Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Friday, May 27, 2016

Underrated '86 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong habit of obsessive movie watching. His current project, #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project can be found at Find him on twitter at @007hertzrumble.
The first step in compiling an Underrated 'XX list is creating a tally of all potential candidates. I start with the Letterboxd list of most popular movies from the year and scan the titles until I find a movie that feels way too low. After one pass, on average, I come up with a list of 10-15 titles, plus another handful that I want to watch or rewatch. My list for 1986 started at 27 titles. As a result, I'm going to go as far as to suggest that 1986 is the finest year in underappreciated cinema history. Crown it now. Plan the parade. I could have easily added another five titles to this list of eight, but I'll spare you my magnum opus of Underrated 1986. If you can't get enough 1986, hit me up on Twitter and I'll gladly offer my list of B-sides. Even C-sides. My irrational love of 80's cinema runs deep, friends. 

Clockwise (1986, Christopher Morahan) 
Basil Fawlty on Adderall and subjected to a no good very bad day. It's hard to be disappointed by John Cleese. I get warm and fuzzies for John Cleese as Q/R in the latter Pierce Brosnan James Bond films. (It's probably because I feel like his report with Brosnan is a half-step removed from the Parrot Sketch.) Clockwise tells the very British tale of an obsessively punctual secondary school headmaster who finds himself on the worst road trip ever to receive a prestigious award that would justify his time-scrimping ways. Watching Cleese play a character that steadily unravels over the course of 90 minutes should be more than enough reason to watch Clockwise. 

Some have criticized the film for being inconsequential. True. There's no character arc, no real drama. John Cleese's Mr. Stimpson is an insufferable but still somehow likeable human. Mr. Stimpson must get from Point A to Point B with the aide of one of his students without making a complete ass of himself. (Spoiler alert: he makes a complete ass of himself.) Though we know he'll eventually reach Point B and the misunderstandings will eventually be resolved, the movie serves sidetracks of increasingly delicious absurdity for our anti-hero. When a movie focuses on depicting John Cleese in a rabid state of mania, you'll be entertained. That's all you really need to know.
Crossroads (1986, Walter Hill) 
It's like this Walter Hill film fell off the face the earth. Except that it's still here and available to watch whenever someone has enough good judgment to seek it out. In 1986 the movie opened with a number of glowing reviews. And then poof. Gone. 

Crossroads is a retelling of the Robert Johnson myth through the travels of Joe Seneca's septuagenarian harmonica bluesman (and former companion of Robert Johnson) and his go-gettum white prot‚g‚ guitarist (Ralph Macchio). Macchio, clad in his finest TJ Maxx Miami Vice jacket, locates the bluesman hiding out in a NYC nursing home. The youngster wants to record a lost Robert Johnson song with the old man, thus solidifying his name as legitimate performer of the blues, and not just a Julliard-trained classical guitarist with no soul. 

This variation of the Faustian bargain feels familiar. Your soul for everything you desire. But Crossroads offers more. Crossroads discusses the value inherent to the experiences of a life lived - even the hardships and the lies and the regrets. Seneca's performance conveys every ounce of that character's turmoil and fear. It's not only his confrontation with mortality, it's also his certain confrontation with the consequences of a deal he made with a man named Scratch down at the crossroads. It's a tremendous bit of acting that has largely gone unheralded over the last 30 years. And just when you think the whole story might be getting a bit stale, maybe a bit preachy, Crossroads stages a most excellent guitar battle climax between Ralph Macchio and Steve Vai. I won't spoil it with any more gross details because it's even more amazing and absurd and fist-pump stirring than it sounds.
Heat (1986, Dick Richards) 
I've been a longtime defender of Burt Reynolds' film production of the 1980's. Not only are his films critically undervalued, but his 1980's filmography is also an interesting extra-texual study of a box office star in decline. By the mid-1980's his iconic laugh and comic machismo had been replaced by weary disillusionment. In succession he starred in Stick, Heat, and Malone - critical and commercial failures. They're easily dismissed, but far more interesting than face value in that they were a conscious attempt by Reynolds to rebrand his cinematic persona. 

