Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Friday, October 24, 2014

Scorpion Releasing - THE FIRST POWER and JENNIFER on Blu-ray

THE FIRST POWER (1990; Robert Resnikoff)
"Satan Has Created the Perfect Killer. One Who Cannot Be Stopped. Be Warned."
I remember this film being kind of a big deal to me when it came out on VHS. I rented and watched it several times from my local mom and pop video shop. I was a fan of Lou Diamond Phillips from various 80s films (YOUNG GUNS, LA BAMBA etc), but I think I was caught off guard (in a good way) seeing him in a horror movie. I think it was also an early movie for me that exhibited this sense of dread, like "everything is not necessarily gonna be okay" in this world. It featured a pretty powerful villain (Jeff Kober) and I think I was probably mesmerized by the idea of how Phillip's character was gonna stop him. I think I also remember just being creeped out by the movie. The paranoid terror of it was not something I had seems ton of at that point in my horror-watching "career". I think the movie also appealed to me in a big way at the age that I saw it because it had lots of great action (ie stunts) mixed in with its horror elements. The stunt work in this movie is pretty spectacular and apparently there were many injuries sustained in the process. This might be part of the reason why the movie resonates like it does. Today it would look so much different in the world of CG effects.
Lou Diamond Phillips fills out a cool niche cast which also includes Tracy Griffith (Melanie Griffith's little sister), Jeff Korber and Mykelti Williamson. I know that Tracy Griffith certainly caught my eye as a kid and I can still see why upin rewatching the film. Her fiery red hair, flirtatious nature and natural beauty (you can see a lot of her sister in her) hooked me immediately. She did some other movies besides this one, but I'll always associate her with THE FIRST POWER. As for Jeff Kober, as I said, he is one hell of an antagonistic force in this movie. The dude is downright unnerving and out and out scary. He's played many heavy roles in his career, but this is by far his most effective. His presence just makes the film better and more memorable. It should also be mentioned that Stewart Copeland did the score to the film and it's solid stuff and it goes a long way to elevate the creepy, paranoid atmosphere of the movie.
One enjoyable thing this time around was seeing the film as the Los Angeles movie that it is (the last time I watched, I had never even been to L.A.).

Special Features:
-"Power of Logan: An Interview with Lou Diamond Phillips" (32 mins). Actor Phillips discusses how he came to be involved in THE FIRST POWER (same producer as his film RENEGADES), working with a first time director, the demanding nature of the shoot, the rest of the cast, and other production details. He did most of his own stunts in the film and he has many great stories about that experience. He comes off as a very jovial, fun guy and has a ton of stuff to say about the movie.
"Channing Lives: An Interview with Jeff Kober" (17 mins). Actor Kober talks about his involvement in the film, the script and his character as well as how it related to the occult and his process for developing his character. He is highly affable in the interview which is best because he is so darned evil in the film. 


JENNIFER (1978; Brice Mack)
"She's Got the Power...and You Haven't Got a Prayer!"
Have you ever wondered what CARRIE would have been like if she had psychic control of snakes instead of straight telekinesis? Well JENNIFER is the film that answers that question. I love how this trailer makes no mention of her snake control powers, but rather makes it very much look like she is a telekinetic just like CARRIE:
I guess you can't blame the producers too much for trying to fool folks a little bit here. The snake powers aren't quite as sexy as telekinesis I suppose. Jennifer is a hillbilly kid on scholarship to a snooty private school and her rich girl classmates do not like her at all. Another thing that stands out about the movie is just how mean the rich girls are to her. I mean we're talking terrible, from egging her books and stealing her clothes to attempting to drown her in the school's pool and more! I totally understand that a film like this really has to establish its villains in a big and pronounced way and JENNIFER certainly does that. It has to be done this way so that when Jennifer finally cuts loose on them, we don't blame her in the slightest and wish these bullies the worst fates possible. I've just always found that to be an interesting structural dynamic in terms of story with a supernatural high school revenge movie like this. As I said before, I can totally see why it was made to look like CARRIE and clearly the whole film was produced to capitalize on the popularity of that film. One neat thing though is that Jennifer's snake control powers are pretty interesting and organic to her backwoods character. It fits that she would have these abilities somehow, based on where she comes from. She's kinda like a female Aquaman. On land. With snakes. Jennifer is played by Lisa Pelikan who some may remember from things like LIONHEART (1990), GHOULIES, JULIA and RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. Also headlining this movie is singer/actor/gameshow host Bert Convy. Convy was quite active in 1978 and also had a roles on both FANTASY ISLAND and THE LOVE BOAT that same year. Here he is singing on the Tonight Show in 1978:
Lastly, another dude you'll likely recognize is that of Jeff Corey. Corey has one of those character actor faces that made him perfect as background in hundreds of movies over the years, especially westerns and period pieces.  He's an absolute "that guy" actor and is perhaps best remembered for roles in films like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, TRUE GRIT, LITTLE BIG MAN and CONAN THE BARBARIAN. He makes a nice addition to any cast and is a boost to this movie for sure.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - KC (of A Classic Movie Blog)

Kendahl "KC" Cruver writes about movies at A Classic Movie Blog and as a regular contributor to ClassicFlix. You can find her all over the web:
aclassicmovieblog.com
https://twitter.com/classicmovieblg
https://www.facebook.com/classicmovieblog
http://pinterest.com/classicmovieblg/boards/
http://instagram.com/kcclassic
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The Moon-Spinners (1964)
One of my favorite films. It's got gorgeous Cretan atmosphere, beautiful costumes, a purring and delightfully matronly Joan Greenwood and some surprisingly heart thumping moments. I would never have pegged Hayley Mills for an action heroine, but in a tense scene with a whirling windmill, I wondered how her pink gingham charm could have worked with the genre. It would have been fascinating to see her take up the challenge, but here you at least get an idea of what she could do. Mills goes up against a jewel thief, and you really fear for her because it's Eli Wallach. You wonder if anyone told him he's in a Disney flick, because he's as menacing as in any other crime film he madeIn the end, Pola Negri shows up on a yacht with a cheetah and steals the whole movie.

