Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Monday, May 2, 2016

Underrated '86 - Joe Gibson

Joe is a tireless regular contributor here at RPS and he made countless list for this site over the years. He is a true RPS hero.

He can be found on Letterboxd (a highly recommended follow) here: http://letterboxd.com/zoltarak/.
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HOLLYWOOD VICE SQUAD
Ever since I saw her speak at a weekend-long retrospective of her work last year, I've been happily in the tank for Penelope Spheeris. Her best work as an unmistakable sense of community in the margins of society, not something a cop action potboiler like this is going to be able to capture. But this is still embarrassingly rich fun, in the proud tradition of low-budget comedies that couldn't afford funny jokes. There's also an Asian cop who speaks with an American accent and isn't a stereotype (except maybe that of an LA cop), so points for representation on that front.

INSPECTEUR LAVARDIN
Lavardin is evidently a pretty popular character in France, with a TV series spin-off and God knows what all. This is a sequel to his first appearance, and both films were directed by Claude Chabrol. I admit it's been years since I saw this, but my main impression is that Lavardin is basically the Jack Bauer of French cops, roughing up suspects and beating out confessions just like Jack. One thing that watching French crime films has taught me is that the police absolutely do not fuck around over there.

UNMASKING THE IDOL
This is another one I have not seen in years, but luckily my fellow Rupert Pupkin Speaks contributor Laird (throw a link here for me Brian, thank ya) is showing it for Weird Wednesday next month so I'll get to see it again. I can't resist including it here now, though. Bond meets Indiana Jones meets ninjas meets a lovable monkey meets probably a lot of other stuff I've forgotten. Ker-razy.

CRAWLSPACE
This is shaping up to be a pretty horror-heavy list, oh well. This is a trashy single-location slasher that stars Klaus Kinski as a demented Nazi landlord, aka the stuff dreams are made of. Kinski is exactly as unhinged as you would expect but I also have a hard crush on Talia Balsam in this - not as hard as Kinski's crush, thankfully. Pino Donaggio gives this an extremely welcome low-rent De Palma vibe, which is probably a huge part of why I like it so much.

52 PICKUPI don't actually know if I'd call this "underrated" exactly, more like "properly rated but still underseen." The 80s were a decade that largely did away with the grimy, serious entertainment of the 70s and replaced it with more kid-friendly, homogeneous stuff, but nobody told Elmore Leonard and John Frankenheimer about it. Save for the leather quotient of Roy Scheider's face (I have it at about a 7.5), you'd swear this was the product of 1976 Hollywood rather than ten years later.

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2
Hooper's career post-TCM is basically a repeated exercise in refusing even an attempt at recapturing the magic of that one-of-a-kind movie, and he continued that even when he was hired to make a direct sequel to it. Where Texas Chain Saw Massacre feels like a documentary about Hell, this is a goofy cartoon, wacky, silly, over-the-top, and (like his Invaders From Mars) not particularly scary. Forget Slacker, this is the Austin I most want to live in.

INVADERS FROM MARS
Tobe Hooper's unashamedly hokey ET cash-in/50s scifi homage actually thins out the baroque surrealism of the original movie and adds such quaint touches as a villainous Louise Fletcher chasing after the film's boy hero, shaking her first in the air and promising to "get" him "for this!" Vintage goopy 80s' special effects, not scary exactly, but manna for the privileged few that are wired to appreciate such things. Hooper was God in the 80s, somebody influential needs to go back and reassess all that stuff.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Vinegar Syndrome - DOLEMITE on Blu-ray

