Rupert Pupkin Speaks: May 2013 ""

Friday, May 31, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Richard Winters of Scopophilia

Richard Winters runs Scopophilia, a blog covering neglected movies from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Highly recommended!
He as also on an episode of my friend Todd Liebenow's Forgotten Filmcast not too long ago:

1. Denise Calls Up (1995)- This is a wonderfully quirky comedy satirizing modern lifestyles where people spend more time communicating with others via technology than they do face-to-face. In this movie a group of eclectic individuals gets to know one another through the phone while never meeting in person. Features some great early career performances by Liev Schreiber and Tim Daly as well as one by flamboyant, aging, raspy voice cult actress Sylvia Miles.

2. Going Places (1974) – There are dark comedies and then there is this one. Few films can get this edgy and black and still be considered engaging and amusing but director Bertrand Blier brilliantly manages to do it. Gerard Depardieu plays one of two crooks who spend all of their time robbing, killing, and assaulting women while still managing to stay strangely charming in the process. There are many funny and memorable scenes in this highly original film, but the best one is when they meet the beautiful Miou-Miou who cannot attain an orgasm. The two then try in vain to have sex with her in all sorts of different positions while she remains aloof and gives new meaning to the term ‘cold fish’.

3. Little Murders (1971) - This is another black comedy that was directed by Alan Arkin and based on the play by Jules Feiffer. Elliot Gould plays a man who is detached from what he considers an ugly world around him, but he meets the idealistic Marcia Rodd who tries to ‘elevate’ his thinking only to eventually get dragged down to his way of seeing things. Some truly bizarre moments that hasn’t lost that much of its edge. One of the best scenes includes Donald Sutherland as a hippie minister conducting a wedding while also ranting on the virtues of masturbation.

4. Bank Shot (1974) - There have been many bank robbery movies, but few are quite this quirky or original. Based on the Donald Westlake novel the story deals with a group of drop-outs led by George C. Scott who decide to rob a mobile home that has been turned into a bank by putting wheels underneath it and driving off with the entire building while the security guards are still inside!

5. Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) - A major hit in New Zealand where it was filmed this road movie has never quite grabbed the audience that it should here, but it is worth checking out. If you have ever wanted to ‘drop-out’ or dreamed of one day just hopping into your car and driving away while leaving your responsibilities far behind then this slightly surreal offbeat character study should fit the bill. Not only is it funny and engaging, but it features some great stunt work by the very durable mini car that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Bob Ham

Robert Ham has been slowly but surely worming his way into the world of film criticism, having spent the last eight years working as a freelance writer concentrating on the wide world of music. You can read him tackle both categories within the pages of Willamette Week. If you just want to read him write about music, pick up a copy of Alternative Press or The Oregonian, or point your web browser to Spinner. If you just want to read some of his film writing, visit the streaming movie site Fandor. 

Comfort & Joy (1984; dir. Bill Forsyth)
In the view of some critics, Forsyth's fifth feature paled in comparison to his international successes Gregory's Girl and Local Hero, but for these eyes, it is the equal of those fine films. This heartwarming tale has a one of those plot concepts that could only come from the (dare I say it) quirky mind of someone like Forsyth: after his girlfriend leaves him, Scottish radio DJ Alan Bird (played by the underrated Bill Paterson) finds himself adrift before stumbling into a turf war between two Italian families who run fleets of ice cream trucks. This isn't a laugh-out-loud side splitter, but a fantastic heart warmer that never ceases to leave me smiling.

Aaltra (2004; dir. Gustave de Kervern & Benoît Delépine)
A blacker than black comedy from a pair of Frenchmen known first in their home country for their satirical TV work, and another film whose plot should have you chuckling even before you watch it. Two neighbors (played by the directors), fighting with each other in a field, are crippled by a huge piece of farm equipment. They then team up to travel - in their wheelchairs - to Finland to seek recompense from the company that made the combine harvester. Each set piece along the way finds them over and over again playing upon people's empathy for their wheelchair bound situation, are the best kind of discomfort comedy.

