Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Friday, December 19, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY on Blu-ray and HIGH BARBAREE on DVD

I haven't read much in the way of Oscar Wilde, so I was unfamiliar with his source novel. It all feels very "writerly" with characters (especially George Sanders) giving these evil and yet existential monologues to each other. Very poetic and flowery language is used. What ultimately plays out is like a period Twilight Zone, but a it's something of a slow burn kind of affair. An interesting choice that the filmmaker makes is to show the picture itself in full color a couple times and within the context of this otherwise black and white movie it certainly makes the picture stand out in a big way. Apparently inserts of the painting were done in vibrant 3-strip technicolor, making them all the more jarring when they occur. It even adds a level to the supernatural quality the picture has. George Sanders easily runs away with the show as the subtly  dastardly Lord Henry Wotton. It may be one of Sanders' greatest screen performances. Hurd Hatfield, who plays Dorian Gray, is something of a blank slate so he didn't do much for me. I get that he's supposed to be this way, but it really did make it tricky for me to emotionally engage and feel the full impact of the story. Nonetheless, the film is still quite haunting and memorable. The last color shot of the painting is still a bit disturbing and will stay with me for some time.

Special Features:
This disc has some nice supplements making it an nice package:
-An Audio commentary with Angela Lansbury and film historian Steve Haberman. A nice mix of information from Haberman and personal recollections from Lansbury.
-"Stairway To Light" (11 mins) -A short film about French doctor Phillipe Pinel who helped make changes in the way the mentally ill were treated in the 18th century.
-"Quiet Please" (8 mins) a Tom & Jerry cartoon about a dog trying to take a nap and telling Tom that he will do him physical harm if he's not allowed to do so without outside noise. So if course Jerry must do all he can to wake the dog.

HIGH BARBAREE (1947; Jack Conway)
Van Johnson plays a bomber pilot whose plane is shot down over the open ocean. He and co-pilot Cameron Mitchell float about at sea and Johnson's character recalls his life and how he met his love (June Allyson). It's pretty cute little tale that begins back as far as when the the two were a young boy and a young girl. There's a wonderful/suspenseful scene with the two characters as children that involves a water tower early on that is pretty memorable. Both sets of child actors they found to play the characters as youths were pretty solid, affable kids. Van Johnson's "Uncle Thad" (as played by Thomas Mitchell) tells the boy and girl the tale of a secret island called High Barbaree. He swears it exists though it is uncharted and doesn't appear officially on any maps. Uncle Thad is a sailor and also a steady drinker/ His "Scottish friends" come to visit often and often leave him with some trouble to sort out. The whole story, especially with the kids, feels of some sort of Mark Twain-y Americana. It's almost like Huckleberry Finn and his kid girlfriend, but with a somewhat less mischievous Huck (it is Uncle Thad who has a bit more of a wild side at times). Overall a charming tale that is only hindered for me personally by Van Johnson who I find a bit bland for some reason. Worth a look though and one to watch in tandem with THE REFORMER AND THE REDHEAD.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Joseph A. Ziemba

Joseph A. Ziemba was born and raised in the greater Chicagoland area. He’s an art director and film programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. In addition to, he is the co-creator of BLEEDING SKULL! VIDEO ( and the co-author and designer of BLEEDING SKULL! A 1980s TRASH-HORROR ODYSSEY (Headpress, 2013). Joe has toured extensively as a member of the bands Wolfie, The Like Young, Beaujolais, and Taken By Savages.

Bleeding Skull on Twitter:
Bleeding Skull on Instagram:

BUSTER KEATON RIDES AGAIN (1965, Dir John Spotton)
In 1964, Buster Keaton travelled to Canada and made one of his final short films, THE RAILRODDER. It's a quiet travelogue that feels like Jacques Tati directing an educational newsreel. Concurrently, Canada's National Film Board shot BUSTER KEATON RIDES AGAIN -- a behind the scenes documentary about the making of the short. RIDES AGAIN captures Keaton arguing with his director, arguing with his wife, singing songs with his ukelele, and laughing. It's a sad, honest, and beautifully designed snapshot of one of the most neglected filmmakers of humankind at the end of his twilight years. None of us ever had a chance to hang out with Buster Keaton, but this movie gives us an idea of what that might have been like.

