Rupert Pupkin Speaks: August 2014 ""

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Warner Archive Instant - HAVING A WILD WEEKEND

HAVING A WILD WEEKEND (1965; John Boorman)
The Dave Clark 5 have quite the swinging pad in HAVING A WILD WEEKEND. It even had a trampoline, which is used several times to fun effect. Overall, the film isn't quite as energetic and frenetic as A HARD DAYS NIGHT, but it still moves along at a good clip, has some interestingly edited bits and features some undeniably catchy tunes by the band themselves. It is certainly more poignant than HARD DAYS though. The "plot" is odd but memorable in that it centers around the boys (of the band) who are working a short stint as stuntmen in commercials for this "Meat Counsel" whose goal is to brand and continue a series of print and TV ads to sell more meat to the public. One of the boys has taken a fancy to the girl that the Meat Counsel has chosen as the face of their campaign. She has become disenchanted with her role and is swept off on an adventure with the dude from the band. This adventure takes the couple a ways from London and into some interesting scenarios whilst the Meat Counsel minions give chase. One of the best sequences in the movie is a wonderful costume party. Costume parties are one of my favorite conventions of movies and television. The soires are so well designed and it's always fun to spot what famous characters that people are dressed up to look like. In this case, costumes for Groucho and Harpo Marx, Charlie Chaplin and Frankenstein play key roles.
WILD WEEKEND reminds me of a cross between HELP and A HARD DAYS NIGHT. It's like HELP in that all of the band lives together in the same place (which I've always loved as a convention of this kind of film) and that the plot is a rather silly, slightly conspiratorial kind of thing. It's like A HARD DAYS NIGHT in that it employs some similar things editorially and is in black and white. What WILD WEEKEND has that A HARD DAYS NIGHT or HELP don't is this underlying layer of melancholy that creeps in around the edges of the proceedings, especially near the end. There are several scenes wherein the freewheelin' escapades of our main couple find themselves up against a bit of somewhat cynical realism which is unexpected in a film like this, but quite welcome. Instead of being nothing but a knockoff of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, Boorman smuggles in quite a lot of social commentary and makes his film more resonant than Richard Lester's in a lot of ways. Speaking of director Boorman, this was his first feature and went a long way towards putting him on the career path that allowed him to become the auteurish voice we cinephiles have come to revere. It was clearly this film that got him in the door to direct POINT BLANK with the great Lee Marvin. Marvin must have liked HAVING A WILD WEEKEND quite a smidge (he may have been drawn to it based on Pauline Kael's high praise upon its U.S. release) and had some great initial interactions with Boorman as he was at the height of his popularity circa 1967 and could have had his pick of directors. Apparently Marvin was able to go to the money men/studio during pre-production on POINT BLANK and request a lot of creative freedoms (final cut and approvals) which he then passed on to Boorman himself. Clearly Marvin made the proper choice as the resulting film is still quite a remarkably stylish, existential meditation on gangster films and one of Lee's best pictures ever. That said, it is always a fascinating thing to look at the thing that led to the other things and HAVING A WILD WEEKEND is an ambitious and profound debut to be sure. I still find it a uniquely delightful turn of events that a quite British film like this would lead to two of the great American films of the 60s and 70s (POINT BLANK and DELIVERANCE).

HAVING A WILD WEEKEND is currently streaming in HD on Warner Archive Instant:

Underrated Action/Adventure - George White

George White runs boldbrat.blogspot.comand can be found on twitter here:


Gangsters (1975)
Technically not a film, though made all on film, this 90 minute television feature for the BBC Play for Today strand, directed by Philip Savile, behind the 1969 David Hemmings-Joanna Pettet-George Sanders sexcom The Best House in London and the 1978 Louis Jourdan-starring Count Dracula, this is a story of interracial crime in Birmingham, the UK's second city. Saeed Jaffrey (The Man Who Would Be King) is marvellously slimy as a Pakistani criminal, the Confederate western-themed bar with strippers in cowgirl outfits dancing to Hugo Montenegro's version of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly and racist Brummie comedians is inventive and it has an effective and striking hero in ex-SAS hard-arse John Kline, played by Maurice Colbourne, (later the star of British soap/Dallas wannabe/Nigel Davenport's career sinker "Howard's Way") who was underused in film, appearing in Ridley Scott's The Duellists (1977), Venom (1982), the international Audrey Hepburn-Sydney Sheldon semi-giallo Bloodline (1979) and Charles Jarrott's Disney-made Burt Kennedy-written Yorkshire horse weepie Escape from the Dark. Features a great car chase through Birmingham's spaghetti junction, which features the firehouse that my uncle (a Birmingham firefighter) worked at, at the time of filming. Spawned a 1976-78 Tv series, one of the most bizarre British dramas ever made, featuring a poor man's Pam Grier-alike CIA agent, Sir Robert Stephens (Billy Wilder's Sherlock Holmes), Roshan Seth and Pat Roach, and Chai Lee, star of Bitto Albertini's Yellow Emanuelle, as a Dragon Lady. Producer Barry Hanson went on to do the similar The Long Good Friday (1980).

The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
Golden Harvest, George Lazenby and Brian Trenchard-Smith's marvellously insane cross-culture action-palooza.