Soul Kitchen (2009; dir. Faith Akin)
Found this one by going through the yearly top 10 lists of one of my film reviewing idols, Mike D'Angelo, and I'm so glad that I did. A shaggy dog makes good tale of a German restaurant owner who struggles to deal with a long-distance relationship, his paroled brother, a snarky chef, and a herniated disc in his back, not to mention the rapid decline in his finances. You probably see where this film is leading at this point, but you'll never be able to map out the weird and wonderful path that it takes to get there.

The Man With One Red Shoe (1985; dir. Stan Dragoti)
I still need to catch up with the 1972 French film this was based on, but I might not want to let it overshadow my view of this ridiculous romp featuring some of my favorite character actors (Dabney Coleman, Tom Noonan, Edward Herrmann, Charles Durning, and Carrie Fisher) and one of Hanks' best comedic performances. The plot is surprisingly dense for a slapstick comedy and not easily summed up. I'll let the film's Wikipedia entry ( do the work for me and then urge you to snap up one of the many inexpensive DVDs of it floating around in the world.

Spalding Gray: Terrors of Pleasure (1988; dir. Thomas Schlamme)
This was never released theatrically but was instead lumped in with HBO's Comedy Hour series, which makes sense aesthetically, as the live sequences have the same dry quality of a TV filmed standup set. But throughout Gray's funniest monologue about his adventures buying a home in upstate New York and going to Hollywood to try to make it as an actor, Schlamme interjects filmed sequences that re-enacted the choicest moments of the story. This one became such a part of the firmament of my family's life that we still recite lines to each other some 20 years later.

I'm Still Here (2010; dir. Casey Affleck)
Was it me, or did the world seem ready to throw Joaquin Phoenix on the next rocket to Mars after his unhinged Letterman appearance or following the release of this weird mockumentary? It's a complete mess of a movie, but in the best possible way. Watching Phoenix slowly fall apart as he tries to kick off a hip-hop career. His scenes with Puff Daddy are some of the funniest moments I've seen in a film in the past 15 years.

The Extra Man (2010; dir. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini)
I sincerely hope that it doesn't take until his passing for people to catch up with one Kevin Kline's best comedic performances in this underappreciated gem. He's paired nicely with Paul Dano, who plays a strange man who finds himself sharing an apartment with Kline and getting wrapped up in his roommate's world of escorting rich women to parties and trying to maintain decorum and civility in an uncivil world. Throw in the blossoming of Dano's sexual proclivities and you have all the makings of a strange and strangely charming classic.

The Landlord (1970; dir. Hal Ashby)
This kicked off both one of the greatest eras of Hollywood filmmaking, and the career of one of that decade's finest directors. The titular character is played by Beau Bridges, a rich kid who buys a brownstone in inner city New York with the goal of turning it into a huge playhouse for himself. But as he gets to know his tenants more, his eyes are opened wider and wider to the divide between himself and the rest of the world. This is more social commentary than straight up comedy but when Lee Grant gets on screen, she soars as the withering matriarch of the landlord's overly entitled family.

My Favorite Year (1982; dir. Richard Benjamin)
Not sure this fits whatever the criteria for an underrated film is, especially as most people like to point to this as one of the great Peter O'Toole performances. Yet, I never hear this film talked about for all of its other great qualities: some of the snappiest dialogue this side of The Philadelphia Story, the fantastic interplay between Joe Bologna and the rest of the cast, the scene when O'Toole's character, Alan Swann, arrives at Benjy Stone's house for dinner, and, with no offense intended, the only Mark-Linn Baker performance I can tolerate.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Scream Factorized: LIFEFORCE Blu-ray