THE LOVE CAPTIVE (1969, Dir Larry Crane)
This movie is equal parts documentary, gutter noir, and sexploitation -- all unintentional. Shot on location at Manzini’s Museum Of The Macabre in Greenwich Village, LOVE CAPTIVE follows a girl named Jane as she gets locked in the museum and steals Houdini’s straight-jacket. And then a drooling werewolf wearing a velour shirt molests a nude vampire woman while Dracula, a hunchback, and erotique dancers watch. This isn’t a perfect place to spend 65 minutes. Because in a perfect place, the boring sex scenes wouldn’t last so long. But this smudgy, dream-like smut collage is as close to perfection as we can get in a movie about people having sex through their underwear at a fleabag tourist trap that specializes in fake Houdini artifacts.

RUN COYOTE RUN (1987, Dir James Bryan)
I'm not including RUN COYOTE RUN because it was released through BLEEDING SKULL! VIDEO this year. I'm including it because it was the most brain-crushing first-time viewing experience that I had in 2014. This lost project from exploitation juggernauts Renee Harmon (LADY STREET FIGHTER) and James Bryan (DON'T GO IN THE WOODS) was compiled from over a decade of footage and discovered in the trunk of a used car. It makes the recycled lunacy of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2 seem logical by comparison. Actors age ten years between scenes. Brawls begin in apartments, but end in a warehouses. A stuffed animal appears on the chest of a corpse for no good reason. Ambitious, nightmarish, and impossible to comprehend, this movie rallies for both determination and madness, but never chooses sides.

THE THIEF (1952, Dir Russell Rouse)
Ray Milland plays a sweaty nuclear physicist who finds himself on the run from the FBI after messing around with the Russians. This movie probably would have turned out as mediocre as that plot if it wasn't for one detail -- there isn't a single line of dialogue in the entire thing. Instead of a typical low-budget 1950s noir, we get a gorgeous exercise in style and creativity. Shot in NYC and Washington DC, THE THIEF builds a wall of enthralling anxiety through sound effects, music, shadows, and silent performances. This was allegedly Ed Wood's inspiration for writing I AWOKE EARLY THE DAY I DIED, a project that he would spend most of his adult life trying to get made. After experiencing this spooky netherworld, I can understand why.

THE TWONKY (1953, Dir Arch Oboler)
A woman buys a TV set for her husband, in hopes that it will keep him company while she's on vacation. The TV set comes to life and attempts to take over the world through crude stop-motion and obsolete sight gags. Hooray! Written and directed by old time radio renaissance man Arch Oboler (LIGHTS OUT) on two sets for no money, THE TWONKY is what would happen if Harvey Kurtzman from MAD MAGAZINE collaborated with silent comedy nice-guy Charley Chase on a full-length episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. It's a charming domestic comedy that also has risque puns, dumb psychology, and a surprising amount of pulpy violence. This movie was way better than I thought it would be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Guy Hutchinson

Guy Hutchinson has worked as a radio talk show host and personality on WHWH and WMGQ radio in NJ and is currently the co-host of  'Drunk On Disney,' 'Adventure Club,' 'Flux Capaci-cast' and 'Camel Clutch Cinema' podcasts. Over the years he has interviewed Mick Foley, Bernie Kopell, Andy Richter, Bebe Neuwirth, Joe Camp, Marvin Kaplan, Robbie Rist and many other entertainment figures.
A blogger since 2004, Guy blogs irregularly on and is the sole correspondent for the Ken PD Snydecast Experience. You can follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook and find links to all of his work on

I saw less films than I wanted to in 2014 and often I was revisiting films I had watched 20 years ago. The older I get the more I find myself thinking 'why take a chance on an older film I haven't seen when I can spin one of those I watched and liked in the past.

Still, this motley bunch of flicks ended up before my eyes and all of them (to varying degrees) were a fun watch.

So this is Washington (1943)
Lum and Abner were a pair of comedy characters from a very popular radio show of the same name. They were a pair of surprisingly clever Hillbillies who often ended up outsmarting the Yankees they dealt with.
In this film Abner invents a synthetic rubber in his basement and takes it to Washington. The film starts off with a high 'laugh to groan ratio' and then wears this in the middle but closes out well with some great 'fish out of water' comedy in the nation's capitol.

White Men Can't Jump (1991)
I put on this 1992 comedy film fully believing that I had watched it before. About 30 minutes in I started to realize I had never seen this movie. This film tells the story of an unlikely team of street hustlers. Wesley and Woody share a delightful dynamic and Rosie Perez is fantastic as Harrelson's love interest.

