Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Monday, September 15, 2014

Arrow Video - THE BURBS and KILLER KLOWNS on Blu-ray

THE 'BURBS (1989; Joe Dante)
This was easily one of my most anticipated Blu-ray releases of the year. It is up there among films that I unabashedly adore and return to often. I am a huge proponent of Tom Hanks' comedy films of the 1980s. I miss his comedic persona a lot. I still love him in most every film he's in and he's always excellent, but the he is one of the great comic actors ever and it's a Shane he doesn't do that anymore. THE 'BURBS is an amazing confluence of awesome for me in that it combines that Tom Hanks with the macabre comedy and style of the always fantastic Joe Dante. It also has the likes of Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Carrie Fisher and the amazing and amazingly underrated Rick Ducommun. All of these folks are tip top in this movie and that is certainly part of what makes it great, but the movie-stealer is Ducommun. I believe, and I stand by this, that Ducommon's performance in THE 'BURBS is easily one of the great comedic performances of the 1980s. If you've seen films like DIE HARD ("I need you to shut off grid 212") or THE LAST BOY SCOUT, you've gotten a small taste of Ducommon, but THE 'BURBS is where he gets let loose and really blows the doors off. He and Tom Hanks are an antagonistic duo to behold here. They play off each other amazingly well and their energy combined with that of Bruce Dern makes the movie a freight train of funny. I mean, it's really a simple story of suburban curiosity (a group of folks think they have some odd neighbors who seem more than a little "off" and they begin to be suspicious of them). You can make the inevitable Hitchcock/REAR WINDOW comparison, but THE 'BURBS is so much more than that. Joe Dante has this remarkable ability to take that Spielbergian notion of suburbia and turn it on it's head in this gloriously skewed way. The way Dante can create and maintain this kind of tone has always been something I adore. Few directors can pull it off consistently and Joe Dante has the magical ability to be able to do so. You just know that the tone is coming from this unique sensibility that is seemingly Dante through and through. The word "auteur" gets bounced around a lot and though I've come to question the theory a bit more since I first learned of it in college, Joe Dante certainly has a signature to his movies and I think that's what gives them the longevity they've had. THE 'BURBS is, for me, one of the great examples of that Dante signature. I cannot get enough of the movie and I never will. I've seen it countless times, I quote it often and I have championed it to as many people as I can as often as I can in the years since its release. It's just wonderful, silly, dark fun. 

Special Features:
Several years ago, I interviewed Joe Dante for a film magazine and during said interview I made a point of telling him that not only was THE 'BURBS my favorite of all his films (followed closely by MATINEE), but that I would camp out for a Criterion Blu-ray of the movie. In all honesty, I was quite doubtful the film would get a Criterion release or even a Blu-ray release at all (maybe a bare bones disc at most). Arrow has made my dreams come true though and come through with one hell of a nice special edition here. It's a Criterion-level Blu-ray for sure. The supplements here include the following:
--A New audio commentary with writer Dana Olsen, moderated by author Calum Waddell. This is a neat track and though it's not Dante, there's a lot of fun stories and information here.
--There Goes the Neighborhood: The Making of The ’Burbs – A new 60 plus minute documentary including interviews with Joe Dante, actors Corey Feldman, Courtney Gains and Wendy Schaal, director of photography Robert M. Stevens and production designer James H. Spencer. This is probably the highlight of the disc. Again, a few actors are missing here that I'd love to hear from, but the ones that they talked to and of course Dante himself make this an enjoyable view and a delight for 'BURBS fans.
--The original Workprint cut of the film transferred from Director Joe Dante’s personal copy, on home video for the very first time – includes deleted and alternate scenes! This is quite a spectacular thing to have included. There were several scenes and sequences I was not aware of, most notably the dream sequence, which was longer and hinted at some things about Tom Hanks' character that were cut out (including a short bit with Kevin McCarthy as Hanks' boss). It's also interesting to hear the movie with temp music too.
--A Tale of Two ‘Burbs – Video featurette comparing the differences between the Workprint and Theatrical cuts of the film, with optional audio commentary from Dante. This feature isolates all those differences I was trying to figure out whilst watching the workprint and its a treat to see them especially in the context of what they finally decided to do with them in the finished film.