For as badass a movie as LIFEFORCE is, it is sadly not known as world-renowned classic that it should be. There's a certain knowing glance exchanged between cinephiles when the film's title is mentioned though and it's one of "That film blew my adolescent mind". 
Let's forget for just one second that Mathilda May, who is one of the most gorgeous women in all of cinema, spends nearly entire running time of the film completely nude. Cast that aside. I know it's an amazing spectacle and certainly got a lot of young boys going when they first saw it(as it may still today), but there's a lot more cool stuff in this movie. First off, it's based on a novel called "Space Vampires". I know we're all a little vampire-fatigued these days, but I still feel like there haven't been enough space vampires used in movies or TV. Secondly, you have genre-favorite director Tobe Hooper. Hooper, he of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE(1 & 2), EATEN ALIVE, THE FUNHOUSE and of course POLTERGEIST. Hooper taking on a large scale production approach to a space vampire movie is quite exciting. Next you have the Cannon films factor. I'm not sure about you all, but I love me some Cannon films. They are known for gritty genre films with great genre moments. They are the 'raging ID' of genre filmmaking if you will. If you can conceive of it, Cannon films has probably put it in one of their features. So here we have Cannon films, on a high budget, helping to realize B-level genre material and make it stand out and feel completely A-level. And this movie feels big. From the very opening credits we are bombarded with a kick-ass, rousing space-adventure score by the great Henry Mancini. It truly is one of best opening pieces of score for a movie. For me, it's right up there with anything John Williams ever did. It sets the tone and carries with it a wave of energy and excitement. It says "Get Ready!".  Tell me this clip doesn't get your blood going:

So beyond that, you've got some really great practical effects that still hold up quite well today. Said effects come from the legendary and academy award-winning John Dykstra(of STAR WARS and so many more). You've got a great cast of British actors(including Patrick Stewart) and a London setting, which gives this film the feel of and old Quatermass Movie, but bigger. And then you've got Steve Railsback. Charles Manson himself. Roll all that stuff together and you've got one hell of a movie on your hands. And when you enter in the new Blu-ray transfer(which is gorgeous) and the plentiful extras(2 commentaries(one with Hooper himself), and several featurettes), this package is simply a no-brainer must buy for any serious genre movie fan. I mean, the difference between the old, non-anamorphic MGM DVD transfer and this is astonishing, bordering on hallucinatory. Even if you've never seen the film before, trust me, it's worth a blind buy. Few sci-fi or horror film experiences are as satisfying as the one you'll have with LIFEFORCE. It melds both genre's together in a seamless way that few other films have ever been able to pull off. Stop what you're doing right now and go and watch the movie. There should be a national holiday dedicated to people just watching LIFEFORCE. Seriously. Earth Day, meet LIFEFORCE day.

LIFEFORCE is available on Blu-ray & DVD: HERE

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More of My Favorite Underrated Comedies or Underrated Comedies Part Deux

One list is never enough for me so of course as the series has continued on, I've been assembling this robust second round of Underrated Comedies I like. There were enough titles that I actually had to split it into more than one list so look for perhaps one more after this one.
Here's my part one btw:

HIGH SCHOOL USA(1983; Rod Amateau)
I often call this my favorite TV-movie of all-time. It's amazingly silly but the cast is so ridiculous you almost can't believe this movie ever got put together. To start with, you have Michael J. Fox as Jay-Jay Manners, class clown and leader extraordinaire. His intended object of desire is Beth Franklin(Nancy McKeon) but there's a catch - she's currently dating the king of the prep clique, Beau Middleton(played with amazing zeal by Anthony Edwards). Thankfully, Jay-Jay has a band of misfit pals led by super nerd Otto Lipton(Todd Bridges) to help him come up with a plan to win Beth's heart and steal her away from the detestable Beau. The roles of the other kids in the film a filled by a veritable who's who of 80s TV: Dana Plato, Crystal Bernard, Tom Villard and Lauri Hendler to name a few. The adults in this film(teacher, parents) are played by a veritable cavalcade of old TV stars including Bob Denver, Dwayne Hickman, Tony Dow, Ken Osmond, Dawn Wells, Frank Bank, and David Nelson. It's really like 80s TV meets 50s TV. So neat. One of my favorite things though is that this is an early Crispin Glover movie and he's really hilarious in it as an awkward geek paired with another classic 80s character actor, Michael Zorek(PRIVATE SCHOOL, HOT MOVES, TEEN WOLF TOO). Director Rod Amateau also did the also pretty underrated DRIVE-IN(see below).
This movie is available on dvd, but can also be seen in its entirety on YouTube:

RANCHO DELUXE(1975; Frank Perry)
Directed by Frank Perry(THE SWIMMER, LAST SUMMER, PLAY IT AS IT LAYS) and written by cult author Thomas McGuane, this film is an humorous examination of the disintegration of the American west.