The low-key Heat stands out for the very same reasons it's forgotten. Reynolds plays Nick Escalante, a heavy for hire in the not-so-great city of Las Vegas. (No job is too small for the right price.) He takes a few punches to help an emasculated fellow appeal to his fianc‚. He helps a young girl seek revenge for a sexual assault by "softening" up some goons so she can waltz in and exact a measure of revenge with a pair of garden shears. "I want to hold his nuts in my hand," she says. Nick dreams of leaving his personal hellhole and retiring to Venice. Only he's a gambling addict with a knack for pushing his luck. Though the film's billed as a thriller, Heat's an episodic character study, a gritty neo-noir, with a few comically awkward slo-mo action shots mixed in. Burt and co-star Peter MacNicol make an unlikely but fascinating duo. 

William Goldman, who wrote the script from his own novel, called Heat one of his major disasters. Consider that Robert Altman was originally tabbed to direct and worked one day on the film before abandoning the project after his Canadian cameraman Pierre Mignot failed to get a work visa. Dick Richards (Farwell, My Lovely) signed on to finish the project, but a scuffle with Reynolds landed Richards a broken jaw. In total 6 different directors worked on the film, fueling Heat's stigma as true cinematic Titanic. Maybe I'm just attracted to these kinds of wreckages but I find Heat to be a rather fascinating portrait of a damaged character reflecting an actor's damaged big-screen persona. Maybe it's also because I still sense the influence of Altman. One could even make a few connections between Heat and Altman's The Long Goodbye. In my world that's high praise. Give Burt another chance, will you?
Off Beat (1986, Michael Dinner) 
At first I blamed the Judge Reinhold/Meg Tilly combo-blinders (OMG MEG TILLY AND JUDGE REINHOLD IN THE SAME MOVIE! WHAT BEAUTIFUL DIMENSIONAL SCHISM IS THIS?), but I grew to sincerely enjoy this mild-mannered, milquetoast comedy about a futsy librarian ensnared in global deceit and espionage. Okay, none of that. The futsy librarian merely pretends to be a cop to get his buddy (an actual cop) out of the highly embarrassing audition for a police department public relations musical stage production. It's no more complicated than that. Lighthearted but with the sincere heart that only the Judge can deliver. Off Beat solidified itself as a winner when it teased traditional mistaken identity plot points (and the associated contrived drama), but sidestepped them all in favor of earnest and reasonable reactions. Everyone accepted that of course Judge Reinhold was just being a good guy with the best of intentions. And of course Judge Reinhold would fall madly in love with Meg Tilly. (Who wouldn't?) He was forgiven, and conclusion reached without even an insufferable "missing you" rom-com montage. Everybody just let bygones be bygones. 

This movie also features Joe Mantegna, Harvey Keitel and John Turturro if you can believe it. I'm not alone in this affection for Off Beat. I had to do a little bit of research to prove I wasn't crazy. Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars and called it "a movie about sweet, likable people who get into a funny situation and watch it grow funnier the more they try to escape from it." I don't always agree with Roger, but in this instance I'll let him be my wingman.
Round Midnight (1986, Bertrand Tavernier) 
A powerful, potent tale of fictional jazz legend Dale Turner, played by real jazz legend Dexter Gordon. Gordon's natural charisma and gravitas anchor a film riddled with moments of tenderness and solitude. At times infringing on the cinema verite style of filmmaking, Round Midnight is a love letter to fans of jazz. It's hard to fathom that this film remains rather unseen, even by music fans. You don't have to love jazz to appreciate Round Midnight, but if you love jazz, there's just no excuse. It's a thrill watching the late, great Dexter Gordon own the screen in his only film performance. He offers a snapshot of himself, baring his soul (and maybe a bit of Bud Powell's as well, based on what I've read) and hiding behind the guise of the fictional story to suggest that it's not just Dexter Gordon you're seeing, but the struggles of all great jazz musicians of that era.  
Round Midnight and Crossroads share more than a few thematic threads. The nature of inspiration. The potency of our scars. The tragedy of creative brilliance. The movie shocked me upon first viewing - a viewing I believe was inspired by Midnight's appearance on another list featured on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.
X: The Unheard Music (1986, W.T. Morgan) 
A visceral collage of sight and sound. Familiarity with the band not necessary to enjoy this prescient, experimental rock-doc about the punk band that nobody knew because, as the film and the band members suggest, X never sold their soul to the highly commercialized institution. 