DOLEMITE (1975; D'Urville Martin)
Vinegar Syndrome continues to impress with their nice editions of fringe cinema classics like this one. They take these releases as seriously as Criterion takes theirs and hopefully people are starting to notice and associate their brand with quality genre Blu-rays. DOLEMITE is really something else. If you're experience with Blaxploitation is limited to the SHAFTs and SUPERFLYs of the world, then DOLEMITE will be a whole new deal for you. It is certainly a movie that is lacking in the polish and slickness that comes with a studio production (or even an AIP production for that matter). DOLEMITE is a shaggy and sloppy mess of a film, but it has one thing that most other films of the time don't - it has Rudy Ray Moore. Now, if you're not familiar with Moore, he is a pretty remarkable dude. He was a singer, comedian and general storytelling performer extraordinaire. He rose to some prominence after releasing some comedy albums in the early 1970s and soon followed that success with DOLEMITE in film form. He had sort of taken on the person of Dolemite in his albums so the movie is kind of a natural extension of the character (a character that Rudy Ray co-opted for himself after hearing tales of him told by a local L.A. wino).
As for the plot of the movie, it's pretty basic. Dolemite is a super-pimp who has gone up for a stretch of jail time after being set up by his arch nemesis Willie Greene. With a little help, he's able to get himself out on bail and sets out after Greene for revenge. Dolemite is a master fighter and even has a gang of karate-trained gals to back him up. Dolemite is like a low-level superhero. He is know for not only his fighting abilities, but also his cocksmanship. He's also a darned fancy dresser. 
What's fun about DOLEMITE as a film is the shoddiness of the production. The fight scenes are awkward, the dialogue is mostly clunky and the editing is unique to say the least. It m makes for an almost surreal cinematic experience. Rudy Ray really carries things along though. He is an very charismatic guy and says the word "motherf*cker" better than any human in the world. When he says the word it's so forceful and powerful, it feels like a percussive, slamming force flying off of him. DOLEMITE is one of those movies where the main character's name gets said so many times that by the end you'll find that it is now inextricably caught in your brain. Dolemite himself has plenty of memorable lines in the movie that you will likely be quoting for days afterward. The theme song is a total earworm too. DOLEMITE is a film that is best watched with a group of people for greater enjoyment. If you've seen Scott Sanders' 2009  film BLACK DYNAMITE, you will certainly notice some influence from DOLEMITE (both with the main character and with the stylistic approach to the filmmaking). DOLEMITE is a fascinating and unforgettable character and because the film was made on such a low budget and with black actors and filmmakers, you really get more of a certain sense of authenticity and purity of vision than you do from higher budget studio movies from the era.

Special Features:

In addition to a good-looking new transfer, Vinegar Syndrome has assembled a few nice supplements for this release. 
-"I, Dolemite" (24 mins) this documentary features archival footage of Rudy Ray Moore himself (who passed away in 2008), RRM Biographer Mark Jason Murray,
Murray leads the way in describing a lot of Moore's history and his early times working at the Dolphins of Hollywood Record Store, where he got his start. One thing I noticed about Rudy Ray while watching the interview footage of him was just how articulate he was as a person. The Dolemite character is so "bigger than life" and to be honest, so is Rudy Ray, but he nonetheless came off as a very thoughtful and contemplative gentlemen in this piece.
This doc was produced and edited by filmmaker Elijah Drenner (THAT GUY DICK MILLER, AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE) who does good work so it feels well put together. 
- Also included is an Audio commentary from Rudy Ray Moore Biographer Mark Jason Murray. Murray obviously knows a whole lot about Rudy Ray and though some of the information here is repeated from the I, Dolemite doc, there's a whole lot of details about the production, the actors and more to be heard here. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd have DOLEMITE on Blu-ray - so having this track on top of that wherein you can actually learn stuff about Rudy Ray Moore himself (who I never knew all that much about) is a nice bonus.
-"Locations: Then and Now" - a short piece in which we see several of the locations of the film as they are today.
-"Lady Reed Uncut" Featurette.
-The movie also comes with two framing options. One offers the movie in 1.85 to 1 and another special "Boom Mic" option allows you to watch the movie in an open matte format where boom mics and other set edges are sometimes more visible. 

You can purchase DOLEMITE on Blu-ray here:
http://amzn.to/2185nLS
https://vinegarsyndrome.com/shop/dolemite/

Also, watch for more Rudy Ray Moore movies from Vinegar Syndrome in the near future (THE HUMAN TORNADO is already announced)!
https://vinegarsyndrome.com/shop/human-tornado/

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Olive Films - FATAL BEAUTY and BETRAYED on Blu-ray

