Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson directed a wonderful documentary all about VHS called REWIND THIS! and it is available digitally with extras here(including the soundtrack which is awesome): It is also now available on DVD and VHS here: 
Follow Josh's exploits on twitter here:  


BIG GUNS aka NO WAY OUT (1973)
Alain Delon once again plays the role of the coolest man to ever walk the earth in this icy descent into revenge. The film plays out like a series of murder set-pieces, almost the action equivalent of a slasher. Highly stylized, sleazy to the max, and pumped full of the kind of weird masculine energy that seemed to permeate the 70's.

Speaking of masculine energy, this movie might hold the record for sweaty, grizzled manliness onscreen. Rod Taylor (!) and Jim Brown (!!) lead a pack of mercenaries (!!!) across the Congo to collect a huge score of diamonds (!!!!). The journey is dangerous, the heat beats down, tensions mount, and the mission spirals out of control. Featuring a supporting cast of people you don't want to get punched by.

THE BLADE (1995)
Tsui Hark had achieved a lot of success both as a producer and director by 1995, but he would throw away the characteristics that had defined his earlier work in this loose reworking of THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMEN. The atmosphere is thick, the environments are muddy and dank. Gone is the elegance and heroism of his ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series, replaced here with extreme close-ups and frantic editing. The action on display feels like the work of a master who is bored with convention, and eager to experiment with the form. The results are exciting and unforgettable.

We've all seen movies about returning Vietnam vets who struggle to reintegrate into society. What makes this PTSD actioner so interesting is the refusal to portray any of the characters as being of strong moral fiber. The supposed heroes are racists, and their military service seen as ignoble. It's an action film for the post-Vietnam era, and its message is unclear. If I had to guess what it was trying to communicate, I'd say the following: If life gives you lemons, respond with violent retribution.

While it takes place in a sci-fi setting, this is an action movie to the core. Heavy firepower is utilized throughout, and Rutger Hauer is the ideal actor to anchor this explosive take on the "cop out to avenge his partner" movie. In this case, the criminal responsible for taking the life of Hauer's partner just happens to be a freakish monster who is eating peoples hearts. Set in a futuristic London with style to burn, the pleasures of this gem come fast and furious. It didn't catch on at the time of it's release, but the home video market has allowed it to pick up steam over the years. A surefire crowd-pleaser for those with a love for early 90's VHS action.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Davey Collins

Davey Collins had the same misspent childhood that many of you did: Watching strange movies via late-night/Saturday afternoon television programming or VHS.  As he crawled into and back out of adolescence, he realized movies were the most important thing in his life and had taught him most of what he knew.  He ditched class and went to the library to read books about film noir and westerns.  He discovered some of his favorite filmmakers weren’t always the ones widely appreciated (“Where’s the Reginald Le Borg chapter?”).  His first appreciation of literature came about by tracking down and reading the source material for his favorite films.  He currently works in the hospitality racket and catches himself shining his ass from time to time by making allusions to old movies while mired in meetings.  Lately, he’s been getting together material for a print film zine entitled “Strange Illusions” which focuses primarily on budget-starved cinema of the 1930’s-1970’s.  He’s on Twitter @Davey_Wade.

Selecting five underrated Action/Adventure films proved to be especially difficult for me this past week.  While re-watching titles under consideration, I realized that many of them just didn’t work well enough for me anymore to champion them.  Like many other contributors so far (and there have been some exciting lists!!!), I cut my teeth on 80’s and early 90’s steroid-fueled action films.  When I was ten years old I saddled my bike and rode through the neighborhood, literally knocking door-to-door asking strangers if they had any Arnold movies.  The outside chance was that I’d be seeing Raw Deal that night. Though my tastes have changed, I still appreciate those batty entertainments.  But others have covered that ground much more thoroughly than I could.  For the purposes of this list, I left out serials (otherwise, you’d soon be reading about Daredevils of the Red Circle) as they are a different animal…and I really really tried to leave out kung-fu in hopes of possibly spurring on a future underrated film series.  The perfect Action/Adventure film resembles one of those men’s adventure magazine short stories. Very few films have gone there. Someone has already listed Dark of the Sun.  Maybe that comes the closest.

I feel really honored to be asked to contribute to Brian’s blog as I find him (and Rupert Pupkin Speaks) to be the most enthusiastic outlet there is for cinema.  The industry should award the guy; I know I’m not alone in thinking that.

We Were Strangers (1949)
In 1933 Cuba, John Garfield is soaked in his sweat, his white t-shirt filthy with cemetery soil and remnants of the decaying dead.  He sits down for a moment to rest.  To his equally tousled co-conspirators he is speaking of a philosophy that justifies their actions.  He is planning a heinous terrorist attack that will leave dozens of innocent people dead and scattered.  It’s not a heel-turn for Garfield; he’s the good guy.  As for you, the audience, you’re wound in conflict as you wish him success in it.  This is a John Huston film.  I don’t think that it’s hyperbole to call it one of his best.

This year at Noir City Austin I enjoyed a brief conversation in the Alamo Ritz lobby with film noir commandant Eddie Muller.  He was about to run The Breaking Point, that wonderful second interpretation of “To Have and Have Not” that lately seems to be gaining once elusive recognition.  But there’s another picture Garfield made in the same period that hasn’t attracted what I would deem its fair share of attention. 