Fortunes have shifted somewhat for X, who are now revered for the very qualities that made them largely anonymous in the mid-1980's. Therefore, It might not be entirely fair to call X "the unheard music" anymore; they've gained a larger reputation as champions of the 1980's punk scene, and maybe even as the quintessential L.A. punk outfit. I do think it's fair to say that X: The Unheard Music is more X: The Unheard Music: the Unseen Documentary. The film stands out because it's more about the music and our visceral response to the music than it is the parts that actually fall into the "documentary" genre. This is experimental filmmaking, an 84-minute music video inspired by Un Chien Andalou.

Bonus picks:

Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986, Gene Saks) 
An underappreciated dramedy about growing up Polish-Jewish in the 1930's based on the Neil Simon play. Brighton reminds us that sex-crazed teenage boys were sex-crazed teenage boys in all eras. And while the film trades in some of the hornball tropes of the 1980's (albeit with a PG-13 decorum), Jonathan Silverman (in his first starring role) offers us a character about which we actually grow to care. He ponders how he'll make the Yankees with a name like Eugene, bemoans the haunting smell of cooked cabbage, and discusses with his brother which woman has the best boobs in the neighborhood. The movie bounces along, a series of clipped vignettes and side chats with the camera. No scene runs too long and most end abruptly after witty jab or comical quip. A solid script and quotable dialogue boost many endearing moments of pubescent angst. Blythe Danner and Bob Dishy are both fantastic as our horny, liver-hating protagonist's parents.
Peking Opera Blues (1986, Tsui Hark) 
Maybe it's not underrated, per say. I've seen claims that this is Tsui Hark's finest film. But is it just me or does nobody talk about this movie anymore? When I'm considering what movies are truly underseen or underrated for these lists, I often take to Letterboxd to compare log numbers. As I debated the merits of including Peaking Opera Blues on this list, I compared it with another Hong Kong film from 1986, A Better Tomorrow, just to see where it stood, raw numbers-wise. Woo's film has been logged more than six times that of Hark's. There's a few contributing factors here. Action readily transcends cultural barriers, and Woo's a far bigger name here in the United States than Hark. But I don't care about any of that. Great movies are great movies and Peking Opera Blues is a great goddamn movie, the kind of broad comedy that recalls the screwballs of the classic studio era. Bringing Up Baby comes to mind. A genre-less blend of action, comedy, adventure and gender-bending chaos. The narrative never stops for a breather, but the controlled, anarchic chaos is hardly the only selling point. Set in 1913 Beijing, Peking Opera Blues offers a visual splendor of sets, costumes and theatrical design. You may note a few murky bits of gender politics, but it's hard to focus precisely on any of the film's warts when the story constantly usurps expectation. Every character in the film is putting on some kind of performance - be it for the cause of theater, espionage, or rebellion - all for the benefit of our pure entertainment.

Shirt-Tacular - Pizza Party Printing

Now I haven't actually done one of my "Shirt-Tacular" columns in a little while and that has mostly to do with the fact that I haven't come across in a cool new T-Shirt companies for a bit. Pizza Party Printing grabbed my attention immediately for a few reasons. First, they had this absolutely rad REPO MAN Shirt and I had to have it:
If you're a REPO MAN fan (and I don't know too many cool people who aren't) you can help but be drawn to this design.