The Wild Geese (1978)
North Sea Hijack (1979)
Escape To Athena (1979)
The Sea Wolves (1980)

This is a Roger Moore quadruple-bill. It could also be seen as a glossary of the 1970s British action movie. Gold (1974) and Shout At The Devil are two other post-Bond non-Bond Moore vehicles, both based on Wilbur Smith adaptations. Oddly, The Wild Geese has a lot in common with Dark of The Sun (1968), a Moore-less Smith adap. It is truly the British Expendables. Directed by John Wayne vet Andrew (son of )Victor McLaglen (also behind all of these films except Escape To Athena), and starring Moore, Richard Burton and Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger as mercenaries sent by Stewart Granger (his first film in years, after oblivion in US TV) to rescue a deposed African president (Winston Ntshona)with the help of a cadre of character actors. Honestly, I think that this film is helped by the amount of good solid character actors in it. Apart from the four leads and Granger, you get Frank Finlay (as an Irish missionary priest and friend of Harris' character), Barry Foster, Percy Herbert, Kenneth Griffith (as the token homosexual mercenary), Jack Watson, Ronald Fraser, Patrick Allen and even Jeff Corey as a Mafioso. There are ill points. Actor Paul Spurrier, a regular child actor in British TV at the time is so wet and effeminate as Harris' son, that you don't really buy it. All he does is plead for his dad to stay, while he builds his Airfix kits. The film drew flak in the UK, for filming in Apartheid-era South Africa, though many films were (including the previously mentioned Moore Wilbur Smith films). Warning - Bechdel lovers, the women here are either decorative (the likes of Ingmar Bergman's sex pot sitcom star daughter Anna Bergman and Hammer and Carry On star Valerie Leon) or as moaning wives keen to stop the action. It is, however, a superb action film. The 1984 sequel which was due to star Burton until he died (though the US VHS cover from MGN/UA still shows his face) is, otherwise unrelated, bar Burton's character's brother appearing played by Edward Fox, drafted in to replace Burton, and with his name barely changed (from Alan Faulkner to Alex Faulkner), with Scott Glenn and Barbara Carrera appearing, with a bizarre guest role (in my favourite exploitation guest billing) from Lord Laurence Olivier as Rudolf Hess, and replaces sunny South Africa with cold Germany, and looks like a TV movie.

North Sea Hijack aka Ffolkes is also by McLaglen, which is a failed franchise for Moore as an anti-Bond, Rufus Excalibur Ffolkes, a cat-loving, asexual, bearded, woolly-hat wearing needlepointist and marine investigator who hates all women, even the Thatcher-esque Prime Minister (Faith Brook, daughter of early Sherlock Holmes, Clive Brook). He is sent by James Mason to stop a terrorist attack by Anthony Perkins on an oil rig. With appearances by David Hedison and Michael Parks among a cast of more British character actors, (Jack Watson again, George Baker, Jeremy Clyde of 60s pop duo Chad and Jeremy, Angela Lansbury's son Anthony Pullen Shaw), and Irish filming locations, tense plot, a great Michael J Lewis and genuine touches of eccentricity.
Almost as strange is Escape to Athena, directed by Greek director George Pan Cosmatos, behind The Cassandra Crossing, Tombstone, Rambo - First Blood Part II, Leviathan and the Macaroni Combat Massacre in Rome.
Hitler's plan to loot a treasure-laden Greek island is under way. A prison camp is built where the inmates dig up priceless art under the eyes of the Austrian commandant Major Otto Hecht (Roger Moore.) Zeno (Telly Savalas), the island's resistance leader and Eleana (Claudia Cardinale) scheme to defeat the occupiers. Leading a group of freedom fighters including a stripper (Powers), a slightly camp Jewish comedian (Gould), a British scientist (Niven), and some POWS (Bono, Roundtree), they clash with the Nazis as they try to save the lives of the condemned prisoners and the treasure hidden in the mountaintop monastery, which hides a deadly surprise guarded by some decidedly anachronistic silver-masked post-Star Wars stormtroopers.
This film is from the time when after the success of Alistair MacLean adaptations such as Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone, producers big and small decided to bankroll substandard war movies/thrillers either banking on the MacLean name (Puppet On A Chain, Caravan to Vaccares, Golden Rendezvous, Bear Island, When Eight Bells Toll, etc) or finding other similar writers such as Jack Higgins (The Eagle Has Landed) and Frederick Forsyth (The Day Of The Jackal, the Odessa File) or just finding other material and trying to conjure up a similar case of men on a mission and derring-do (The Passage, The Wild Geese, Italian films such as the 1978 Inglorious Bastards which like Athena, has a Blaxploitation star, in that case, Fred Williamson). This film has the star of Guns of Navarone, Niven (perhaps to cash in on the Niven-less 1978 sequel, Force 10 from Navarone), and a star of the similar caper film Kelly’s Heroes, Savalas, who is charismatic as a thief who dances at the end with Cardinale, as his madam lover who commands a hooker army. It is littered with other names, including Moore as a good-hearted Nazi with a meandering accent and William Holden (Powers’ soon-to-be-doomed lover) in a Stalag17-referencing cameo. The film is a lot of fun, a typical production of ITC, i.e. a bizarrely mixed cast, some laboured if mildly amusing comedy, surprising twists and thrills, a foreign location, and it is directed by Cosmatos, after his completion of the similarly varied ITC production The Cassandra Crossing in 1976. Like Athena , Cassandra has some Blaxploitation boogie with OJ Simpson’s CIA priest. In Athena, Roundtree plays the anachronistic token black member of a racially-integrated US Army platoon, common in war movies, but non-existent in WW2, chewing both the scenery and a cigar).
There is a cheerful Lalo Schiffrin score, complete with disco theme by Heatwave, playing over the 1970s-set epilogue. Its mix of cheese, ribaldry and thrills is something that more war films should have. Why didn’t Pearl Harbour have a scene involving a stripper engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Nazis? Because frankly it would have ruined the mood, but still it would have improved it...