After bringing up We Were Strangers to Mr. Muller, I paused, and very much like the innocent child in the “Daddy, what’s Vietnam” TV spot for Time-Life Books, I asked him “…Why don’t people ever talk about it?”  He replied “Because no one’s seen it!”

His answer shocked me.  That it’s a John Huston picture mandates it a look from the auteurists at least. Perhaps the more influential completists saw it at the end of a marathon Huston-session and passed out over the credit sequence:  Agee scarcely mentions it in his famous Huston-worship; Andrew Stevens ignores it altogether in his Huston-thrashing.

Be it that anti-Huston wave that seems to come and go, or long-time scarcity (somewhat remedied by a 2005 DVD release), regardless of the reason for its relative obscurity, the picture demands to be seen.  When one considers the American political climate under which it was produced, it becomes a rather bold work. Huston here is balling his fists at Batista; giving him the glare that fighters exchange prior to a bout.

We Were Strangers makes for difficult classification.  I first ran across it in an appendix labeled “Miscellaneous Dramas and Oddities” in Spencer Selby’s “Dark City:  The Film Noir.” It does have some noir sensibilities, but it doesn’t quite wedge its way into that movement.  The video store I own and operate in Shangri-La will file this under Action/Adventure.  It has violent machine-gun battles, and one of the most grueling tunnel-digging sequences in history (who reading is not up for tunnel-burrowing sequences?) wherein our protagonists must cut through the poor section of a cemetery to reach their mark, digging through putrid decomposing remains.

I’m not much for the recounting of a movie’s plot as I feel any artful way to do so would get at undermining a viewing.  The individual sequences here illustrate a clear enough picture anyway.  The anger being expressed is laid out fairly quickly as a subversive student is gunned down on university steps by the face of the corrupt regime:  Pedro Armendáriz’ murderous enforcer.  In cinema, introducing the opposition to a villain, the heroes, is as standard as turning on the camera.  But here the small assembly of rebels don’t plan revenge on one wicked man.  “Twenty, thirty, maybe a hundred” innocent people face violent death alongside the hierarchy of the regime.  The moral dilemma of such is dealt to us in stark dialogue.  This is the underlying dramatic motor even when it is agreed upon by the principals as dismally justified.

The work displayed by John Garfield comes as if effortless.  He pulls off the type of cool that doesn’t need a signature cigarette-drag or some iconic wardrobe element.  Seeing him during a recent re-watch, I found myself really grieving that his death would come only a few years later. What a total and devastating loss for our culture.  The entertaining performance of Gilbert Roland (whom by the way I loved in Last of the Fast Guns…thanks to Blake Lucas for the recommend), while rooted in the classic Hollywood tradition, manages to ring true to the spirit of his character among the more subtle ensemble of rebels surrounding him.

I’m not forgetting about Jennifer Jones.  She’s an actress I’ve frankly underappreciated until recently.  Her Duel in the Sun role is not all histrionics--it’s thrilling movie-acting. In We Were Strangers she exhibits a restrained interpretation of a tough, haunted woman who seamlessly becomes a revolutionary.  She’s weary and naturally beautiful, never looking like a starlet stepping from the makeup trailer.  She and Huston don’t make that mistake (which is still being committed today).

Jennifer Jones, machine-gun stock buried in her shoulder.  Gritting her bared teeth, one eye squints in determination as she empties a clip at the policia.

The Savage Five (1974)
I never considered Werner Herzog’s comment about Jean-Luc Godard to be so much an insult to the new wave icon as it was an appreciation of the much maligned kung-fu cinema of the 1970’s.  Actually he more-or-less confirms this himself on the same page that quote is derived from (the book “Herzog on Herzog”).  Kung-fu movies operate in the same dimension as the musical and the porn film.  And as in both, when the film can bring more than furious fight-choreography, hot sex, or imaginative song and dance…it can 
be transcendent.  I want to use the word “Art.”  You can try to convince me not to.

Chang Cheh doesn’t require introduction from me.  He deserves the accolades he gets.  You may have read comparisons to Siegel or Peckinpah, and one wouldn’t have to stretch too far to agree (for my money, the climax of Cheh’s The Boxer from Shantung is the most impressive ode to human fury in the history of cinema…surpassing The Wild Bunch’s iconic shootout).  One difference is that Chang Cheh was a machine; a prolific craftsman with enough directorial credits to fill a mile’s length of Buddhist scroll.  The downside is that if you get on a Chang Cheh kick, his themes are going to get repetitive fast.  That’s why it’s important that we don’t miss any of his key works.  One that shouldn’t be overlooked is 1974’s The Savage Five.

I feel comfortable listing this in an Action/Adventure list because while it is definitely a kung-fu movie, it isn’t ABOUT kung-fu.  It’s pretty early-in-the-game in its classic action film scenario:  A town is taken over by a ruthless gang of criminals leaving it to a group of men from different walks to join forces in effort to drive them out. Sure, kung-fu is used but so is the weaponry of various trades (wood-chopping axes for instance).  All of Cheh’s themes are present (brotherhood chiefly among them), but characterization is what earns this a standout notice. 