So whenever I find a single shirt I like at a given site, I have to peruse their inventory to see what else they have. Sometimes I'll find a site that sells one good shirt and that's kinda it. Either the rest of their stuff is not what I'm into or whatever the case may be, we just aren't a match. When I started looking through Pizza Party's inventory, I could immediately tell that these were good movie people who "got me". We were just obviously on the same page as far as the types of stuff we're into. I'll give examples below, but they have a range of stuff from 80s movies to horror to general cult flicks and it was quite perfectly up my alley.
The next shirt of theirs that caught my eye was this NIGHT OF THE COMET:
Like many of you, I have been a NIGHT OF THE COMET fan for a long time and I kinda can't resist a shirt like this. I've actually not seen a ton of NIGHT OF THE COMET related memorabilia that I really dug so this was a lovely surprise. With two home runs to their credit, I poured over the rest of the Pizza Party site and found all these goodies:

So last but not least, I should mention that Pizza Party Printing has this awesome thing that they do where you can select their subscription service and get your shirts sent to you in a pizza box like this:
That jut kinda rounds out what was already a really cool shirt company and made them just a little bit cooler. They also sell posters and buttons too!

Do yourself a favor and find Pizza Party Printing on any and all social media platforms that you use:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Underrated '86 - Peter J. Fabian

Peter and I were video store comrades back when I was in college. He's been a movie lover for a quite a while and I am always interested to hear what he thinks of films, both new and old, good and bad.

Follow him on twitter @kiwified77.
Armor of God (Dir: Jackie Chan)
Befuddlingly re-released in the USA in 1998 during Jackie's American Renaissance as a "sequel" to OPERATION CONDOR (which was originally the sequel to this), ARMOR OF GOD is quintessential Jackie: fun, frantic, and full of action set pieces unlike anything that could be found in the states at the time. Jackie's climactic monastery fight is a career highlight. It also features one of Jackie's most catastrophic accidents, a fall from a broken tree branch onto a rock that resulted in a quarter-sized patch in his skull.

A Better Tomorrow (Dir: John Woo)
Before teaming up in the action classics THE KILLER and HARD-BOILED, John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat made this "brothers on both sides of the law" action drama in which Chow Yun-Fat plays a secondary character but completely steals the show. At times dipping too deeply into melodrama, A BETTER TOMORROW clearly demonstrates the action artistry of John Woo that would become known as "bullet ballet" filmmaking. Also not to be missed is the 1987 sequel that, while at times shamelessly plunging headfirst into melodrama, contains one of the best climactic shootouts of Woo's entire filmography.

The Name of the Rose (Dir: Jean-Jacques Annaud)
Based on the late great Umberto Eco's debut novel, THE NAME OF THE ROSE is a visually and narratively captivating rumination on censorship... or post-modernism... or the fleeting nature of beauty and happiness... or maybe all of these, I'm not really sure. That contemplation incites rewatches and discussion made all the more inviting by the dark beauty of the film and the engaging performance by Sean Connery as the Holmesian friar William of Baskerville. So much more than a period mystery, there's both a self-aware intelligence and a black sense of humor to the film, giving it a unique flavor an earning it a place on this list.

Running Scared (Dir: Peter Hyams)
A dancer and a comedian in a Chicago buddy cop film? It probably shouldn't work... oh, but it does. Almost too likeable to be cops, Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal as Ray and Danny instill an unexpected charm into what would otherwise have been a beaten-down formulaic actioner. Too funny to be gritty, too fallible to be supercops, Ray and Danny examine the conventions of the buddy cop film only to turn and scramble desperately out of the way (all the way to Key West). Fortunately, they are overcome by convention and are sucked back in by their captain (the legendary and legendarily hirsute Dan Hedaya) for one last job, and the resulting climactic shootout is so beloved by me that I cannot visit downtown Chicago without a visit to its filming location. 

Sweet Liberty (Dir: Alan Alda) 
As he did in some of the best episodes of MASH, Alda writes, directs, and stars in this sweet and simple comedy about a professor whose scholarly book about the Revolutionary War gets a Hollywood-style bludgeoning and his attempts to sabotage it. Like any good comedy, its strength is in its supporting cast, in this case Michael Caine, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bob Hoskins, and Saul Rubinek (it's also one of the final films of screen legend Lillian Gish).  SWEET LIBERTY is less a scathing examination of Hollywood distortions than an examination of one man's love of truth in the face of rebellion, violence, and nudity... but it still makes for a perfect Saturday matinee.