FATAL BEAUTY (1987; Tom Holland)
It is still kind of shocking to me to think about the act that Whoopi Goldberg was making R-rated films back in the 1980s. JUMPIN' JACK FLASH, BURGLAR and FATAL BEAUTY all came out in close proximity to one another. So not only is it strange for me to recall the adult nature of her 80s films, but it is equally odd to see her working with genre director Tom Holland - who is responsible for things like FRIGHT NIGHT, CHILD'S PLAY and PSYCHO II (which he wrote). These two things don't really go together in my mind from the outset. That said, I did remember that FATAL BEAUTY was perhaps the most violent of all the Whoopi vehicles and that makes some sense. While it is pretty violent in parts, what I think I was remembering was the  high body count. Now some of that is due to gunplay, but a big chunk of the deaths in the movie result from people overdosing on a bad batch of cocaine (nicknamed "Fatal Beauty"). This movie basically opens with a scene between Whoopi and Cheech Marin (as a bartender) which is never a bad thing. Like Chevy Chase's FLETCH, Whoopi's character here is also something of a smartass master of disguise. She's Rita Rizolli - a smartass, but a clever cop. Streetwise. The movie is a decent showcase for Whoopi and her comedic persona, but the real highlight of the film is the low key romance between she and Sam Elliott's characters. It's a pretty adorable  courtship and they have nice chemistry together. It's also neat because Sam Elliott starts off at a pretty big romantic disadvantage (as opposed some of his much more confident characters). Except for one kind of over the top emotional scene (which seems a little shoehorned into the movie), all of the scenes with Goldberg and Elliott are great. The supporting cast is also great. Brad Dourif  and John  P. Ryan with white hair, looking like Lorne Greene are both fun to watch here. And keep an eye peeled for the guy from THE THING whose chest bursts open and bites off that guys arms (Charles Hallahan), and a super young James Legros.
Also, as a deep cut, the guy who played Craig Mattey in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH is here too.



BETRAYED (1988; Costa-Gavras)
It's always intriguing to me to take a trip into the past via a movie that is almost thirty years old. The movie star landscape is totally different obviously. Tom Berenger was a solid box office draw as was Debra Winger was still going strong. Character actors like John Heard (one of my favorites) and John Mahoney were still regular go-to guys for big studio films. It was also a time when studios made middle budget adult dramas (which is sadly almost gone nowadays). BETRAYED is an interesting slow-burn thriller. We're set up to believe that Katie Phillips (Winger) is just a gal working the combines in the American Midwest. She's actually an FBI agent, under a false name conducting and undercover investigation of a one specific farmer and his family. At first it feels like a domestic romantic drama, but when it turns it turns hard into darker territory and almost becomes a horror movie. I won't go into details about what this movie is loosely based on, but it will justifiably make you pretty uncomfortable. Veteran director Costa-Gavras handles the material pretty well and coats everything in an aura of low-level dread (until its not low-level anymore). The script by Joe Eszterhas, is during the period a few years before he broke out big with BASIC INSTINCT, but it absolutely has an edge to it. I remember when thrillers along the lines of this one were coming out all the time. I felt like the thriller was the principle movie genre when I was a kid because my parents and our family used to see so many of them. There are plenty of thrilling films still around, but many of them veer more into straight horror territory. The adult drama variety thriller was an enjoyable genre. This movie actually has a moment of "discovery" where I felt myself trying to lean back away from the screen - as it was quite troublesome. Berenger is a charismatic actor who can play both wholesome and less than that in similar degrees of quality. I like it when an actor isn't afraid to go to dark places like that. I know I couldn't do it myself. That has to be truly challenging to find that grounded, humanized place wherein evil still flourishes.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Underrated '86- Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a writer, film curator, and archivist based in Los Angeles. He recently served as one of the producers for Etiquette Pictures' Blu-ray of CATCH MY SOUL and also worked on the special features. Otherwise, he deeply admires Dick Cavett's savoir faire and his favorite Sonny Chiba film is Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's perpetually unavailable WOLFGUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE (1975). Find him online at www.lacinesalon.com for essays and free streaming movies.

Check out his Underrated '96 list here:
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SALVADOR (Oliver Stone, 1986)
To his detriment, Oliver Stone's work - as writer and/or director - tends to be a little self-conscious. Even great movies like SCARFACE (1983) and WALL STREET (1987) have an ego and swagger that extends beyond the narrative. That is kind of annoying. SALVADOR, on the other hand, is fearless, important, and immersive storytelling without pretension. James Woods performance in the lead role fuels a kind of journalistic desperation which carries the movie through El Salvador during the time of its 80s military dictatorship: a brutal and bloody time. The movie is just a powerhouse. From its first moments, as the title scrolls by to stroboscopic machine gun fire accompanied by documentary footage of people being shot down in the streets, it takes you there.

SLEEPWALK (Sara Driver, 1986)
Long underrated, but wonderfully subject to a recent reappraisal thanks to a new 35mm print and DVD release. A dark fairytale version of New York where phantom dogs roam the streets and towering men ask women to translate ancient Chinese manuscripts. Makes New York feel like a place defined by urban magic. Due in part to the widescreen cityscapes captured from Bowery rooftops, this is a film that has to be seen on 35mm. Driver is a supremely talented filmmaker of the highest order.