Joe Dante discusses THE 'BURBS with Rue Morgue at a screening.

KILLER KLOWNS is one of those cult films that you just kind of have to marvel at. It's such an odd, interesting idea and films that carry out their odd but interesting premises with the utmost care for joking details have to be respected and adored. If you can watch KILLER KLOWNS and not see it as at least somewhat brilliant, we aren't thinking on the same plane. It boggles the mind to think how anyone could have come up with an idea like this. Alien clowns that are basically giant scary vampires come to earth and want to capture people to take them back to their huge circus tent ship and wrap them in cotton candy cocoons? It's a film with one foot planted in the sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s and the other in the 1980s. I love it and I always have. From the very first notes of the Dickies theme song, the Chiodo Brothers had me won over. It's widely known that clowns are often perceived as kind of creepy and that there are many folks with straight up phobias of them. To be honest, outside of Bozo the Clown, I've always thought of clowns as either scary or sad, but never much in the way of funny. It's an odd thing that, but it makes for a great horror comedy that's for sure. And clowns make for good movie creatures in the world of old-school special effects and design of 1988. There's just a lot to love about the movie though and it's kind of easy to see why it's legacy has lasted as long as it has. At it's core, it's really kind of a family monster movie if you will and it's not too scary really. It is a nice gateway type movie to show a youngster to possibly start to bring them over to horror movies. I remember showing my son before he was ten years old and he loved it and though we are still working on the transition to horror movie love (that I'm pretty sure he will come around to), I know that the film was a big hit with him and he still talks about it today (he's fifteen now). I am anxious for the day that I think my 5 year old daughter is ready for KILLER KLOWNS as I am quite sure she's going to love it too.

Special Features on this awesome Arrow Special Edition include:
--Audio Commentary with the Chiodo Brothers
--The Making of Killer Klowns – a 20-minute featurette looking at the film’s production, including an interview with the Chiodo Brothers alongside behind-the-scenes footage.
--Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr. – an interview with Charles Chiodo and visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr.
--Kreating Klowns – an interview with Charles Chiodo and creature fabricator Dwight Roberts.
--Bringing Life to These Things – A Tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions.
--Chiodo Brothers’ Earliest Films – a look back at the Chiodo Brothers’ early homemade productions.
--Tales of Tobacco: A brand new interview with star Grant Cramer.
--Debbie’s Big Night: A brand new interview with star Suzanne Snyder.
--Komposing Klowns – interview with composer John Massari.
--Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary.
--Klown Auditions.

Here's a 10 minute Fangoria interview with the Chiodos wherein they talk KILLER KLOWNS early in the summer of 2014:

Warner Archive Grab Bag: YOUNG JUSTICE Season One on Blu-ray

I have to credit Warner Archive for shoring up my interest in Super Hero cartoons that I never necessarily thought I'd have an interest in. Previous to this, I've discussed how I was quite taken by both their BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD Season 1 Blu-ray (Season 2 just came out as well btw) and their GREEN LANTERN Animated Series Blu-ray sets. Had they not cropped up in WAC's stable of stellar Blu-ray releases, I'd never have given them a second look. But after hearing them raved about on by the fellas on the Warner Archive Podcast, I was completely turned around and came to see these series as the fascinating and creative stories that they were.
One thing I love about the show is the interesting structural choices with regards to story structure. There a a lot of episodes which thrust the characters into a situation where they (and we as the viewers) have no idea what's going on and they slowly figure things out. It's this kind of "trust" in storytelling that is very uncommon for animated shows of this type. It is trusting in that it places trust in its audience to stick with the stories in good faith that all will be revealed. This is especially rewarding in a show aimed at younger folks and with a cast of "kids" as it were. These youngsters are going through all the things you might expect them to from young love and angst to general insecurities. The catch of course it that they are all young superheroes who are coming to terms with their abilities. Let's do a little roll call. You've got Kid Flash (runs really fast), Robin (like Batman of course), Aqualad (like Aquaman, but with a rig that allows him to use streams of water as weapons), Miss Martian (can fly and has mental telepathy powers), Superboy (like Superman but more grumpy) and Artemis (an archer a la Green Arrow). They are quite a dynamic team and throughout the first season they are constantly put into situations that would seem beyond their league, but they somehow find a way to save the day. I don't mean that to sound all tidy and bland because it isn't. There is a lot of emotion in the show which is a perfect fit considering the ages of the team's members. The arcs of the characters take some unexpected turns and there is a good deal of peril that makes for fun, suspenseful viewing wherein the stakes are properly set up and feel real in the midst of lighter moments (lots of solid villains). It's a great show overall, with sharp writing and voice acting. It features the likes of Danica McKellar ("Winnie Cooper" herself from THE WONDER YEARS), and a group of others I didn't know previously but who I came to enjoy very much. The supporting cast and guests includes such titans as Edward Asner, Rob Lowe, Bruce Greenwood, Clancy Brown, James Remar, Danny Trejo, Adrian Pasdar, and Alan Tudyk among others. It's a great show for kids I think in that it pushes some boundaries a little, but never goes to far into extremely scary or sad territory (in my opinion). My 5 year old girl was hooked immediately (I think she enjoyed the girl characters quite a bit), but your mileage may vary with your kids. I eagerly anticipate season 2 on Blu-ray as these episodes look quite excellent in this format.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Masters of Cinema - THE GANG'S ALL HERE on Blu-ray

THE GANG'S ALL HERE (1943; Busby Berkeley)
"Don't be a square from Delaware, get hep to yourself."
Busby Berkeley is a name that is sadly lesser known to non-cinephile's despite his vast impact as a stylist that has carried into a lot of contemporary cinema today. Films as disparate as Spielberg's INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM the Coen Brothers' THE BIG LEBOWSKI and Disney's animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST all pay loving tribute to Berkeley and his pinache for staging. The words "visionary" and "genius" are thrown about a lot and thus diluted a bit, but Busby Berkeley was certainly both. Though he apparently couldn't dance a step himself, he managed to choreograph and film some of the most delightful and surreal sequences in all of musical cinema. He was truly a master of "making the camera dance" as it were. It's been said that, as a director, Berkeley could be somewhat unsympathetic to his actors especially in terms of the demands he made of them (many many takes, complicated camera setups). That said and as much as I do feel for the actors, I must admit that what he brought to the screen in his films is still truly dazzling. As much as I think of more contemporary directors and more prolific movers of the camera, Berkeley was certainly no slouch in this department. Apparently, the man loved his crane shots and that is absolutely on display in THE GANG'S ALL HERE right out of the gate. The opening set piece is a glorious and dizzying thing of beauty that plays out in a giant soundstage that is meant to be an enormous nightclub with the capacity to put on outlandish and impossibly huge musical numbers for their relatively small crowds. THE GANG'S ALL HERE is something of a bittersweet movie in that it is kind of Berkeley's swan song interns of making a film with carte Blanche and full studio backing (Daryl Zanuck was a huge Berkely supporter so he had his back). That said and especially with the addition of technicolor into the kaleidoscopic mix, it really does make for one of the most exuberant and wonderful musicals ever made. THE GANG'S ALL HERE is quite a singular film, even within Berkeley's remarkable filmography. He really pushes the bounds of the stylistic paradigm he established with his prior work and the result is something quite magnificent. Beyond the amazing "Busby Berkeley-isms" I also must not forget to mention the swell cast here that includes the likes of Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda (who does a couple of her most famous songs), Edward Everett Horton, Eugene Pallette and hugely popular bandleader Benny Goodman.
Masters of Cinema has put out a stunningly lovely Blu-ray here and this transfer alone may be enough to convince done skeptical classic film fans that they finally need to aquire a multi-region player. It is a choice display of what the Blu-ray format can do for even an older film like this one and the results are splendid. It's a must own for fans of classic musicals to be sure. A fantastic disc.