Transformers: The Movie (Dir: Nelson Shin)
Throughout my film school years I avoided TRANSFORMERS:THE MOVIE -despite my childhood adoration for it- for fear of how it might crumble under close analysis. What I discovered upon rewatch is a film so brilliantly textbook in its Campbellian Hero's Journey that it could be -and should be- used in mythology classrooms everywhere. And it pulls no punches to tell that story, and not for a moment (with the possible exception of one rhyme-scheme obsessed robot) does it ever talk down to its young market. Tragedy abounds throughout the film. Childhood heroes fall. Many of them. Death, injustice, sacrifice, and hope in the shadow of overwhelming odds are recurrent themes. Ultimately it is a lesson in faith that can light the darkest hour, and its emotionally complex and unapologetic approach to that moral in a market inundated with singing princesses and marketable animal sidekicks make it a film that is truly so much more than meets the eye.

Bleeding Skull Video - SCARY TALES on DVD

SCARY TALES (1993; Doug Ulrich)
One thing that you surely get from each Bleeding Skull Video release is a unique viewing experience. The folks over there have made it their mission to unearth some truly special little movies with their label. Both Joe Ziemba and Zack Carlson (who are the creative force behind Bleeding Skull Video) are have spent a great deal of time being film programmers and have developed a very specific knack for finding movies that are often low-budget in nature, but demonstrate some true passion in filmmaking. Joe and Zack don't approach their label with an ironic eye for the "so bad it's good" movies, but rather they look for that determination under the surface that wins out above all other things. Sure these movies are often shot on video and may show signs of less than conventional filmmaking techniques, but they are all special. I believe that often lesser experienced directors can bring to light a perfectly valid yet strange vision of the world that is itself not like any other movies you've seen. In this case, a lack of experience or awareness of technique propels them to find an alternate way to go about things. One that is nonetheless resonant, but odd. SCARY TALES is anthology horror film directed by one Doug Ulrich. There's a neat interview with him in the zine that is included with the disc.
Each of the stories is bookended by a pretty cool-looking hooded Grim Reaper fella with glowing eyes reading from a large book. The three stories are: "Satan's Necklace" wherein a guy finds a evil necklace that turns him into a demon, "Sliced in Cold Blood" about a man who finds out his wife is cheating on him and takes drastic steps, and "Level 21" which concerns a gentleman who finds himself fixated on a video game that he cannot stop playing.
It's easy to see why Bleeding Skull was drawn to this movie. Ulrich is a guy who apparently began making movies when he was very young and became obsessed with making his own masks and do-it-yourself special effects. One thing that SCARY TALES has in spades is lots of gore and blood. Throat slicing, decapitations and general stabbings pop up throughout. The makeup and transformations aren't half bad actually. While the acting is about what you might expect from a no budget shot-on-video horror film, there are plenty of memorable bits of dialogue that you may find yourself quoting for days after. I found myself really charmed by the spirit and cleverness of this movie. The third story is especially interesting and kind of ambitious in its nerdy and violent take on RPGs and Dungeons and Dragons. Silly fun. 

Special features include a short run of comedic outtakes, a vintage local TV talk show interview with the filmmakers and an early demo version of SCARY TALES.

Bleeding Skull has made SCARY TALES available on DVD here:

If you enjoy this movie, I highly recommend checking out some of the other Bleeding Skull Video releases - which I have included trailers for below:

Buy Bleeding Skull movies here:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Underrated '86 - Cinema Du Meep

My friend Michael runs the wonderful Retro Movie Love Podcast. He is a kindred spirit for me and a dude who knows movies well and loves them dearly like I do. Check him out!

Check out his Underrated '85 list from last year too: 
MODERN GIRLS (1986; Jerry Kramer)
Three women and at least one cast member of Just One of the Guyshave a crazy night on the town in this charmer. This is the epitome of pure, colorful 80’s Movie fun. It’s also a terrific portrait of Los Angeles night life of the time. 

