into looking over stern under the guise that there might be something on the propeller. When Ralph looks over the edge, Frank races the engine and knocks him into the water.

Toots fires at Frank after Ralph has been dumped in the ocean.

Toots realizes that Ralph has been lost at sea and when Frank won’t go back, he shoots him. Even though he’s wounded, Frank returns fires back and kills him.

Hearing shots, Curly goes up to the main deck and is mortally wounded by Frank in an exchange of gunfire. Curly staggers down the ladder, but before he can respond to Rocco’s questions, he dies.
Rocco wants Angel to go up and see what has happened, even lying to him that Frank is dead. But Angel refuses and Rocco kills him.

Angel doesn't want to go up, so Rocco kills him.

Rocco then tries to trick into surrendering by offering to share the money with him. He even throws one of the guns out on deck, as if it’s his. But from Frank’s vantage point, he can see that Rocco still has his gun. When Rocco comes up on deck, Frank shoots him, but Rocco isn’t dead yet, and fires one more time at Frank, before Frank shoots again and kills him.

Rocco tries to trick Frank into trusting him.

Frank then radios the Miami Coast Guard station, “NAM”, and radios his position. He then asks them to connect him to the hotel so he can tell Nora and Temple that he is coming back home.

From his vantage point, Frank can see everything and kills Rocco.

The film opened in New York on July 16, 1948 and nationwide on July 31st. In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther gave much of the credit for the film’s success to director John Huston for his tightening and speeding up the action. “He has dropped out a lot of prior build-up, thrown away some complexities and avoided the final fatalism which Mr. Anderson (the playwright) always seems to indulge.”

Crowther also credits Huston with getting “stinging performances out of most of his cast—notably out of Mr. Robinson” and calls Bogart’s performance “penetrating.” He calls Claire Trevor’s performance “picturesque.”

Director and co-writer on the set with Bogart and Bacall.

For the most part, Crowther’s is still right. Despite the staging, which is mostly interiors within the hotel, the action never seems to stop. There is never a dull moment in the film. This is due both to the screenplay by Richard Brooks and Huston as well as Huston’s directing. He always seems to get a good performance out of Bogart, from their first film together, The Maltese Falcon, to their last, The African Queen (1951), for which Bogart would finally win a long overdue Academy Award for Best Actor.

I have seen my fair share of Edward G. Robinson films and I don’t believe I’ve seen him give a really bad performance, even if the film isn’t all that good. Here he is able to channel his earlier gangster film roles into something new. His Rocco knows that he’s a relic of the past, but he’s not going gently into that dark night.

Lauren Bacall always does well when playing opposite her then husband, Bogart. They make a very engaging couple on the screen. She is a strong-spirited woman, but still a product of her time. Rather than going out on her own, she has stayed to take care of her deceased husband’s father, an admirable task. It is obvious that there are underplayed sparks between husband and wife on screen, which adds to the subtle flirtation going on between Frank and Nora.

Lionel Barrymore plays James Temple.

Lionel Barrymore is also one of those actors that leaves it all on the screen. Even wheelchair bound, Barrymore gives a very strong performance. He can play a grumpy doctor as in Three Men in White (1944), a heartless villain as in It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and even helpless victim all while seated.

But of all the actors and actresses in the film, it was Claire Trevor who was singled out by the Academy Awards for her performance as the alcoholic ex-gun moll. Her win as Best Supporting Actress came after her second of three nominations she would receive in her career, the others for Francey in Dead End (1937) and her last would be for May Holst in The High and the Mighty (1954). Trevor may be best remembered though for her portrayal of Dallas in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).