Special Features:
This Masters of Cinema Blu-ray includes a nice commentary track from film critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme as well as Film Historian Ed Hulse. I enjoyed this track very much as it is clear that these three not only know their cinematic stuff (of course), but are very excited to be talking about it in regards to Berkeley and this film in particular. They have a great deal to comment on throughout from various aspects of the production, the actors in the cast (and their careers), historical and studio-related contexts, the difficulties of filming in technicolor, as well as innumerable scene-specific details. It is a Criterion-worthy track and an excellent supplement to this disc.
Also included is "Busby Berkeley- A Journey With a Star" (20 mins). This short restrosoective piece includes interviews duel conversations with USC film professor Rick Jewell and President of the Institute of the American Musical Miles Krueger. Both gentlemen have clearly steeped themselves in classic Hollywood history and are devout fans of Berkeley in general. A lot of neat things are touched on here from Berkeley's place in a studio system that could be both supportive and extremely restrictive to a creative mind such as his well as lots of things that he did as signatures that were part of this film as well as his others. A lively and passionate discussion of the man.
Lastly, there is also a 5 minute deleted scene here as well.

Here's a little 3 min clip of something called "Frame By Frame: Busby Berkeley" in which:
"University of Nebraska Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon takes a spin through the extravagant films of musical director Busby Berkeley."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics: ACROSS 110TH STREET and COTTON COMES TO HARLEM

ACROSS 110th STREET (1972; Barry Shear)
It's hard not to associate this film with JACKIE BROWN. The opening title song by Bobby Womack is forever burned into my brain because of its use in the beginning and closing of Tarantino's film as well. It encapsulates Jackie herself (as played by the great Pam Grier) wonderfully and works perfectly (and arguably better) in JACKIE BROWN than this movie where it originated. That being said, ACROSS 110TH STREET is still one of the better things that Blaxploitation cinema has to offer. The ghetto fights back here as "The Family" finds themselves suddenly at war to keep from letting Harlem slip from their grasp. Anthony Quinn (in one of my favorite of his roles) is a NYC cop caught in the middle. Quinn's character is also caught up in the political rigamorall that has seen fit to assign another cop to a murder investigation in Harlem. That straight-laced by-the-book cop is played by Yaphet Kotto. Quinn's character is a rather old-school fella who still believed that roughing up a suspect is all part of the process of getting things done on his beat. Naturally, these two cops don't get along none too well. Kotto is among my favorite actors and he shines brightly in this film. He has this remarkable intensity to him when he wishes to call upon it. When he raises his voice, it is impossible not to feel him taking over a room. Also very good in this film is actor Paul Benjamin (ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, DO THE RIGHT THING) who kind of had his breakout a bit with this movie. This movie has a remarkable energy about it throughout. The black vs. white tension can be felt in almost every scene and it gives the whole thing the feeling of a powder keg ready to explode at any second. Unlike some other Blaxploitation films from around this time, this feels like a more realistic, gritty portrayal of the NYC ghetto. There's no John Shaft superhero-type to ride in and kick some ass. These are sad desperate people and they have no qualms about letting their primal anger take over. In the words of Bobby Womack's title tune, "Breakin' out if the ghetto is a day to day fight". As portrayed in this film, it's more like a an all-out war and an ugly one at that. It all makes for a mighty powerful procedural. Early appearances by pre-ROCKY Burt Young and a pre-Huggy Bear Antonio Fargas are a welcome sight indeed. As an aside, it is always fascinating to watch how police work is done in films pre-computers. Cops combing through phone books, pulling paper files and other such tribulations are an antiquated but amusing sight indeed.
Director Barry Shear was primarily a television guy working on such varied series as THE DONNA REED SHOW, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. and TARZAN as well as other shows and TV-movies. He also did a movie called THE DEADLY TRACKERS which was based on a novel Samuel Fuller (who was to direct and started to, but the project fell apart and was reassembled). Anyway, Shear may show his TV background a bit in terms of the style of 110TH STREET, but I didn't find it particularly bothersome. 
The transfer here is pretty good, plenty of grain throughout but heavy early on for sure, Solid detail though and I get a sense this film was made cheaply and quickly and was not meant to look like Vittorio Storaro or Gordon Willis shot it (the film stock used at the time may be a factor as to the way this transfer looks as well). DP Jack Priestly has also shot plenty of TV and some other NYC films like WHERE'S POPPA? and BORN TO WIN prior to this and those films are a bit more verite than stylish as is 110TH STREET.