Beauty and the Beast: A Work in Progress (1991)
I had seen Beauty and the Beast a few times and it certainly is a Disney masterpiece. After a trip to Walt Disney World's new Be Our Guest restaurant I decided to watch it again.
However, I noticed the DVD had an alternate version entitled 'Beauty and the Beast: A Work in Progress.'
This version of the film was shown at the New York Film Festival in September 1991. The film was mostly complete with several scenes supplemented by sketches, drawings and painted storyboards.
It was certainly a unique way to look at a familiar film.

Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Chalk this up to low expectations, but I enjoyed this film. I was too old to watch it in 1993 and avoided it for all of these years. Then when a copy of the DVD was at a garage sale the day after I read a website about the worst video game films ever, I figured it was worth a quarter.
Yes, it's bad. It's occasionally baffling and almost always bizarre. But it never bored me and on occasion it was very fun to look at. Hoskins puts his all into the role and the set design is inspired. 

Beer (1984)
A failing brewery finds their salvation when three losers (David Alan Grier, William Russ, and Saul Stein) stop a robbery at a bar.
The film hits all the right notes including an absolutely preposterous (in a good way) third act.
This is a fun time capsule.

The Three Ages (1923)
Buster Keaton and Wallace Beery shine in this silent comedy. Three concurrent stories are told. One in prehistoric times, one in ancient Rome and a final tale in modern day (the roaring twenties!)
Each tale spins a comedic yarn about what men do for love (and what it does to them!)
The third age was my favorite with wonderful gags coming at a restaurant and football game. 

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
This is a celebrated cult classic and one of the films I had always wanted to see. It lives up to the hype. It's a quirky film with lush characters and a well crafted story.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Scream Factory - LORD OF ILLUSIONS on Blu-ray

LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995; Clive Barker)
Having recently gotten a nice healthy dose of the Clive Barker universe with Scream Factory's excellent NIGHT BREED Collector's edition Blu-ray, I was kind of primed to jump in again with this new disc from them and him. It was a different animal though in that I has seen NIGHT BREED when it came out (or thereabouts) so I had some memory of it, whereas with LORD OF ILLUSIONS I hadn't yet seen it and has nothing to go on. I take that back, I do vaguely recall it being a very big deal at the video store I worked at when LORD OF ILLUSIONS landed on VHS. I'm pretty sure we got like a bazillion (approximately) copies at that time and it rented pretty well for a while. So going in I knew very little other than that Scott Bakula was in it. I had been less than thrilled with his Star Trek excursion so I was skeptical. And I found the openjng sequence to be pretty cringe inducing for one reason or another so it wasn't looking good for this one, but I stuck it out. Bakula was fine ( though I obviously prefer him in a much lighter role   perhaps in the QUANTUM LEAP ballpark) and I enjoyed seeing Kevin J. O'Connor in a more prominent role than I had become accustomed to. Early Famke Jannsen is a lovely thing as well. All that said though, the thing that hooked me the most was seeing an L.A. based nourish detective story done through the Clive Barker lense. I mean, I love a good detective noir anyway, but it's always interesting to see it done with at least something of a different spin. Barker's darkly magical, ritualistic and bloody world functioned as a kind of post-modern landscape through which to experience the genre all over again. I mean, the movie is no BLADE RUNNER or CHINATOWN or anything, but as I said it has it's charms. When thinking of post-modernist detective movies involving magic, I immediately go to 1991's CAST A DEADLY SPELL with the great Fred Ward. I prefer that movie to this, but they both take distinctly different approaches. CAST A DEADLY SPELL does a lot if interesting world-building in terms of its magical milleu, whilst LORD OF ILLUSIONS does more to ground its magical fantasy in some sort of demented reality. Both are interesting ways to go. I enjoy both for different reasons. The parts of LORD that give me the most trouble have to do with the cult and cult leader that play a big part of the movie. It's not that those part are handled poorly, it is rather the fact that I personalky find cult related stuff in movies to be inherently stupid. I just personally find it all kind of laughable. This is not to say that I don't believe scenarios like that occur, but as far as how it plays out on screen for me - it rarely ever works in a way that doesn't end up taking me out of the movie. All that said, I do feel like Barker pulls off something interesting and unique in his attempts to combine noir with horror and the movie is certainly worth a look for those who've yet to see it.

