Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Andrew Wickliffe

Andrew Wickliffe has been blogging about film and comic books for almost ten years.
1. The Woman in White (1948)
I always have a hard time describing The Woman in White. It's a costume drama period piece, set in the mid-1800s, with Syndey Greenstreet terrorizing, but there's also a lot of difficult romance.
Greenstreet's always good as a terrorizing villain, but Woman in White also has a fantastic, three part damsel in distress situation (Eleanor Parker--in two roles--and Alexis Smith). The supporting cast is
strong, the main cast is sturdy enough, and the element of danger is constant. It's a surprisingly effective late forties entry from Warner.

2. The Seventh Victim (1943)
My favorite of the Val Lewton-produced RKO thrillers; it's masterful stuff from director Mark Robson with an especially strong script from DeWitt Bodeen and Charles O'Neal. Dealing with issues like urban apathy and discontent, The Seventh Victim alternates between lulling the viewer into some sense of grounding and complete confusion. It's a wonderful film, with a great performance from Kim Hunter in her debut.

3. Delusion (1991)
Businessman Jim Metzler runs into mob flunky (and moron) Kyle Secor and his seductive girlfriend (Jennifer Rubin) after ripping off his company. There's constant danger--Secor isn't just dumb, he's psychotic--director Carl Colpaert and co-writer Kurt Voss keep all the characters on edge. No one's innocent, but it's unclear how guilty anyone is either.

4. The Lookout (2007)
Scott Frank's neo-noir has a big gimmick--Joseph Gordon-Levitt's protagonist has brain damage and can't retain short term memories. He gets involved in a heist and has to work his way out of it. The film's equal parts thriller and character study, with a great performance from Gordon-Levitt and an outstanding script from Frank. Terrifying performance from Matthew Goode as the bad guy too.

5. Bound (1996)
The Wachowskis' first movie--a neo-noir with Gina Gershon as the hero and Jennifer Tilly as the dumb (or not dumb) moll she falls for. The film embraces the gender politics of the changes, using that friction to create a very slick thriller. It's a great looking film already, but the depth comes from the Wachowskis' ambitions with Gershon as the decidedly female noir protagonist.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Shirt-Tacular - SNAPPY KID

It should be no secret that I am a big big fan of pop culture mashups. My favorite kinds of mashups are of course those involving films and television shows. For this reason, I cannot stop buying t-shirts. I mean, if you think of the economy of the fandom at play here it makes complete sense. I can wear a shirt that represents my love for not one, but at least two things at once! And there's always the sort of "secret handshake" aspect of those who not only notice the shirt you happen to be wearing, but also get the movies or TV shows being referenced therein. I have this theory about people and it basically has to do with how much inside their own heads they are. It's a difficult thing to quantify, but I've always found that silly referential t-shirts can function as a kind of litmus test for how people are in their everyday life. It's really quite simple - if they notice the shirt (even if they don't know what it's referring to) then they may be not totally self-obsessed. I realize how stupid and simplistic this test sounds, but I've found more times than not that people I end up connecting with on a personal level are those who end up "passing" this test. This is not to say that if someone doesn't notice my shirt(s) then they are some narcissistic jerk, because that is CLEARLY not the case 100% of the time. Sometimes when you first meet someone, they might be distracted or be having an off day, and of course that kind of thing happens. And I should be clear that I've never outright written anyone off based on this kind of interaction, but I've always found it a fun thing to keep track of. On top of being a quick character read on folks, these shirts can also be an obvious conversation starter based on mutual admiration for the same stuff. Being that I can be rather conversationally awkward with people I don't know that well, it's always nice to start from a common place of interest. So needless to say, I am always on the lookout for new companies online that are putting out interesting shirts. Snappy Kid is one of those companies. From their "about us" page, there's this:
"We’re two Dads living in Toronto, Canada with young families all under five. And boy, they grow out of clothes fast! We thought it would be fun to produce cool and unique tees and onesies that capture how cool and unique our kids really are.
So we came up with Snappy Kid, a place where you can find a cool, nerdy, pop culture designs for cool kids. Each of our tees and onesies showcase art from top artists from around the world, from California to the UK to the Philippines. Plus, we've added sizes for grown ups and premium options. Artists keep full rights to their designs and may choose to make the piece available elsewhere."