Key Largo is an easy film to recommend. A film noir at heart, the film shows what happens when the ideals of post-war America runs smack into its own darker past. Under John Huston’s direction, Key Largo is a really great movie. You should see it if you’re a film noir fan, a fan of Edward G. Robinson or a fan of Humphrey Bogart, with or without Lauren Bacall. There is so much to enjoy that the trip to Key Largo is one worth taking

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Night Trap - 25th Anniversary Edition (PS4)


It would be difficult to discuss the history of video games without bringing up Night Trap. Developed by Digital Pictures in 1987 and released on Sega CD in 1992, Night Trap would almost singlehandedly lead to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, better known as the ESRB. This gave the game a cult following such that 25 years later, it received a digital HD rerelease by Screaming Villains on PS4 and PC, with an Xbox One release to follow, along with a limited physical version by Limited Run Games. Considering the historical value of this game, it was hard to pass up the opportunity to play it, especially on a physical disc. With that said, the game itself, while improved, is a bit lacking.


The Collector's Edition package from Limited Run Games,
featuring the full box art from the 2017 release.

A group of students working at a resort have been mysteriously disappearing. Local authorities had no clue until the group S.C.A.T. (Special Control Attack Team) tapped into the camera system of a nearby winery house and recovered footage of the students being trapped by one of the residents. S.C.A.T. is sending in a young agent named Kelly (Dana Plato) to scout the house undercover until she gives them a signal to go in. Another agent has placed an override switch on the camera system, which gives them complete control over the cameras and traps within the house. It is up to you to use this power to help Kelly and the rest of S.C.A.T. during their mission.

From here, the rest of the game can be accurately described as an interactive movie. There are eight security cameras the player can switch between. As they scroll through these cameras, a movie plays out while enemies called Augers periodically roam the property. The player has to skillfully trap the Augers at exactly the right time to allow the movie to continue to completion.

Combining live action footage with the technology of video games is an interesting concept, but Night Trap’s execution of it has some noticeable flaws. For one thing, the game is very strictly timed down to the second due to the live nature of the video feed. As such, it is nigh-impossible to see the whole movie and trap a good number of Augers at the same time, not to mention the different perspectives within the movie which play out at the same time. For instance, while Kelly and the other party guests are performing a song, a S.C.A.T. agent is taken away by Augers. Going for a perfect run, in which the player captures all 100 possible Augers and all four members of the Martin family, is another story. Not only does this require missing out on most of the movie, but also following the very precise timing either memorized through grueling trial and error or a modern walkthrough that someone else can read off to you while you play.

One thing the game doesn’t tell you is that activating the traps also requires the player to have the correct color access code. The code initially starts at Blue, but there are a few points in the game where the Martin family changes the color, meaning you have to know exactly which security camera to be on and what time it occurs in order to hear what the next color will be. In addition, a single playthrough of the game takes a minimum of around 25 minutes, assuming you don’t get any Game Overs from failing captures at specific times. Should the player get a Game Over, they will have to start over from the beginning, unless they hit the one checkpoint near the 14-minute mark, which seems to mimic the original two-disc setup of the original Sega CD version, though either way several minutes of progress will be erased. Should the player die after the checkpoint, they will begin with the correct access code color for that time frame.

The gameplay of Night Trap (2017 interface).

Then there’s the movie itself, told through FMV (Full Motion Video) sequences. Night Trap is very much like a B movie, including the cheap costumes, sets and effects, a bad plot where some things are left completely unexplained and plenty of cheesy overacting. In other words, it’s laughably bad. Even Dana Plato of Diff’rent Strokes fame, perhaps the most competent actor in the game, gives a somewhat overacted performance. Playing through the game unlocks a Theater mode to view parts of the movie you may have missed, but you’ll then have to play through the game enough times to see every scene for at least one second, including the deaths, in order to view everything at your leisure. Depending on how much you like Night Trap, this may become an exercise in patience. However, the music is at least memorable, likely due to the minimal use of it, mainly the catchy Night Trap theme and the music for the Augers and the infamous bathroom scene; incidentally, these tracks are the ones highlighted on a cassette tape that comes with the Collector’s Edition.