Special Features:
This is a very nice Scream Factory Collector's Edition in terms of the extras. Not only are there two cuts of the film (Theatrical and Director's) included, but in addition to that:
-An Audio Commentary by director Clive Barker. This is a very informative track and comes recommended from me. Fans especially will enjoy.
-Original Behind the Scenes Footage (62 Mins) This making-of piece includes interviews with Clive Barker, Scott Bakula  and among others) at the time of the production. They call it a combination of CHINATOWN and THE EXORCIST which is interesting and totally makes sense in retrospect. It's a neat featurette that goes into a good deal of detail about how the movie was brought to the screen (special effects, acting). There's lots of Barker discussing his vision for the film, which is quite interesting especially because it's him circa 1995.
-"A Gathering of Magic" (18 mins) This is more of a standard EPK type thing with director and cast interviews and some footage of the movie being shot.
-"Drawing Boards with Martin Mercer" (12 mins) - Interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer who discusses his working relationship with Clive Barker on the movie. Many of his original storyboards are featured here and there is even a drawing to screen comparison as well.
-Deleted Scenes (3 Mins) - these include optional commentary from Clive Barker.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - HICKEY & BOGGS, RUNNING SCARE and AVENGING FORCE on Blu-ray

HICKEY & BOGGS (1972; Robert Culp)
Just like Charles Laughton before him, Robert Culp only directed a single feature film. And like Laughton (with NIGHT OF THE HUNTER), it's good stuff.
HICKEY & BOGGS is a gem of an underrated 70s movie. I must give Quentin Tarantino the credit for making me. Aware of it years ago via some screenings he had of the movie and how I had heard about his declaration of love for it. It wasn't until a few years after that that I caught a screening of it and then later saw it on MGMHD or TCM or something. You see, it hadn't gotten much of a home video release. At one point there was a crappy DVD which was recently (the past few years) followed by an MGM MOD dvd, so this Blu-ray was beyond welcome. 
Hickey and Boggs are old-school detectives. Like their cinematic predecessors before them they charge a daily rate onus expenses. In this case it's $200 per day (which is commented on as  having been effected by inflation early in the film). 
While they feel slightly more modern than Elliott Gould's Marlowe in THE LONG GOODBYE, it wouldn't feel to strange to see Hickey or Boggs bump into him in a bar somewhere or on the beach. Both THE LONG GOODBYE and HICKEY & BOGGS are great Los Angeles detective movies and just great Los Angeles movies in general. One of my favorite mileus in films is L.A. in the 1970s. There's just something about it that makes me want to step into the frame and live in that world. A lot of people (myself included) have great nostalgia for that grimy, dirty New York City that was captured on film in the 1970s. I never even got to see the city in person until around 1996 and I regret that. Same goes for Los Angeles though. Especially since having moved to California in 1999, I have come to appreciate the city much more and have developed a sincere affection for the way it was captured in movies in the 60s and 70s (and earlier). Seeing Elliott Gould or Bill Cosby or Robert Culp running or driving around the same streets that I drive on all the time is a delightful thing I must say. My the city has changed, but there's something kind of magical about it that endures. Anyway, the bottom line is that this is a very solid detective movie and a good Los Angeles movie. It has its humorous moments and also some very dark moments. It carries with it the tradition of the gritty old noirs of the 40s and 50s. The supporting cast is stellar and will have you grinning each time you see another "that guy" actor appear onscreen (Michael Moriarty, Ed Lauter, Vincent Gardenia, Roger E. Moseley, Bill Hickman and of course James Woods).  The disc looks good (featuring the photography from legendary DP Bill Butler). Buy it.