The titular Savage Five (Ti Lung, David Chiang, Chen Kuan-Tai, Li Hsiu-Hsien, Wang Chung) are richly drawn by Cheh and longtime (and unheralded) collaborator I Kuang. Admittedly this is a genre populated by vengeful cardboard champions, but what we’re given in The Savage Five are real emotions and stories. When our heroes do overcome their faults and adversities to face unfavorable odds, we feel what we do in the best action films:  Involved, completely out-of-body.  There are some interesting fights and creative bits of gory violence throughout, sure….and it’s all entertaining, but these characters stuck to my ribs. I thought about them for days after watching.  It also doesn’t hurt that Chen Kuan-Tai is my all-time movie hero.

It’s Chang Cheh…so people are going to die standing up.  That’s the way for me.

Ladies Crave Excitement (1935)
Nat Levine’s Mascot Pictures, best known for their serials and low-budget westerns, is a pretty interesting little story.  I’ve never found their output to be bottom-of-the-barrel; they employed a stable of competent talent and their serials are up there with the best of the Thirties (dig Tom Mix in Miracle Rider).  I’m always up for a Mascot Picture.

Ladies Crave Excitement is a real gem.  What a great premise it has: The badass of the piece is a newsreel cameraman who puts himself in danger’s grip for his work:  Giant demolitions, cities crumbling over Earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.  It has a great title sequence, snappy editing (courtesy of Joseph H. Lewis), and the full-effort of a game cast led by future Orson Welles collaborator Norman Foster.  It all plays out in episodic beats as if a shrunken serial.

You know those boring under-cranked car chases in serials?  Not here.  For once the cars actually look like they are opened up on back roads.  Some clever camera work and editing (again, Joseph H. Lewis) creates a real sense of movement and speed. The whole movie races this way: Forward and fast.  Composition is slightly offbeat, never letting the brain quite settle in.

Plus, Norman Foster really knows how to move; he puts all he’s got into putting on a jacket (I need to seek out more of his stuff).  The whole film knows how to move.  Highly recommended to any fan of crackerjack 30’s Hollywood.

The Gun Runners (1958)
There are already two classic adaptations of “To Have and Have Not” to pick from.  Go ahead and watch them as a double-featch. Admit that however unfaithful to Hemingway, the Hawks film is flawless entertainment and unpretentious movie art.  We’ll all agree when you come out of The Breaking Point unable to cork your excitement.  Both justify your love of old movies, the love that earns you the skepticism of your date as she/he browses the shelves housing your disc collection.

So why go to bat for this low-budget and unnecessary third interpretation? Siegel didn’t (“Who do I have to fuck to get off this picture?”).  Siegel’s chapter on the film in his autobiography details his constant revolting against the very idea.  His tune changes a tad when he learns Eddie Albert is cast to play the scumbag. 

I like Audie Murphy as a screen presence, but cannot explain why. Maybe it’s because he can’t act, but he also can’t lie (that quality goes over better in his westerns).  But this is Eddie Albert’s movie anyway (he was on a real roll at this time having come off of Aldrich’s Attack and Huston’s The Roots of Heaven). Eddie Albert is on screen and Siegel is just letting him rip.  He does the hell out of everything.  He wears the hell out of his clothes.  He says the hell out of his lines.  You know his character from crime and adventure paperbacks:  He’s the guy with stiff wavy blonde hair lounging against the wall with a cocktail while the femme fatale shoves some poor guy off the balcony or he’s in the jungle blazing a depraved grin while manhandling a sexy native.  There’s a dialog scene with him and Murphy where he can’t be bothered to stop working his abs with V-crunches on a bed.  Audie doesn’t have a chance.  Lloyd Bridges in Try and Get Me is the only guy who ever got more out this type of thing. 

On display is that appealing Siegel style.  Deceptively straight-forward if you fail to realize how difficult it is to make interesting pictures time and time again.  Oh, Jack Elam is here again and he’s panicking.

Ten Seconds to Hell (1959)
Really, I don’t need to state any opinions to sell you on this.  So I don’t think that I will.  I’ll just list some facts here.  This is a Hammer/UFA co-production directed by Robert Aldrich.  It stars Jack Palance, Jeff Chandler, and Alrdrich regular Wesley Addy.  They play members of a German bomb disposal unit charged with diffusing unexploded bombs buried within infrastructure of war-torn Berlin.

They are very aware that some or all of them will be blown to hell.  They deal with that reality in cavalier fashion, betting among themselves who will outlive whom.  They even agree to pool half of their pay to be divvied up among the survivors…if any.  Palance broods.  Aldrich keeps that face in close-up whenever there’s the chance.

If you’re not sold, what else can I say?  You’ve seen an Aldrich picture before.  You know his attitudes.  He’s the guy I hire to do that perfect men’s adventure story.  And it would star Jack Palance as a mercenary trekking some jungle hell.  He’d brood and men would die all around.  Then, just as things were looking up, he’d contract some rare fever and come unhinged, screaming his last words as his best friend Ralph Meeker is forced to bury a bayonet in his ribs.