Cool right? How could I not be drawn to a site that has come about like this. Being a father of a five year old myself, and always wanting to dress her in some clothing that refers to something "cool" in my mind, it's a perfect fit. Of course, I don't always come to a new shirt site with my kids in mind, and often I'm hooked by a certain design that makes me laugh or just revel in the cleverness. In this case, it was this GREMLINS-based shirt that got me:
"Mogwai Beach"
Personally, I'm a sucker for most things related to Joe Dante films as he's one of my favorite directors ever, but this design got me on a couple other levels. Wether it was intended or not, it also reminded me of the animation style that the great "Savage Steve" Holland used in both BETTER OFF DEAD and ONE CRAZY SUMMER. So much stuff I love in one design.
"The Big Race"
Here's another example of a shirt they had that was right in my wheelhouse. Let's break it down shall we? It's got Looney Tunes (the Roadrunner and Speedy Gonzalez), Pixar (Dash from THE INCREDIBLES), video games (Sonic the Hedgehog) and DC Comics (The Flash). How can this not make you smile. It immediately begs the question, "Who would win this race?" (to which the answer may seem obvious but is still fun to theorize about it).

"Bounty Hunting Time"
Last example. I am a dude who digs Adventure Time and Star Wars (as I'm sure a lot of people do). The thing I like about this though is that they went with Dengar as one of the Finn character. Not to geek on Star Wars too much, but I've always felt Dengar didn't get his due representation in the Star Wars films. Seems like a memorable fella. So props to the Snappy Kids folks for using him.

So those are just a slice of the unique tees they have over at Snappy Kid. They have a nice selection overall and have many of their shirts broken down into convenient geek-friendly categories like Star Wars, Doctor Who, Lego, Adventure Time and so forth:
If you're on the hunt for a new place to buy fun clothing for yourself or cool kids tees, you may want to mosey on over to Snappy Kid and give them a try! Find them here:
Social Media-wise:

Below find more cool and groovy designs from them that I also think are pretty cool:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - John D'Amico

John D'Amico is a New York City based filmmaker and theorist who
writes for and On Twitter @jodamico1.

He did a list of underrated Action/adventure  films and westerns for my previous series which you should have a peek at:

Premonitions of John Carpenter in this portrait of paranoia on a polar research station, it leans a little too heavily on the presumption of tension that's not really there, but solid dialogue and great performances by Culp and Eli Wallach sell it. Smart economical filmmaking typical of the best ‘70s TV movies, which are a good vein to mine if you’re interested in under-the-radar thrillers. Their budget-imposed unity of space and time lends itself readily to the genre.

Another movie of the week! A couple stops at a roadside diner, the husband walks into the men’s room and never comes out. It’s a solid foundation of rural paranoia (the setting is a lot like Duel) elevated by a smart script by the always reliable Richard Matheson and strong performances by Cloris Leachman and Ned Beatty. Like The Incident and A Cold Night’s Death, much of its power comes from its refusal to take its characters out of an ugly and cramped location.

H-8… (1958)
Croatian cinema’s masterpiece, a true story about a reckless driver who causes a fatal car crash between a bus and a truck one rainy night. After a breakneck prologue brings us to speed on the situation, we spend the balance of the film cutting between both vehicles eavesdropping on the lives of the passengers. The camera wrings every inch out of the cramped setting, constantly moving back and forth, side to side, popping in and out of conversations like an other passenger. Hitchcockian in its exploration of tight spaces, de Sica-esque in its study of regular people trying to survive. This one is just waiting for a Criterion or Masters of Cinema to scoop it up and bring it to a wider audience.

I'm the weirdo who prefers Enzo Castellari to Leone, and this one is as good an explanation as any. It’s an essay in tension from absurdity, with mobile bouncing cameraowrk going from fete to docks to golf course to back alley. It's got a dark heart with some tough violence but it's buoyed by a proto-Tarantino sense of quirky humor. James Whitmore is fun here, a million miles from Them! and Shawshank.