Dark of the Sun (1968)
Rod Taylor as a mercenary in Africa. This is a mean film, set in a brutal world, but it's so exciting that your sense of social outrage is impossible to separate from the thrills. One of my major problems with modern action films is that you can't see what's going on half the time. Scenes are so often cut into such fast-moving chaos that your eye never really focuses on anything. Here the action is filmed with startling clarity, and with many of the actors semming to do their own stunts, which makes it feel much more immediate. There's a palpable excitement seeing Taylor leap from a balcony onto a pool table and you know it's him (yes, I'd recognize that butt anywhere).

The Liquidator (1966)
In a much sillier role, Rod Taylor is Boysie Oakes, a former soldier who is pressured into killing for the British Secret Service. He is terrified of violence and thus outsources his work so that he has more time for womanizing. Of course, he can't stay out of the action forever. It's all a huge goof on James Bond, with a theme song belted out by Shirley Bassey, Bond girl Jill St. John as an elusive love interest and lots of perfectly-coiffedbeautiful woman gliding around with that blank-faced, soft-voiced passivity that proliferated in 1960s spy flicks. Trevor Howard has fun tangling with Taylor as his contact with the Secret Service.

Inferno (1953)
A prickly millionaire with a broken leg is left for dead in the desert by his wife and her lover. With long scenes of his struggle to survive, and an interior monologue shared with the audience, the set-up doesn't necessarily scream thrills. But the man is played by Robert Ryan, who can generate plenty of excitement by raising an eyebrowThere's so much to love about this movie, the bright, almost feverish color, Rhonda Fleming's anxious tension and blazing green eyes (she's always coiled tight, like a cobra ready to strike) and the way the lovers' story diverges from and then intertwines again with their less-than-hapless victim. But it is Ryan who touched me the most. He gets an ideal showcase for his remarkable ability to communicate with an audience. When he feels relief, you feel it with him;when he's angry, you feel the outrage in your guts. Watching him is a visceral experience.

Jeopardy (1953)
It's been a while since I've seen this Barbara Stanwyck flick, so my memories aren't too clear, but the tension I felt watching it sticks with me. Stanwyck is on a seaside vacation with her husband (Barry Sullivan) when he becomes stuck under a timber by the sea. Babs rushes off to find help, and has the misfortune to run into Ralph Meeker's escaped convict who is making a break for the border. It's a conventional beat-the-clock plot, but Stanwyck is so tough she gives it a punch. Meeker is even better. He's so sleazy that you want to hate him, as does his captive, but he has a weird charisma that is both mesmerizing and repulsive. It's easy to see why Stanwyck is strangely drawn to this man she has also threatened to kill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Underrated (Erotic) Thrillers - Bryan Connolly

Bryan Connolly is one of the co-authors of one of the greatest film books in recent memory (Destroy All Movies). He works at the great Vulcan Video in Austin Texas and has a vast knowledge of cinema and a love for Jerry Lewis. He is also an avid VHS collector/advocate and can be seen prominently in the documentary ADJUST YOUR TRACKING:
http://www.adjustyourtracking.com/

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SECRET GAMES 3 (1994)
Dir: Gregory Dark 
I first watched this movie when I was fifteen. A friend had it taped off of a free run of Cinemax. This was the first erotic thriller I had ever seen and it is still my favorite. An ignored housewife ( Rochelle Swanson) spices up her weekdays by sleeping with rich men at an exclusive brothel. The film's glamorous portrayal of prostitution features a lot of scented candles and champagne drinking. Of course there is no straight humping, only the exploration of people's darkest desires. The soundtrack is some second rate version of Enigma which works because Enigma is also the second rate version of Enigma. Love those synthesized pan flutes! The sex scenes go on way too long which is good or bad, depending on your opinion. Fifteen year old me would say it was a good thing.  The erotic thrillers of Gregory Dark are all pretty great. Check out ANIMAL INSTINCTS and MIRROR IMAGES 2.

GUILTY AS SIN (1993)
Dir: Sidney Lumet 
Things go wild when a  lawyer (Rebecca De Mornay) chooses to defend an accused wife killer (Don Johnson). Lumet courtroom movies tend to be powerful, but a little dry. With a script written by Larry Cohen this one is all fun and breezy. Johnson is super charismatic and wonderfully sleazy. De Mornay is tough and sexy as always. What's great about this movie is that though there is wonderful tension between the two main characters, they never get into a sexual relationship. So many thrillers have the main female get involved with the main male, then she finds out he is a psycho, but she still can't resist him. Not this movie. It's strictly a working relationship that then escalates into a game of cat and mouse. Everyone seems to be having great time here all the way up to the ridiculous ending.