MEN AT WORK(1990; Emilio Estevez)
This is one of those old VHS favorites and was(and is) regular quoted by a close friend of mine and I(he perpetually had it in his employee picks during our video store tenure together). So needless to say, when it popped up on MGMHD recently, I scrambled to record it and save it to my DVR for future reference. It is a silly, but often hilarious 80s comedy(though it came out in 1990) about two garbage men(Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen), their ambitions and a larger conspiracy they find themselves caught up in. The two brothers are great together here and I was just saying the other day that I would love to see a quasi sequel at some point. And Keith David! He's a hoot here. This was Emilio Estevez's second second effort as writer/director(his 1st was WISDOM) and he's really made an interesting career for himself. I am very curious to see his most recent effort, THE WAY(2010) which he stars in along with his dad Martin Sheen(which is currently streaming on Netflix).

INTO THE NIGHT(1985; John Landis)
I often refer to this film as "AFTER HOURS Lite", but that's probably giving it short shrift as it stand well on its own and actually preceded the release of AFTER HOURS in 1985. It stands as one of the quintessential examples of the "One Crazy Night" movie genre which I am a big big fan of. It features a rather subdued Jeff Goldblum as Ed Okin - a man on a treadmill. His monotonous life of office work and commuting are thrown into a tailspin when he discovers his wife is cheating on him and decides to take a drive in Los Angeles one evening. He runs into Diana(Michelle Pfeifer) who is on the run herself from some goons and she takes him on an adventure to beat all hell. The movie is packed with cameos from other directors(including Landis himself) and has a stellar cast all around. Gobs of fun and underseen by most everyone. My second favorite Landis after AMERICAN WEREWOLF. It's his Hitchcock movie.

COLDBLOODED(1995; Wallace Wolodarsky)
I don't think I'd ever have seen this film if I wasn't working in a video store in the 1990s. I not aware of what if any theatrical release it got and upon a quick glance it certain looked like your standard straight to video fodder. Jason Priestly? Even I, a fervent follower of 9021o wasn't immediately drawn to him in a leading role. Here's the synopsis from IMDB:
"Cosmo, an affectless mob bookie who lives in the basement of a retirement home, is promoted to hitman. He learns his new trade from Steve, a seasoned killer. He falls in love with a yoga teacher, Jasmine, and must figure out a way to leave the mob so they can be together." 
That pretty much covers it. What it doesn't illustrate is how good not only Priestly himself is, but the whole cast. The cast is stellar: Peter Riegert, Robert Loggia, Josh Charles, Kimberly Williams, Janeane Garafolo. All great. Priestly really adapts to the role here. His tone of voice, posture, and movement are all very, as the synopsis says "affectless". And Peter Riegert, who plays the seasoned hitman that must train Cosmo, is an extraordinary choice. I've always been a Riegert fan and he hits it out of the park here. Sadly this film hasn't gotten a dvd release to this point(which is deserves as I would buy it immediately), but has been available on Netflix Instant for some time so that's definitely a cool thing:

MOVING(1988; Alan Metter)
When Arlo Pear(Pryor) accepts what seems to be a dream promotion, the one catch is that he must move his family from the New Jersey suburbs to Idaho. That seems simple enough, but he runs into innumerable and increasingly wacky trouble in attempting to do so. This is another 'boring man thrust into wacky situation' type comedy with Richard Pryor at the center. The movie absolutely has the feel of trying to cash in a bit on the cache of the VACATION films in that things get pretty wacky on this cross-country trip(they even go so far as to cast Randy Quaid as the crazy neighbor). It also feels like it's trying to meld a bit of The Cosby show in there too as Pryor is in some sort of Cliff Huxtable mode here(even wearing sweaters and whatnot), but I get that it's meant to set him up as bland and unconfrontational. Regardless, its a fun, rompy comedy with a decent cameo by Dana Carvey and one of my favorite lines ever in, "I'll stomp a mudhole in your ass, poop butt!".

