Tag: mixed review

DVD Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Dick Tracy is a comic strip movie starring Warren Beatty as the famous detective Dick Tracy, as he tries to take down the criminal organization of Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) while avoiding the designs of Breathless Mahoney (Madonna.)

This film won three technical Oscars and deserved it. The world created for this movie is visually appealing with some stunning use of color and art deco touches as well. The make-up and costume design are top notch. In addition, Danny Elfman turns in a typically good score.

The story is decent if not spectacular. The final the twist at the end is good. The plot points related to Junior are taken right out of the comic and feel right in place. There are also some great actors in relatively minor roles including Dick Van Dyke, Dustin Hofffman, and James Caan. In addition, in a nod to classic detective movies, Mike Mazurki shows up.

There are three problems with the film. First, I don’t care much for Beatty’s performance as Tracy. He was going for strait-laced and upright but instead comes off as stiff. Al Pacino, on the other hand, gives a performance that is way over the top. I’ll never understand how he got nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a Saturn Award. For me, it was a grating, scenery-chewing performance that was more annoying than funny.

Second, there’s too much of Madonna singing in this film. One or two musical numbers, I can see. But she has five numbers in this film. They’re all well-written, but the only one that worked was, “Back in Business.”

Third, the film’s tone is inconsistent. It’s a movie that doesn’t know who its marketing itself to. I remember seeing happy meal toys for this movie and the bright colors and character of Junior would appeal to kids. On the other hand, some of the violence was too extreme for children and Breathless Mahoney is an over-sexualized character in keeping with Madonna’s 1990s brand. On the other hand, much of the plot, story, and characters doesn’t appeal to adults. The tonal differences means that sometimes, it feels like the characters are in different movies.

They were trying to imitate Chester Gould, who made Dick Tracy, the type of comic strip the whole family wanted to read by mixing elements that appeal to kids and adults to satisfy everyone. In the film, they seem to have succeeded in not fully satisfying many people at all.

That said, there are worse attempts to adapt a classic property. A lot does work about the film. Something Val Kilmer would prove six years later in The Saint. The film looks classy and has a great sense of style, with a lot of homages to its source material. If you’re a Madonna fan and/or you liked Al Pacino’s performance in this, you’re going to like it more than I did. For me, it’s a film that had a lot of potential but never fully lived up to it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Book Review: Before Midnight

Editor’s Note: A version of this review originally appeared 9 years ago.

How annoying can a client or set of clients get? Nero Wolfe finds out in Before Midnight.

After the death of a hotshot advertising executive, his firm hires Wolfe not to find the killer, but to locate the dead man’s wallet which contained the answers to a verse-guessing contest with $800,000 in prizes at stake.

The story plodded along. While some of the suspects were interesting, I couldn’t consider most of them as likely suspects for either the murder or taking the wallet. The focus was on the contestants, four of whom came from out of town. To go to a place you don’t know, commit a homicide, and evade detection by the police is a tough task, and nothing made me believe any of these out-of-towners would do it.

What held the story together was watching Wolfe’s clients from the advertising firm of LBA, who represented the most annoying and foolish clients Wolfe ever had the misfortune of taking on. There was a pleasure of seeing these guys in action that wasn’t unlike watching a trainwreck. Wolfe had been about his leisurely pace of crime solving for 20 years, LBA was in a mode of “hurry up and do something,” even setting a deadline for Wolfe.

Their battles with each other and Wolfe continue for most of the book. Toward the end, just when we’re expecting Wolfe to spend a few chapters and several glasses of beer unraveling the mystery, we’re thrown for a loop with a plot twist that leaves Wolfe reeling, embarrassed, and determined to get a daring soul who committed a murder right in Wolfe’s office.

The twist makes up for the weakness of the book, which was a letdown after the pure brilliance of Murder by the Book. Still with a twist ending and some classically annoying clients, I’ll give it a:

Rating: Satisfactory (4 stars)

Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season 7

At the end of Season Six, during World War II, the entire Canadian Home Team of superhuman allied soldiers was wiped out. The Red Panda (Gregg Taylor), in the guise of August Fenwick, had his plane explode while heading to Europe.

The first half of Season Seven picks up where Season Six left off with The Flying Squirrel (Clarissa Der Nederlanden) having to pick up the pieces. Missing her husband and crime-fighting partner,  Kit Baxter-Fenwick has to keep the city safe while expecting the birth of her first child.  It’s decided that neither the fifth columnist or the criminal element in Toronto should know of the Panda’s apparent demise so the android John Doe (Christopher Mott) pretends to be the Red Panda. Kit has to mentor John and also help him as he tries to move on from the death of his wife.

This first half of the season works really well. While Season Six tried to develop Kit/The Flying Squirrel, those attempts came off as a bit artificial. In Season Seven, we get some really good character development, as well as a nice mix of solid adventures that we’ve come to expect.

**spoilers warning**

In the second half of the season, we learn the Red Panda survived and we pick up his story with him imprisoned in a POW camp. However, before his capture, the Red Panda (I believe) used his mental powers to segment all he knew of being the Red Panda from August Fenwick so he could not be coerced into revealing information. Fenwick meets up with former Red Panda Operative now Army Captain Andy Parker and his commando unit. He teams up with Parker, and is able to get them out of prison using Red Panda powers and abilities while denying being the Red Panda. They then make their away across Europe to the season’s denouement where the two halves of the season tie together.

There were things about the second half of the season I enjoyed, like the reappearance of a character who was presumed dead, and I think the last episode is good. However, what happened  with the Red Panda/August Fenwick is convoluted and I’m not sure I understand it right. The plot also got repetitive with the denials of him being the Red Panda and members of Parker’s Rangers thinking he was.  It felt a bit padded at six episodes. The arc would have been better if it’d been only three episodes long.