TAKE TWO (1988)
Dir: Peter Rowe 
Silly plot about long lost twins (Grant Goodeve) and inappropriate love for another man's wife. I like movies where an actor has to play twins. Especially when one of them has to be a jerk. The performer sneers and is rude and that's all it takes for me to tell the difference between asshole brother and good brother. Since this a pre-CGI movie the twins never are in the same shot. They don't even try to do bad split-screen. The real reason to watch this film is for Frank Stallone. Frank Stallone is a true man. In this movie he proves it with out a doubt during the workout montage where he jams on a saxophone over a lady exercising. Is this the sexiest image ever caught on film? I feel that both men and women will agree that the answer is YES!

ILLICIT DREAMS (1994)
Dir: Andrew Stevens 
Moira (Shannon Tweed) and Nick (Andrew Stevens) start a torrid love affair, but how can she keep it a secret from her scuzzball husband (a wonderfully scuzzy Joe Cortese). Easy. They are only sleeping with each other in their dreams. This is maybe the weirdest of all 90s erotic thrillers. It goes into David Lynch territory once the main characters acknowledge that they are having a psychic dream affair and start bringing physical items, such as house keys, into the real world. Stevens directed two other great thrillers starring both him and Tweed: NIGHT EYES 3 AND SCORNED. 


CAT CHASER (1989)
Dir: Abel Ferrara 
and
RAINBOW DRIVE (1990)
Dir: Bobby Roth 
Both movies are based on 80s crime novels (Chaser is from Elmore Leonard, Drive is from Roderick Thorp). Both movies feature wonderful underrated Peter Weller performances. We get the nice cold, cool Weller here that we all love. He is tough, but there is an intense vulnerabilty within these characters. Great supporting actors (Chaser: Charles Durning, Frederic Forrest. Drive: Jon Gries, Chris Mulkey), and good use of the environment (Chaser: Miami beaches. Drive: slimy, rich Hollywood) make these worth visiting. Weller makes love, drinks, gets confused, gets punched. Good stuff here.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Twilight Time - THE BLOB, AUDREY ROSE and THE BELIEVERS on Blu-ray

THE BLOB (1988; Chuck Russell)
To remake? Or not to remake? This seems to be a question that has haunted both film fans and studios since almost the inception of cinema. It's a somewhat tried and true formula for Hollywood to re-do an already known property as they see it as a "known" thing with a (hopefully) built-in audience that they need to perhaps market a little less. This may or may not be true but it seems less relevant in a time when the public seems to have trouble remembering films from as few as five years previous, but the studios continue on re-making and fans often continue to protest. I get the fan point of view certainly, as they see the film being remade as "sacred" on one level or another and don't wish to have their memory of that wonderful thing besmirched by this new and potentially terrible thing. I don't find myself particularly phased by remakes anymore and, if anything, I always try to look at them as a propelling a possible boost in interest in the older movie. Anyway, THE BLOB is absolutely one of my favorite horror films from the 1980s. Why it's rarely mentioned in the "great remakes" category is beyond me, but it appears to have picked up a good deal more fan love over the years. It does all the things I feel like a good remake (especially a horror remake) should do. Thankfully there was a decent amount of time between the original film starring a then-unknown young actor named Steve McQueen. That BLOB came out 30 years prior and so despite it being pretty effective for the time it was made, it left room for things to get more intense at the very least. And more intense is where this remake goes for sure. It is this "taking it up a notch" that I really love about the movie. It sits squarely in the now nearly-dead era of practical special effects and that gives it a charm all its own. The effects really stand out and are quite well done and a few of them still even make me wondered how they were done. Other things it has going for it are a clever screenplay by the great Frank Darabont and an excellent cast including the gorgeous Shawnee Smith (also the enchanting Candy Clark) and a fully mulleted Kevin Dillon. I had such a crush on Shawnee Smith after I saw this movie. I was aware of her through SUMMER SCHOOL (which was a family favorite in my house as a kid), but THE BLOB showed a me a whole nother side to here. Apparently, I wasn't the only one as James Wan, Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman have all outed themselves as having had crushes on her based on this movie and others she did in the 1980s. Though apparently she's not a huge fan of horror films or being scared, I was extremely pleased to see her show up as a regular in the SAW franchise throughout the 2000s. It always seemed to me that through this film she certainly demonstrated a beauty, charisma and star power that should have netted her greater notoriety and a more high-profile career. Folks catching her in THE BLOB for the first time via this good-looking Blu-ray will see exactly what I mean.
At the time of this writing, Screen Archives appears to still have some copies of this Blu-ray available. At last indication, there were fewer than 600 copies remaining from this 5,000 copy limited edition run. I for one was quite pleased to see how Twilight Time upped their usual pressing of 3,000 to 5,000 in anticipation of the strong response to this release. I know they took a lot of heat for their FRIGHT NIGHT Blu-ray a few years back (which they are also re-releasing in January BTW), but it is clear to me that they are a company that are not only passionate about the films they put out and their presentation, but also keeping an ear to the ground and listening to their fans/buyers for feedback. It's not an easy business to be in at the moment, as Blu-rays have lost their golden goose sheen from the point of view of the Studios, but companies like Twilight Time give me hope for the future of physical media continuing to make it into the hands of the film collectors. If you'd like to know more about the company, their releases and why they do what they do, I highly recommend checking out the recent Twilight Time episode of the Killer POV podcast:
http://geeknation.com/podcasts/killer-pov-ep-77-its-twilight-time/
In this episode, TT's Nick Redman goes into detail about them and I found it to be quite enlightening even though I've listened to several interviews with him over the years.