MY CHAUFFEUR (1986; David Beaird)
Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman inherits a job as a chauffeur and finds herself in a battle of the sexes. This Movie’s heart is pure 30’s screwball comedy dressed up in the clothes of a silly 80’s sex comedy. I love the mix. Ms. Foreman steals the show as she will charm the pants off you like much like she does with Flash Gordon himself, Sam J. Jones. 

SLEEPWALK (1986; Sara Driver)
Filmmaker Sara Driver might be known as Jim Jarmusch’s other half, but, I always found her Film debut to be quietly powerful. I got the opportunity to be friendly with her through my old job years ago and I expressed my gratitude for this Film. 80’s Independent Cinema may be long gone, but, if you can track down Sleepwalk, you won’t forget it. 

MURPHY’S LAW (1986; J. Lee Thompson)
I love Charles Bronson’s 80’s Movies. How can you not? Murphy’s Law is one of my favorites of the era. It combines slasher elements with Bronson’s typical stoic cop antics and then throws in the always wonderful Kathleen Wilhoite as a foil for Bronson, who eventually teams up with her. This is the oddest couple of the 80’s. I love them together. I wish they had a sitcom. 

If you like Pamela (Adlon) Segall you might already be familiar with this Teen Film, and if you aren't, well, you really need to seek it out. I love all the gender swap Movies of the 80’s, and Something Special is exactly just that. It’s a sweet little treat that always makes me smile. The late Patty Duke co-stars as the mom, John Glover is the dad and Seth Green plays the little brother who’s character introduces the magic into the story. 

I miss 80’s Movies where something magical is a plot point. I miss 80’s Movies in general. 1986 was a wonderful year.

12 more! 
AVENGING FORCE - My favorite Michael Dudikoff flick!
THE BOY WHO COULD FLY - This tender teen drama always gives me the feels. 
ECHO PARK - Funny and poignant. 
EVIL LAUGH - Super silly slasher Movie fun!
FIRE WITH FIRE- More teen drama. More Virginia Madsen. I’m in love. 
KILLER PARTY - More super silly slasher fun. Pretty inventive stuff. 
THE LADIES CLUB - Surprisingly effective Thriller/Horror. I still have the Media VHS tape!
LINK - Elisabeth Shue in a killer animal Film. What more do you want?! 
OFF BEAT - Judge Reinhold & Meg Tilly in a engaging New York story. 
POSITIVE I.D. - Independent Thriller/Noir that desperately needs more love. 
WILDCATS - Show your Goldie Hawn love! This Film still makes me laugh. 
YOUNGBLOOD - One of the more underrated sports Movies of the 80’s. 

Olive Films - ZAPPED! and THE WHOOPEE BOYS on Blu-ray

ZAPPED! (1982; Robert J. Rosenthal)
What can I say about ZAPPED? It's a rather silly sex comedy about a nerdy kid who gets telekinetic powers after an accident in his laboratory at school. The nerdy kid's name is Barney and he's played by Scott Baio. Now Scott Baio is well known for a number of television shows. He was of course "Chachi" on HAPPY DAYS which was a hugely popular show in the late 1970s. His character was even spun off of that show into JOANIE LOVES CHACHI, which had a brief run in 1982 (the same year that ZAPPED! came out). He went on to do CHARLES IN CHARGE and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT later on. Interestingly, his CHARLES IN CHARGE co-star was Willie Aames, who also co-starred with him here in ZAPPED!. Aames was another TV kid like Baio, working a ton in the 70s. His biggest hit was the family drama EIGHT IS ENOUGH, which was a big deal right around the same time as HAPPY DAYS. So both actors broke out into movies around the same time too. Aames did the raunchy comedy SCAVENGER HUNT in 1979, and Baio did the roller disco classic SKATETOWN U.S.A. Both of them followed their more comedic feature debuts with dramas - Baio with Adrian Lyne's FOXES and Aames with the BLUE LAGOON-inspired PARADISE (which came out only a few months before ZAPPED). All this is just to give a little context for these two guys. In ZAPPED, Aames plays the freewheelin', playboy rich kid named Peyton who happens to be Barney's best friend. Peyton is a bit of a scam-artist type and so he immediately sees possibilities for Barney's new found powers - and let's just say they are more on the mischievous side than the righteous side. The movie overall is more of a CARRIE ripoff and even ends with a send up the the infamous climax from that film. What's enjoyable about it is that it is definitely an R-rated comedy. There's a good amount of nudity, drug use (Barney is working on a special marijuana strain in the school lab where he's growing orchids for the principal) and general perversion. The movie knows no boundaries of political correctness either and that is kind of delightful. It's a holdover from another time and despite it being not the greatest movie ever, it is still enjoyable to rewatch because of its energy and the obvious chemistry between Aames and Baio. You can see why they worked together more after this movie. Oh and I forgot to mention Heather Thomas, who is the main "desired girl" in the film. She is absolutely gorgeous and certainly another big reason to watch ZAPPED!.
You can order ZAPPED! from Amazon here:

THE WHOOPEE BOYS (1986; John Byrum)
This movie is a bit more under the radar than ZAPPED, but it is worthy of your attention. Now I've been a Michael O'Keefe fan since CADDYSHACK, but I've always liked him as more of a smart-ass than he was in that movie. He can play charismatic, strange and funny along the lines of Chevy Chase if given the opportunity. And with somebody goofy like Paul Rodriguez to play off of, he's even better. Especially when Rodriguez plays an boorish brute with absolutely no filter whatsoever (almost aggressively so at times).The duo are a couple of hustlers who find themselves escaping to Palm Beach Florida from New York City after a brief skirmish with the law. To get out of town, they scam their way into driving a car that needs to be driven down to the Sunshine State. When they drop it off  (six weeks late), they end up at a posh party and do their best to mingle and look for suckers. When they think they've found a gal with a half million dollars to invest, they end up back at her estate. Turns out she's a woman with a problem. She has this great little special school that she runs, but the place is gonna be shut down and made into condos in thirty days if she can't get the cash she needs. The catch is that she's actually heir to a fortune, but she has to get married to claim it and her uncle has to approve her choice of spouse. In order to get approved, said spouse has to come off as cultured and refined. As a result, The boys have to go to charm school to properly pass as husband material. The setup is lovely for a low-brow 80s comedy like this and it is an interesting thing for the guy who played Danny Noonan to be in yet another movie that kind of has a "Slobs against the Snobs" undercurrent to it. The charm school stuff is a lot of fun because the supporting cast there includes the amazing Eddie Deezen (a longtime favorite of mine) as well as Marsha Warfield ("Roz" from NIGHT COURT), who is also awesome. The "institute" as it were is run by Denholm Elliott (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) and his wife. Cult actor Joe Spinell even makes an appearance. The whole thing feels like the training sequences with the new recruits in a PLOICE ACADEMY movie or something. It's the farthest possible thing from politically correct and it is delightful. Rodriguez feels like he's off book and improvising nearly the entire movie and it's pretty crude and mostly hilarious. to All told, this is just the kind of  raunchy comedy that I had a great weakness for as a youngster in the 80s. The presence of Taylor Negron in a supporting role always meant quality to me back then and it still does now.
Buy this Blu-ray here:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Scream Factory - MANHUNTER on Blu-ray