OUT OF BOUNDS (Richard Tuggle, 1986)
A high concept shotgun blast of a movie concocted somewhere in a Hollywood lab, designed to strip Anthony Michael Hall of his typecast nerd persona. This is a strange beast. It moves quickly and almost carelessly - the finer details of its simplistic narrative are mere skeletons, structures without much substance. Although true, this does not matter much. AMH runs, guns, falls in love with the first punk chick he sees, and commits murder all in the first fifteen minutes. Looking forward to one day positing this as a surreptitious sequel to THE BREAKFAST CLUB via a double bill.

DREAM TO BELIEVE (Paul Lynch, 1986)
What's this? A Canadian feel-good gymnastics movie financed by Hong Kong's Golden Harvest Company? How did this get here? Olivia d'Abo is a tomboy. Keanu Reeves - looking more than a little like Jane Birkin - is her fella. And Rita Tushingham is here, too, with a Diamond Dogs haircut. Not your average kid flick. Deals head-on with a lot of dark, tumultuous stuff without sanitizing the subject matter. And there is an inexplicable scene where the movie almost becomes a horror film.

WHERE'S OFFICER TUBA? (Ricky Lau and Philip Chan, 1986)
You would think that the whereabouts of Officer Tuba might be in question. You would be wrong. False advertising aside, this is a (sort of) spooky slapstick picture about a bumbling, cowardly cop (Sammo Hung) who gets haunted by a spectral super cop who went down in the line of duty. The gags eventually wear out their welcome, but this film is bookended by dangerous, outrageous stunts that make the whole escapade worthwhile. I'm pretty sure the stuntman who kicks through a moving truck's windshield in the opening sequence shattered his hip. I've never seen anything else like it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Scream Factory - DEATH BECOMES HER on Blu-ray

DEATH BECOMES HER (1992; Robert Zemeckis)
DEATH BECOMES HER is a pretty unique movie in it's tone and scale. It is a reminder of a Hollywood Studio era wherein a large budget special-effects heavy gothic comedy could get made at all. Obviously we've seen the collapse of most middle budget studio films taking hold for a little while now, but even the higher budgeted studio comedies of today would never dare to go to the dark places that DEATH BECOMES HER goes to. It is also a bit of an "on Hollywood" kind of film in that it is skewering the ridiculous lengths to which rich folks (and movie stars) will go to maintain their beauty. It is a movie about excess, vanity and body horror. Though not like the kind of body horror we often associate with say David Cronenberg, this movie lives in a somewhat similarly heightened macabre universe. Zemeckis kind of made a newish genre offshoot with this grotesque and fantastic screwball satire. There were a few others along slightly similar lines (THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK comes to mind), but DEATH BECOMES her is really a pretty singular film all told. Zemeckis' heightened reality here is pretty spectacular. While it sometimes doesn't quite hold together in terms of the comedy, it is pretty committed to the outlandish and preposterous places it wants to go to. It reminds me of a large scale Tales From Crypt episode, with more humor added in. There's also this wonderful FRANKENSTEIN vibe to the whole thing and I love that.
I remember it being a pretty big deal right before the film was released. There was some kind of behind the scenes piece that I saw on TV where they showed how complicated the special effects were and that part of the magic was achieved through the then youthful process of CG. The featurette showed them shooting both scenes with Meryl Streep's head on backwards and Goldie Hawn with the giant shotgun blast hole through her stomach. I had no context when I saw it, but this was all pre-JURRASIC PARK, so we were not at all to the point where we had no real idea of what the computer was capable of as a tool for special effects. It was fascinating to see this peak behind the curtain in the early 90s, but I feel like I didn't get it at the time. My sense of humor hadn't skewed quite that dark then so it all seemed quite sad and strange to me in a way that I couldn't explain. I think I was aware that it was the new movie from Robert Zemeckis and perhaps that effected me. Here was the guy who made BACK TO THE FUTURE making what felt like a pretty mean spirited film and it might have been disappointing for me. I've come to appreciate it a lot more over the years. Bruce Willis is a big part of that. Let me just say that I love Bruce Willis in comedies. He doesn't do it much anymore, but I always enjoyed his comedic performances in the 80s and 90s when he would really cut loose like this. He has a particular timbre to his voice when he starts yelling dialogue and it always played pretty funny to me. He was one of those actors who could go really big and get away with it for some reason. He felt like an actor from the 30s in his manner and the way his eyes would widen when he became enraged always amused me too. Both the leading ladies are outstanding too. It takes a remarkable performer to help create and maintain this kind of elevated reality and both Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn absolutely deliver some bigger than life comedic characters.
I thought I remembered DEATH BECOMES HER being a complete and total box office failure upon its release, but in examining the numbers, it looks like it didn't really flop. I may be mistaking poor reviews for box office deficiency. The movie has certainly picked up a much larger adoring fanbase since 1992. It is in a pocket of movies that are not well-remembered by the public at large anymore, but that have some real heavy duty admirers. It's nice to see Scream Factory pick up this one and bring it out with some extras.