Here's a neat interview I found with Paul Benjamin from 1995. He touches on his beginnings as an actor and works his way up to ACROSS 110TH STREET.

COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (1970; Ossie Davis)
"Was that Black enough for ya?"
Owing it's characters to a series of source novels (by Chester Himes) featuring them, detectives "Gravedigger" Jones (Godfrey Cambride) and "Coffin Ed" Johnson  (Raymond St. Jacques) don't feel like they belong in the ACROSS 110TH STREET universe. The dimension they exist in is no less dangerous, but they themselves are more like supercops than Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn. At one point early on in the film, the duo demonstrate a near super-strength when they toss a man high into the air like some sort of rag doll. And the way these two speak in a clever, more traditionally hard-boiled kinda way makes them feel more a part of the Dashiell Hammett- verse than the real world. None of this is a problem mind you, I actually tend to prefer this kind if stylized canvas of crooks and cops going at each other. This film was cowritten (adapted) and directed by the great Ossie Davis. For me though, Godfrey Cambridge is the highlight here. He gives one of the most smug performances I've ever seen in a movie. He smirks his way through 90 percent of his time on screen and it's almost too much. He can pull of this kind of  hotshot pomposity like few others and whilst still making it entertaining.
The background of COTTON is filled with memorable character actors like Cleavon Little, Redd Foxx, Helen Martin and others. COTTON COMES TO HARLEM is certainly notable for its place as an early part of the Blaxploitation Cannon. Seeing such a large cast of black actors in a studio film was not a common thing around this time. There are very few white actors in the movie at all. One of the most notable  of them in the film for me was Leonardo Cimino (aka "Scary German Guy" from THE MONSTER SQUAD). Another highlight is it's depiction of Harlem circa the late 1960s. Lots of interesting locations and businesses with names like "Big Wilts", "King Fu Chow Mein" and my personal favorite, "Chili Woman".
This is a pretty nice looking transfer. The print appears clean and the colors pop nicely. Good detail here as well. 

Here's a sort of retrospective interview with Ossie Davis from 2002.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - JT Lindroos

JT Lindroos is a Finnish-American designer and writer. He currently reviews mostly european comics for Bookgasm, and designs book covers and occasional dvd releases. Formerly the owner of Point Blank Press, he published two volumes of Glenn (DVD Savant) Erickson's writings, as well as three books by film director Josh Becker (or Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except 'fame'). His portfolio on pinterest, hosting sharpie caricatures of Barbara Stanwyck, Warren Oates and Sam Fuller among other work, is as good a place to start as any:
Also, he just recently did an underrated westerns list for RPS which you should check out:

Mountains of the Moon (1990) d. Bob Rafelson This knockout sleeper from 1990 directed by Bob Rafelson seems largely forgotten today, but I loved it from the moment I saw it on vhs in the early 90s. A fantastically realistic old-time adventure, describing Burton & Speke's (Patrick Bergin and Iain Glen) journey to central Africa in search for the source of the Nile. The sense of true adventure and wonder of the early days of exploration is captured in a way that's exceedingly rare. Absolutely recommended. 

Black Robe (1991) d. Bruce Beresford Another visceral and neglected modern adventure film, this time set in the Canadian wilderness of the 1600s. A young Jesuit priest (Lothaire Bluteau) is sent from a settlement to locate a Catholic mission deep in Huron territory. What makes this film so striking is not just the magnificent locations or the stark snow covered birch forests and the freezing rivers, but it captures a vision of reality that resonates for me years after seeing the film. It's exciting, downbeat and dramatic, with bursts of violence. Much as I loved Michael Mann's LAST OF THE MOHICANS, this spectacular little film by Bruce Beresford headbutted that modern classic on its knees. For me. 