THE WILD LIFE(1984; Art Linson)
Sister movie/sorta sequel to FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH(it was also penned by Cameron Crowe). People are somewhat aware of this one but it has never quite gained the significant cult foothold it should due mostly to the fact that it has become more and more difficult to see over the years. Like the great AMERICAN HOT WAX(which may never see the light of day again) this film seems to be held up by music rights issues having to do with the songs used in its rather excellent soundtrack. It saw a VHS and Laserdisc release in the 80s and certainly got lots of play on cable television, but I've yet to see it ever pop up on a streaming service like Netflix so far. Really sad as it has some wonderful performances from the likes of Chris Penn, Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson, Jenny Wright, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Hart Bochner and even Rick Moranis! Truly a gem worth tracking down if it's been off your radar. I am still holding out hope for some kind of Blu-ray special edition, but it seems unlikely and the best we can realistically hope for is an Universal Vault Series MOD.

MR. JEALOUSY(1997; Noah Baumbach)
I started thinking about this film again when I recently caught Baumbach's latest, FRANCES HA(which I loved). My Baumbach love, like my love for Wes Anderson goes back to seeing both KICKING AND SCREAMING and BOTTLE ROCKET when they both hit VHS. I thought that both Baumbach's and Anderson's comedic voices were pretty perfect(at least for me) and so I eagerly awaited their sophomore efforts. Wes Anderson's was of course RUSHMORE, which couldn't have been more formative for me and so many others, upon its release, but many missed Baumbach's 2nd outing a few years earlier on 1997 with MR. JEALOUSY. It was, I thought, a worthy follow-up to KICKING AND SCREAMING and a film where Baumbach was really strutting his Woody Allen stuff. The story is that of Lester Grimm(Eric Stoltz), a man who becomes so obsessed with finding out about his current girlfriend(Annabella Sciorra)'s ex-lovers that he goes so far as to join the therapy group one of them belongs to(overseen by Peter Bogdanovich). It's a wonderful farce that feels very Allen in its situations and it's use of New York City as well.
THE IMPOSTORS(1998; Stanley Tucci)
Stanley Tucci needs to direct more! This was mentioned on one previous list, but I couldn't leave it off mine as I really adore this movie. From it's basically silent opening scene all the way through to when the horn strains of "Skokiaan" kick in at the end, I love it so much. A wonderful throwback to comedy films of the 30s and 4os. On Netflix right now!

DRIVE-IN(1976; Rod Amateau)
The aforementioned Amateau directs this 'night in the life of a southern drive-in theater' comedy with a cast of mostly unknowns(except for lead Glenn Morshower whos' become basically obligatory in TV these days). Very light-hearted and silly, but affable. Another film long relegated to a VHS only existence, this one popped up as a Sony MOD recently and I had to pick it up.
CRACKING UP(1983; Jerry Lewis)
Aka SMORGASBOARD. Pure Jerry Lewis lunacy with barely any plot at all, but that's perfectly fine. Think of a bunch of vignettes a la the scene in the dean's office in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. I love it. Available on DVD from Warner Archive.

THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR(1942; Billy Wilder)
Comedy of misunderstanding and pedophilia based on Ginger Rogers pretending to be 12 year old to get a child's rate on a train ticket. Co-written by the great Charles Bracket, makes a nice double with Martin & Lewis' YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG.

THEY ALL LAUGHED(1981; Peter Bogdanovich)
One of Bogdanovich's best without question and a film I believe Tarantino looked at extensively while working on JACKIE BROWN. You can see a certain kinship there. I find this to be a slightly less screwball sister film to WHAT'S UP DOC, but set more in a noir/detective world. Remarkable ensemble cast. Should be a Criterion Blu-ray.

REAL MEN(1987; Dennis Feldman)
A case of "Only in the 80s" could a film like this have happened. From IMDB - the plot : "A womanizing CIA agent and an insecure insurance agent are paired together to make sure a deal goes through with aliens for the future of mankind." James Belushi plays the CIA Agent and the late great John Ritter plays the insurance agent. Truly nutty 80s screwball buddy comedy. Barbara Barrie is in it too. I shouldn't have to say much more. An interesting double with the above-mentioned MOVING actually.