Special Features:
The big supplement here is the new 25-minute Making of Featurette which includes interviews with director Robert Zemeckis as well as screenwriter David Koepp, cinematographer Dean Cundey, production designer Rick Carter, and special effects artists Lance and David Anderson. 
-Also included is a vintage "Making-Of" featurette from back when the film was put out. This may have actually been the one I saw as a kid.



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Underrated '86 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.

Check out his Underrated '96 list here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/03/underrated-justin-laliberty.html
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MAUVAIS SANG (Leos Carax)
Almost oppressive in its ability to stylize everything and anything, Carax’s unclassifiable genre oddity melds together tropes of science-fiction, crime cinema and romantic melodrama deftly all the while amounting to something utterly confounding and without peer. It’s a lot of things at once – a bold cinema metaphor for the AIDs crisis; a heist film; a futuristic drama about crossed lovers – but it still manages to be something singular. And it may feature the best use of a David Bowie song in any movie regardless of genre or country of origin, and in 2016 that really matters.


RADIOACTIVE DREAMS (Albert Pyun)
Speaking of movies that try to be a lot of things at once, here is Albert Pyun’s post-apocalyptic neo-noir comedy musical! This has all the makings and trappings of what some would consider to be a “cult classic” – I really fucking hate that classification though – but here we are and I can count the people that I personally know who have seen this on one hand. It’s the post-apocalyptic STREETS OF FIRE that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, and that it does is both a testament to Pyun’s steadfast direction and the charisma of its leads: John Stockwell and Michael Dudikoff.


ROUTINE PLEASURES (Jean-Pierre Gorin)
Jean-Pierre Gorin’s politically motivated Francophile cinema is likely not for most people – and almost definitely isn’t what they think of for under-appreciated 80s cinema. But this breezy – almost silly – doc about model train collectors and Manny Farber (what…?) is just too damned strange and fascinating to ignore. It’s also a rather moving testament to the power(s) of nostalgia, creation and collection. Which are things that any cinephile should immediately relate to.


HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE (Mike Marvin)
Speaking of nostalgia: who doesn’t get a tiny bit misty eyed when thinking of fast food and/or sex? What about the two together? You’ll be singing along to the toe-tapping theme song in no time “America, you’re getting burger hungry! Hungry for the burger that makes you full!”. And you’ll really, really want that burger bed. Perfect for pairing with GOOD BURGER and or BETTER OFF DEAD with your favorite order from In-N-Out or Shake Shack (your region may vary).
EYE OF THE TIGER (Richard C Sarafian)
Have you ever wanted to watch a movie that uses that Survivor song more often and with more gumption than ROCKY III does? Did you really want that movie to star Gary Busey as a Vietnam vet hell bent on destroying the evil biker gang that has taken over his town? It’s like a mash-up of all of the best things about STONE COLD and ROLLING THUNDER and it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.
F/X (Robert Mandel)
Two things that I can’t get enough of: movies about making movies and buddy action-comedies. F/X is both. And adds a heap of BLOW OUT style paranoia to the mix. The extended chase scene involving a slew of practical special effects both within the movie and as the movie itself, is great fun.
THE PARK IS MINE (Steven Hilliard Stern)
And we have another movie prominently featuring a Vietnam vet. This time he’s played by Tommy Lee Jones and he decides to take over Central Park in an act of protest. It’s like DOG DAY AFTERNOON by way of HOME ALONE. It’s made-for-TV trappings are fairly obvious and it’s profoundly silly, but there’s something alternately charming and insane about Jones running around Central Park with a shit ton of explosives and ammunition and watching the NYPD bumble around trying to take him down. It’s the type of thing that would cause mass panic now yet seems so quaint (and frankly impossible) thirty years ago.
52 PICK UP (John Frankenheimer)
This isn’t a great movie. It’s not one of Frankenheimer’s best, nor is it one of the better Elmore Leonard adaptations. But it is almost reprehensibly sleazy. Which counts for something. Or a lot, if you’re me. Brought to us by Golan and Globus who could do no (or all) wrong in the 1980s. Featuring an inspired dirtbag performance by Roy Scheider and a sequence set inside a projection booth, which will always get my attention. Rich people should probably just not make sex tapes.
DEMON QUEEN (Donald Farmer)
I can’t believe I’m recommending this to people. Some sort of SOV, neon soaked UNDER THE SKIN by way of the 1980s. It’s barely an hour long and has even less of an emphasis on anything resembling plot and much more of an emphasis on a de-tuned Casio keyboard score as written by that asshole kid you used to babysit that only exists to piss you off and getting gross. The gore effects are pedestrian yet inspired, the T&A is the sort that you feel guilty for watching and the whole thing feels like something that wasn't truly made by or for anyone, yet exists as an artifact as timeless as video tracking lines.
The scene in the video store thrusts this into some echelon of Americana that it wouldn't reach otherwise. It may even be the most American movie of 1986. And that's the year of Top Gun and Howard the Duck.