Peking Opera Blues (1986) d. Tsui Hark I'm not sure this is underappreciated as much as the first two, but the fact that it still remains unavailable in the US on dvd or blu-ray means it might be forgotten. It shouldn't be, as this is likely one of the finest examples of prime era Hong Kong cinema. It's the movie that got me interested in the genre back in the late 80s when I caught it on the big screen. It's screwball comedy with startling violence, smartly executed human drama, littered with magnificent stunt work set in the luridly colorful world of the Peking Opera of 1913. Spectacular fun with Brigitte Lin, Cherie Cheung and Sally Yeh. 

Breakout (1975) d. Tom Gries Let's change the pace a bit. This is a humorous prison-escape featuring Charles Bronson and his most exuberant catfish mustache that never gets mentioned when people discuss his films. It's funny on purpose, and features one of my favorite Bronson performances. The supporting cast is ridiculously good: Robert Duvall, John Huston, Sheree North, Randy Quaid and the great Emilio Fernandez. It's shot by Lucien Ballard and scored by Jerry Goldsmith. And as intentionally funny and exciting it is, the outrageously shocking ending boggles the mind. Am I the only one to love this film?

Arabian Nights (1942) d. John Rawlins And finally, earlier and lighter fare, but no less full of wonder. Featuring the tag-team of Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Sabu, with Shemp Howard as Sinbad the Sailor, this is pure giddy technicolor fun set in that djinn-infested exotic city of magic, Bagdad. Full of spectacular sets, abundant action punctuated by "boin-n-n-g" sounds when the chubby fella knocks down villains with his protruding paunch, and terrible jokes, this exuberant gem captures true movie magic in a little golden lamp. Rub it.

Underrated Action/Adventure - Robert Ham

Robert Ham’s lifelong obsession with cinema began one fateful afternoon watching Hannah and Her Sisters in a Seattle theater back in 1986. Since then, he has cultivated a career as a freelance writer, covering arts and culture for such publications as Paste, Portland Mercury, and Wondering Sound. He also started up his own film blog, Biocarbon Amalgamate, which is nowhere near as good as this one and doesn’t even dare try to be.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Seems like folks would like to forget Timothy Dalton’s stead as James Bond, but I have a soft spot for the Welshman and his work in this film and Licence To Kill. He doesn’t have the swagger or joie de vivre of the folks who have played the character before or after, but he brings a sly wit to the role that I really appreciated. Dalton really shined in his first installment, mostly when bantering with Joe Don Baker and Maryam d’Abo, but it was also a thrill to watch him in the great action sequences peppered throughout. This might not be as underrated as I think considering it’s $191 million take at the box office and relative critical success, but when Peter Travers lists this as the third worst Bond film, I feel like I’m all alone in my appreciation of this little blockbuster.

Firefox (1982)
Not the first movie anyone would think of when surveying the filmography of Clint Eastwood, but I think it’s a splashy, tense picture that, although dated, is very much in love with the possibilities of modern technology. A chilling film to look at now considering how much closer we are getting to the existence of super planes like this in our Drone Age. At the very least, it’s just a lot of fun to watch ol’ Clint play the action star after years of Westerns, cop flicks, and diversions like Any Which Way But Loose.

The Numbers Station (2013)
Here’s a film that was rather dumped into the world last year with zero fanfare and quickly shuttled over to DVD/Blu and on demand services. I was curious as a fan of a fascinating and strangely chilling CD set The Conet Project, which compiled recordings of these mysterious numbers stations. It turned out to be quite a thrilling and knotty little picture with John Cusack ably taking on the part of a government operative fighting to protect himself and the woman reading these odd number sequences over a shortwave frequency.