Special Features:
This Blu-ray has a couple really nice features on it for folks who love this movie like I do. First off, they've recorded and included a lovely commentary track with director Chuck Russell which was moderated by Horror Film aficionado Ryan Turek (who runs the venerable Shock Till You Drop website). Russell has a lot to say about the movie and Turek would seem to have been a perfect choice to help coax the most interesting stuff out of him. Russell goes through how his presentation pitch for THE BLOB remake ended up opening the door for his directing debut with New Line on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, working with Darabont, the effects, the actors and so forth. It's a lively, informative track that certainly lived up to my expectations.
Also included is an 18 minute Friday Night Frights Q&A which was recorded at the Cinefamily repertory theater in Los Angeles. It preceded a screening of the film they put on there and with director Chuck Russell (hosted by Ryan Turek and Joshua Miller). Lots of talk of the effects and how some were done as well as some story choices.
Other supplements on the disc are an isolated score track and the original "green" and "red" theatrical trailers.
If you're interested in this movie and this Blu-ray, I must recommend you head over to Screen Archives forthwith and purchase:
http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/28099/THE-BLOB-1988-LIMIT-1-COPY-PER-CUSTOMER/

AUDREY ROSE (1977; Robert Wise)
"I don't think we're going to prove reincarnation in this picture, but I'm very open to the whole possibility of the supernatural, the paranormal, the possibility of dimensions out there." -Robert Wise
I have come to appreciate Robert Wise more and more as I've gotten older and seen more of his films. Much like one of my heroes, Howard Hawks, he moved deftly between many different genres and was able to do good work in all of them. Horror seemed to be a good spot for him though. From his early Val Lewton pictures like CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (which, like AUDREY ROSE, focuses on a little girl), and THE BODY SNATCHER he was already showing himself to be a solid force in the genre. When he made THE HAUNTING in 1963, he  showed that he had advanced even further with his horror chops. AUDREY ROSE, while one of his later and perhaps slightly minor efforts, is still absolutely worthwhile for the rare combinations of elements that Wise brings to the film.
The way AUDREY ROSE opens (after an unsettling first minute) reminds me a little of MY BODYGUARD. Both films feature folks riding bikes in a city setting with pleasant score music running underneath. I like to call it "Paddington Bear" music, but it really doesn't tie in to that character in any specific way. It's a just a cute child-like feeling that music has that begs the description somehow. And it's not that Michael Small's music for AUDREY ROSE is exactly like Dave Gruisin's for MY BODYGUARD, but they have a tonal and period similarity that got my attention. I think it was mostly because despite opening similarly, both films diverge from that music pretty quickly become two different animals entirely. The thread they have in common (at least in my oddball brain) is that both openings would seem to portray a young person and their innocence (via the score) who is about to go through smithing pretty intense. In the case of Chris Makepeace's character in MY BODYGUARD, he's about to go through a crisis with involving the head bully (Matt Dillon) at his new school. In the case of AUDREY ROSE, her crisis is something more creepy and unnerving in that the main little girl may be the reincarnation of the deceased daughter of a weird dude played by Anthony Hopkins. Reincarnation is an interesting topic and one I've given a little thought to over the years. Can't say I necessarily believe in it, but it is certainly an intriguing concept. My thoughts of it are often reduced to how it's referenced in Albert Brook's DEFENDING YOUR LIFE in the "Past Lives Pavilion" segments. Silly I know, but that comedic portrayal somehow sticks with me. Anyway, in watching this film I started to think about my own little girl and how freaked out I'd be if some strange dude started to obsess over her. In the context of the movie and the time it was made, there was apparently little the police could do during the early stages of the obsession. Buying gifts for the little girl and calling to check to see how she's doing was apparently no big deal (or not actionable) in the eyes of the authorities. My how times have changed. I mean, I haven't ever had to get a restraining order or anything, but it would seem that in our currently hyper-litigious society that such things would never be tolerated. For better or for worse we have become incredibly protective of our children. While it can be seen, as I said, as a perhaps positive shift, it makes it very difficult to make a movie like AUDREY ROSE in the same was as it was in 1977. While the film itself seems to have a certain kinship with both THE EXORCIST and perhaps also ROSEMARY'S BABY, it exists in its own creepy and yet strangely optimistic place. Director Robert Wise expressed in that above quote, exactly what the movie ultimately seems to be going for. He would prefer us dig out his "be open-minded" message amidst the horror-y movie trappings. 
I will say that the little girl in this movie (Susan Swift) is uneasily effective for a few different reason. First and foremost are her eyes. They are very wide, near-buggy and almost slightly crossed in this way that I found really unsettling. Even in the early more innocent interactions with the character, her eyes really threw me. And once she begins to shift into her more "possessed" mode, her eyes became all the more frightening. I couldn't help but imagine how freaked out I would be if my daughter suddenly changed and became this other thing, this other person. It's the kind of thing that creates immediate anxiety in me, not because I have any real fear of it happening, but because there is something just so disturbing about the idea of this little person changing on me like that. The idea that she might some day not know me in the same way rocks me to my very core and therefore makes the movie that much more affecting for me personally. AUDREY ROSE is a unique, spiritual take on the type of horror movie that was being made in the late 60s through the 70s. It speaks to a much less cynical time and yet has elements of the deep paranoia that was a big part of the films of this period. It is an intriguing mix for sure.
Special Features on this disc include an isolated score track and the theatrical trailer.