André Antoine is the forgotten poet of early cinema, this story of diamond smugglers on the canals of France marries the earthiness of poetic realism with the dark compositions and aggressive editing of the Russian school. Really impressive filmmaking, ahead of its time.

Pelham One Two Three is, with good reason, THE subway movie, but this ultragrim black and white thriller gives it a run for its money. We follow two young crooks (including a pre-Badlands Martin Sheen) as they block the doors of a subway car and pass a night by harassing, abusing, and finally assaulting the trapped passengers. Some of the beatnik posturing hasn't aged well but beneath the veneer there's a powerful and relatable relentlessness, anchored by a fine cast and strong sense of place.

In 1984, sixteen years before Memento, director James Bridges, who cut his teeth on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, had a crazy idea for a somber crime thriller which played out in reverse order. Test screenings were a DISASTER. Popcorn-era ‘80s cinema wasn’t ready to embrace something so challenging and emotionally fraught. The studio hauled it in for re-editing, hammering it into chronological order. It’s a big blow to the world of film, but lucky for us, even in this compromised form, Bridge’s Antonioni-esque travelogue of loneliness of one of the few truly great neo-noir films, brought to greatness by elegant washed-out cinematography and and absolutely stunning performances by Debra Winger and Paul Winfield. I’d give anything to see the original cut, but the version we have is still a must-see.

One of the only crime movies to match the sadness and poetic inconsequentiality of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, the underused (and Pulitzer Prize winning!) Jason Miller shines as a bum criminal in a rapidly souring deal. I'm working on a crime film now, and this is a major touchstone for me.

Haunted, bizarre film noir which gets impressive milage by merely moving its hard-boiled detective story to Mexico. It tackles head-on the post-war malaise that the rest of the genre only pokes around at. The straightman detective gets a couple local sidekicks, who elevate the film with their folksiness in a fun and uncondescending way. Beautiful black-and-white camerawork and a smart script by Ben Hecht, who also penned the classic Notorious, Strangers on a Train, and The Thing from Another World.

New York underground filmmaker Amos Poe’s best movie by a country mile (though Alphabet City is worth a look), it’s a shambolic trip through seedy 1980s New York, following a sax-playing murderer. It’s got a seediness comparable to Abel Ferrara’s New York stuff, but with a hard-to-define surrealism keeping it interesting - the killer is played interchangeably by two different actors! The best scene belongs to Susan Tyrrell, who powerfully portrays a junkie in the throes of addiction. One of a kind.

Nail-biter about a failed assassination attempt on Abe Lincoln is as tense as its premise is counter-intuitive. There’s a strong historical sense here, the powder-keg feeling of America’s most troubled era is fully realized by a surprisingly great ensemble (Ruby Dee! Adolphe Menjou!) and the typically tight direction of director Anthony Mann, best known for his noir and western work - both skills come in handy here!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence is the Music Librarian over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) and I have been a fan of his radio show there for more than 10 years now. It is truly my favorite radio program out there. Quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check it out!

Eric is also an adventurous cinephile whose tastes I respect very much. In fact, it was he who first turned me onto THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS which has slowly become one of my very favorite films.
For more cool film recommendations, check out his 'Film Discoveries' lists for 2011, 2012 & 2013 below:

Find him on Twitter at @ericjlawrence:
Murders in the Zoo (A. Edward Sutherland, 1933)
The Pre-Code Thriller. As part of Paramount’s attempt to get in on the pre-code horror boom of the early ‘30s, this short but sweet programmer is a showcase for Lionel Atwill to flex his villainy. Fresh from such films as Doctor X, The Vampire Bat & Mystery of the Wax Museum, Atwill here plays an insanely jealous wild-game hunter who uses the animals he collects for the zoo as his murder weapons. If death by lion, alligator, boa constrictor or poisonous snake weren’t grim enough, he even sews his first victim’s mouth shut! On the side of the angels is a young Randolph Scott, in one of his urbane, non-western roles. Director Sutherland show no particular skill at creating suspense – he later became better known as a comedic director, having regularly worked with W.C. Fields, although here Charlie Ruggles’ top-billed comic relief as a drunken PR man merely annoys. But the uniqueness of the setting, along with Atwill’s tormented performance and a genuine sense of the macabre; make this a worthy second-tier Golden Age thriller.
Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar) (Steve Sekely, 1948)
The Noir Thriller. Paul Henreid produced & starred in this low-budget crime drama for Eagle-Lion Films, best known for the Anthony Mann directed/John Alton shot noir classics T-Men and Raw Deal, and Alton’s distinctive camera work is on display here as well. Those who know Henreid from his romantic roles in Casablanca and Now, Voyager may be surprised at his playing a murderous criminal here, but he acquits himself just fine. So long as you can accept some pretty ludicrous plot points (Henreid’s character studied psychoanalysis in medical school before he dropped out to become a robber of casinos, and while on the run after a botched robbery he happens to run into an actual psychoanalyst WHO LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HIM?!?! (it is, in fact, a dual role for Henreid)) and multiple twists worthy of a month’s worth of episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” the viewer can easily get caught up in how Henreid just might get away with it. Joan Bennett plays (and looks) great as the woman buffeted by fate, with a nicely sardonic world-weary attitude throughout. You know the ending is bound to be a bummer for somebody (and maybe everybody) in the movie, but it certainly isn’t a bummer for the noir fan.

No Way to Treat a Lady (Jack Smight, 1968)
The Comedic Thriller. George Segal plays a henpecked NYPD cop constantly nagged by his very Jewish mother. Rod Steiger plays a Broadway impresario with a mother complex, which drives him to become a serial killer of older women who remind him of his mother. Their worlds collide over Segal’s new free-wheeling girlfriend, played by Lee Remick, who becomes targeted by the killer. This black comedy (based on a book by beloved novelist & screenwriter William Goldman) gets most of its chuckles from Steiger’s hammy disguises which he uses to ingratiate himself to his victims before he strangles the life from them, as well as Segal’s hangdog attempts at solving the crimes. The two strike up a relationship via the phone as the murderer begins to taunt the cops. There aren’t too many surprises throughout the film & the end is a little too pat, but the journey getting there is fun, watching some talented actors play it broad. Bonus points for cameo roles for TV favorites Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) & David Doyle (“Charlie’s Angels”).

The Devil Rides Out (Terrence Fisher, 1968)
The Horror Thriller. Released towards the end of Hammer’s heyday and helmed by their most reliable director, The Devil Rides Out straddles between the studio’s psychological thrillers and their flat-out horror titles. Yes, supernatural things happen, including an appearance from the Devil himself during the centerpiece black mass. But they are countered with dead-serious aplomb and an absence of hand-wringing by the heroes, including Christopher Lee in a rare good guy role. He still manages to be kind of creepy, which lends a certain welcome ambiguity to the first part of the film. If you happen to hear it, I warn you that Lee’s DVD commentary is a bit condescending, but he’s correct in his belief that a remake would be a great idea, given the current state of special effects. Still, this version maintains an intensity and frisson that marks the best thrillers.

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (aka Doppelganger) (Robert Parrish, 1969)
The Sci-Fi Thriller. Written & produced by the “Thunderbirds”/Supermarionation couple of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson as their first live-action venture, this film does feature some impressive models, not to mention a heavy-handed script, typical of their kids shows. But the presence of such robust British actors as Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark and Herbert Lom (the Pink Panther series) in a weird cameo, plus steely-eyed Roy Thinnes (of “The Invaders” fame) as the American astronaut who takes the titular journey, lend a solidity & believability to an otherwise kooky premise. Adult problems abound, from infertility & spousal abuse to espionage & government funding for space programs, and although deliberately paced, the final act certainly qualifies as thrilling, with some alarming implications in its downbeat conclusion. Overlooked in the wake of Kubrick’s visionary 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film is worth revisiting.