Haywire (2011)
This did relatively well in the theaters and did get some critical love, but I’m really hoping this finds a second life via DVD/Blu as it is a cracking action flick. And a rare one with a woman taking the lead. It’s directed with Steven Soderbergh’s requisite visual flair while also carrying with it the energy of the original Bourne trilogy and some of the best modern Bond films.

Dredd (2012)
A cult classic right out of the gate, Dredd tanked at the box office and was quickly yanked from theaters as it underperformed. Such a shame as its one of those films that soars in the big screen setting. Unlike the horrible Sly Stallone attempt at bringing this British comic book icon to movie theaters, this one held true to the source material. Judge Dredd is brutal and unforgiving, and you never once see his face. With all the action relegated to one troubled apartment complex, the scenes are tense and claustrophobic. Throughout, Dredd proves himself to be an unrelenting force of nature, shooting and punching and kicking his way to the top floor.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Steve Grzesiak

I am, professionally speaking, a writer and commentator on what would be called 'adult entertainment websites' in polite circles. But you can call me a porn reviewer if you want. I was raised on Laurel & Hardy and Clint Eastwood films, went through the obvious Stallone / Schwarzenegger phase, and now I'll watch just about anything. As long as it doesn't have capes in it.
You can follow me on Letterboxd and on Twitter as well.

Breakheart Pass (Tom Gries, 1975)
Often mislabelled as just Charles Bronson returning to westerns, Breakheart Pass is actually nothing like your average western. Well, that is until some 'injuns' come whooping and hollering into scene near the end. Before that, however, this is a mystery adventure thriller based on an Alistair MacLean novel about a train carrying medical supplies to a diphtheria-infected army fort. Bronson is pretty much as you'd expect, as are the always reliable Richard Crenna and Charles Durning. What you don't expect from Bronson is for him to suddenly pull out a drop-kick on someone on top of a moving train....

North Sea Hijack (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1979)
Made during Roger Moore's Bond run, he plays an altogether different kind of hero here. The kind of hero who, for instance, has an obsession with cats, wears a woolly bobble hat, barks at James Mason for suggesting that it's too early for a whiskey ("It's four hours since breakfast! It's LATE!") and is even more of a misogynist pig than Bond is or was. Anthony Perkins hams it up as a terrorist who wants £25 million to not blow up some oil rigs in the titular body of water. It's one of those films that knows exactly how awesomely daft it is, and it's quite right too.

Race With The Devil (Jack Starrett, 1975)
If you come to watching any movie starring Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and RG Armstrong that is pretty much a road movie on paper, what you perhaps wouldn't be expecting is for it to turn into an action adventure horror hybrid somewhere along the line. While Loretta Swit and Lara Parker are asked to contribute nothing more than screaming at the tops of their lungs and looking up devil worshipping in some library books, Fonda and Oates are amusingly gruff while all kinds of splendidly entertaining nonsense unfolds around them. A beautifully chaotic car chase and a brilliantly improbable ending tops it all off nicely.

Sleepless Night (Frederic Jardin, 2011)
It's probably a bit too early for any movie to be tagged as 'underrated' when it's only about 3 years old, but the lack of exposure for Frederic Jardin's claustrophobic action thriller is wholly undeserved. This actioner is almost entirely a one location film, set around a nightclub where a corrupt cop is attempting to find his kidnapped son. Action films almost always require a lot of space to work well in, but Sleepless Night uses its cramped settings ingeniously. An incredibly brutal kitchen brawl and a brilliant use of a dance-along to Queen's Another One Bites The Dust to evade pursuers are just two of the many delights in this relentless French fancy.

Trespass (Walter Hill, 1992)
Ice T and Ice Cube versus Hudson from Aliens and Death from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Who's your money on? Walter Hill's action caper plays out like an urban The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, with Art Evans doing the Walter Huston turn - and quite well, actually. Bills Paxton and Sadler are firefighters searching for some hidden treasure in a dilapidated East St. Louis warehouse, and that to me is one of those movie descriptions that I could never resist. Certainly not one of Hill's best but far, far better than being passed off as one of his lesser flicks as many critics seemed to insist that it was.
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