DANGEROUSLY CLOSE (Albert Pyun)
1986 is definitely the only year that I can get away with including tow Albert Pyun films on an “underrated” list. But DANGEROUSLY CLOSE has to be given some credit. It’s basically THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME set inside a high school but with paintball guns. Because that makes sense. Also from Cannon, because why wouldn’t it be. Stars RADIOACTIVE DREAMS’ John Stockwell and is also from his script. Ripper is a badass. Soundtrack features Depeche Mode and Robert Palmer. Probably the most 80s movie on this list.

Kino Lorber Animation - THE INSPECTOR, THE ANT AND THE AARDVARK & CRAZYLEGS CRANE on Blu-ray

These three Blu-rays are the inaugural releases from the new (and greatly anticipated by me) Kino Lorber Animation imprint. All three sets sport good-looking new HD transfers and some nice supplements. Based on these, I'm very much looking forward to more KL Animation discs.
Ryan and I talked about these discs a bit on this episode Off the Shelf (from about 57:00-1:08) if you wanna listen to that as well:
http://criterioncast.com/podcast/off-the-shelf/episode-87-filmstruck-alien-day-and-new-blu-rays

THE INSPECTOR "Crow de Guerre" (excerpt) from Bret Wood on Vimeo.
THE INSPECTOR (1965-69)
This is a really fun show. It's obviously playing off of the Inspector Clouseau character from the PINK PANTHER movies (and the cartoon was later a part of the Pink Panther animated show), which is an enjoyable scenario. The Inspector himself is not exactly like Peter Sellers' rendition, but they have many similarities. This inspector is rather bungling at times (though prone to moments of poor judgement more so than the complete buffoonery of Clouseau) and always taking heat from his boss. He has a sidekick (Sergeant Deux-Deux) who is not exactly like Kato, but the dynamic is familiar. There's a running gag where his sidekick always says, "Si" instead of "Oui", which somehow never gets old somehow. Both The Inspector and Deux-Deux were voiced by capably and humorously by Pat Harrington, Jr. Also, each cartoon typically features a new and colorful evil villain type dude with some scheme or robbery in the works. And the Henry Mancini theme music adds some nice groovy flavor to the whole affair. Good stuff. Two-disc set. Even the episode names are wonderfully clever.

Cartoons Included: (Disc 1) The Great Degaulle Stone Operation, Reux Reaux Reaux Your Boat, Napoleon Blown-Aparte, Cirrhosis of the Louvre, Plastered in Paris, Cock-A Doodle Deux Deux, Ape Suzeete, The Pique Poquette of Paris, Sicque! Sicque! Sicque!, That's No Lady That's Notre Dame!, Unsafe and Seine, Toulouse La Trick, Sacre Bleu Cross, Le Quiet Squad, Bomb Voyage, Le Pig-Al Patrol, Le Bowser Bagger. (Disc Two) Le Escape Goat, Le Cop On Le Rocks, Crow De Guerre, Canadian Can-Can, Tour De Farce, The Shooting of Caribou Lou, London Derriere, Les Miserobots, Transylvania Mania, Bear De Guerre, Cherche Le Phantom, La Great Dane Robbery, Le Ball and Chain Gang, La Feet's Defeat, French Freud, Pierre and Cottage Cheese, Carte Blanched.