The Hunting Party (Don Medford, 1971)
The Western Thriller. TV veteran Don Medford out-Peckinpahs Peckinpah in this relentless revenge Western. Gene Hackman plays a sadistic rancher who plans a trip with his buddies of whoring and hunting using the latest in long-distance rifle technology. In the meantime, his oft-abused wife (played by a young Candice Bergen) is kidnapped by a desperado (Oliver Reed), who mistakes her for a school teacher (he wants to learn how to read). Thus begins a cat & mouse chase that is as full of carnage as any Death Wish film. Some familiar faces get caught up in the mayhem, including Mitchell Ryan, Simon Oakland & Peckinpah favorite L.Q. Jones. Despite some nice wide-open Western scenery, the ability for the hunters to stalk their human prey at long range makes things quite claustrophobic. Rapes, stabbings, massive bullet wounds, and a general disregard for one’s fellow man add up to one dark, sweaty, misanthropic ride.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scream Factory - MONKEY SHINES and THE DARK HALF on Blu-ray

MONKEY SHINES (1988; George A. Romero)
As a longtime horror movie fan, I find myself getting a funny feeling when I see a character going for an invigorating jog outside to the strains of life-affirming music when the credit "Special Makeup effects by Tom Savini" pops up on a screen. It feels like it could be foreshadowing some stuff and in the case of MONKEY SHINES it kind of is. I think MONKEY SHINES also reminds me of a time when I was really getting into horror movies in a more serious way and I know I stumbled across it on the VHS shelves of my local video store. There's still a nostalgia there for me as I didn't see any of the flaws in the movie back then and instead, I felt all the suspense that Romero brought to it. I'm sure this movie scread the crap out of me as a teenager. Now I see it differently, but I still have a fondness for it.
I have a great affection for movies where animals turn on people and become deadly. There's just something about the idea that humans see themselves as the dominant species and how easily that can be undercut (at least in terms of this  "genre" of movies) has always fascinated me. Maybe I'm just a bigger fan of animals than of people, who knows. MONKEY SHINES is an interesting entry because it deals with a rather helpless main character (a paraplegic) and that creates this incredible tension in terms of the vulnerability that is inherent to that situation. It's especially interesting in light of recent "monkey" films like RISE and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. MONKEY SHINES is obviously on a much smaller scale and is a more emotional love story at its core which is a very fine line to walk and pull off. I can't say it all works for me, but the last 15 minutes or so has some wonderfully tense stuff that Romero does a nice job with. Romero has mentioned Hitchcock on many occasions as an inspirational figure for him as a filmmaker. I really think he has  a solid knack for putting together a lot of nice suspenseful sequences and I give him a lot of credit for that. Also, there are two good villain roles in here for Stanley Tucci and Stephen Root and they are both neat to see in earlier roles nowadays. Overall though, I think MONKEY SHINES is a fun ride and one of the more unjustly overlooked films in Romero's career. 
Special Features:
-An audio commentary from Director George A. Romero.
-"An Experiment in Fear: The Making of MONKEY SHINES" (49 mins) - well-done look back at the production via interviews with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Peter Grunwald (executive producer), actress Kate McNeil, actor Jason Beghe, actor John Pankow, Greg Nicotero and Everett Burrell (special makeup effects). Romero talks about leaving his partner/company he had made his previous films with and going out on his own and how he was suggested for MONKEY SHINES. They touch on the development process, casting, the special effects, the problematic nature of working with monkeys (& how instrumental the effects team was in filling in the gaps for the things that the monkeys themselves wouldn't do), and the issues that the movie had overall with its reception and Orion's poor approach to the film's marketing.
-The Alternate ending to the movie (5 mins) - which is highlighted by a killer psychotic grin from Stephen Root.
-Deleted scenes (4 mins)
-Behind the Scenes footage (1 min) - a quick assembly of on-set video footage from various scenes.