Monday, August 18, 2014


So I came of age in the era of Dungeons and Dragons and being that the game's publisher TSR was headquartered in Lake Geneva Wisconsin, I think it that made it a bigger deal as that was my home state. So Dungeons and Dragons was first created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson around 1974 but it didn't seem to really boom into the popular zeitgeist until almost a decade later. 1983 saw the start of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS cartoon show which I remember loving as a kid. I think a lot of kids that were my age around that time also fondly recall that show. What many of them (myself included) don't recall is that there was a live-action fantasy show that debuted early on in the same year. It's a little trickier to draw the line from DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS the game to WIZARDS AND WARRIORS, but it seems obvious to me that the game and its popularity influenced the show. CBS aired WIZARDS AND WARRIORS as a mid-season replacement in early 1983. CBS had dabbled in D&D related content the year prior when they produced and air the movie MAZES AND MONSTERS (starring a young Tom Hanks). That film centered around a group of friends playing a role playing game very much modeled after D&D. So that movie airs in December of 1982, then comes WIZARDS AND WARRIORS in February of 1983 followed later in the year (September) by the D&D cartoon (also on CBS). I think it's safe to say somebody at CBS was a fan of the game for sure.
WIZARDS AND WARRIORS sadly only lasted 8 episodes and was cancelled due to less than stellar ratings. The cast was headed up by Jeff Conaway (most remembered as "Kenickie" from GREASE)  who was coming off a great TV success after having been a regular on the smash hit show TAXI. The other player in WIZARDS AND WARRIORS people may recognize is Julia Duffy, who rose to memorable prominence as "Stephanie" on the TV show NEWHART, right after WIZARDS got the boot. Fans of classic 80s cinema may also recognize Duncan Regehr as Count Dracula from THE MONSTER SQUAD (he is "Prince Dirk Blackpool" in WIZARDS). I'm pretty sure that Fred Dekker must have seen Regehr's arch villain scenery chewing in this show prior to casting his film. The WIZARDS cast also includes Walter Olkewicz who plays the somewhat rotund but quite funny sidekick to Jeff Conaway's character (they play off of each other quite well). You'd be hard pressed to not recognized Olkewicz if you were any kind of regular TV watcher in the 1980s. You may also know him from a small role in TWIN PEAKS (which recurred in FIRE WALK WITH ME).
 The show's creator was Don Reo who has a long and varied history with television. He is primarily a writer/producer and has worked on things like ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN, SANFORD AND SON, RHODA and most recently TWO AND A HALF MEN. Another TV connection the show had was in that most of the episodes were directed by actor Bill Bixby. Lastly, I found it notable that the first episode of the show was written by Bill Richmond, who teamed with Jerry Lewis on some of his most fantastic movies (THE LADIES MAN, THE ERRAND BOY, THE PATSY and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR). So it's a sad thing that despite all that cache, this show never took off, but it has certainly been remembered fondly by fans for many many years and has never been available on home video to this point so it's a pretty neat thing that it's finally come out. 
In poking around online I found some memorable things relating to the show. The first is an old CBS Promo for the show (as part of their Saturday night lineup):

And here is (a less than amazing quality version of) the intro for the show. The theme music can certainly be classified as "rousing" and "adventurous":

Lastly is a 3-minute clip of the show that Warner Archive has selected to give you a sense of it:
I have to say that, as a nerd for this kind of fantasy story stuff, I was fascinated and tickled to see WIZARDS AND WARRIORS for the first time. It's a show with a great sense of humor about it and I really appreciated that. It kind of felt like a combination of KRULL and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD by way of a sitcom (or like ICE PIRATES in a fantasy world context). I'm really quite excited it can finally find an audience 30 plus years later.

I don't know about you, but I am kind of a big fan of all things WESTWORLD related. If you haven't seen that movie, you really must check it out ASAP (WBHV ha s put out a lovely Blu-ray). It's all about a quasi-futuristic setting wherein folks take a hovercraft out to the middle of the desert to go to this amazing adult amusement park/resort which was split into three "worlds". There Medieval World (which was set up to look like medieval Europe), Roman World (like old-world Rome) and West World (like the American old west). All of these worlds were populated by (then) sophisticated android robots who the guests could interact with. They could talk to them, kill them or have sex with them. Pretty debaucherous place right? Well Richard Benjamin, James Brolin and Dick Van Patten (stars of the 1974 film version) thought so. Debaucherous and fun until things go terribly wrong. The androids start flipping out and it doesn't end well. Sound familiar? Writer and director Michael Crichton would do a similar little story of an amusement park gone awry with dinosaurs some years later. AIP snapped up the rights to WESTWORLD followed it up with a less-than-awesome "sequel" called FUTUREWORLD in 1976. Well this TV show, ignores that sequel and picks up right where WESTWORLD left off. It focuses on the goings on at the amusement park's parent company called Delos. The story features a  malevolent scientist type who wants to use robots for world domination. A little silly, but kind of a fun soap opera in a WESTWORLD context so I enjoyed it. I don't imagine Crichton was a big fan, but then again his filmmaking output was somewhat questionable at times. One big plus for the show is that Connie Sellecca is one of the stars and she is just cute as all hell.