RUNNING SCARED (1986; Peter Hyams)
The "Buddy Cop" movie is one that has endured for a long time. It's easy to see why. As a culture, we seem to very much enjoy stories about police officers and investigations (and also crime). We also obviously love comedy on a large scale so the buddy cop film is a good fit for both of those requirements. Though there were movies of this type before 1986, I think a lot of people think of LETHAL WEAPON (which came out in 1987) as one of the front runners and more memorable early entries in the 1980s rise of popularity in the genre. Sure, I love Riggs and Murtaugh as much as the next guy (in fact my son requested to watch LETHAL WEAPON 3 just last night), but I think Hughes and Costanzo are just as endearing a couple and less often talked about. I personally have fallen in and out of love with Billy Crystal and his comedic stylings over the years. I think I am currently in a renaissance phase of affection for him based on his work in the MONSTERS INC. movies, but watching RUNNING SCARED again reminded me what I used to love about him. He can be a great smartass. Early on in the film, Hughes (Hines) and Costanzo (Crystal) show up to a crime scene and immediately start harassing the cops who are handling it. Costanzo and one of the cops clearly have an antagonistic relationship and he even remarks that the guy should "Go put your nuts in the microwave". This line always makes me snicker and reminds me that movie dialogue has moved away from the word "nuts" being used to describe the male anatomy. We are much more in a "balls" phase right now and while that is endlessly amusing, I do miss the days of "nuts" being referred to regularly in cinema. Another thing I appreciate about RUNNING SCARED is that it is a Chicago movie. Like HICKEY & BOGGS shows love for L.A., RUNNING SCARED does so for Chicago. Chicago is a good city for movies and there have been many great ones that have taken place there. I think I also like the idea of a snowy-scape for a cop movie to take place in. Just helps makes things a little drearier and more menacing somehow. Lastly, you gotta love this cast. Not only are Hines and Crystal wonderful together, but the other actors (Dan Hedaya, Joe Pantoliano, Jimmy Smits, Jon Gries, Steven Bauer and the lovely Darlanne Fluegel) are all next-level character talent and elevate this movie to a fantastic place. Oh lastly, I almost forgot, I liked the trend in the 1980s of having a song and a movie tied together like Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom" is tied to this film. I used to love seeing bits of movies that were included in the music videos for these kinds of songs (see below for the "Sweet Freedom" video).
RUNNING SCARED is one of the best buddy cop movies around and this Blu-ray looks good and is worth picking up. 

Special Features:

-A solid audio commentary track from Peter Hyams. He's an intelligent and thoughtful dude and has a lot of things to say about all aspects of the making of the movie from the casting, the location, script and music. Good track.
-a vintage "On Location" promotional featurette (7 mins). This little "making of" includes behind the scenes interviews and video with Crystal, Hines and Hyams.
-Billy Crystal Outtakes (5 mins) - more behind the scenes video of Crystal just being silly on set. He makes a Joan Blondell joke here which I very much appreciated.

Bonus - Billy Crystal promoting RUNNING SCARED on Letterman in late 1986:

Bonus #2 - "Sweet Freedom" - Michael McDonald:

AVENGING FORCE (1986; Sam Firstenberg)
While this movie is something of the odd man out in this trio, I think it fits with the other two somehow. This is an exciting release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics for many because as much as it may not be a "classic" in the traditional sense, it represents one of the first Cannon Films movie releases on Blu-ray from the young label. AVENGING FORCE will hopefully be the first of several Cannon releases they put out (I'm really hoping for a Blu-ray of 10 TO MIDNIGHT among others). This also represents (to my knowledge) the first stateside release of AVENGING FORCE on home video since VHS which is pretty cool. What the film is is kind of the Cannon Films version of the "Most Dangerous Game" story. For some folks that description alone should hopefully be enough to draw your interest, but for those that remain skeptical I understand. The only downside is that the movie takes a tiny bit longer than I'd like to get to that classic plotline. Thankfully Michael Dudikoff and Steve James make a nice set of buddies together and that eases the impact of extra padding. Basically, James is a fella running for senate and is targeted by a loony right-wing faction led by John P. Ryan. Dudikoff is good friends with James so they get entangled with the nutjobs together. The opening/setup business is a little clunky, but once the movie hits its stride it gives you everything you'd want from an entry in the Cannon Films canon. The old VHS cover made sure to highlight Dudikoff using a crossbow, which is certainly a worthy trademark of the movie. Of all the popular martial artist/actors of the 1980s, I have always felt Dudikoff and his films get underrated a bit. Steve James is certainly underrated as well. He's kind of a middle ground between Carl Weathers and Ken Foree and a wonderful action movie actor. As I said, Dudikoff and James make a nice duo and I hope AVENGING FORCE sells well enough to warrant more movies like it getting Blu-ray releases, especially from the Cannon films library. Just seeing the Cannon Films logo on Blu-ray was a treat for me I must say.