HEARTS OF THE WEST(1975; Howard Zieff)
A gentle comedy from director Howard Zieff(SLITHER) and producer Tony Bill. Fits in well with some other gentle comedies Tony Bill had a hand in(GOING IN STYLE, MY BODYGUARD, HARRY AND WALTER GO TO NEW YORK). Jeff Bridges is a wanna be writer in this one who ends up cast as the leading hombre in a some B-movie Westerns. A loving tribute to the films of Mongram pictures perhaps and to B westerns in general. Backup cast is aces: Andy Griffith, Donald Pleasance, Blythe Danner, Alan Arkin, Richard B. Schull, Alex Rocco, and Matt Clark. Also available from Warner Archive.

THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST(1967; Theodore J. Flicker)   
Here's Coburn at the near height of his cool, right on the heels FLINT films(literally, as IN LIKE FLINT also came out in '67).  This outlandish conspiratorial comedy has something of cult following I suppose, but it may be quickly slipping away. It is certainly a bit dated and very much of it's time as it features "The Phone Company" as the evil, almost SPECTRE-like organization that trying to dominate the world. Come to think of it, that's not so dated after all...

UP THE CREEK(1984; Robert Butler)
ANIMAL HOUSE meets RACE FOR YOUR LIFE, CHARLIE BROWN. Seriously, a lot of fun. Thankfully this finally got a DVD release via MGM MOD.

MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK(1993; Bob Balaban)
Balaban's follow-up feature to the cult flick PARENTS, never quite developed the cult I hoped it would. It's very silly and very funny. Still apropos amidst the zombiefied culture we inhabit now. And it features a funny bit part for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Warner Archive Grab Bag: Double Feature - PENROD AND SAM(1931) / BIG SHOTS(1987)

There are a few movie versions of PENROD AND SAM, but this one is from 1931 and was directed by William Beaudine(who was later a veteran of the Bowery Boys films). It's based on Booth Tarkington's beloved novel which is steeped in Americana. Here, the titular duo are played by Leon Janney and  Junior Coghlan. Said duo heads up the "In and In" club, a very exclusive youngsters group with strict rules and member guidelines(including a "thumbs up or thumbs down" democratic voting system). They even have their own shack clubhouse on a vacant lot. Unfortunately their exclusionary tactics run them into some trouble when a nerdy tattletale classmate forcibly weasels his way into the club and they over zealously "initiate" him. Eventually the boys find their beloved clubhouse and vacant lot annexed because of the wrath of another nerdy kid. The film is very much a slice of boys life from the period. Very pleasant and often touching.

This may seem like an unlikely double feature, but I'd pay to see this duo in a theater and I stand behind my choice of BIG SHOTS as the 2nd half. One thing's for sure and that is that I totally forgot how much of a bummer the 1st 15 minutes of this movie are. For some reason I lumped it into a more fun lovin' "kids gone wild" kind of 80s movie category. The 
A Chicago suburbs kid(Obie) runs away to the wrong part of town and ends up getting help from a streetwise inner city kid named Scam(played by Darius McCray of TV's Family Matters). After they steal a car with a body in the trunk, they find themselves mixed with some bad folks. 
I was a bit shocked to realize that this film was written by Joe Eszterhaus(who would obviously go on to pen BASIC INSTINCT and SHOWGIRLS a short time after). But there's certainly a streak of darkness running through this otherwise touching comedy. It portrays a gritty world where adults do terrible things to kids and that's always really tough for me. That being said, there's still some fun times had by the two boys and the film has a certain kinship with the Tom Hanks movie BIG. Unlike BIG though, this movie features a lot more kids driving cars, which frankly I can't get enough of for some reason. Movies these days are sorely lacking in scenes of kids driving cars. I remember that being a big deal to me at the time I first saw this on VHS. I wasn't old enough to drive yet myself and where I was from in the Midwest, it was the s huge deal when you got your license. Seeing these youngsters tooling around in cars just made it seem that much cooler.
The supporting adult cast for BIG SHOTS is quite memorable too in that it features Paul Winfield, Robert Prosky & Jerzy Skolimowski. Nobody delivers a line like "Don't mess with me dude, cause I can walk on water eat bullets and shit ice cream!" the way the great Paul Winfield does. 