THE BELIEVERS (1987; John Schlesinger)
In describing THE BELIEVERS to my wife, we immediately spun off into a conversation about THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW as well. My wife had entangled THE BELIEVERS with that film and when I described the early scene featuring the death of one of the characters she was immediately made to think of SERPENT. It's kind of understandable in that both films came out only a year apart and both have plotlines involving voodoo and some crazy rituals. Back to that early death scene though. It's a pretty disturbing sequence and I think it made quite an impression on me when is saw the film as a youngster that I never forgot it (and clearly my wife never did either). In discussing that scene again with my wife, I was reminded how much I disliked it and found it to be a touch unbelievable at least as far as what I would have done in the same scenario. It's a pivotal death and the plot hinges on it I realize, but somehow that didn't make it any less troublesome for me. I do hate when I get nitpicky like this, but this scene is particularly resonant in that Martin Sheen's reaction is quite powerful and I know my mind is also fighting with the idea of why it happened the way it happened while I am am absolutely being heavily affected by what he's doing
. It comes down to a matter of dramatic construction for me and it is very personal as far as my aversion to it. Sometimes you'll see a movie that has a scene that feels like something of a "false note" of  sorts and sometimes those notes make it difficult to find one's footing with the story again. Moving on, I always find it curious that this film was director by the great British auteur (of sorts) John Schlesinger. With such memorable and keenly observed efforts as MIDNIGHT COWBOY, DAY OF THE LOCUST, THE MARATHON MAN and THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN. These were all lead ups to THE BELIEVERS, but they are all great films and show a portrait of a director who knows just what he is doing and works well with actors. Something is off about THE BELIEVERS and I cannot put my finger on it. This is not to say it isn't worth watching because it absolutely is. THE BELIEVERS has a great little ensemble cast that helps up its watchability for sure. Martin Sheen always seems to deliver the goods and here he is backed by the likes of Helen Shaver, Jimmy Smits, Robert Loggia and Richard Masur (who I am a pretty huge fan of). I will say that THE BELIEVERS has a lovely underlying sense of dread about it. I'm often a sucker for a palpable sense of dread in movies. It is fascinating to me that this film was made just a few years before PACIFIC HEIGHTS, which feels like some sort of paranoid extension of THE BELIEVERS or at least a compelling sister film to it. 
Special Features on this disc include an isolated score track and the theatrical trailer.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and MARRIED TO THE MOB

DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (1985; Susan Seidelman)
Cinema is littered with films featuring a singers and pop stars in acting roles. Most of them tend to be evidence of why said singers went into music as a career as opposed to acting. Obviously there are exceptions. Elvis had quite a run of movies and even turned in several really solid performances within his rather epic filmography. David Bowie is another one who showed he could act as well as be a music phenomenon. That said, Madonna has an acting track record that is shall we say, more unsuccessful than it is remarkable. She did however find her way into the occasional good flick though and DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN is most likely her best work. Speaking of great work, a HUGE amount of credit for DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN being as good as it is should certainly go to the film's excellent director Susan Seidelman. An NYU alum from the late 1970s, Seidelman showed promise early by garnering a student academy award nomination for her 1976 short AND YOU LOOK LIKE ONE TOO. She would go on to become one of the great and distinct female voices of independent cinema in the 1980s. Her debut feature film SMITHEREENS (1982), which depicts a young woman living in New York City on the outskirts of the city's punk scene still retains something of a cult following to this day. Seidelman really demonstrated a specific and interesting point of view with that film and carried her unique perspective and ear for dialogue into DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, which was her first studio outing. SMITHEREENS was apparently one of the first American independent films selected for competition in the Cannes film festival. It is a neat little movie and I would put it in a class with something like LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE FABULOUS STAINS (in fact, the two would make a groovy double feature). The fact that Seidelman was coming from this independent and very personal place to the environs of a studio feature make for one of those remarkable and memorable collisions which don't happen often enough for my liking, but when they do they really stand out. DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN is a kind of zeitgeist movie which is always an interesting phenomenon. Apparently, when shooting on the film began, her now classic "Like A Virgin" album had not yet been released, but by the time it came out, the record was a sensation and Madonna was too. Some may remember DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN as "the Madonna movie" as it absolutely served as a quirky public introduction to her (along with her album). It's the kind of thing that studios love to try to plan, but most often cannot so it can a pretty unforgettable union when things line up like this. The movie and Madonna herself blasted into the cultural conversation like a rocket. She inspired clothing trends and other things based on this movie for sure. I cannot remember the chronology of when and it what order I saw Madonna's movies, but I feel like there's a chance I saw a few of the weaker ones first (WHO'S THAT GIRL, SHANGHAI SURPRISE) and that may have colored my viewpoint and tainted and or made me avoid seeing DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN for a time. The other possibility is that I saw it and it just flew right over my head as far as it being a solid movie. I am definitely getting to the age where impressions of movies from when I first saw them are quite cloudy to say the least and it is only upon revisitation that I am either reminded of those impressions or I end up creating entirely new ones. I'm not sure why, but I have somehow tied director Martha Coolidge in with Susan Seidelman now. It may have a good deal to do with my love of VALLEY GIRL and its approach to a certain "authentic" take on Los Angeles as opposed to New York City. Both those films seem to go together for me. Another NYC film that I have a deep love for is Scorsese's AFTER HOURS. My affection for this movie has grown exponentially over the past almost twenty years and I have seen it dozens of times since then. I've seen SUSAN significantly less, but now it has an automatic kinship in that it features Rosanna Arquette in the city too (as does AFTER HOURS). Some may take issue with this film being called a "classic", but I have to say that I can completely see its place and significance not only in terms of the 1980s, New York, Madonna and pop culture in general, but also because of Seidelman herself and what she means to cinema and television as a remarkably solitary and refreshing female voice. You could argue that SMITHEREENS is ground zero for her, but the more known quantity and perhaps her great introduction to us all is through this vivacious, scrappy little movie.
Special Features:
-An Audio Commentary with the film's producers plus the original and alternate endings to the movie.