THE DARK HALF (1993; George A. Romero)
George Romero and Stephen King came together previously just over a decade prior to this with the horror anthology classic CREEPSHOW. This time it was Romero who did the screenplay, basing it on King's book. The result is not as successful as CREEPSHOW, but it is nonetheless interesting. He had also written the script for CREEPSHOW 2 which featured adaptations of King's work as well.
I have a soft spot for artists commenting on their art via the medium they work best. Movies about making movies for example are almost always fun for me. The same can be said for authors writing about writers. I enjoy that. My favorite part of THE DARK HALF comes near the beginning when Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is giving a college lecture about the duality that he believes all humans have. He basically says that we all have this side of ourselves that we show to the world and then there's the inner more passionate, uninhibited part of us that has to be set free in order to achieve  genuine and authentic writing from yourself. I've heard other writers echo that same sentiment and I think there's a lot of truth to it. The whole idea of a writer (or a filmmaker) trying to create    either a more personal versus a more commercial book or film is a struggle that I am quite sure many many artists deal with all the time. George Romero is traditionally a very independently-spirited and minded director and so it must have been a dicey thing to take on a large scale, tricky effects-heavy proposition like THE DARK HALF. CREEPSHOW's budget was $8 million (in 1982), whereas THE DARK HALF cost about $15 million (in 1993). Both those budgets seem like nothing in the current climate of Hollywood tentpoles regularly running up tabs of $150 million plus, but if you consider that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD topped out at $114,000 it's easy to imagine things being a little more high pressure at THE DARK HALF price point.
As I said, while the film isn't entirely successful in its endeavors, it is still an interesting take on what is basically an "evil twin" kind of film. The supporting cast is solid and included the likes of Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Royal Dano and others. It is certainly a hugely ambitious effort on the part of Romero, who is a guy I always root for. And he goes to some pretty dark places (pun not intended) for a big release like this and hats off to him for that as well.  

Special Features:
-An audio commentary from Director George A. Romero. Romero speaks to his experiences with Orion and the troubles that the production had as well as his thoughts on Stephen King and how the special effects in the movie were done. Romero is a thoughtful, intelligent director and gives a lively and jovial commentary track. 
 -"The Sparrows Are Flying Again" - a 36-minute making-of retrospective doc In which Romero discusses the things that drew him to the material (the Jekyll & Hyde side of things and so forth). Also touched upon interestingly is the friction that Timothy Hutton brought to the set with his method approach to his character(s). This is mentioned not only by Romero, but also some of the FX people and even co-star Michael Rooker. Also discussed are the motion control and bird effects which were pretty complex especially for the time. It's really a fascinating story of Romero and all the difficulties he had finding his way through on this production which was the biggest he had taken on at that point.
-Deleted Scenes (8 mins)
-Behind the Scenes Footage: Special Effects (16 mins)
-Behind the Scenes Footage: On the Set (9 mins)
-Storyboards for the Original Ending (2 mins)
-Original Electronic Press Kit (7 mins)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag - THE LUSTY MEN and CORKY

THE LUSTY MEN (1952; Nicholas Ray)
With THE LUSTY MEN, Warner Archive has put out a nice compliment to their OUT OF THE PAST Blu-ray. This tale of another "Jeff" also stars the majestic Mr. Mitchum. In this yarn, Mitchum plays a rodeo rider on his way down who ends up getting involved with a young married couple (Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward). Jeff Mccloud (Mitchum) stirs up the adventurous side of Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy) and inspires him to start rodeo-ing to earn some extra cash. What follows is something of a gritty, heart-wrenching tale of a man grappling with success and the impact it is having on his marriage. It's a tough, mirthless film but it has an authenticity to it that is quite impactful.
Watching shot compositions in a Nicholas Ray movie always gets me thinking. Things are probably more intentional than not. A simple shot of Mitchum's character on the other side of a fence from a married couple could easily be a thing that's deliberately and poetically separating the two. "Poetic" is a word I associate with Nicholas Ray in general. He's one of those filmmakers you can tie in with folks like John Ford, but there's an even deeper sense of melancholy that Ray brings to his films that I really really appreciate. Ford has a tendency to push things into a schmaltzier territory sometimes and I like that Ray does not go there. Mitchum is a wonderful fit for Ray and I wish they'd worked more together. I highly recommend his film THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and to watch it in close proximity to THE LUSTY MEN is really a good way to go. 