Here's a fun promo that CBS did for the premiere of BEYOND WESTWORLD:

BEYOND WESTWORLD only lasted five episodes starting in March of 1980. Apparently, it was one of the shortest-lived genre shows in the history of network television. Regardless of the quality (or lack thereof) of BEYOND WESTWORLD,  WESTWORLD still rules and there's even been talk of HBO producing their own show based on the property.

Both WIZARDS AND WARRIORS and BEYOND WESTWORLD are available via Warner Archive:

Saturday, August 16, 2014


THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978; Steve Rash)
Gary Busey has been reduced to a joke nowadays and it is rather unfortunate. He's become a garish, cartoon of his former self and it's truly a shame because he was a remarkable talent at one point. What's even sadder is that I don't feel like he was given enough opportunities, even in his prime, to showcase his abilities. I remember seeing him in STRAIGHT TIME and being floored by his small but excellent dramatic performance. Being used to later era Busey, I was unaware I had it in him. Later on, I saw BIG WEDNESDAY and though it wasn't as dramatic and Busey was allowed to play a bit more of a wildman, I started to get a sense of the actor he used to be. In the midst of poking around online to research Busey's career, I came across this 2003 interview with him wherein he discusses being cast in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and what a big deal it was:
One amazing and noteworthy detail about THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY is that Busey and his band mates sang themselves and played their own instruments during the filming of the movie. That's basically unheard of especially today, but it only enhances the vibe and energy of the movie. Both the opening and closing scenes of the film feature extended musical performance sequences by Busey and crew and that is not only a wonderful choice stylistically, but also brings the vivacity of the whole thing to another level altogether. It is really a beautiful sight to behold. This was one of the earliest examples of this process of actors playing and being recorded during the scenes that occurred in movies (at least according to director Steve Rash). Once you've seen THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, you will not dispute that the live-on camera performance aspect of it was an inspired choice and one that makes the movie unforgettable. It also adds to the overall "real" feel of the scenes and the characters. That authenticity is quite lovely and affecting. It really pulls you into the story in a way that many other musical biopics do not.
Steve Rash (CAN'T BUY ME LOVE) is another big part of the reason this movie is as good as it is. He opens the film with a steadicam shot that should look somewhat familiar to fans of P.T. Anderson. I say this mostly be issue it reminds me a lot of Anderson's opening shot to BOOGIE NIGHTS. Both that film and THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY start with a high angle shot of of the outside of a venue and then drop down and track to the front door and go inside. Rash brings in another cool steadicam shot about half way through the film when Buddy and his band are about to take the stage at the Apollo Theater. Both are pretty neat looking shots and this movie doesn't get much credit for its early use of the technology. John Carpenter gets mentioned a lot in terms of that with HALLOWEEN and I have to admit I myself had forgotten about the camerawork in BUDDY HOLLY STORY too. Interestingly, both films were made on very low budgets (BUDDY HOLLY only had around $1 million to get it all done).
So as I said, the movie opens with that shot that tracks into the roller rink where Buddy and his band are playing a remote radio gig. The music Buddy is playing in that roller rink is not well liked by the older folks of Lubbock Texas (though their kids seem to love it). They call it "jungle music" and see it as the potential downfall of society. What it comes down to is racism and associating rhythm and blues and rock and roll with a lesser class of people in the eyes of these townsfolk in 1956. It blows my mind that there was a time when the sound and tempo of a stye of music was enough to incite rage in a certain kind of close minded person. I also find it a fascinating thing that there was a time when one man and his two band mates could come up with a special unique sound that was not like anything that anybody had ever heard white people playing at the time. Not only was Buddy's music revolutionary, but so was his process. The business of recording music in 1956 was a complex thing. It involved songwriters, artists, arrangers and producers. Buddy's method of circumventing all those roles flies in the face of said process, but he ends up pulling it off. Being that this film is music centric and features actor Charles Martin Smith (and is set in a similar time period) it seems like a sort of sister film to AMERICAN GRAFFITI. I'm absolutely a fan of both movies, but of course THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY is greatly underseen in comparison. Biopics in general are much maligned. I can see why, but people have a tendency to forget that there have been some very good ones. This story is absolutely compelling and is carried along by a dynamite portrayal by Gary Busey. 

Special Features:
Included on this disc is a commentary track with Gary Busey and Director Steve Rash. It's excellent to hear these two reminisce about the making of the movie, the locations and other actors and crew members they worked with. Both gentlemen are clearly having a good time talking about everything that's going on in front of them (the commentary is pretty screen-specific) and have lots of stories surrounding each and every scene. Busey in particular surprised me with his outstanding memory for little details of the production and its timeline. He even remembers a ton of people's names from the crew which was also quite impressive (especially because I kind of half expected him to not recall much of anything). Busey also shares a cool story about Buddy Holly having written "That'll Be the Day" after having seen THE SEARCHERS at a drive-in which was neat to hear.