Bonus:
Here is a poorly filmed, short interview clip of Seidelman at a Q&A discussing why she chose DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN:
Same Q&A, Seidelman on working with Madonna:



MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988; Jonathan Demme)
Putting out Jonathan Demme movie and a Susan Seidelman movie on the same day is a pretty cool thing to do and I have to tip my hat to Kino Lorber Studio Classics for doing so. Both Demme and Seidelman are quirky directors with definitive visions. It sometimes surprises me how successful they became when they both could have seemingly languished in indie-film obscurity for years, but thankfully ended up breaking out and making great studio films. Both Demme and Seidelman come from a place of music love and that is a sadly underappreciated and underrepresented point of view these days. With the exception of independent filmmakers and a few studio directors that collaborate with specific music supervisors, it seems that soundtracks these days are much less personal than they once were. If you look at a Demme film like say SOMETHING WILD, it is immediately apparent that there is a music fan in there somewhere. A lot of the song choices are just not the ones that would be commonly selected, even in 1986 when that film came out. The same thing goes for the soundtrack to MARRIED TO THE MOB. Here's the track listing:
1. "Jump in the River" - Sinéad O'Connor
2. "Bizarre Love Triangle" - New Order
3. "Suspicion of Love" - Chris Isaak
4. "Liar, Liar" - Debbie Harry
5. "Time Bums" - Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers
6. "Devil Does Your Dog Bite?" - Tom Tom Club
7. "Goodbye Horses" - Q. Lazzarus
8. "Queen of Voudou" - Voodooist Corporation
9. "Too Far Gone" - The Feelies
10. "You Don't Miss Your Water" - Brian Eno 

So, for me, Demme comes from this neat musical place and brings his personality into his films musically in a way that has always appealed to me. Then you have Demme's sense of humor. He's clearly an intelligent, movie-savy kind of guy and that can often result in some very enjoyable scenes. Say along the lines of this:

Now, this makes for a fun, genre-aware and pretty hilarious comedy. That's another thing Demme does well is mixing comedy and other tonal approaches together into a delicious melange of one particular and specific "Demme Movie". If you look at  SOMETHING WILD for example, few films can take you from what is basically a screwball comedy throwback type thing into a much much more intense thriller at a certain point. Some might say there's a reason these types of things don't happen too often, but I find it an enjoyable little excursion and an example of someone sort of challenging the cinematic status quo and saying, "does it always have to be exactly THIS way?". In MARRIED TO THE MOB, he takes that well worn mob movie cliche of "they keep pulling me back in" and turns it on its head by giving it a female perspective. Demme just has an energy about him that is always exhilarating and when you watch his films you can feel why they have lasted and stayed popular over the years. Even his less-known work like MELVIN AND HOWARD has had a lasting impact in that it inspired filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson who, ti could be argued, is one of the most exciting directors working today. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scream Factory - The Vincent Price Collection Vol. II on Blu-ray

Last year, Scream Factory made a lot of our dreams come true with their fantastic Vincent Price Collection on Blu-ray. This year they've done it again and VP fans everywhere will be rejoicing. There can never be enough Vincent Price in high-definition!
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TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965; Roger Corman)
The last of Corman's Poe cycle and the one that many (including Martin Scorsese) consider the best. Oddly, I have to say that I love Vincent Price's sunglasses in this film, the ones that protect his sensitive eyes from that horrible sunlight. Price could make just about any accessory look cool, but theses shades are a signature item that stand out from this film. If you remembered nothing else from the movie you could say, "Hey, what's the one with Vincent Price and those groovy specs man?" and any cinephile worth his or her salt would immediately know what film you're talking about. Some other notable things about LIGEIA include the fact that it was written by future academy award winner Robert Towne (CHINATOWN, SHAMPOO, THE LAST DETAIL) and was the first of the Poe films to not be bound to a set for it's locations. LIGEIA was apparently a collaborative idea between Price and Corman in that they wanted to use a real location as an actual place in the film (in this case the unforgettable ruin that they film many scenes in and around).
The transfer on this film is a touch soft, and the film clearly hasn't been cleaned up in any major way which is a bit of a shame as it is absolutely among the best films that either Corman or Price ever made.
As a nice bonus, TOMB OF LIGEIA features an introduction and final words from the great Mr. Price himself. These intros and outros seem to come from a 1982 PBS (possibly from Iowa public TB) broadcast that were part of a series of several nights of Price films. He gives some nice insights in both segments and though they are clearly from a video master, they are nonetheless a perfect addition.
Other Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary By Producer/Director Roger Corman and a NEW Audio Commentary With Elizabeth Shepherd.


THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959; William Castle)
This favorably remembered Willoam Castle film is one some folks point to as being among their favorite Vincent Price roles. It's certainly a fun ride,even if not quite as gimmicky as some of Castle's other movies. In watching it this time (I think I'd seen it years and years ago after reading Castle's amazing autobiographical boom STEP RIGHT UP...) I noticed that it would seem to be a potential influencer (even if subconsciously) of some films in the 1980s. CLUE and APRIL FOOL'S day come immediately to mind and though I realize their roots lie in  things like Agatha Christie, it's hard for me to resist the idea that HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL mightn't have played a small part in the setup of both. Even something as silly as 1980's MIDNIGHT MADNESS has some small threads of Vincent Price within the "game master" character of "Leon". Anyway, I just love to draw lines from older films like this to things that were made years later wether there's and credence to it or not. I always think of the prevalence of films like this on television in the 1960s and 70s wherein they firmly cemented themselves in the minds of many a youngster (and later filmmaker) watching the Late Late Show some autumn evening. I'm reminded that I do miss that bygone era when movies on TV all the time really did drill them into the popular culture and the collective unconscious of so many people. It was a time when folks like The Marx Brothers and Vincent Price were known and loved by everyone. I miss that shared cultural consciousness and it's a tough thing to have nowadays with the immeasurable amounts of content kids have to sift through. Regardless, I like that somehow Vincent Price has continued to hang on and be recognized.
Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary By Film Historian Steve Haberman, "Vincent Price: Renaissance Man" Featurette, "The Art Of Fear" Featurette, "Working With Vincent Price" Featurette.

COMEDY OF TERRORS (1962; Jacques Tourneur)
Talk about your genre dream-teams. Here, Karloff, Lorre, & Price star in this early horror spoof about some funeral home employees who "create" business for themselves when things are a bit slow. I cannot believe I had somehow avoided seeing this film until now. Outside of that remarkable trio at the center, there's also the Jacques Tourneur factor. Tourneur is absolutely among my favorite directors and so it's ridiculous for me not to have sought out all of his stuff at this point. Between OUT OF THE PAST and his work with Val Lewton, he thoroughly proved his genius, but I had yet to see him take on a comedy.
The movie sets it's tone wonderfully and right out of the gate with a lovely bit of slapstick within the first two minutes. I sometimes love it when a movie makes a point of showing its hand almost immediately. It's as if to say, "okay, we know you might not have been convinced by this film's title as to what it is what with this cast and all, but yeah, we're going super silly here". And, like the movie itself, Vincent Price's character wastes no time establishing who he is (a total alcoholic dick). Price has certainly played his share if disreputable types, but this guy is right up there in terms of forthright and gleeful assholery. I mean, it's humorous don't get me wrong, but he really commits and goes right over the top with it immediately. Price may have had a humble, self deprecating view of his own acting, but as far as him always being just what he was supposed to be, he was a consummate pro.
Supplements Included:
Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price, "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Comedy Of Terrors".


THE RAVEN (1963; Roger Corman)
THE RAVEN opens with a simple title card, followed by "Produced and directed by Roger Corman".  After that, Vincent Price reads from Poe's infamous text in voice-over while Corman attempts to set the mood with shots of waves crashing on some rocks. I can't think of too many better ways to open a movie than with Vincent Price reading Poe. If ever a voice was more perfectly designed to fit in with the way Poe wrote, it's Price's voice. What is also fitting is to open the movie with a scene of Vincent Price and a talking bird. More films should have started this way, even randomly so.
Supplements Included:
Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price, "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Raven" & "Corman's Comedy Of Poe".




THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964; Ubaldo Ragona)
Before Charlton Heston in OMEGA MAN and of course Will Smith in I AM LEGEND, Vincent Price starred in this early adaptation of Richard Matheson's masterpiece of horror fiction. While I must admit that it was the Heston film that first caught my attention and ultimately drew me to the Matheson novel, I have found myself fascinated by all the filmic adaptations that were attempted. I say attempted because I don't feel like any one of them does the story proper justice. I AM LEGEND might be my favorite book of all-time so of course I hold it to a pretty high standard. That said, I actually enjoy all the adaptations quite a bit. While it is difficult to capture the book's point of view and inner monologue properly, I appreciate each of the attempts. This version does a solid job carrying off the tone of the book pretty well, and I do very much dig Vincent Price in the lead role. It's a good fit.
Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary With Authors David Del Valle And Derek Botelho and "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man On Earth".

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972; Robert Fuest)
After a seeming but ambiguous demise at the end of the first PHIBES movie , Vincent Price awakens three years following the events of that movie as this one begins. The disfigured and psychotic Phibes is on a mission to resurrect his late wife here and he needs some stolen papyrus scrolls to do so. He chases down and dispatches the thieves rather creatively. One could compare Phibes to later horror icons like Freddy Krueger in terms of his murderous creativity. In the first PHIBES film, Price's wife is played by the gorgeous cult actress Caroline Munro. In RISES AGAIN, she was replaced by an Australian model named Valli Kemp (who later had roles in ROLLERBALL and THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER). No offense to Miss Kemp, but she ain't no Caroline Munro (few gals are). Also interesting is that this film was directed by director Robert Fuest who also did British films like THE FINAL PROGRAMME and AND SOON THE DARKNESS. This movie should also be remembered as the one where Vincent Price sings "Over the Rainbow".


THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959; Edward Bernds)
This film is a super rare case of a sequel to a color film that was made in Black & White. That is an interesting choice and perhaps part of the reason I remembered the original FLY as a B&W movie for the longest time. The plot of this sequel is a bit more convoluted than its predecessor and involves the son of the scientist from the first movie (played by actor Brett Halsey) carrying on his experiment but it also entangles industrial spies, British agents and other complications into the mix. 
Supplements Include:
Audio Commentary With Actor Brett Halsey And Film Historian David Del Valle.


Like Volume One of this collection, this Blu-ray set is a no-brainer-must-own kind of scenario for Vincent Price fans as well as horror fans in general. It's well produced with decent to solid transfers and a buttload of nice supplements. Hats off to Scream Factory on this one and here's hoping they have more like it up their sleeve down the line.
https://www.shoutfactory.com/film/film-comedy/the-vincent-price-collection-ii

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jack Webb Blogathon - THE D.I.