CORKY (1972; Leonard Horn)
The opening song to  CORKY ("Boy, Would I Be Lookin Good" by Larry Murray") strikes an immediate tone and kinship with me for films like ONE ON ONE, HAROLD AND MAUDE and perhaps THE LAST AMERICAN HERO. There are actually a bunch more films from the 1970s that started off with a song of this nature and I must admit that I am a sucker for it. I miss the gentle sound of a good Paul Williams opening credits tune quite a bit these days and though some might find such things to be cheesy, I find them to cause a near-instant emotional connection for me. Corky Curtiss (as played by Robert Blake) is a different kind of character than those in the films I mentioned though. He shows his stripes within the first scene of the film when he chooses racing over family in a small, but significant way. He's a mechanic by trade, but a race driver through and through. Though you can still occasionally see a film carried by a basically irredeemable lead character, the 1970s was a unique time for this sort of narrative. Certain actors were allowed to flourish and place the weight of a movie squarely on the shoulders of their own charisma. Robert Blake is certainly a compelling actor with charisma and a mischievous spirit that was very much his own. Corky Curtis would be a much less likable character if not for the vibrance, energy and passion that Blake infuses him with. That said, CORKY can be a bit of a tough watch at times. It's a great showcase for Robert Blake though to be sure and that goes a surprisingly long way. This movie has been unavailable on DVD so far so it's always nice to see a rare film finally out there for folks to check it out. The movie has a nice supporting cast including an adorable Charlotte Rampling (never cuter than she is here), Ben Johnson and real-life driver Richard Petty.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Twilight Time - BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and UNDER FIRE on Blu-ray

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965; Otto Preminger)
BUNNY LAKE is an example of one of those "is it real or a dream?" movies. Early on in the commentary accompanying this disc, screenwriter Lem Dobbs mentions Kafka and Orson Welles' film THE TRIAL as points of comparison and that's an apt way to go. Though BUNNY LAKE's narrative is much more grounded in reality, it is still nonetheless disorienting in parts. What Otto Preminger has created here (in what I consider to be one of his best films) is a haunting mystery fable of sorts. We are introduced to two characters (played by Keir Dullea and Carol Lynley) and it is not immediately clear what their relationship is. What is clear is that Lynley's character discovers that her daughter Bunny has disappeared from her school. Through a variety of circumstance, we start to question if Bunny really exists or not. This premise was recycled later in FLIGHT PLAN with Jodie Foster in 2005. It's a great dramatic premise, so it's easy to see why. As a parent myself, it's hard to shake the feeling that there's the ever so slightest chance that my little girl could be snapped up and whisked off if I take my eyes off of her for more than a minute. That thought alone is so relentlessly panic-inducing that it aligns nicely with movie storytelling as its something many parents can relate to. How horrible would it be to lose your child and to have no idea where they are? That is pure terror incarnate. So with BUNNY LAKE, we have that anxiety combined with a slow burn mystery that begins to evolve when an older police Inspector (Laurence Olivier) gets involved and begins his investigation. I don't want to talk much further about the plot as it's a movie that I went into fairly cold my first time and I recommend that any new seekers do the same. There are a few other notable things about this film I'd like to mention though. First, it has a disturbingly creep title sequence by the great Saul Bass which features a silhouetted hand ripping strips of what appears to be child's construction paper off of parts of the screen to reveal each group of credits. As is the case with most Saul Bass title sequences, this one is quite inspired. Secondly, BUNNY LAKE features the popular 60s band The Zombies in a silly but enjoyable spotlight role (they are playing on TV in a bar at one point). Now many folks may be familiar with their hit song "Time of the Season" (as I was), but when I heard them play "Just Out of Reach" in the movie, it grabbed me in a big way. I sought out more of their music and they've since become one of my favorite groups ever. The connection I made to The Zombies because of this movie in combination with it being a fun psychological mystery makes it a personal favorite. This disc looks great (transfer-wise) and was one of my most anticipated Blu-rays of 2014. 