Overall, this is a still a solid season, owing to the strong first half, but it’s the weakest of the seven seasons I’ve listened to so far.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

You can listen to Season 7 of The Red Panda Adventures here.

DVD Review: The Complete PRC Michael Shayne Mystery Collection


Most of the Michael Shayne films from the first half of the 1940s starring Lloyd Nolan have been on DVD for years. This DVD features five films released in 1946 and ’47 starring future Ward Cleaver actor Hugh Beaumont as Michael Shayne.

The earlier films were B pictures for Fox, however the Hugh Beaumont films were poverty row pictures, with low budgets and generally dodgy acting with no-name casts.

The restoration is phenomenal. While the typical poverty row picture from original prints looks grainy and even unwatchable, these films look superb, given the source material. The production team on the release went to a lot of work to make these look as good as possible. Given I watch so many DVDs of older material where it looks like a straight transfer was done to get them out and start taking money, I was really impressed.

Hugh Beaumont elevates the quality of these films. The ordained minister who would go on to play Beaver’s dad is miscast. But Beaumont’s an actor and pulls this off. An annoying lead can wreck one of these films. (See George Montgomery in the Philip Marlowe “B” film The Brasher Doubloon.

The films are helped by having good underlying stories. The Fox Shayne films adapted one of Britt Halliday’s Shayne novels. All five of the PRC films were adapted  from Shayne novels. Halliday was great at constructing mystery plots and these transfer over well when the producers don’t tinker with them too much.

In the course of five films, Beaumont was paired with three different actresses as Phyllis Hamilton. Hamilton was a composite of Shayne’s wife Phyllis in the novel and Lucy Hamilton, who became Shayne’s secretary after his wife died. Cheryl Walker played the role in three films, Kathryn Adams in Blonde for a Day, and Trudy Marshall in Too Many Winners.  Walker and Adams did fine in the role, but I found Marshall irritating, though it’s hard to tell whether it was the screenwriting or her acting, but she was a negative on that film.

The rest of the supporting actors range from competent to awful, reflecting the sort of variety seen on these hour-plus-long poverty row films.

As to individual films, Murder is My Business, Three on Ticket, and Too Many Winners were decent to good films with Murder is My Business being the best. Larceny in Her Heart was based on the novel Bodies are Where You Find Them which was going to be a difficult novel to adapt in this format due to its complex political subplot, which does get reduced to confusing nonsense. In addition, in the novel, Shayne’s wife Phyllis heads to New York and isn’t heard from again. In this movie, Phyllis returns in the middle of the movie and adds a plot complication that the film didn’t have time for.

Blonde for a Day is undermined by weak acting apart from the leads and once again is too complicated for the limited run-time of the film, though I did find it more visually pleasing than when I first rented a non-restored version off Amazon a few years back.

While Too Many Winners was not my favorite, it’s the most noteworthy. As part of the plot, Mike and Phyllis are planning a duck-hunting vacation which is disrupted by the mystery and the movie is obsessed with this point, even using drawings of Mike and Phyllis duck-hunting in the opening credits. This film also featured the most recognizable actors to appear outside of Beaumont in the entire series. John Hamilton (aka Perry White from The Adventures of Superman) and also veteran TV and film character actor Ben Weldon who has 249 acting credits on his IMDB profile.

Given two of the movies aren’t good, it’s hard for me to recommend the set for everyone. However, if you love Michael Shayne books, are a fan of Hugh Beaumont, or if you like poverty row, B-movie mysteries and would like to see a well-restored production, this could be worth checking out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 7

The seventh volume of the Twilight Zone Audio Dramas adapts six more stories as audio dramas:

“Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” is the story of a small-town braggart and teller of tall tales who garners the attention of aliens from outer space who think his whoppers are true. This is a fun story, with a nice dish of the absurd.

“Cavendar is Coming:” An angel with a problematic track record is given one last chance if he can help an awkward young woman. This is just bad. The premise is stupid (and depressing), the story is nonsensical and the dialogue is unimaginative. The TV version had the benefit of featuring a young Carol Burnett as the young woman Cavendar “helps.” The TV episode was released in 1962 and was a backdoor pilot for an unrelated series. It does not hold up.

“The Little People:” Two members of a spaceship crew land on a planet that’s seemingly uninhabited and work on repairing their ship. However, one of them sneaks away and discovers there is life: tiny people with their own society, who he decides to oppress by pretending to be their god. This is a somewhat typical Twilight Zone story, with some nice details and even a computer that plays a role, as well as a solid twist.

“One More Pallbearer:” A wealthy man invites three people over for dinner who he blames for embarrassments earlier in his life. He has a scheme to make all of them apologize and beg him for shelter. This is  the best story in the release. While actor Chelcie Ross isn’t a household name, he’s great in the lead and manages to embody the pettiness and the damaged mind of the wealthy man. The story has not only a twist ending, but a double twist.

“The Big Tall Wish:” A washed-up boxer boards with a single mom and is beloved by her son. He decides to make a comeback and a hopeful boy makes a wish, the biggest wish (a big tall wish) but will it be enough for the boxer to win. This is a simple, wistful tale, with a downbeat conclusion.

“The Living Doll:” A tyrant of a father is infuriated that his wife spent money to buy his stepdaughter a doll at the department store. The father doesn’t like the Talking Tina doll and is shocked when Tina lets him know the feeling is mutual. He hears the doll speaking, but only when no one else is around. Probably of all the stories I’ve listened to in the first seven volumes, this is the one that fits most easily into the horror genre, though it’s definitely a more psychological horror.

Overall, this box set is a mixed set. “One More Pallbearer” and “The Living Doll” are superb, “Cavendar is Coming” is awful. The other three are between okay to good.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.