The Sea Wolves has Moore, Gregory Peck and David Niven, working in India in World War Two for Trevor Howard, based on a true story. It was originally intemded to be a reunion for the Wild Geese, with Burton, Harris and Kruger, and it shares director McLaglen and producer Euan Lloyd, but instead if The Wild Geese was "The Dads of War", this is "The Deadly Grandads go to India". It's also rollicking fun, with Patrick Macnee, Jack Watson, Patrick Allen and Kenneth Griffith again, Eurocult regulars Robert Hoffman and Dan VanHusen as Nazis, and in the Bond girl role, part-time Sainsbury's supermarket checkout girl/late period British horror regular Barbara Kellerman. Oddly, Moore does a more accurate Bond performance here than any of his proper Bond films.

The Dogs of War (1980)
Another take on Dark of the Sun (with that film's director Jack Cardiff working here as cinematographer), based on a Frederick Forsyth novel, even with Winston Ntshona from the Wild Geese in a role that (SPOILERS) is almost the same, and has a mad cast. Christopher Walken is the lead, as burnt-out merc Jamie Shannon who is met by the mysterious Englishman Endean (Altman regular Hugh Millais), a representative for a British multinational who want to remove despot leader Colonel Kimba with former aide Colonel Bobi (George Harris, recently wizard Kingsley Shacklesbolt in the Harry Potter films, and in Raiders of the Lost Ark). While recceing Africa, disguised as a nature photographer, Shannon meets grizzled BBC news producer Alan North (the great Northern Irish actor Colin Blakely, Watson to Robert Stephens' Holmes in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) with his two cameramen (future UK sitcom star Kenny Ireland and a young Jim Broadbent), who proceeds to follow Shannon. Shannon and his merc pals (an astonishingly young Ed O'Neill, Tom Berenger, Paul "Belloq" Freeman). I won't spoil any more, for there are twists a-plenty JoBeth Williams appears as the former Mrs. Shannon, there's a great gritty feel of New York in it, similar to The Exterminator (whose director James Glickenhaus made McBain with Walken, which could almost be a sequel), there's a great downbeat feel. None of the jokiness of the other films in this list. John Irvin, fresh from the BBC Tinker, Talor, Soldier, Spy proves capable, instilling human depth within the action, and there's a great score by the underused Geoffrey Burgon, behind various Dr. Who episode incidental soundtracks, the aforementioned Tinker, Tailor and many other BBC shows.

Executive Decision (1995)
Can Steven Seagal and Kurt Russell save Halle Berry and hundreds of passengers from David Suchet and his Jihadists' nerve-toxin bombs from destroying London and the Eastern Seaboard? Well, watch out, it's a treat.

Fear is the Key (1973)
I had to throw in an Alistair MacLean adap. Barry Newman's family's plane is shot down. He looks around Louisiana, Ray McAnally, the great Irish actor plays a US millionaire who pays Newman to instil revenge on John Vernon and wonky-accented Ben Kingsley with hair! A UK film made by Michael Tuchner, trying to be American, with swamp chases, wonky-accented Suzy Kendell, but it is a lot of fun. Great underwater scenes and fantastic Roy Budd Score.

The Deep (1977)
Peter Benchley's next adaptation. Just great fun, with Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bissett in the wet t-shirt, Robert Shaw, Eli Wallach with a strange British Isles-traversing accent fighting gold off Louis Gossett Jr. as a mysterious Haitian. Dig the Donna Summer theme.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Sven Rump

Sven Rump - Born into a cinema - his father always managed one in his lifetime - He, along with his brother, now operate and own two independent movie theatres in The Netherlands. New movies are work – which he loves -but it also makes old(er) movies a refreshing change of pace without the added baggage of ‘now’.

Nate and Hayes (Ferdinand Fairfax, 1983)
I wanted to start by adding an underseen adventure flick to the list. This particular one has Tommy Lee Jones – one of my favorite actors – as (pirate) Captain Bully Hayes, yes it has Tommy Lee Jones as a pirate and almost succeeds totally based on that alone. It also has Michael O’Keefe (a few years after his brilliant work in ‘The Great Santini’) and Jenny Seagrove as the couple in distress in need of the captain’s help. A cool little pirate movie totally made by having TLJ as a pirate. I don’t need much, apparently.

The Shadow (Russell Mulcahy, 1994)
There is a retro vibe to Russell Mulcahy’s The Shadow that makes me love it like crazy. If you would catch it on a black and white television I think one could even be confused about when it was actually made, the whole atmosphere to this movie is that good. Baldwin is excellent in the title role and I always hoped – against my better judgment – it would be made into a series. This is one to cherish. The Shadow knows!

L’As Des As/Aces of Aces (Gerard Oury, 1982)
Jean-Paul Belmondo stars in this huge European hit that somehow has fallen by the wayside since its release in ’82. He plays former boxer Jo who became friends with German opponent Von Beckmann whom he meets, once again, at the Olympics in Berlin. Always the adventurous type with a great sense of right and wrong he sets out to save an orphan boy even if it means having to embark on all sorts of adventures starting in Nazi-Berlin. Belmondo is just awesome in this and it’s one of the main reasons to me he is still the coolest French guy ever.