As a little added bonus to this review, I've posted screenwriter Josh Olson's Trailers From Hell commentary below:

FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1962; Gordon Douglas)
Two things that caught my eye during the credits of FOLLOW THAT DREAM: first was the Mirisch Company name and Gordon Douglas' name as director. The Mirisch Company was of course run by the great Walter Mirisch and though they produced a lot of great films over the years (WEST SIDE STORY, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT), I'll always remember them most fondly for their collaborations with Billy Wilder on such classics as THE APARTMENT, SOME LIKE IT HOT, ONE TWO THREE, and a few others. The Mirisch Company would also dabble in the Elvis business the very same year as FOLLOW THAT DREAM with his boxing movie, KID GALAHAD. 

Gordon Douglas is something of an enigma director that I've only become acutely aware of in the last few years. The breadth and length of his filmography is pretty striking. He did some of the GILDERSLEEVE comedies in the 1940s, a great noir film (KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE) with Jimmy Cagney in 1950, and in 1954 he did my favorite of all his films with THEM!, the giant killer ant/atomic scare flick. He would go on to work with Sinatra several times (ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS, TONY ROME, LADY IN CEMENT, THE DETECTIVE), and also did a variety of westerns throughout his career. I kind of think of him as a Howard Hawks type because of the variety of films he made. Though his movies were never at the level of Hawks quality, Douglas was a man of many genres and that's pretty neat.  Funnily enough, Charles Lederer (the screenwriter on FOLLOW THAT DREAM) also famously worked with Howard Hawks on HIS GIRL FRIDAY, I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, MONKEY BUSINESS and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. 
FOLLOW THAT DREAM is a light-hearted and whimsical romantic comedy about a family unit that finds themselves as modern day homesteaders on some land right off of a Florida highway. They are a ragtag bunch of vagabonds who end up in a situation that puts them at odds with a lot of bureaucratic forces and some gangsters too. 
From the very first shot of the family's overloaded old car, I was immediately reminded of The Beverly Hillbillies for some reason. I might have even said "Beverly Hillbillies!" out loud without thinking about it. There are definitely some comparisons one could make and it's interesting to me to notice that FOLLOW THAT DREAM hit theaters in April of 1962, whilst THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES first aired on television in September of the same year. Being that the family is camped out on a beach, I was also reminded slightly of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND as well (which wouldn't land on TV until 1964). Not saying that either show owes anything to FOLLOW THAT DREAM, but my pop-culture obsessed mind couldn't help but go there. Anyhow, the film is a pleasant little excursion and one of the better Elvis movies I've seen (and it is stunning just how many he made!). It has this lovely buoyant personality to it and it's hard to walk away from it feeling anything but charmed.

Here's a neat little tour of the locations of FOLLOW THAT DREAM:
Oh and here's a fun little bit of trivia that I found on Wikipedia: "During filming, Elvis met Tom Petty, who was only 11 years old at the time. Petty's uncle was involved in the production of the movie. Shortly afterwards, Petty swapped his slingshot for a friend's collection of Elvis records.
Knowing this, one might credit this movie in some ways with being a huge influence on Petty's musical career so for that, I am unfathomably grateful.

Both THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and FOLLOW THAT DREAM are available via Screen Archives:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer and editor living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He barely remembers what it's like to watch a well-regarded movie anymore.  He writes all over the place, and especially at, and @irabrooker.

Death Promise (1977)
It's cheap, it's choppy, but this is one of the most giddily satisfying revenge flicks of all time. A multiethnic team of righteous poor kids hits the streets to pick off a cabal of wealthy slumlords one by one with a delightfully inventive repertoire of martial arts gore. It's pure 99-percenter wish fulfillment, and damn, does it feel good.

Captain Apache (1971)
In its early going, Captain Apache looks pretty much like your standard Spaghetti Western, albeit one with the questionable allure of Lee Van Cleef playing a Native American military officer. As the film plays on, though, it emerges as a singularly ambitious hybrid of Western, detective noir and blaxploitation, complete with a presidential assassination attempt and a psychedelic freak-out sequence set to a tripped-out funk track. Also, Lee sings the title song, if that's a value-add.

The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1973)
Exploitation mash-ups are always a dicey proposition, but this is one of the rare attempts that actually understands what makes each of its genres so entertaining. It helps that the good-natured tough guy whose journey is, to borrow a phrase from The Venture Bros, constantly waylaid by jackassery is a pretty standard plot for both Spaghetti Westerns and kung-fu flicks. Chen Lee gives an amiable lead performance as a put-upon Chinese immigrant who roams the West fighting racism, freeing slaves and making an increasingly grotesque roster of enemies, including Klaus Kinski as a sadistic knifesman who seems to be sexually aroused by human scalps. If that last bit isn't enough to sell you on it, I don't know what would be.

Crack-Up (1936)
The meat of this movie is tense, tightly plotted pre-WWII espionage with a satisfying array of double-crosses. That's all well and good, but the real draw is Peter Lorre playing an eccentric, possibly mentally challenged weirdo named Colonel Gimpy. Watching Lorre skulk around an aerodrome tootling on a bugle and obsessing over airplanes is just as strange and enthralling as it sounds.

