Rupert Pupkin Speaks: October 2014 ""

Friday, October 31, 2014

Second Sight - SUPER MARIO BROS on Blu-ray

SUPER MARIO BROS (1993; Rocky Morton/Annabel Jankel)
Video game movies have been a Hollywood staple for a long time.  SUPER MARIO BROS. was significant in that it was the first movie based solely on a video game property. It is perhaps telling that the adaptation didn't go too well and that Hollywood has struggled to make a decent video game movie since (and most would say they've failed almost universally). 
It's interesting for me sometimes to return to a film that came out in the theater in my lifetime but 20 plus years ago. It's fascinating from an anthropological perspective just to see what studios were making back then, the kinds of films they were putting big money into. I think we often forget that a lot of movies are the most textbook definition of "disposable entertainment". They are meant to get people to throw down for the price of a few tickets, watch  the movie and then forget about it. Sure the studios often go through a rigorous process of testing films to get make them "better", but one thing they can't think about or rarely seem to think about is "how will this film play in 20 years?". In all fairness, with a lot of studio product, there's no way they can have any clue about the film's continued popularity. Trends and fads shift all the time and who is to say what will be all the rage in 2034. I have no idea, but I hope people will still be coming back to movies like SUPER MARIO BROS. It's really a special movie in a lot of ways. Some might equate "special" to "bad", but there's more to be enjoyed in SMB than just badness. Sure, it's not a great movie, but it is so out there and on such a grand scale that there's no denying the sheer spectacle of the thing. Every once in a while, a major Hollywood studio throws a boat load of cash at an idea that just isn't ready to be a movie (or they keep start making endless changes once it's in process). Maybe the script was shaky or there was a lot of unintentional weirdness embedded in the material (or the weirdness comes about from many visions colliding), but for some reason those flaws are passed over and the movie goes into production or has to be finished despite structural issues. I'm sure some of those decisions are influenced by pressure to meet a release date or to keep the film's budget under control and some kind of unrealistic optimism tied to the phrase, "We'll fix it in post.". Sometimes, a movie is just so deeply nuts to it's very core that there's no way to make it a broad appeal four-quadrants kind of thing. This seems to happen often with fantasy-based films. Since they exist in their own reality or a stylized and heightened reality, there needs to be an infusion of cash to get that fantastic world up on the screen. And since fantasy is much more subjective than some genres and almost opens the door for strange and non-reality based scenarios, it would seem harder to be critical in some case when the film is being made. Maybe too much faith was out in the given filmmakers, maybe things wet rushed, who knows. The result can be magical though. Sure, we're used to seeing amazing sets and detoured in say a DARK KNIGHT film, but what if we took that money and out it into a movie based on a video game starring two plumbers. It's still loosely based on that video game, but now we have big Hollywood money to make it feel like a big event movie. I am always drawn to troubled films with big studio budgets that end up really going off the rails. It's especially enjoyable when these movies have some major fantasy elements because that's when you can see some crazy dreamworlds realized on screen. SUPER MARIO BROS. at the very least has some unique and elaborate sets and concepts that make it stabs out as weirder than just about any other video game movie ever made. I love that the film shares a production designer with PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE and BLADE RUNNER. That 's kind of awesome.
 From what I've read, one of the essential problems seems to have been that there was perhaps an inflated sense of confidence about kids wanting to go see this film because so many were obsessed with the games around that time. But it's of course more complicated than that and thankfully this disc includes a nice documentary that helps give some insight into the whole backstory.

Special Features:
-"This Ain't No Video Game" (60 mins) This newly produced retrospective documentary delves into the trouble production that was SUPER MARIO BROS and the circumstances that created it. Hats off to Second Sight for putting this thing together, taking it seriously and shedding some light on the story behind this notorious fan favorite.
The documentary features interviews with Roland Joffe (Producer), John Leguizamo, Rocky Morton (Co-director), Annabel Jankel (Co-director), Parker Bennett (Co-writer), Richard Edson, Mark Goldblatt (Editor), David L. Snyder (Production Designer) & more.
Directors Morton and Jankel talk about their origins with MAX HEADROOM, how they became involved in this film, their original vision for it and the obstacles they met along they way. Bennett, Edson and Leguizamo all have great stories of hijinks and frustrations on the set while still being pretty positive overall. The whole doc gently paints a picture of this troubled production whilst still celebrating it and showing just how much creative energy went into it. It's pretty neat.
-"The Making of SUPER MARIO BROS." (18 mins) this is a vintage making-of made at the time the movie was coming out and includes on set interviews with a lot of the principal cast as well as the directors and the producers. This featurette is also a fun time capsule that highlights the then cutting edge technology that was being used for the special effects at the time. It seems quite charmingly antiquated now.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Retroclassics