Amsterdamned (Dick Maas, 1988)
I have to add some local flavor to this list by adding Dick Maas’ action/thriller/slasher ‘Amsterdamned,’. It follows a police detective, played by Huub Stapel, who’s chasing a serial killer that murders people along the Amsterdam canals. I love this film, dated and flawed as it may be, with the chases through the streets of Amsterdam and Stapel’s cool detective role – maybe one of the coolest characters in Dutch films ever, to me at least  and am still hoping someone some

Murderer’s Row (Henry Levin, 1966)
A mix of genres this one. This action/adventure/comedy/spoof is the best of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films and well, it really needs to be seen to be believed. Everything is so over the top – Dean’s portrayal of the legendary secret agent included  that it’s impossible not to totally go with it. Not only that, it also has Ann-Margret doing her Ann-Margret’est and Karl Malden as the bad guy. What’s not to like? I can only imagine how cool this – and the others – would look in high definition, but I just may be one of the few anxious to buy such an upgrade.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Jason Hyde

Jason Hyde is a top shelf cinephile. He has a become a regular contributor here at RPS and I am always happy to have him. Most recently he was kind enough to write up a list of his favorite underrated Detective/Mystery films:
He also did an underrated comedies list for my last blog series. Read it here:
In addition to that, he did an underrated dramas list for that series as well: 
Horror is also quite near and dear to him I believe so this is a very cool list as well:

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932; William Cameron Menzies & Marcel Varnel)
Edmund Lowe isn't exactly the most dashing hero (although he did later make for a pretty good Philo Vance in THE GARDEN MURDER CASE), but this radio serial adaptation has other things going for it. First, it's got Bela Lugosi not long after his Dracula triumph as the villainous death ray-wielding Roxor. And Lugosi does not hold anything back, going gloriously over the top. A lot of people tend to think Lugosi was doing this sort of thing all the time, but that's not actually true. He could be pretty restrained (and is as Count Dracula), but when he cut loose it was a thing of beauty, like watching a force of nature running amuck. And that's what you get here. Lugosi sneers and leers his way through this hokum, decked out all the while in a sharp black swami hat combo. Another reason to watch this one: it's co-directed by the great William Cameron Menzies, whose fingerprints are all over it. This means tons of incredible visual effects (which still hold up rather well) and a consistently dazzling visual style that carries the film through any early talkie slow spots. Interestingly, when the time came to for Chandu to return, he was played by Bela Lugosi himself, surely one of the few times that an actor got promoted from villain to hero.

KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966; Mario Bava)
SHANE in a Viking setting, courtesy of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava. Of all the non-horror Bavas that I've seen, I think I like this one best, although I still haven't caught up with his other Viking saga ERIK THE CONQUEROR. Dyed-blond Cameron Mitchell stars as the knife-throwing hero who protects a widow and her young son from an evil warlord, all while harboring a dark secret of his own. Like most Mario Bava films, the budget is ridiculously low but it looks absolutely gorgeous, with Bava's typical eye-popping use of color and some terrific scenery and a good lead performance from Mitchell. Basically this is a spaghetti Western transposed to a Norse setting, and it's every bit as good as that sounds.

I like Johnny Weissmuller as much as the next guy, but for my money the best Tarzan movies were the color widescreen ones from producer Sy Weintraub that started in 1960 with TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (probably the best Tarzan film ever made). Weintraub made two with Gordon Scott, then two more with Jock Mahoney before the loin cloth was passed on to former pro-footballer Mike Henry for three films, starting with this film, which essentially updates the character to the James Bond era. He even wears a suit and undergoes a mission briefing at the beginning. He also kills a guy by pushing a giant coke bottle onto him in a bullfight arena. Later he fights a helicopter and wins. It's glorious mid-60s fun, complete with groovy lounge soundtrack. Villainy is provided by David Opatoshu, who is a bit too mild-mannered to be too threatening, with subordinate villainy from B-movie vet Don Megowan (THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS). Nancy Kovack is on hand for damsel-in-distress duty but doesn't get much to do. This is a very manly movie.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971; Guy Hamilton)
The most underrated Bond ever and a longtime favorite of mine but apparently nobody else's. The goofiness of this entry is a bit jarring after the downbeat ending of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, and it does seem to totally forget that Bond got married and lost his wife at the end of that one. Sure, he's hunting down Blofeld at the start of DIAMONDS, but it doesn't seem to be a particularly driven quest for vengeance. It's more like business as usual for James Bond. Also, Blofeld can walk again for some reason. And he has hair. And he's played by the great Charles Gray with his usual smooth superiority, so all is forgiven. The rest of the frankly bonkers plot takes Bond to Vegas in all its tacky 70s glory and involves diamond smuggling, Blofeld usurping the identity of Howard Hughes stand-in Willard Whyte (sausage king Jimmy Dean!), and the activities of two flamboyantly gay hitmen, one of whom is Crispin Glover's dad Bruce. It all plays out with a nice, laid back, in no hurry to get to the thrills vibe that just works for me, and it is great to see Connery back. He's a bit greyer, slower, and flabbier, but that's what I like about him in this film. I could have done with a few more films with this relaxed, aging Bond, but it wasn't to be. The thing I like most about DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and the two Bonds that immediately followed it is that they just feel different than the other ones. They feel a bit cheaper and less ambitious and they're definitely a lot less serious. Essentially, they're the drive-in Bonds.

