Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - SALVADOR and THE KILLER ELITE on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Twilight Time - SALVADOR and THE KILLER ELITE on Blu-ray

SALVADOR (1986; Oliver Stone)
I've always felt that, along with TALK RADIO, SALVADOR is one of the semi-hidden gems of Oliver Stone's filmography. People seem to be more aware of it now than in the late 90s when I first saw it on VHS, but it still has never gotten its due credit as a great Oliver Stone movie. Stone had made two features previous to this (SEIZURE and THE HAND), both were kind of horrorish and very much unlike the Oliver Stone we would come to know in the 80s and 90s. SALVADOR was a sort of "last shot" for Stone as he saw it and so you can feel the creative energy and vision behind it and also that sense of a movie crammed with lots of ideas and situations (maybe more than one movie can even handle). Regardless, you can feel the passion and intelligence of the filmmaker Stone wanted to be (as was becoming) and I think that makes the movie very distinct. 
Released in April of 1986 in the U.S., SALVADOR was certainly overshadowed by the epic success of another film that Stone did that came out in December of that same year - PLATOON. Talk about a banner year! That being said, I can kind of see how a small story about a journalist covering the Salvadorian Civil War was lost in the shuffle after the phenomenon that was Oliver Stone's Vietnam War opus. SALAVADOR is no less of a great movie though and it has an excellent cast including a nearly career high performance from James Woods and additionally encompasses James Belushi, Michael Moriarty, John Savage and the incredibly adorable Cynthia Gibb. If you are now or have ever been a fan of James Woods, there is no way you won't love him in this film. He brings all of his wonderful Woods-yness to the character and in tandem with a surprisingly solid performance from Jim Belushi, the film really stands out even among some of Oliver Stone's best work. It has that political nature to it as well an edge and a sense of danger that Stone could carry off very well and would make a big part of aesthetic throughout his career. It's really a classic example of a film which shows the promise of the great filmmaker to come, but in and of itself is a neat little movie.

Special Features:
--This Blu-ray has a few nice features including a commentary by Oliver Stone (which is excellent) and also "Into the Valley of Death" - The Making of SALVADOR as well as some deleted scenes and an isolated score track.

"Oliver Stone on the making of SALVADOR":

THE KILLER ELITE (1975; Sam Peckinpah)
This was a Peckinpah film that had somehow escaped my viewing until this Blu-ray. I even owned on DVD for years but never found my way around to watching it. I had heard a few lukewarm things about where the film sat in Peckinpah's filmography in terms of over all quality, but I should never have let that deter me. What a cast! Outside of headliners Robert Duvall and James Caan, you've got Burt Young, Bo Hopkins, Gig Young and Mako. I have to say that after finally seeing the film that I can kinda see some of the things things that people were put off by. As is discussed in the excellent commentary (see below), the film was very much one of those trouble productions. Script and structural problems are certainly evident. That being said though, the movie hooked me and I truly enjoyed it. There's a decent amount of improvised scenes in the film and though they can sometimes feel a little awkward, they mostly work in this case. One of the best improvised scenes features James Caan and Robert Duvall driving across a bridge. What they've come up with is pretty darned hilarious. Improvisation can of course be problematic in terms of the flow of a film and keeping the overall story focused, but even though the film is a touch on the long side, it is still interesting. It goes to places I didn't expect (which may be a product of the script problems) including a lengthy diversion into what is ostensibly an "crippled character recovery plot". Once it moves away from that shift of gears, it picks up some steam and becomes a more conventional "eye for an eye" revenge kinda thing, but within the trappings of this environment of Caan's profession of being hired to protect people (basically from being assassinated). There are some solid set pieces, one in and around the streets of San Francisco was particularly fun. It all feels just a bit sloppily thrown together, but that shagginess didn't detract from my enjoyment. Regarding the improvising, I was noticing how it is obviously done in a different style than what we have perhaps become accustomed to with the current ongoing wave of Apatow-type comedies. Those young actors of today sometimes have comedy improvisation training and while that helps in some films in others I've found it homogenizes the kind of comedy you get. While I'm guessing that actors like Caan and Duvall had some training in improvisational acting, it's clear that what they are doing is coming from a different place. Some of the choices are silly and some don't work at all, but overall the result is rather interesting and vibrant. One last random thought. This may be the only Peckinpah film to feature ninjas in any capacity and I have to say that's too bad. Saying 'ninjas' and 'Peckinpah' in the same sentence kinda makes me giddy.

As far as the transfer goes, this movie looks just fantastic. Bright, sharp and detailed - everything you could hope for in terms of 1080p quality. Hats off to Twilight Time as this is one of their better looking Blu-rays.

Special Features:
--The disc features a commentary on THE KILLER ELITE with Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and Nick Redman who can easily claim the title "Peckinpah experts". All three are clearly huge fans of the director and in the case of Simmons, actually spent some time on set during filming. The trio go into great detail with regards to the many troubles this production had from casting issues and script problems on down the line. I love to hear Redman and his co-commentators talk about Peckinpah films as they are clearly devoted admirers whilst not being afraid to underline some of their hero's mistakes.  It is a perfectly fascinating listen and is highly recommended to even the least committed Peckinpah fan. 

--Another outstanding inclusion is NOON WINE, a 1966 TV Adaptation of the short novel by Katherine Anne Porter that Peckinpah directed for ABC in a presentation that became known as ABC Stage 67 (a series of 26 weekly shows that varied from dramas and documentaries to musicals and variety shows). This hour-long show/movie had a knockout cast that included Jason Robards, Olive de Havilland, Theodore  Bikel, Ben Johnson and L.Q. Jones among others. This tragic drama was a huge critical success and captured nominations for Peckinpah from the WGA (for best Television adaptation) and the DGA (fro Best Television direction) and was extremely difficult to see prior to its inclusion on this Blu-ray. On top of being able to finally see this rarity, Redman, Seydor and Simmons provide an additional commentary track for it, which is also a very enjoyable and informative affair.

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