Special Features:
-This disc features an outstanding commentary with Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. I'm already a huge fan of Kirgo and Redman's dynamic and when you throw Dobbs into that mix, it's an absolutely perfect fit. Dobbs is an interesting combination of devoted cinephile and academic-sounding in his contribution to this great track. There are many wonderful stylistic  and thematic observations by all involved as well as lots of cinematically historical asides. It's like sitting in on a singularly focused dinner conversation all about Otto Preminger and BUNNY LAKE. It's a conversation you'd love to participate in. I think that is what makes these Twilight Time commentaries so neat. They are at once personal, intimate, relaxed, intelligent and entertaining. I enjoyed this one a lot. A perfect addition. 

Bonus: An interview with Otto Preminger circa 1973 on a program called DAY AT NIGHT:

UNDER FIRE (1983; Roger Spottiswoode)
"I don't take sides, I take pictures."
When I worked at my old video store in L.A. I was of course a little starstruck when some directors would come in. Quentin Tarantino was one that blew my mind a little, but I was aware he'd been a customer long before I ever actually saw him in the store. We kept records of each customers' purchases and as stalker-y as it might sound, I had to see what kind of stuff he'd bought in the last. There's was a ton of stuff listed and a few of the titles totally made sense as I'd seen him talk about them in print years earlier . Then there were the offbeat gems I never would have expected. UNDER FIRE was one of them. Maybe he bought it on a whim, but regardless his purchase was the impetus for me checking the movie out. Not that I wouldn't nevessarily have gotten around to it someday - the cast is quite outstanding. You'd have me at Nick Nolte and Gene Hackmsn alone but when you add in Joanna Cassidy, Ed Harris and Richard Masur and I am 100% sold. The film mightn't be any good, but I'd give it a look anyway. Thankfully UNDER FIRE is good actually. Quite good. The script was notably co-written by the oft more sports oriented Ron Shelton and I must admit that it impressed me. And Nick Nolte almost always impresses me. He's one if those actors that really carries with him the impression of a life lived. Like a real-deal kind of life, full of adventurous choices and probably many mistakes. I don't feel like there are too many actors like him anymore. Maybe folks who live lives like he does don't go into acting as much as they used to (and I couldn't blame them). Regardless, he has character in spades and he foists it upon any movie that will have him one gravelly-voiced line at a time. Nolte is a true torch-carrier for the Robert Mitchum persona and he ocassionally reminds of the man himself. In UNDER FIRE, there are many moments where Nolte is smoking a cigarette and I couldn't help but think of OUT OF THE PAST.

Moreso than a lot of war films I've seen, UNDER FIRE really seems to give a solid approximation of what it might be like to be in the midst of a real military (and guerrilla) conflict. The movie's main characters (especially Nolte's) have a crazy habit of putting themselves "in the sh*t" so to speak and the feeling of chaos that comes with those situations. It's that chaos that feels like a real war to me. 

Special Features:
Twilight Time hits it out of the park again on this one and I'm afraid the disc might be overlooked on the average "best discs of 2014" list (I also feel like less folks are reading those lists nowadays). So they've included not one, but two commentary tracks on this release and that's pretty great. 
-the first commentary track is with director Roger Spottiswoode, assistant editor Paul Seydor, photo-journalist Matthew Naythons and Nick Redman. This is a terrific track. A fascinating discussion of the process behind the making of the film and events that inspired elements of the story. Having director Spottiswoode involved only makes it better.
-the second track features music mixer-producer Bruce Botnick, music editor Kenny Hall, film historians Jeff Bond, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. This commentary is primarily focused on Jerry Goldsmith, his score for this film and his creative process in general. Cool track for Goldsmith fans.

-also "Joanna Cassidy Remembers UNDER FIRE" which is a short 3-minute retrospective interview with the actress.
-an isolated track for Jerry Goldsmith's score is another added supplement.

This is a really solid release from Twilight Time and an underrated film worth discovering. This disc goes very well with TT's Blu-ray of SALVADOR from earlier this year. Watch them both together.

Both BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and UNDER FIRE can be found for sale at Screen Archives:
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