Special Features:
KL Studio Classics have put together a nice special edition that I am sure fans will appreciate. The supplements include:
-An Introduction by director Sam Firstenberg (2 mins). He counts this as perhaps his best film and he goes into why very briefly.
-An audio commentary with Sam Firstenberg and star Michael Dudikoff.
-An on-camera interview with star Michael Dudikoff.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog ( which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (, tumblr ( facebook (, and letterboxd ( I recommend following him anywhere you can! 
Check out his discoveries list from last year here:
This has been solid year of movie watching for me.  I made an effort to finally catch up with films that have been on my ‘want/need-to-watch’ list for a while and most of those did not disappoint (those that did, well...they just didn’t make the cut) and discovered others that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Consider this part 1 of my discoveries as I always make sure to provide the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog with a few, then will carry this over to my own blog, CinemaScope with two more segments closer to the New Year.  I make sure this one is a little different than the ones I post on my own blog as there are titles that I know appeal to Rupert’s sensibilities because I know they will make him proud.

So without further delay…here is the first batch of titles!

THE BABY (1973; Directed by Ted Post)
The minute I started this movie (I discovered it in February on Netflix) I knew it was destined for my discoveries list and for sure one to make the Rupert Pupkin Speaksedition.

THE BABY is quite possibly one of the most disturbing and creepy movies I have ever seen. It’s like this, a grown man (aged 21) has the mental capacity of a baby – yep, you read that right. His domineering mother and two daughters keep him diaper-clad in a cradle and he acts exactly like…a baby! Their treatment of them is abusive (in one sequence, we even see one of the daughters go into his room and sleep naked with him – no, not creepy at all!) and you can read between the lines of whether this movie is trying to say something about women keeping men in their place, or ran with a bizarre plot just to shock audiences. It’s hard to say.

A social worker takes an interest in the “baby’s” case. She wants to help “baby” and get him away from his awful situation. She has had some recent tragedy in that her husband was injured in a nasty car accident. It end up that her interest in “baby” is more than just finding him a better life – but I can’t reveal what because it is a HUGE spoiler for what is a shocking twist ending.

THE BABY is indeed creepy and it takes getting used to watching a full grown 21 year old act and sound like an infant, and be treated poorly by his mother and siblings. It works though because after a while you feel sympathy for this bizarre creature. This almost feels like  some sort of scene you might see at an S&M dungeon, but the movie plays it so straight that it starts to win you over after a while. There are many uncomfortable scenes, including a very creepy sex scene that takes this movie beyond the category of exploitation picture.

If you want to see something so bizarre and so completely different than anything else you’ve ever seen…THE BABY is for you.  However be aware, it is definitely NOT for all tastes.

RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985; Directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy)
This selection is what BLACK SUNDAY (1977) was to me last year, a movie that I kept seeing in various stores and thinking “wow, I really need to see that.” I had acquired it on Laserdisc from a friend 11 years ago, and somehow never got around to seeing it – that is until now.

It’s also a late entry to the list as I just saw it a few days ago when it was added to Netflix streaming. It’s a tense, smart action picture with several layers of conflict that make it intriguing.

It opens with hardened convict Jon Voight, who along with the not-so-smart yet eager Eric Roberts escapes from a maximum security prison in the middle of nowhere during a fierce winter storm (“it’s 30 below out there” someone warns them) run by a brutal warden played by John P. Ryan. They manage to get away, yet find themselves in the second conflict of the picture when they hide aboard a train blasting down the rails at full speed after the engineer dies of a heart attack. “That’s the one I want” Voight says passionately as the engine appears out of the snow and fog. Little did he know that it is the worst possible train he could have chosen.

As the train company tries to find a way to bring this thing to a halt before it crashes at a nearby chemical plant (oh those conflicts, they just keep coming), the warden is obsessed with bringing Voight and Roberts (especially Voight) back into custody, and you can tell once he gets his hands on them he isn’t going to be treating them humanely. He calmly beats up one of the people dealing with the train crisis (shoves his face in a toilet bowl filled with urine) demanding that they help him even while this train barrels forward putting countless lives at stake. This guy has one objective and he plans to complete it no matter what.

Oh yeah, I should also mention there is also a woman on the train, Rebecca de Mornay, an employee who was fast asleep in one of the front engines when the whole  thing begins (there are 4 engines, the convicts are in the fourth one). The handlers in “mission control” think that because she’s a woman, she’s useless but she proves to be anything but.  They also can’t fathom why their technology has failed them, and there are countless debates as to whether they should just derail the train and kill those aboard, sacrificing the few for the sake of the many (Spoke would be proud).