Scorpion (1986)
Scorpion is a film so unremarkable that it's truly remarkable, a creation so thoroughly 1986 that it approaches historical importance. If there was even a hint of a smirk to this thing, it could easily qualify as a parody of '80s action movie clichés. Fortunately every rote note of Scorpion is straight-faced and sincere, from the swarthy terrorists with vaguely Middle Eastern accents to the corrupt rich guy trying to play our hero for a patsy to the doomed partner whose death makes this personal. That hero, incidentally, is  a martial arts legend/mustache enthusiast/charisma vacuum named Tonny Tulleners who never appeared onscreen before or since and can best be described as a poor Dutch man's Chuck Norris. Tellingly, the blurb on the video box isn't a review of the movie, but rather a quote from Mr. Norris testifying that Tonny beat him at karate - twice!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR and ON THE BEACH on Blu-ray

WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? (1965; Clive Donner/Richard Talmage)
It's hard for me to imagine a time when Woody Allen wasn't Woody Allen. By that of course I mean Woody Allen wasn't  always the filmmaker he's been for the past forty plus years and that kinda bold my mind. Circa 1965, he was a comedian, still doing standup and writing comedy material for others (which he is still doing here in a way as he wrote the script for WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?). By way of some context, here's a little sample of the standup he was doing back then:
So he was a working comic, but certainly on the rise and getting more and more popular. As a result, he's a fatties part of this ensemble which includes Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole. O'Toole and Sellers play a swinging playboy and his oddball psychoanalyst respectively. It's very much their show of course, but Woody Allen shines in an early incarnation of his soon to be classic "nebbish" persona. I was also able to find a vintage interview clip of Woody Allen talking about WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? right around the time of its initial release. He discusses his inspirations as a comedian and his experience working on the first film that he both wrote and appeared in as well as working with the big stars in the movie:
The whole film is imbued with and inhabitated by the spirit of the 1960s. It's a classic, "too many women, not enough time" kind of story about a ladies man who doesn't want to settle down. It's a very freewheeling, hanging out kind of narrative with a certain manic energy to it and that is carried along by a light and breezy soundtrack (mostly music by the great Burt Bacharach). Another thing that keeps the movie afloat is a wonderful parade of lovely young ladies including Paula Prentiss, Romy Schneider, Capucine and Ursulla Andress. There's something about the films of the 1960s and the way they exude this kind of playful sexuality that is memorable. It has to do with a general flirtatious attitude, the styles of clothing and dance and an overall relaxed, unassuming point of view with regards to sexuality that bring about this atmosphere. It is somewhat present in some 70s films, but general thematics had gone away from the carefree feeling that the films of the mid to late 60s had by that time. It seems kind of naive now, which is part of what ends up dating these movies more than those of the 1950s or 1970s in a lot of ways. Regardless, it can be a fun era to visit and WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT captures it well. A few other random things I enjoyed about the fiom include: Manfred Mann's rendition of "My Little Red Book" (later made famous by the band Love) playing in a club scene and a pretty funny throwaway joke between Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton (who shows up for like 15 seconds at one point).

Being that is is a pretty bright film from an era when there was a lot of color to be seen within any given frame, the transfer looks pretty good and those aforementioned colors pop quite nicely. 

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR (1961; William Wyler)

On the complete opposite end of the thematic spectrum from WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? is a movie like THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. Directed by master craftsman William Wyler, this film is based on  1934 play by Lilian Hellman. The story focuses on a a small private school for girls run by two women (Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn) that becomes the center of some controversy when the two women are accused of being in a lesbian relationship, based on a made-up accusation by one of their vindictive, immature students. Another thing that it is hard for me to wrap my head around is a time when this kind of thing could have and probably did happen. Actually, it's not that hard to conceive of in this day and age of "protecting marriage" still being an extremely hot button political issue, but I always like to think that fifty years of human interaction and compassion might have led us to another place. Not to get too carried away on that topic, but it certainly springs to mind when watching this film and makes it still a quite resonant and moving statement about the punishing mindsets that people in general can have towards those things which they don't understand or deem in some way as "other". The performances here are quite powerful and MacLaine, though not nominated by the Academy, did win a Golden Globe for her performance. The film itself isn't as hard hitting as it ultimately could be, due in part to the source material and a few things it glosses over a bit. It could also have something to do with the political climate of the time and the taboo nature of the subject matter that made it perhaps less than an easy task to push the story a bit further. As it stands, it is still a testament to the time and place it was made and the prevailing attitudes of the time. As I mentioned, MacLaine and Hepburn are quite good in the film, as is James Garner in a primary role. Miriam Hopkins and Fay Bainter are good too. I also noticed that this is a Mirisch Company production and MacLaine's follow up film to THE APARTMENT with them. It should also be noted that film's assistant editor was a young man by the name of Hal Ashby.In this clip from THE CELLULOID CLOSET, Lily Tomlin narrates some background on the film and the tabooed context in which it was made and Shirley MacLaine and writer Susie Bright offer their own observations:

The Blu-ray transfer on THE CHILDREN'S HOUR looks quite nice and shows off Franz Planer's Black and White cinematography quite well.