Both films can be purchased on MOD DVD via WARNER ARCHIVE.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Arrow Video - Motel Hell Blu-ray

Growing up as a video store kid in the midwest in the late 80s, I spent my fair share of time wandering around the various horror sections of our local VHS renting establishments. One thing that always fascinated me about horror films on video was looking at the cover art. Like so many of my peers, I was suckered on many occasions by some salacious cover art. A good tagline was even enough sometimes(case in point: "Ding-Dong, You're Dead" or "The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is... they're dead."). Over a short period, I became quite well versed in the slasher and other horror subgenres of the 1980s, but MOTEL HELL was one film I somehow never got around to until now(even though the VHS could be found at practically ANY video store I went to during that period).

MOTEL HELL is of course part of the "crazy hillbilly family" horror subgenre. In this case, such a family traps and kidnaps people that pass by their roadside motel. Once incapacitated, they bury their victims up to their necks and proceed to feed them via funnels till they're plump. After that, they carve them up and mix them with other meats to make a unique(apparently delicious) concoction. Admittedly, I've always preferred a nice 80s slasher to this kind of film. Seems like the "catching up" period(how long it takes the victims to figure out they're dealing with some very bad folks) tends to take a little longer in this kind of film than I'd like.  Also, there's often a smugness to these psycho families that drives me insane. Like nails-on-a-chalkboard insane. I get that that is by design and we are meant to want to wanna see the evil-doers get their just desserts(pun intended here) in the end, but the obnoxious quotient is just too high for my tolerance most of the time. I'm quite sure I'd have had a bit more affection for this if I'd chosen to rent the VHS back in the day. That said, as a longtime fan of 80s horror, I'm glad I finally saw it.
MOTEL HELL is a bit like Jackie Kong's film BLOOD DINER(which I like considerably more than this). BLOOD DINER is a film that really "goes for it" in a way that unfortunately MOTEL HELL doesn't quite do. I understand they were shooting for some dark comedy, but it didn't quite come together for me. MOTEL HELL's director, Kevin O'Connor, was more of a sci-fi genre guy with films like THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, AT THE EARTH'S CORE and WARLORDS OF THE DEEP preceding this one.

Arrow's Region B Blu-ray looks quite nice. From the neon-credits on, it's pretty pleasing to look at. Another film I never expected to be viewable in high-def like this. I wish the movie featured a little less night footage, but at least things are much easier to see in this transfer than the old MGM flipper disc. The extras are plentiful. They Include:

• Commentary with director Kevin Connor moderated by Calum Waddell.
• Another Head on the Chopping Block: Interview with star Paul Linke (14:50)
• From Glamour to Gore: Interview with co-star, and former Playboy Playmate, Rosanne Katon (11:26)
• Ida, Be Thy Name: A look back at Motel Hell's frightful female protagonist Ida Smith and the secrets of creating a convincing slasher siren, with Scream Queens Elissa Dowling and Chantelle Albers, genre commentator Staci Layne Wilson and critic Shelagh Rowan-Legg (18:07)
• Back to the Backwoods: Director Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red) speaks about the importance of Motel Hell (10:09)
• Original Trailer 

• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jeff Zornow

Overall, a solid disc for fans of 80s horror, others may not be as apt to want to own this film as it's a bit uneven. 

