Rage in the Cage: CAGED (Warner Brothers 1950)

cracked rear viewer

“In this cage, you get tough or you get killed” – Kitty Stark (played by Betty Garde) in CAGED


The Grandmother of all “Women in Prison” films, CAGED still packs a wallop, nearly seventy years after it’s release. This stark, brutal look at life inside a women’s penitentiary was pretty bold for its time, with its savage sadism and heavy lesbian overtones, and matches up well with BRUTE FORCE as an example of film noir prison flicks. Everything about this film clicks, from its taut direction by John Cromwell to the use of sound to create mood by Stanley Jones, plus a powerhouse mostly female cast led by Eleanor Parker .

The 28-year-old Parker convincingly plays 19-year-old Marie Allen, given a one-to-fifteen year sentence for accessory to an armed robbery during which her husband was killed. The mousey Marie is indoctrinated, given a number (Prisoner #93850), and poked and…

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A Late Review of PS4’s Spider-Man

It took me a little over a month to make my way through PS4’s Spider-Man.

I started playing around the middle of December and I finally completed the game on January 30th.  I didn’t play every day, of course.  There was one week when I was so busy with the real world that I didn’t play at all.  Most days, when I did play, I would spend maybe 60 to 90 minutes on the game, sometimes more and sometimes less.  All told, I’d estimate that it took about a total of 25 hours for me to finish the game’s story.  That’s not counting the time that I spent on side quests or the times when I would just swing through New York and appreciate the massive amount of work and detail that went into recreating Manhattan Island.

The first half of the game is probably one of the best advertisements for New York City that’s ever been put together.  Whether you’re swinging through Central Park or taking in the sights in Times Square, it’s hard not to get drawn into the game’s depiction of New York as being the most exciting city in the world.  Both Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson get scenes in which they talk about how much they love New York.  At the start of the game’s third act, a major disaster happens and New York is suddenly trashed and no longer as friendly a place.  While the streets are controlled by the paramilitary mercenaries of Sable International, the rooftops are populated by snipers who think nothing of trying to shoot you while you’re trying to swing from mission to mission.  And yet, even when things are at their worst, the indomitable spirit of New York survives.  Even though a biological weapon has been detonated and there’s been a massive prison break, you can still find people taking a stroll through Central Park.  (Of course, now they’re wearing surgical masks and some of them are stopping to cough.)  Even after martial law is declared, you can still drop in on the quad at Empire U and find students hanging out.  J. Jonah Jameson (who, in this game, hosts Spider-Man’s favorite podcast) may be a braying fool most of the time but he’s right when he says that New York will never surrender.

(The game’s action is limited to Manhattan.  As much as I would have loved to have visited the Bronx, I understand that there’s only so much that one game can do.  When I tried to swim to Staten Island, I discovered that swimming is the one thing that Spider-Man does not do well.  When I tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, I got a warning telling me that I was “leaving the game.”  Maybe the sequel will take Spider-Man into the outer boroughs.)

Spider-Man is voiced by Yuri Lowenthal and, after playing this game, it’ll be impossible for me to ever think of Spider-Man as sounding like anyone else.  Whether he’s telling a bad joke or, when the game takes a detour into Spider-Man’s subconscious, battling his own demons, Lowenthal simply is Spider-Man.

The game features many of the members of Spider-Man’s supporting cast, with Yuri Watanabe, Mary Jane, Miles Morales, and Aunt May all making welcome appearances.  (Four of the story’s missions require the player to take on the roles of either MJ or Miles.)  As for the game’s villains, Doctor Octopus, Kingpin, Tombstone, Taskmaster, Norman Osborne, Mr. Negative, Electro, Vulture, Rhino, Scorpion, Screwball, and Shocker all play roles of varying importance.  Doctor Octopus is reimagined as being, before he goes bad, almost a surrogate father to Peter.  When Spider-Man battles him, he’s not only fighting Doctor Octopus but he’s also battling his own guilt.  We all know the old saying: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  PS4’s Spider-Man is one of the few adaptations of the character that actually understands what that means.

While I liked the way that the villains were depicted and I think that this is one of the few Spider-Man adaptations to actually capture what makes Electro such an *ahem* electrifying character, I do wish that some of the boss battles had been more difficult.  While they do provide some challenge, they can also often be won just by pushing the dodge button until your opponents eventually tire themselves out.  For one battle, Spider-Man debuts a new suit designed to give him an advantage.  I won the battle without ever using the advantage.  Another battle can be won by finding a high place to perch on while your two opponents defeat themselves with friendly fire.