This is a different type of action picture which is evidenced by the way the director handles the ending (which I won’t spoil). You are definitely on the side of the convicts right from the opening over the warden who is such a towering jerk that you just pray that bad things will happen to him. Voight’s character is so clearly a hardened and vicious killer and makes this great speech on how he doesn’t want to be, but just can’t help himself. It’s a very emotionally heavy and well written moment (the picture is adapted from an original screenplay by Akira Kurosawa) in what could have been just a brainless action picture.

Eric Roberts reminds me of Matthew McConaughey with his performance, very energetic and a perfect opposite to the grisly Voight.
It is a rough yet intelligent picture.

TESTAMENT (1983; Directed by Lynne Littman)
As a child of the 80s I remember the constant threat of nuclear war very clearly. In TESTAMENT it is not only a threat but a reality as the bombs drop and a small Northern California town is cut off from the world.

TESTAMENT is a real downer of a picture, but so emotionally gut wrenching it’s hard not to get caught up in it. There is no apocalyptic future, or saviors, or heroes or even hope, there is just death as the town slowly crumbles and the residents die off one-by-one over time.

Look out for a very young Kevin Costner in a supporting role.

JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (1985; Directed by Lisa Gottleib)
For a portion of my elementary school years (4 total), I attended a really strict school in a Canadian town that is exactly like the prudish one inFOOTLOOSE (in fact, I think I probably know someone who was suspended for dancing…maybe not but smoking for sure, and that would be someone who was smoking on their own private property on aSaturday night. Yeah, this place was BAD.) Once during a field trip, I came across this film (on VHS) in a 7-11and one of the chaperones ordered me to stay away from the “smut”. Of course that instantly put JUST ONE OF THE GUYS at the top of my “must-see” list. I finally got around to it this year while stranded overnight in the San Jose airport waiting for a connection when it was added to Netflix streaming.

Joyce Hyser plays a high school student with dreams of becoming a serious journalist. She’s written a story that she believes is certain to land her a summer internship at a newspaper but gender politics get in the way and she is passed over for submitting her piece in favor of two male students. Not liking the word “no”, she goes undercover at a rival high school as a boy in order to resubmit her article. Of course she doesn’t account for one of the girls falling in love with her, and a friendly relationship with a boy that she falls for. Of course neither one know that she’s really a girl in boy’s clothing.

A charming movie that relies on some smarter 80s teen movie elements as well as some tried-and-true ones (in that you know exactly how things are going to end up) that sets it apart from other comedies of the decade. It is an underrated picture to be sure, but definitely not smut.

MADHOUSE (1974; Directed by Jim Clark)
MADHOUSE is an great little horror picture starring Vincent Price as a movie star who after suffering from a breakdown and spending time in an asylum returns to the role that made him a star – he’s appropriately named “Dr. Death”.  Things aren’t going to be easy for him though as members of the cast and crew begin dying in the manner of the victims from Price’s older movies making him the primary suspect!

This is a solid, old-fashioned horror movie that I found extremely entertaining.

EASY MONEY (1948; Directed by Bernard Knowles)
EASY MONEY begins by informing the audience how important a role the football pool (that would be soccer to us North Americans) plays in Postwar Britain. In this picture, everyone plays it and the odds of winning it are extremely low. However if you do manage to win it, it’s a life-changing sum and this film is a collection of fictional and entertaining vignettes that show just how life-changing it can be.
The first involves a happy family who becomes incredibly unhappy once the promises of riches are introduced into their lives. Everyone argues, everyone bickers – it’s a mess.

The next was my second favorite (we’ll get to my favorite in a minute) given that had this been an American setting, the dilemma wouldn’t be one at all.  A clerk with an overbearing boss has won the lottery and goes to great lengths to concoct a plot to quit because he just can’t find it within himself to come out and do it. So, he plans on faking a heart attack and that doesn’t go so well at all.

The third is a Film Noir with a night-club singer (the Femme Fatale of the piece) and a pool employee devising a scheme to cheat. Yeah, nice try!