This new Blu-ray can be purchased from Arrow: HERE

Shout Factorized: CRIMEWAVE Blu-ray

If you had told me last year that I'd be holding a Blu-ray of Sam Raimi's film CRIMEWAVE in my hand at some point I'd never have believed you. Since it had only ever been on VHS in the U.S. prior to this, I just never saw it coming. Anyway, so we all know Raimi is a big big fan of The Three Stooges right? Well this movie shows that influence in spades in than it's almost like a live-action cartoon and even goes so far as to use a lot of the original Stooges sound effects in the process. The story is a pretty simple death row flashback scenario about an innocent man recounting how he ended up about to be executed. 
It's really neat to see the classic Raimi flourishes on a higher budget - cameras whipping and flying about, peering down from ceilings/up from floors, wonderful and exaggerated use of sound effects  and so forth. The whole production feels like a bit of a dress rehearsal in some ways for the Coen's and HUDSUCKER PROXY. The Coens were co-writers with Raimi here and even included 'Hudsucker State Penitentiary' as a big locale in this movie.
I guess Bruce Campbell was originally intended to play the lead instead of Reed Birney(which I would have preferred), but it is fun having him play the obnoxious and hilarious cad here for sure. He nails that.
And veteran character actor Brion James has played some creepy, weasely dudes in his day, but his performance here is probably the weasely-est. He is really channeling something vermin-like here as he's taken on a high pitched voice and really seems quite committed(or ready to have himself committed). Additionally, it's quite an antiquated wonder to view a film as crazy as this made with all practical effects. In a movie as dynamic and physical as this, the practical effects really do make it more impactful and often funnier. Raimi really does a lot of enjoyable stuff here. Between some wild stunts and clever transitions(my favorite one cuts from the two leads in a dance contest to pay for their meal at an upscale restaurant to the kitchen with them stuck doing dishes) the film has its charms. It's kinda Raimi's flawed Noir take on AIRPLANE!
The biggest problems with the film lie in the fact that it's a little too broad and dopey(which I don't mind actually) and that not much really happens in it outside of many elaborate set pieces and visual gags. That being said, it still has this remarkable Raimi vibrancy and energy that make it nonetheless likable. It's certainly an interesting calling card film for Raimi and his sensibilities. Not sure how much it directly or indirectly advanced his career, but within it you can really feel the voice a very talented, ambitious filmmaker speaking quite loudly. Also, the transfer here is quite nice. I'm pleased to see an obscurity like this looking as good as it does.

The Bruce Campbell commentary track Shout Factory included here is a fun time. Just as you'd expect from the great Bruce. He was a producer on the film so he has a whole lot of insights into many aspects of the production of the film(casting, locations, set design, camera moves, stunts etc). He has lots of good stories about the various actors involved and the sometimes problematic experience they had filming in Detroit. The Bruce Campbell interview(about 15 mins) also included here is a nice concise little story of trials of making the film. He really sums it up by saying how much they learned from the failure of this feature. He says, "EVIL DEAD taught us how to succeed and CRIMEWAVE taught us how to fail."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Stephen Drangula

Stephen Drangula, whenever he bothers to pull himself away from a black-and-white movie, makes jokes on Twitter as @Drangula.

Gussle's Day of Rest (1915) Few remember that Charlie Chaplin's brother, Syd Chaplin, also made Keystone comedies and even fewer hold them in any regard; but Syd's character, the obnoxious Reggie Gussle, makes me laugh, especially in this tale of infidelity in the park with its hilariously cynical ending.

Twice Two (1933) Even Laurel and Hardy fans dismiss this short, in which the pair play their usual characters as well as the wives of each other, through trick photography. I find everything from the idea itself to the voices of the actresses dubbing over their female characters, to be hilarious.

Stand-In (1937) Not much mystery why this screwball romantic comedy, starring Leslie Howard as a prissy financial analyst and Joan Blondell as a former child star reduced to bit parts in movies, is largely forgotten: the last third descends into an unfunny sub-Capra tribute to the working class. But the first two-thirds is rich in great gags and hilarious characters.

Oscar (1991) John Landis directed Sylvester Stallone in a rare comedy role as a mobster trying to go straight in this adaptation of a French farce now set in Depression-era New York City. The Golden Raspberry Awards thought it was awful enough to dishonor with nominations, but I laughed all the way through.

Noises Off (1992) Michael Frayn's oft-revived 1982 stage farce became this screamingly funny—but under-appreciated—movie directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring a slew of familiar faces, including Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Denholm Elliott, John Ritter, Christopher Reeve, Marilu Henner and Mark-Linn Baker.