I am honored to be part of this JACK WEBB Blogathan, please check out the Hub for the event here:
http://wp.me/p4SU0r-6O
THE D.I. (1957; Jack Webb)
I don't know about you, but when I think of drill instructors I think of R. Lee Ermey. Clear;y though, Ermey himself must have seen this film at some point I have to think. It would seem that FULL METAL JACKET director Stanley Kubrick was a fan of the film for sure:
THE D.I. opens with a shot of a Marine placard which reads,  "Let's Be Damned Sure That No Man's Ghost Will Ever Say - "If Your Training Program Had Only Done It's Job"". Out side of the obvious erroneous use of "it's" versus "its", (which is kinda funny), this quote sets the tone/stage for a serious movie. The very first scene after that is a young soldier stepping into frame and addressing Jack Webb in the titular role. The back of Webb's head and his voice is all we get in this shot, but it is effective enough to convey his character in a matter of three or four lines. Webb has always had a specific cadence and tone of voice that are very specific and compelling. We all remember his DRAGNET voice-overs and how perfectly they worked inside of the police-procedural, investigative environment of that TV show. Webb delivers his dialogue in such a sharp, machine-gun-quick manner that it's hard not to feel how he easily commands his trainees. His no-nonsense persona is well suited to a role like THE D.I. for sure. I think it's quite interesting that Jack Webb served as lead actor and director on this film as well. This was his third feature film (he'd done a DRAGNET movie in 1954 and PETE KELLY'S BLUES in 1955) and it's well put together (and acted by him). Some of the soldier boys are a little stiff, but it almost works in the film's favor as they seem justifiably nervous. Jack Webb was apparently a pretty no-nonsense kind of guy in real life and took his work quite seriously. Seems like another reason he plays this part so well (and even unsympathetically at times).
In poking around for information about the production, I came across news of the Ribbon Creek Incident of 1956 (where a drunken Marine staff sergeant drowned six of his recruits during an outlandish exercise). Though the staff sergeant was ultimately acquitted of the manslaughter charges, it was bad press for the Marines of course. Apparently many Hollywood types approached the U.S. Marines about dramatizing the incident soon after that, but Jack Webb chose a much more pro-Marines story/film and was met with open military arms and many technical advisors to boot. Webb even plays "The Halls of Montezuma" over the credits of his movie. The film is certainly a much different movie than FULL METAL JACKET and they both have distinctly disparate takes on Marine training (though both films take place use Parris Island as a location). Like FULL METAL JACKET, THE D.I. serves as a kind of "look inside" for civilians as to how the Marine Corps prepares its soldiers for combat (though I wouldn't call FMJ a pro-Marines movie by any means). Both films have the effect of being a bit shocking and tough to watch on parts because the training is quite grueling. It's very interesting to compare what Kubrick would have you take away from his peek at the process versus Webb. Both films have somewhat similar stories in that they focus on a single platoon, which happens to have one problem recruit within. It's interesting to see how different the movies are though despite that. There's certainly a perspective shift in that THE D.I. is from Jack Webb's point of view whilst FMJ is through the eyes of the young soldiers. I have to admit that my own personal feelings about Jack Webb end up taking away from his effectiveness in the role on some small level. He's great, don't get me wrong, but somehow he isn't scary like R. Lee Ermey can be in FMJ. I feel like a Drill Instructor needs to be scary to be believable. Webb is serious and always on point with the way he speaks to his platoon, but I found myself occasionally grinning at some of the cracks he makes to them. While I also laughed a bit at some things Ermey said in FMJ, it was a laugh that was often immediately followed by a quick drawing in of my breath as I felt the tension between him and his recruits. Webb's persona and his years of being Joe Friday (and parodied as that character) certainly undercut my suspension of disbelief as I watched the film. Webb is completely believable though and I wish I didn't have my previous popular cultural attachments to interfere with what he was doing. It might just be that Ermey was a Drill Instructor in real life prior to becoming an actor and Webb wasn't (in fact he "washed out" when he enlisted in the Air Force). In writing this post, I realize I may sound like I'm bagging on Jack Webb, however that is not my intention at all. He is an actor I admire very much and his work as a director is quite solid. I was just swept away while watching the film by the fact that there are basically two truly standout Drill Instructor performances in cinema. I think because I saw FULL METAL JACKET first (and many many times) I found myself wrestling with the two portrayals and unable to help myself from comparing them. Webb comes off as ever so slightly smug in some moments whereas Ermey comes off as frightening. I think the difference might be that Ermey (as expressed in the film) feels an obligation to make sure that none of his platoon are "weak links" that might end up getting any other Marines killed due to their negligence. He's really kind of trying to terrify them into understanding that they need to take this stuff seriously. Webb does some of the same with his D.I. character, but like I said, he's just not as scary. I think it's really all about the eyes. Webb's eyes are a little dead (at least here), like those of a shark. Ermey's eyes are often wide and crazy-looking and there is a big difference there. Regardless of all this back and forth comparing, I still highly recommend that folks check out THE D.I. It makes a neat companion piece to FULL METAL JACKET and is clearly a text that Kubrick used to make his film more effective (he seems to have cribbed some of Webb's techniques for shooting the barracks at the very least). Without one we don't have the other (at least not in the same way).

Here's a rare extended trailer for THE D.I.

THE D.I. is currently available on DVD via Warner Archive:
http://goo.gl/9UIEce



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