TARKAN VS. THE VIKINGS (1971; Mehmet Aslan)
Turkish insanity of the highest order. Based on the popular Turkish comic strip hero Tarkan, a heroic hun who does battle with the viking horde and their very unconvincing pet octopus. Assisting Tarkan is his dog Kurt. In my opinion Kurt does most of the heavy lifting here. He's probably the most heroic dog in movie history. At one point, our viking villains try to dispose of him by dumping him in a pit, but they severely underestimated the power of Kurt who claws his way up the sides of the pit to freedom. Kurt deserves top billing. Like seemingly all Turkish movies from this period, TARKAN VS. THE VIKINGS looks like it was made for about what you might spend on lunch in a month. Also like other Turkish movies from this period, it's insanely exciting stuff. A lot of movies promise non-stop action, but Turkish films like TARKAN and THE DEATHLESS DEVIL are the only ones that really deliver in such a way that you feel like you've run a marathon when they're finished. Don't expect historical accuracy, but if you go in hoping for ridiculous wigs and costumes, the most unrealistic octopus in cinema history, and unbeatable dog heroics you will not be disappointed.

THE SHADOW (1994; Russel Mulcahy) 
Hollywood hasn't had much luck with bringing old pulp heroes to the screen. From George Pal's DOC SAVAGE to the recent terrible JOHN CARTER, they just can't seem to catch a break with these guys, but that doesn't mean there haven't been some good movies made in the attempt. I'm actually one of the the minority that kinda likes DOC SAVAGE, even if it does look pretty cheap for a Pal production and the jokey approach to the material fails more often than it succeeds. THE SHADOW is similarly hampered by an uneven tone and by choosing to do an origin story for a character who's never really needed one, but it's still got a lot going for it. For starters, it's got a terrific cast. Alec Baldwin is a lot of fun as the hero, and he looks just like the pulp covers once he's done up in The Shadow's trademark black hat and cloak. He does a fine job on the voice, too, giving it a raspy whisper that's just perfect. Penelope Ann Miller is also good as Margo Lane, and the movie makes a valiant attempt to make her a bit more than the damsel-in-distress that she was on the radio show, even giving her a chance to save The Shadow's bacon on one occasion. John Lone is maybe a bit too subdued as the Shiwan Khan, but he seems to be enjoying the chance to play a villain. There's also memorably supporting work from Ian McKellen, Peter Boyle, Jonathan Winters, and a gloriously unhinged Tim Curry as a secondary villain. Curry's death scene is easily the highlight of the film. Toss in some beautiful 30s Art Deco style and a moody Jerry Goldsmith score, and you've got a film that should really should have been more successful than it was. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Karl Brezdin

Karl Brezdin specializes in Western chopsocky over at Fist of B-List, but can also be found lending a hand in the massage parlor at the Gentlemen’s Blog to Midnite Cinema, and in the misty catacombs of the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit. Karl loves adventure in all its forms, including jungles, public transportation, and soft cheeses left out of the refrigerator for more than three hours.

Explorers (1985)
Joe Dante’s 1985 follow-up to Gremlins sparked my interest in repurposing forgotten junk and convinced me that I could use a PC to get to outer space and back. As a nerdy kid, it was always easy to project myself onto the slightly older characters played by a young Ethan Hawke, a young River Phoenix, and a young … that other guy. With the recent news that Paramount is gearing up for a remake, a new generation will hopefully trace the lineage to the underrated original by downloading a torrent instead of finding legitimate means to view it.

Hundra (1983)
It is said that you need to walk before you can run, and that has never been more true than for director Matt Cimber. In this case, he had to make the 1983 fantasy flick Hundra before he could go on to create G.L.O.W. (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). Laurene Landon’s titular character is a model for bad-ass women everywhere and is eminently convincing as an action lead. There are some lively swordfighting scenes that feature plenty of blood and avoid the usual barbarian tropes of overjuiced actors slowly swinging heavy blades. Also features a secretly awesome Morricone score and one of the longest slo-motion sword fights in cinema history!

Apocalypto (2006)
The backlash against Mel Gibson and his venomous meltdowns has kicked some dirt on this 2006 film, but it remains an incredible action-adventure with epic scale and feel. The choreographed violence is messy and brutal, and the scenery is alternately lush and dense. It’s rare that a foot chase will feel you leaving queasy for the hero onscreen, but this film does it three or four times over 138 minutes. What has two thumbs and doesn’t care if the movie is historically inaccurate? THIS GUY! Borderline masterpiece.

No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (Raging Thunder) (1987)
While officially regarded as a sequel, this 1987 Seasonal Films gem starring Loren Avedon, Max Thayer, and Cynthia Rothrock stands entirely on its own. The trio -- Rothrock as a martial artist helicopter pilot, Thayer as a grizzled ex-patriate, and Avedon as an American kickboxer -- is on a search-and-rescue mission that takes them from the neon-glazed streets of Bangkok to the most humid jungles that backwoods Thailand has to offer. Originally titled Raging Thunder, this is a fine example of the effect that the Rambo franchise had on ‘80s action cinema. While the fight choreography is thrilling, the hostile environment through which our protagonists traverse provides the film’s adventurous qualities. There’s ziplining, crocodile pits, exploding huts, mad monks, boat rides, and even a treacherous rope climb *up* a waterfall.

Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)
This futuristic 1977 film offers us a glimpse of Earth’s pre-historic past when a group of space travelers crash lands on a planet … of dinosaurs. Despite its apparent lack of craft and a cast of mostly one-and-done actors running around in cheap jumpsuits, it’s an interesting artifact of ‘70s stop-motion science fiction on a shoestring budget. The conflict between stock characters -- shirtless meathead, science gal, the self-doubting captain, the sex kitten, the smartass, the corporate dickhead -- is actually quite amusing at times, and the death-by-dinosaur scenes are hilarious. Armed with a synthy score, a convincing landscape in Cali’s Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, and inane dialogue (“today we’re having fillet of swamp monster”) this film won a 1980 Saturn Award. For what, I’m not entirely sure.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Can a John Carpenter film that nearly every genre head knows and loves really be considered underrated? Until I stop meeting people who haven’t heard of it, nevermind seen it, the answer is a resounding yes. This is what every great adventure movie should be: a journey behind the doors and below the surface of a world (we think) we already know. The character of Jack Burton, played to perfection by long-time Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell, is the perfect proxy for the unsuspecting audience. His outsider perspective and sidekick tendencies bring humor out of the fantastical scenarios in which the heroes find themselves. More often than not, the film’s hybrid elements -- heroes, monsters, mystery, magic, horror, Western, martial arts -- coalesce seamlessly.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

84-a-THON - Five Underrated Films From 1984

When my pal Todd Liebenow over at Forgotten Films approached me about being part of this blogathon, I was a bit overwhelmed with where I might go with the idea of celebrating films that came out 30 years ago. What I came up with is a short list of lesser-appreciated films from that year that I felt could still use some recognition. Hope you enjoy!

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER (1984; Tom Schiller)
This is a bit of a cheat, but it is one of the great fantasy comedies of the 1980s that never was. Starring Zach Galligan, and featuring a smorgasboard of comedy giants (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Imogene Coca, Mort Sahl), this little movie was one of those that truly fell through the proverbial cracks. It was actually postponed just before the time that it was to be initially released so has never really been put out, outside of some TV airings and 35mm revival screenings. This film has been written about a lot for lists on my site. I mentioned it briefly way back on my "Favorite Discoveries of 2010" list years ago:
Beyond that though, some real cool folks have seen it and been compelled to write about it including long time friends of Rupert Pupkin Speaks Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson. They speak pretty well about the film, and I doubt I can really add much, but suffice it to say that you should seek this one out. The last I heard it was potentially being disentangled legally by the folks at Warner Archive (there's a good deal of footage from other things used within it). 

SECRET HONOR (1984; Robert Altman)
Fans of Paul Thomas Anderson are aware that it is no secret that he is a gigantic fan of Robert Altman. It was that fandom that led him to SECRET HONOR, which led him to cast the great Philip Baker Hall in HARD EIGHT (aka SYDNEY). While Baker Hall is not often given a platform to be in a prominent role in films, he is one of the best actors ever. Watch him in HARD EIGHT and you'll understand this. If that film doesn't convince you, check him out in SECRET HONOR to seal the deal. SECRET HONOR is based on a play and takes place basically in one room. It stars just Philip Baker Hall by himself as Richard Nixon and that's it. He rants and raves for 90 minutes and it is mesmerizing.
The wiki synopsis:

"A disgraced Richard Nixon is restlessly pacing in the study at his New Jersey home, in the late 1970s. Armed with a loaded revolver, a bottle of Scotch Whisky and a running tape recorder, while surrounded by closed circuit television cameras, he spends the next 90 minutes recalling, with rage, suspicion, sadness and disappointment, his controversial life and career in a long monologue."

COMFORT AND JOY (1984; Bill Forsyth)
Bill Forsyth is one of the great underrated directors of the 1980s. From his feature debut in 1979 with THAT SINKING FEELING (which recently arrived on Blu-ray across the pond) through GREGORY'S GIRL, LOCAL HERO and BREAKING IN, he established a very unique low-key comedic voice that was based very much in his characters. I first notied him with LOCAL HERO and later became obsessed when I found BREAKING IN (whilst I was working my way through all the films based on John Sayles' screenplays). COMFORT AND JOY is one of his best. It is basically the story of an everyman type who gets caught up in an ongoing war between two Italian families who both own and operate ice cream vans in Glasgow. Sound silly? It's awesome and hilarious. Quentin Tarantino is a self-proclaimed fan of this as well:

CHOOSE ME (1984; Alan Rudolph)
I was completely unaware of Alan Rudolph until I came across this film in one of Danny Peary's Cult Movies books. I was just starting to become aware of Robert Altman's stock company of actors and so Keith Carradine was a relatively new discovery to me as well. Once I saw the film it made me think of Altman of course and it was easy to see how Rudolph's working relationship with Altman may have influenced him as a filmmaker. CHOOSE ME is very much one of those stories of a bunch of characters who end up being interconnected. It's kind of AFTER HOURS meets Altman, soaked in the music and neon of the 1980s. The cast is very strong and includes the aforementioned Carradine, Genevieve Bujold, Lesley Ann Warren, Rae Dawn Chong and John Larroquette.

KIDCO (1984; Ronald F. Maxwell)
We all remember Scott Schwartz from THE TOY and a CHRISTMAS STORY, but oft overlooked is his excellent turn in KIDCO, a fun story about a youngster entrepreneur who builds a small empire selling manure. Schwartz was always good at the precocious kid role and it works quite well for him here. I will always remember this film for introducing my good friend and I to the word "bazongas" which has been an inside joke with us ever since.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Warner Archive Grab TV Bag - CHILDRENS HOSPITAL Season Five