The final episode is my favorite. A bass player in an orchestra is fed up with a new conductor and upon discovering he wins, immediately walks off the job. However he grows to miss his old position and quietly buys the orchestra and eventually ends up right back where he started – playing bass.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Elijah Drenner

Elijah Drenner is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and one of the leading independent producers of Blu-ray/DVD bonus content and Electronic Press Kits. He has produced original content for The Criterion Collection, IFC Midnight, Dark Sky Films, Kino Lorber, Shout! Factory, Vinegar Syndrome and many more. In 2010, Drenner directed the documentary AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE. His second feature-length documentary, THAT GUY DICK MILLER premiered at SXSW in 2014.

THE IPCRESS FILE (Sidney J. Fuire, 1965) 
Michael Caine plays an ex-con working for Her Majesty's Secret Service in exchange for serving a prison sentence. During a seemingly-simple assignment, he finds himself wrapped up in a counter-intelligence brainwashing conspiracy. I had no idea this was part of a series of films (followed by FUNERAL IN BERLIN and BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN) and now I'm hooked. Fantastic John Barry soundtrack.

STAYING ALIVE (Sylvester Stallone, 1983)
I always liked SATURDAY NIGHTFEVER, but never heard a positive thing about its sequel. After watching it twice in one week, I can attest that it's a mis-understood masterpiece. Travolta returns to his role as Tony Manero, struggling to make ends meet as a dancer in Manhattan. Stallone directs the drama and romance from one dance montage to another, culminating to the jaw-dropping, show-stopping "Satan's Alley" Broadway spectacle. Brother Frank has some nice screen-time too. I loved it. And not I'm not being ironic. 

THE SAVAGE IS LOOSE (George C. Scott, 1974) 
This is third and final film directed by Scott. A disturbing tale of a shipwrecked family raising their only son on a tropical island. Should dad teach his son to hunt and kill for survival, or should mom try to civilize, by teaching him to read and write? As the young boy matures into his teens, his sexual urges put mother at risk. The tension is slow-building, but fascinating to watch. I'm still baffled with the ending. 

ALL FALL DOWN/THE GYPSY MOTHS/I WALK THE LINE (John Frankenheimer, 1962/1969/1970)
These were woefully missing from my Frankenheimer schooling and I can't believe that I waited this long to see them. I couldn't pick just one, but I think there's a theme here; family relationships and what happens when an outside force challenges their dynamic. 

DEMON WITCH CHILD (aka THE POSSESSED, Armando de Ossorio, 1975) 
This Spanish-made EXORCIST rip-off is not scary, but the more screen time she gets, the more horrifying the possessed child is to look at. The precocious little squirt even castrates a priest. I thank/hate Nicholas McCarthy for forcing me to watch this movie on his birthday. 

SUSAN SLADE (Delmer Daves, 1961) 
Teeny-bopper Connie Stevens gets knocked up. Her parents (Lloyd Nolan and Dorothy McGuire) are forced to move to Mexico for her to have the child, away from their friends and colleagues, and pass the newborn off as their own to protect the family. This is quintessential Eisenhower-era melodrama about religious faith, maintaining social class standards and a PSA for keeping cigarette lighters out of the nursery.

THE SWIMMER (Frank Perry, 1968)
This movie quietly blew me away. Every time I tried to describe to people, my words simply could not do it justice. Don't ask me to do the same here. Just watch it.

KLUTE (Alan J. Pakula, 1971)
Another one of those, why-did-I-wait-this-long-to-see-this-movie? movies. This is the only film I can think of, where the victim takes the virginity of their protector, just to show who's really in charge. Jane Fonda is beautiful. Donald Sutherland's ears are big. A quiet, eerie and singularly captivating 2-hour experience. 

SEE NO EVIL (Richard Fleischer, 1971)
Mia Farrow plays a blind woman visiting her family in their isolated country estate. A killer (who is only shown by his cowboy boots) breaks into the house and kills the family, leaving the grisly crime for Mia to slowly discover on her own. This is, on one hand, a laugh riot; watching cross-eyed Mia Farrow bumble around like Leslie Nielsen, thumping into walls and falling down stairs. But on the other hand, there are some incredibly tense mini-moments; sitting there helplessly watching the dangers as she walks right into them. 

SEEDING OF A GHOST (Chuan Yang, 1983
A young man enlists the help of a Chinese witch doctor to get revenge on the men who killed his girl friend, giving her magical zombie power to possess the minds of her killers, turn into a monster, and kill the family of the man she was having an affair with. Or something like that. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...