To anyone playing the game for the first time, my main warning would be to hold off on talking to a homeless man named Howard.  It’s tempting to go over and speak with him because his sidequest is located right next to the building where you go to visit Aunt May.  When you see the little blue diamond inviting you to visit with Howard, it’s hard to resist.  However, when you talk to Howard, you eventually end up agreeing to help him find all of his pet pigeons.  Those pigeons are located across the city and, as soon as you find yourself near any of them them, they’ll take off flying and, regardless of whatever else you may have going on, you’ll be expected to chase after them.  When it comes to Howard, hold off on talking to him until after you’ve taken care of the game’s main story.

Flaws aside, Spider-Man captures the spirit of its main character.  It’s not just about fighting crime, though there is a lot of that to do.  It’s also about making sure that Aunt May isn’t wearing herself out with her volunteer work.  It’s about trying to find time to cook dinner for MJ without neglecting the demands of being a super hero.  It’s about the sidequest where you rescue a civilian who, because he’s wandering around New York dressed like you, has attracted the wrong type of attention.  It’s about checking in on the research stations that Harry Osborne set up around the city before he mysteriously disappeared.  Sometimes, it’s just about taking the time to stop and take a selfie with a fan.  There’s plenty of action but, for me, the game was at its best when it was simply about Spider-Man swinging across Manhattan, looking for old backpacks and sometimes taking pictures of landmarks.

Spider-Man is one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played in a while and I look forward to replaying it.  Next time, though, I’m telling Howard to collect his own pigeons…

Film Review: The Ride (dir by Michael O. Sajbel)

“Do you own a horse?”

Because I was born and live in Texas, a friend of mine used to ask me that constantly.  His assumption was that everyone in Texas wore a cowboy hat and rode a horse to work.  That, of course, is not true.  I imagine that you’re more likely to see people on horseback in Central Park than you are in downtown Dallas.  As well, for the most part, if you see anyone wandering around Dallas wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, chances are that they’re from up north.  Northerners love to come down to Dallas and see where Kennedy was shot and ask if everything really is bigger in Texas.  It gets annoying after a while.  Of course, I’d by lying if I said that there weren’t any cowboys in Texas.  And yes, there are people down here who own horses.  We’ve got our ranchers and our oilmen and our farmers.  We just don’t have as many as people up in Minnesota seem to assume that we do.

And, to be honest, I’ve known a few cowboys.  If you dig around my family tree, you’ll find a few people who have worked the rodeo circuit.  For the most part, the cowboys I’ve known have been a proud group of people.  They’re not really emotional and they might not spend much time on twitter but you can depend on them to get the job done without a lot of crying and that’s always kind of a nice thing.

As an actor, Michael Biehn has always seemed uniquely right for cowboy roles.  He’s a low-key actor who doesn’t feel the need to always be the center of attention and who does his job with a minimum amount of fuss.  What he does, he does well.  Much like the best cowboys, an actor like Michael Biehn often gets taken for granted.  Viewers just always assume that he’ll always be there, delivering laconic one-liners and viewing the world through weary but never defeated eyes.

Michael Biehn plays a cowboy in the 1997 film, The Ride.  His name is Smokey Banks and he’s the type of character who, if you’ve ever spent any time at a rodeo, you’ll recognize immediately.  He used to be one of the world’s greatest bull riders but now, he’s getting older.  He still walks like a cowboy but he’s definitely moving a bit slower than he used to.  He drinks too much.  He spends too much time with the buckle bunnies.  He’s like a downbeat country song come to life.

But fear not …. redemption is coming for Smokey.  And, like all good redemption arcs, it all starts with being sentenced to community service.  Smokey can either go to jail or he can go to a ranch and teach a bunch of boys how to be a cowboy.  Along the way, he befriends a terminally ill, religious young man (Brock Pierce) who wants to learn how to ride a bull and he also ends up spending some time at a tent revival.  Yes, it’s a religious film but, fortunately, it was made before the whole God’s Not Dead phenomenon so it never gets as preachy or apocalyptic as some other faith-based films.  One gets the feeling that Smokey would find Kirk Cameron to be as annoying as the rest of us do.