When I stop to think about it, I get a little depressed about the state of the "spoof" comedy and where it stands in popular culture today. The Zuckers/Abrahams crew still occasionally trots something out, but it's never as epic as it was in their heyday. So what we're left with is the mantle of the SCARY MOVIE series and its imitators. These films are the worst possible dreck imaginable and have little to no cleverness to offer in their attempts at "comedy". I used to say to myself, "What happened to the AIRPLANE!s, NAKED GUNs and TOP SECRETs of the world?". And then I discovered CHILDRENS HOSPITAL and realized that that is where the good spoof comedy is these days. Like every other type of quality genre fare, it's gone to television. In the case of CHILDRENS, it went online first and then eventually found it's way to the cult audience it has at the moment. It really is a brilliant, edgy and hilarious program, but that shouldn't be all that surprising when you look at the creative team behind it (as well as the cast). Rob Corddry and David Wain. You'd have me at just those two guys, but throw in folks like Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Henry Winkler, Megan Mullally, Lake Bell and Erinn Hayes and it's pure comedy gold. This group are an amazing comedic and creative ensemble and what they've come up with is something along the lines of the old POLICE SQUAD TV Show, but in a hospital/medical setting. It's more adventurous and off the wall than that show, but that was something I thought of when I was first watching it.
CHILDRENS HOSPITAL is fearless in that it goes to the most absurd places and completely commits itself. Absurdist comedy is something I just can't get enough of myself so it's always wonderful to see a show that revels in going there all the time. My introduction to the show was a while ago now, but it couldn't have come at a better time. I make a regular practice of watching movies with my son and we had gone through a long running series if comedy films stretching from the Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd through the Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis. Those all went over really well, but the stuff that got the best response was things like AIRPLANE!  and the NAKED GUN films (as well as the amazing POLICE SQUAD TV show). My son and I were just starting to have to dip into the later-period lesser Zucker/Abrahams output when CHILDRENS HOSPITAL appeared on our radar. It was a perfect natural transition into that show and it was immediately a hit with both of us. My son had never seen THE STATE or STELLA, but I think he'd like them and I could feel the offbeat, awkward sensibilities of those shows creeping into the mix on this one. 
I love to think that CHILDRENS HOSPITAL is continuing the tradition of great spoof comedy started so long ago, but with an oddball bent on a consistently random ( if that makes sense) comic reality. David Wain, Rob Corddry and the creative team behind the show (several of the actors take turns directing episodes too) have this hyper-awareness of genre conventions and cliches that they use to deftly ride the satirical/dramatic line. An awareness in not only the conventions of medical dramas, but of countless other types of shows or movies that they transpose onto the Childrens Hospital staff. One of the biggest and most enjoyable things about the show is that you literally have no idea where it'll go from episode to episode. One will be an Agatha Christie-style whodunit, while another episode is immersed in a scifi thriller plot. Another component that makes the show work is it's speed. No joke or comedic premise for a scene is played too long and each episode moves along at a remarkable clip. The amount of throwaway jokes we found ourselves laughing at were innumerable. It's just a remarkable blend of great comic writer, commuted comic actors and an off-center sensibility that make CHILDRENS HOSPITAL one of the most hilarious and unique shows on TV right now. It is not to be missed if you're a big comedy fan. Season Five features a plethura of groovy cameos from the likes of Key & Peele, Nick Offerman, Weird Al Yankovic, and Jon Hamm. WIlliam Atherton (REAL GENIUS, GHOSTBUSTERS) makes a quick but welcome appearance in one episode!

Here is a neat audio interview that Warner Archive did with Rob Corddry right around the time that CHILDRENS HOSPITAL Season Four hit DVD:
Here is another great interview with show executive porducer David Wain on Jeff Goldsmith's The Q&A Podcast:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Scream Factory - THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE and PUMPKINHEAD on Blu-ray

Richard Matheson is one of my favorite writers of all time. His I AM LEGEND is one of the greatest pieces of fiction every put to paper. Matheson is also the screenwriter of THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE which is based on his own novel. This novel was called "one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th century" by the great Stephen King, who was a gigantic fan of Matheson and often cited him as one of the greatest influences on him as a writer. Matheson was responsible for many great stories over the years and many of them were made into movies and TV shows with good reason. Though the material he wrote was not explicitly "R-rated", I have sometimes felt he could have benefitted from film adaptations that were. There were not many of them though and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a good example of what his material can do even without an R-rating (it was rated PG). I certainly enjoy a good haunted house film now and again, but few of them truly freak me out. There are only four that have left a truly lasting impression on me. They are THE HAUNTING ('63), THE INNOCENTS, THE UNINVITED and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. The advantage HELL HOUSE may have over those others is its freedom to be more intense and scary just by virtue of the fact that it came out a little later and was aloud to be more intense. The neat thing that Hough does with HELL HOUSE is that he alludes to a lot of horror without actually showing it. It is a fairly well-known method of scaring people to leave as much to their own imaginations as possible. The human mind has a tendency to fill in the gaps with stuff that is much more terrifying than most filmmakers could ever capture. I've always admired the skill with which certain directors can lead a viewer to believe they saw something or to create a horrifying image merely through the power of suggestion via editing and other filmmaking techniques like sound design. 
As new-agey as it might sound, I have this strange belief in energy that exists out in the world. When I imagine the amazing power behind the life force of a human being, it's hard for me to conceive of it completely ever going away. Sometimes, it would seem a fair assumption that it just "hangs out" in a place. That said, there are also people and places that just seem to have a "bad energy" about them. I know I must sound like a complete hippie here, but suffice it to say that I like the idea of places in movies that are inherently evil. Whether it be because mass murders were committed there or some horrible rituals were performed or whatever it might have been, I am intrigued by the presence of these "evil places" in films. The haunted house in this movie (known as Belasco House) has the reputation of being the "Mount Everest of haunted houses". A physicist (Clive Revill) is called upon to investigate amyhr house and brings his wife and two mediums (Roddy McDowall and Pamela Franklin) along with to aid in the task. It's kinda like a "guys on a mission" movie (or in this case "guys and gals") with a very evil house. That premise alone should intrigue to want to check it out if you haven't. John Hough makes it especially memorable by way of the film's wonderfully creepy atmosphere. Would make a lovely double feature with the previously mentioned THE HAUNTING (1963). Among my favorite British horror films.