ON THE BEACH (1959; Stanley Kramer)
Much closer to the CHILDREN'S HOUR side of downbeat material than WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?, Stanley Kramer's film of ON THE BEACH is one of the earlier examples of a post-nuclear narrative that I'm aware of.  Even though it precedes the 1970s disaster cycle by more than a decade, I often lump it in with those films because of it's subject matter (large scale disaster) and it's large ensemble cast. It is the story of a small group of people in Australia coming to terms with the consequences and aftermath of a global nuclear war. A mysterious morse code communication originating in San Diego is picked up and the last American Submarine (under Australian command) is sent to check it out. In the meantime, we learn about the extent of the fallout from the war and how it is drifting towards Australia wiping out all life in its path. The Australian government has made arrangements for all the people to receive suicide pills and injections to give them the option to avoid the suffering they will inevitably face once the radiation sickness takes hold (uplifting right?). I think part of what has always hooked me about this film is the cast. Anthony Perkins, Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire are among my favorite actors and to see them in what is more than a little bit of an emotional tale such as this is subtly affecting throughout. Other things I like about the film include the fact that it is a submarine movie (I've been fascinated with subs since I was a kid) and that it plays slightly into the realm of science fiction. The film came out in 1959, but is set in the year 1964 a not too distant, but quite dystopic place in the human timeline. Considering the context, it's easy to see why this film might have been pretty disturbing to audiences in 1959. After all, we were only about 15 years on from Hiroshima and still prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It had to hit a little too close to home and strike at the palpable fears that folks were struggling with at that time (and trying not to think about ). I'm often a fan of those "hit a nerve" kind of movies myself, especially if they were made a long time ago and still resonate today. Recently an Australian filmmaker named Lawrence Johnston directed a documentary called FALLOUT which tells the story of the making of ON THE BEACH, along with covering biographical aspects of both author Neville Shute and director Stanley Kramer:
I also found an article written by Kramer's daughter Katherine discussing the film and an upcoming screening of it:
So on top of all those things, there's an element of gentle melodrama here as well and I'm just a sucker for that as well. Also, and not to give away the final outcome of the film, but let's just say it ends a certain way that tends to make people remember it. There's a lot here to like really. ON THE BEACH is part of the same conversation that FAIL SAFE and DR. STRANGELOVE are a part of and it preceded both of them. ON THE BEACH also fits snugly into that quiet but embraced genre of "end of the world" movies and would play nicely with MIRACLE MILE, LAST NIGHT, THE QUIET EARTH and several others. The transfer here looks pretty good (as have most of the B&W transfers from Kino Lorber Studio Classics).

Underrated Action/Adventure - Jackson Stewart

Jackson Stewart is a writer/director living in Los Angeles.  He created the web series 'The Cartridge Family' and wrote for the CW show Supernatural.  He also did a short entitled 'Sex Boss'.
He's on twitter @bossjacko.

1. Night of the Juggler (1980)
-This movie is basically Death Wish meets The Warriors meets Serpico.  Cliff Gorman plays an unhinged maniac who kidnaps the mayor's daughter -- or so he thinks.  Turns out the daughter was actually James Brolin's (a hard working New Yorker) and now with the mayor refusing to pay the ransom and the police offering zero help, Brolin must take to the mean streets of 80s NYC to rescue his daughter.  This was the only 35mm print I have ever owned.

2. Beast With A Gun (1977)
-Amazing score, a career defining performance from Helmut Berger and one of the few other notable films the ultra sexy Marissa Mell from Danger: Diabolik appeared in.  It's an exciting Polizzioteschi movie placing you with the evil Helmut Berger for the duration of the movie and a mostly forgettable, yet necessary detective character trying to hunt him down.  If you are a complete wuss or easily offended, avoid this masterpiece.  

3.  Crack House (1989)
-One of my favorite 80s exploitation films.  Quentin Tarantino programmed this a few years back at the New Beverly and gave it an intro I will never forget -- "listen up, you might think this movie is funny, but get this straight, no one in here is better than CRACKHOUSE."  He went on to point out that no matter how much more clever the audience might think they are than the movie, no comment they made would match the excellence on screen.  It's violent, weird and filled with some cheesy romance.  It's currently on Netflix streaming.

4.  2019: After The Fall of New York (1983)
-Easily the best of the Italian Escape From New York rip-offs delivered by the masterful Sergio Martino.  Michael Sopkiw gives a commanding performance as Parsifal, a headband sporting, jean jacket wearing, Snake Plissken knock-off.  It's a shame Sopkiw didn't have a bigger career as he's a genuinely good actor and has a very unique look.  Also, Children of Men completely seems to have lifted a few scenes and ideas from this. Alfonso Cuaron owes Sergio Martino some money.   Yes, it's low budget, but it's a total blast and deserves a lot more praise.  Martino deserves to be held in the same regard as Argento and Fulci.

5.  Street Law (1974)
-My twitter friend Phil Noble Jr once described this movie as Italian thugs threaten Franco Nero's machismo and he must make them pay.  That is exactly what this movie is about and goes to prove how ridiculously bad ass Italian exploitation films were in the 1970s.  It features a haunting (and sometimes hilarious) score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis.  In a perfect world, the title track 'Goodbye My Friend' would have been a number one radio hit for 57 weeks straight; according to my itunes library I've listened to it one hundred times and it still kicks so much ass.  I defy you to not feel like a boss while listening to this soundtrack.  On top of that, Castellari's direction is exciting and really well choreographed.

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