While the game itself may be lackluster, there are some obvious improvements made for the 2017 remaster. For one, the image and audio quality is crystal clear, so no compression artifacts like the earlier 1990s releases. There is also a major quality of life improvement regarding the camera icons. Instead of a static image, the icons now display full video of what’s going on in the house at any given moment, be it Auger appearances or parts of the movie. Even then, Augers can be a bit sneaky in the Driveway camera, since the game takes place at night. As a nice touch, the PS4 controller’s light bar will also change color to match the code color the player selects. If someone doesn’t wish to play Night Trap with the revamped icons or the 2017 layout, it is also possible to play the game with the original static icons for a challenge, as well as different game layouts recreating those from the 1992 Sega CD, 1993 3DO and 1994 Sega CD 32X releases.

However, while there aren’t really any control issues, I did notice an audio glitch issue that came up during one of my playthroughs. Sometimes, when switching from one scene to another and then returning to the previous scene, the audio from the scene will start over from the beginning, putting the audio and video out of synch. This didn’t affect me too much, as I was paying more attention to Augers for a perfect run, but the player should watch out for this glitch, as it might potentially cause them to miss hearing the next access code for the traps.

As befitting a 25th anniversary release, the game now comes with a number of extras. Apart from the Theater mode, the player can unlock production stills and the game timeline used during filming and post-production. Also available are a couple videos, including a new interview with Director James Riley, and for the first time, a playable version of Scene of the Crime, a prototype version of Night Trap.

A screenshot of Scene of the Crime.

Scene of the Crime follows the same gameplay as Night Trap, though on a smaller scale. In this game, the player is tasked with watching the security cameras in a house to see if anyone will attempt to steal jewelry from a safe during a party. Naturally, someone steals the jewels and, to complete the game, the player has to identify which of the seven guests has committed the crime. It’s sort of a watered-down version of Night Trap, since the film only lasts a couple minutes and there are fewer cameras to select from on a map of the house, although the game does highlight certain areas where action is occurring. The short length also makes it easy to replay, though it is once again a test of patience depending on how many plays it takes you to single out the right suspect.

Of course, it’s not the story or the gameplay of Night Trap that has kept it relevant 25 years later, but rather the game’s legacy and influence on the video game industry. When Night Trap first released, it represented a leap forward with gaming technology with its combination of live action footage and player interactivity. However, this marriage of footage and gameplay freaked out moral groups as well as US Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl, who felt that it was beginning to blur a line between fiction and reality. The game, along with Mortal Kombat (1992), subsequently came under scrutiny during congressional hearings about violence in video games and their impact on young minds. One scene from Night Trap in particular, in which a group of Augers attack a woman wearing a nightgown in the bathroom, was misrepresented as promoting violence against women. The hearings also claimed that Night Trap was about “trapping and killing women” and that it featured gratuitous violence and sex.

The scene that ultimately led to the creation of the ESRB.
(Video by WarpedPixels)

The result of the congressional hearings ultimately led to the creation of the ESRB, the video game rating system that’s still used in the US to this day. With the creation of the ESRB, Night Trap received an M rating, meaning only those 17 and older can play it, while the 25th Anniversary Edition has been rated T, meaning those 13 and older can play. Another result of the hearings was the increased sales of Night Trap instigated by the controversy, giving it significantly more attention than it perhaps deserved and justifying releases on other platforms, granting it a cult following which eventually justified the current 2017 release.

On its own merits, Night Trap is at best an average game and enjoyably bad at worst. With simplistic gameplay, a cheesy B movie which not even Dana Plato can really save and a heavy trial-and-error element, it is a little difficult to figure out who would unironically enjoy this game today. However, with vastly improved audio and video, as well a few good improvements which make the core mechanics somewhat less frustrating, this release is easily the best way to play. The added bonus features, including a new interview with director James Riley and the ability to play Scene of the Crime, also add a bit of value to the overall package. I would recommend Night Trap – 25th Anniversary Edition to newer players for the historical value alone, although the actual game may only hold ironic entertainment for those willing to stick it out to the end.