MANHUNTER (1986; Michael Mann)
Michael Mann's movies are often dripping with stylish shots. He and director of photography Dante Spinotti can bathe a room in blue light like nobody's business. They are one of the better director/cinematographer duos out there and they've bright some gorgeous images to cinema (and MANHUNTER was their inaugural collaboration). I think my favorite from them is still THE INSIDER (which has gotten to be less talked about these days, despite its brilliance). MANHUNTER is a great movie though and it not only  acts as a perfect predecessor to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, it also shows the kind of razor sharp filmmaking that Mann is capable of. It is, at its core, a police procedural, but one that finds its main character having to go to some very dark places to help him figure out what's going on inside the killer's head.
The movie puts a lot of weigh on the Will Graham character's shoulders and William Petersen really delivers. He gives a complex performance and illustrates the duality of personality that he is battling with as he sinks deeper and deeper into the case of the terrifying serial killer who has been nicknamed "Tooth Fairy". Said serial killer is played by Tom Noonan, who is one of my favorite character actors out there. He had made a few films prior to this, but MANHUNTER truly helped establish him and his acting talent. He is really understated and scary as Mr. Dollarhyde (aka The Tooth Fairy - who gets that nickname for leaving bite marks on his victims). Noonan is an interesting contraction in that he is extremely tall (close to 6 foot 6" or so), but speaks in a quiet and gentle voice most of the time. He is often calm just before he explodes into violence moments later on several occasions throughout the film. This makes the viewer extremely uneasy any time he is on screen. When he befriends a blind woman (played by Joan Allen), it becomes increasingly more tense as they get to know each other. Noonan has a face that is haunting somehow and when he puts on that stocking mask, he creates one of the more indelible serial killer images in movies.
The other standout  actor in the film is Brian Cox. He does a delightful job as cinema's first Hannibal Lecktor. He's not quite Anthony Hopkins exactly, but his take on the character is quite eerie and potent. It's different enough to be iconic it its own way. Simple things, like the way he kicks his feet up on the wall of his cell when he is talking to Will Graham on the phone pointedly exhibits his comfortability in his own psychopathic skin. Without ever going over the top (as Hopkins does a bit in SILENCE), Cox displays the immense intellect and intimidation that Lecktor carries with him each time he interacts with another person. I think Wes Anderson may have cast Cox in RUSHMORE based on his turn MANHUNTER, and that makes good sense when you see what he is capable of. 
I will say this - for a thirty year old thriller, this movie still creeps me out enough to make me want to double check that  all  the doors and windows in the house are locked before I go to sleep. This is a credit to the filmmaking of Michael Mann and how he slowly builds the tension throughout the movie, while maintaining an air of creepiness from end to end. His style is sometimes flashy, but never took me out of the story and mostly just made me marvel at the craftsmanship and the thought that he seemed to put into each and every shot of the film. He uses light, angles and architecture to create an overall mood that serves the movie well. There are at least a couple compositions that will likely make you say "wow", quietly to yourself as you are watching. What's neat about MANHUNTER is that- as cold as it can be - it is still very much grounded in human emotion. I would say that this element never leaves Mann's films, but I found it to be quite prevalent here. It's really about people trying to connect with each other and I liked that about it.
Special Features:
Scream Factory has done a solid job of assembling a pretty definitive edition of this fan favorite. The set includes both the Theatrical Cut (on disc 1) and the Director’s Cut (in HD With Standard Definition Inserts on disc 2) as well as a host of extra features (a lot of them new to this edition). The HD transfers look good, but I was not able to to an A-B comparison between this disc and the old MGM Blu-ray, so I cannot speak to any differences between the two. That said, the movie looks good (though it takes some getting used to seeing the SD material cut in in the Director's cut) and the supplements are quite nice:

-"The Mind Of Madness"– A New Interview With William Petersen.
-"Courting A Killer" – A New interview With Actress Joan Allen.
-"Francis Is Gone Forever" – A New Interview With Actor Tom Noonan.
-"The First Lecktor" – A New Interview With Actor Brian Cox.
-"The Eye Of The Storm" – A New Interview With Director Of Photography Dante Spinotti.
-"The Music Of MANHUNTER" – Including Interviews With Composer Michel Rubini, Barry Andrews (Shriekback), Gary Putman (The Prime Movers), Rick Shaffer (The Reds) And Gene Stashuk (Red 7).

-Audio Commentary By Writer/Director Michael Mann on the Director's Cut of the Film.
-"The Manhunter Look" - A Conversation With Cinematographer Dante Spinotti.
-"Inside Manhunter" With Stars William Petersen, Joan Allen, Brian Cox And Tom Noonan.

MANHUNTER can be purchased on Blu-ray here:
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