It’s a sweet film.  I mean, it’s not a movie that’s going to surprise you.  It’s unapologetic about being sentimental but, at the same time, it’s such a good-natured film that it’s hard to really dislike it.  Michael Biehn grounds the film with his typically low-key charm.  Biehn turns Smokey into a real person and, as much as you might try to resist, it’s hard not to get swept up in his emotional journey.  Considering that the film’s audience was probably limited to kids and church groups, Biehn easily could have gotten away with just phoning in his performance.  That’s the sign of a good actor, though.  Like the best cowboys, they’re good even when they don’t have to be.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/27/2019 – 02/02/2019, Michael Aushenker

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Michael Aushenker is nuts.

I mean that in the best possible way, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to, and incur the expense of, tracking down some of his more recent stuff after he generously forwarded me a package of his older works a little while back. The “vintage” material is uniformly awesome, as well, but since I’d like you, dear reader, to be able to experience the patented Aushenker insanity for yourself, we’ll be concentrating here on books I know damn well are fairly easy to find.

Trolls follows the — uhhmmm — exploits of deadbeat air traffic controllers Edward and Wayward, two semi-human (I think?) ne’er-do-wells (hell, ne’er-do-anythings, truth be told) who’d rather pig out and sleep than work, unless the boss is off, in which case they’d rather party than work. Kinda like you and me? Maybe — if you refuse to grow up…

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Sheridan And Bagenda Take Things To A Very “High Level,” Indeed (Advance Review)

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

When the going gets tough, the tough go — north?

Obviously the future Earth as conceived of by writer Rob Sheridan and artist Barnaby Bagenda for their new DC/Vertigo series, High Level (the first issue of which will be hitting your LCS shelves on Feb. 20th), doesn’t have any of this “Polar Vortex” bullshit going on, but that doesn’t mean it’s absent its own share of problems — what Sheridan refers to as his “post-post-apocalyptic” premise is rife with the resource shortages, social and economic stratification, and violent mercenary assholes anyone who’s seen films ranging from The Road Warrior to Exterminators Of The Year 3000 is well-familiar with, but don’t let this comic’s decidedly “old-school” sensibilities about, as The King himself would put it, “The World That’s Coming!,” fool you into believing that it doesn’t present something new. Maybe not radically new, mind you (frankly it’s too soon to tell)…

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4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films: Cradle Will Rock, Lost In Translation, The Lost City, Zombieland

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Today is the day when groundhogs across America will be asked whether or not they see their shadow and whether or not winter will be ending anytime soon.  Personally, I’m hoping for a lot more winter.  It still hasn’t snowed here in Texas and, if we don’t get any in February, we’ll probably have to wait until next December to get another opportunity!

Of course, the patron saint of Groundhog Day is Charlotte, the groundhog that was murdered by the mayor of New York a few years ago.  However, this is also a good day to give thanks for Bill Murray and his current place in the pop cultural universe.  So, in honor of Bill Murray, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films

Cradle Will Rock (1999, dir by Tim Robbins)

Lost In Translation (2003, dir by Sofia Coppola)

The Lost City (2005, dir by Andy Garcia)

Zombieland (2009, dir by Ruben Fleischer)

Music Video of the Day: Out of Control by The Chemical Brothers (1999, dir by W.I.Z.)

The revolution, as they used to say, will be televised.

Of course, those who used to say that were being rather short-sighted.  Today, we know that the revolution will be streamed, live tweeted, and it will probably trend until Beyonce knocks it off the list.  Revolution, itself, is a term that gets tossed around a lot.  Everyone tends to claim that their revolution is the one “true” revolution.  It takes a little bit of concentration to keep track of which revolution we’re supposed to support and which one we’re supposed to find horrifying.

With all that in mind, revolution has always been good for sales.  The commercialization of rebellion has been around forever.  The music video above was released in 1999 but it feels like it could have been released yesterday.  When Pepsi thought it would be a good idea to have Kendall Jenner change the world with a can of soda, did they realize they were essentially copying this music video?

Of course, that’s Rosario Dawson, playing the spokesrebel.  Rumor has it that Rosario Dawson is currently dating Sen. Cory Booker, who might be our next President.  Senator Booker got some attention for himself last year when he announced that he was having an “I am Spartacus” moment, a reminder that even sitting U.S. senators like to fancy themselves as being revolutionaries.  Being a rebel pays.