THE INSPECTOR "Crow de Guerre" (excerpt) from Bret Wood on Vimeo.

THE ANT AND THE AARDVARK (1969)
Of these three cartoons, I remember seeing this one the most. I did remember that it was kind of a Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote vibe. It had been a while though and I had totally forgotten that the voice characterizations of the two foes so clearly resembled Dean Martin (in the case of the ant) and Jackie Mason (the aardvark). If that sounds like an unusual comedic rivalry, it is, but it's actually pretty entertaining. It's slightly reminiscent of the Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny and The Coyote squaring off against each other. In that case though, there wasn't all that much verbal reparte. In THE ANT AND THE AARDVARK, both characters have sort of a running commentary about their attempts to trick each other. The ant is, like Dino, a cool customer who is always one step ahead. The aardvark is determined, but also quite self depricating - which is certainly a change up from Wile E. Coyote. The whole show is underscored by this peppy, jazzy and goofy horn-based music that gives it all a light Herb Alpert kinda feeling. I think this was my daughter's favorite of the three shows (I made sure to let her sample all of them).

Cartoons Included: The Ant and the Aardvark, Hasty But Tasty, The Ant from Uncle, I've Got Ants in my Plans, Technology Phooey, Never Bug an Ant, Dune Bug, Isle of Caprice, Scratch a Tiger, Odd Ant Out, Ants in the Pantry, Science Friction, Mumbo Jumbo, The Froze Nose Knows, Don't Hustle an Ant with Muscle, Rough Brunch, From Bed to Worse.

THE ANT AND THE AARDVARK "I've Got Ants in My Plans" (excerpt) from Bret Wood on Vimeo.

CRAZYLEGS CRANE (1978)
This was a show that I somehow missed completely in my younger years. There's a very similar dynamic to THE ANT AND THE AARDVARK here. CrazyLegs Crane and his son are often out to catch a dragonfly (he is a literal dragon fly of course and even breathes fire), but are thwarted every time. This reminds me more of a Sylvester and Tweety type situation in that the dragonfly is more innocent and naive than the ant and has few wisecracks, but more often says cute things in a kind of baby voice (almost Andy Kaufman-esque). CrazyLegs himself sounds like a dumb old grandfather and is even less intelligent than the aardvark. It's still entertaining though, if the lesser of the three cartoons releases in this first round.

Cartoons included: Life With Feather, Crane-Brained, Sonic Broom, Winter Blunderland, Storky and Hatch, Fly By Night, Sneaker Snack, King of the Swamp, Barnacle Bird, Animal Crack-Ups, Jet Feathers, Nest Quest, Bug Off, Beach Bummer, Flower Power, Trail of the Lonesome Mine.

CRAZYLEGS CRANE "Sonic Broom" (excerpt) from Bret Wood on Vimeo.

Special features:
Each of these three discs include a couple new short documentaries (directed by animator Greg Ford) about the history and background of these cartoons. The first, "Goodbye, Warner Bros., Hello Depatie-Freleng" (17 mins) tells the story of how former Looney Tunes director/Animator Friz Freleng and David Depatie (who had been running Warner Bros Animation in the mid to late 1950s) ended up forming Depatie-Freleng with United Artists. The second, "Of Aardvarks, Ants, Inspectors, and Cranes" (17 mins) speaks more directly about those productions. Both documentaries have interviews with animation historian Jerry Beck, Will Friedwald, Doug Goodwin, Art Leonardi, Joe Siracusa, Barbara Donatelli, and some archival audio of Friz Freleng himself. I personally am a huge Jerry Beck fan and love to hear him speak about animation, so both of these docs were a delight as far as I was concerned and gave some nice background for these shows.

Each set also have a handful of commentaries on select cartoons by Jerry Beck and author Mark Arnold, Greg Ford with some more archival audio of Friz Freleng as well. Typically there are about 4 episodes that get the commentary treatment for each of the three releases.
The CRAZY LEGS CRANE set only features commentary by Beck and Arnold.

All told, these are a very nice round of discs from Kino and I cannot wait for more!

All three sets are available for purchase from Amazon:
http://amzn.to/20qIJhp
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