Special Features:
This good-looking Scream Factory Blu-ray has a couple nice extras:
--"The Story of Hell House" - (28 mins) A New Interview with Director John Hough wherein he discusses various aspects of the production (lens tricks, handheld camerawork, & working with actors) along with other films that influenced it (Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING being chief among them). He says, "It's not what you see, it's what you don't see...", which is a great philosophy to have in regards to a film like this. 
--the disc also has A new audio commentary with Actress Pamela Franklin. As with most actor commentaries she talks about how she got involved with the film and her scene specific memories throughout. Commentary a touch sparse, but nonetheless interesting.
Here are a few clips from THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE via Scream Factory's Youtube channel:

Short Bonus - Director Interview - I'm a pretty big fan of John Hough as a director. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is probably my favorite of his movies, but I am also a really big fan of another of his horror film THE INCUBUS (1982). Hough also did several films for Disney (all of which I like very much) including ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), RETURN TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) and THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980). I came across this interview with him from 2007 wherein in he touches mostly on his film TWINS OF EVIL, but also touches on some of his other movies and working with actors like Roddy McDowall. He also talks about LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE and how he did his best to leave much to the viewers' imaginations:

PUMPKINHEAD (1988; Stan Winston)
Stan Winston got his start doing special effects mostly for TV and TV-movies in the early to mid 70s and worked his way up to being one of the most revered names in the business. Winston's legacy includes work on films like ALIENS, PREDATOR, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, TERMINATOR (1 & 2), BATMAN RETURNS, A.I., THE MONSTER SQUAD and many more.
PUMPKINHEAD is one of those rarer films that is directed by a special effects master himself. The other FX man turned director I can think of is John Carl Buechler (who directed TROLL, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII and GHOULIES III among others). Stan Winston only directed a few features in his long and prestigious career; PUMPKINHEAD and one called A GNOME NAMED GNORM (which has yet to hit DVD). I know that my immediate impression when I hear that a film is directed by someone from another discipline (special effects in this case of course) is one of trepidation. I guess I've seen enough mediocre films from folks who aren't directors by trade that I've become something of a skeptic. I do realize and wrestle with the idea (and truth) that it is damned hard to get a movie made at all (especially now) and have it be as good or better than the filmmakers had pictured. So when a craftsman like Stan Winston puts himself in the director's chair, oneigjt immediately assume that he may have become obsessed with the special effects side of things on his movie and been less concerned with things like story, acting, and camerawork. I was going to say lighting too, but an FX technician certainly has to be thinking of lighting and how their creations will look on camera. PUMPKINHEAD doesn't really fall prey to those transgressions though. There certainly is an emphasis on the creature, but not at the cost of totally sacrificing story. I think Winston and his collaborators started with an interesting story and were very determined not to make a standard "teenagers getting killed" kind of horror movie. What they ended up making was a fabled meditation on revenge which is pretty unique and memorable (and obviously successful on some level as it spawned a number of straight to video sequels). Winston called himself a "special effects character creator". He did so because he believed he and his crews were creating characters, not just monsters to be photographed. In PUMPKINHEAD, he certainly created a distinct monster that was also character. I feel like that sensibility is missing a bit from movie monster creators today and it saddens me.

Special Features:
This PUMPKINHEAD Blu-ray is one of Scream Factory's special Collector's Editions so it has a solid set of supplements:
--An Audio Commentary with Co-screenwriter Gary Gerani and Creature & FX Creators Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis (moderated by filmmaker Scott Spiegel) - a pretty thorough and fascinating track covering a lot of informative ground.
----"Remembering the Monster Kid - A Tribute to Stan Winston" (49 mins)  featuring new interviews with actors Lance Henriksen and Brian Bremer, special effects artists Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Shannon Shea. All them talk about their first meetings with Stan Winston, their experiences working with him, how he inspired them and the legacy he left behind. They also talk a lot about making PUMPKINHEAD and how Stan Winston saw the material.

--"PUMPKINHEAD UNEARTHED" (1  hr. 4 mins) (now in HD) – a documentary on the making of PUMPKINHEAD featuring interviews with Co-screenwriter Gary Gerani, Producer Billy Blake, actors Lance Henriksen, Cynthia Bain, Brian Bremer, Florence Schauffler, Creature Effects designers Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. & Shannon Shea, Mechanical Effects designer Richard Landon, and Production Designer Cynthia Charette. As you'd guess from that list of folks, this doc is quite thorough and touches on the germ of the idea that led to the film, some production problems, the nuts and the bolts of design and preparation. Intermingled with the interviews is some vintage video footage of the shooting of the film.

-- a 7 min 'Behind the Scenes' featurette - this consists of costume and makeup design footage.
--"Night of the Demon with Richard Weinman" (17 mins) Producer Weinman runs through the roots and development of PUMPKINHEAD and the machinations of his working relationship with Stan Winston.
-- "The Redemption of Joel with John D'Aquino" (14 mins) actor D'Aquino talks about his character and experiences working on PUMPKINHEAD and his history and inspirations with acting.  
--"The Boy with the Glasses with Matthew Hurley" (15 mins) child actor Hurley recounts his memories of making the film from his point of view at the age he was when shooting.
--"Demonic Toys" Featurette (2 mins) Toy sculptor Jean St. Jean talks about the things he finds memorable about PUMPKINHEADas a film and what went into his process for working on the PUMPKINHEAD figure he designed.

Here are some clips from the Blu-ray via the Scream Factory Youtube Channel:

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory on 8/26, while PUMPKINHEAD releases on 9/9.