Retroclassic (@retroclassics1 on Twitter and pinterest/retroclassic/ on Pinterest) is a small and unpretentious collective of classic tv and film connoisseurs. We research, collect, promote and write about classic tv and film with a particular fondness for silents; pre-code Hollywood; B-movies; film noir; serials; Hollywood’s Golden Era; French New Wave and Italian Neorealism. Please feel free to follow us on Twitter, we follow back!
A very special thank you to Rupert Pupkin for allowing us to contribute to his wonderfully informative and useful blog, Rupert Pupkin Speaks!
1. Without Warning! - 1952 is a film noir shot on location in Los Angeles California. Equal parts police procedural (similar to tv's Dragnet) and thriller, representing a very early take on the psychology of a serial killer – something quite new to a 1950s audience. This United Artist's release marked the directorial debut of Arnold Laven ("Down Three Dark Streets"; "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue") who later co-founded Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions (producers of classic tv westerns The Rifleman and The Big Valley). Adam Williams is the lead and his role precedes the portrayal of a car bomber in The Big Heat and Valerian in North by Northwest. Williams is quite convincing as Carl Martin, San Fernando Valley gardener by day, serial killer by night. For Los Angeles history buffs there are some wonderful location footage of the historic Union Station; the former Chavez Ravine neighborhood; new sections of Hollywood Freeway stretching from San Fernando Valley to downtown LA prior to its grand opening and the historic Central Produce Market. DVD released in 2005 by Dark Sky Films, a subsidiary of MPI Media Group. For many years the film was considered lost and unavailable for viewings, although by the early 2000s it was included in some film noir movie festivals.

2. The Asphalt Jungle - 1950 is a hardboiled film noir and early heist/caper film by John Huston. The outstanding cast includes Sterling Hayden (“Manhandled”; “Crime Wave”; “Naked Alibi”) and a very underrated actor in our opinion; John McIntyre (“Naked City”); Jean Hagen (“Side Street”; “The Big Knife”); Louis Calhern; James Whitmore (“Them!”; “Crime In the Streets”); Sam Jaffe (“Rope of Sand”; “Under The Gun”) and Marilyn Monroe’s screen debut in a minor but absolutely unforgettable performance. While the MGM $1.2M big budget release garnered four Academy Award nominations it ultimately did not earn a single Oscar. In fact, we include it on the Underrated Thrillers list primarily due to Sterling Hayden’s outstanding but very underrated lead performance in addition to the unique perspective of the story telling with its emphasis on the point of view of the criminal and its reliance on their deep multi-layered character studies each with his own vice and the ironic twists of fate in store for all of them along the way. This A-movie production more closely resembles a B-movie noir and was based on a novel by W.R. Burnett, who also wrote a novel that formed the basis of the 1930s gangster film, “Little Caesar”.

3. Murder by Contract - 1958 is a film noir by Irving Lerner (“Edge of Fury”; “City of Fear”). Ben Maddow (“The Asphalt Jungle”) did some uncredited work on the film. The Columbia Pictures release was shot in seven days in Los Angeles California. It depicts the atypical and existential hit man, Claude (played by Vince Edwards – tv’s “Ben Casey”) who as a disaffected businessman becomes a contract killer but never carries a gun! For fans of Jean-Luc Godard and the “new wave” of French cinema, this film borrows heavily from those filmmakers both in style and approach. In fact, Martin Scorsese has cited this film as the film that has influenced him the most. Be sure to catch the comparisons during the “waiting for the phone call” scenes where Claude spends weeks in his hotel room and finds creative ways to keep himself occupied. Scorsese would create a similar scene in Taxi Driver. Lucien Ballard (“The Killing”; “A Kiss Before Dying”) does some excellent cinematography work with a sparse and economical budget. Columbia Pictures included this film in their Film Noir Classics Vol. 1 release from 2009 which also includes “The Big Heat”; “The Lineup”; “The Sniper” and 5 Against the House”, it’s a fantastic set of films for any crime/thriller/noir fan.

4. The Conversation – 1974 is a conspiracy thriller and character study of Harry Caul, a lonely and detached electronic surveillance expert “bugger” written, produced and directed by Frances Ford Coppola and influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). While it was nominated for three Academy Awards it lost to another Coppola film, The Godfather Part II. The film depicts the moral dilemma and paranoia of the bugger, played by Gene Hackman. The uncanny timeliness and use of the very same surveillance equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used to spy on political opponents during the Watergate scandal are purely coincidental according to Coppola. The film was shot on location in San Francisco California and features a recently opened Embarcadero Center; the defunct City of Paris department store and Union Square along with the massive full city long block, Jack Tar Hotel, at Geary and Van Ness which was built in 1960 and demolished in 2013. John Cazale (“The Godfather Parts I & II”; “Dog Day Afternoon”) plays Caul’s colleague, Stan. Also starring Harrison Ford; Cindy Williams and Robert Duvall. This is an exceptional psychological thriller that, while successful upon release, seems to have fallen off the radar in recent years and deserves another viewing.
5. Experiment in Terror - 1962 is a suspense-thriller about a killer who uses a campaign of terror to force a bank teller to steal $100,000 for him and is directed by Blake Edwards and released by Columbia Pictures. The film stars Glenn Ford as John “Rip” Ripley, an FBI agent or “G-Man”; Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, the bank teller; Ross Martin (tv’s “The Wild Wild West) and Stefanie Powers (tv’s “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” and “The Interns”) as Toby Sherwood, Kelly’s younger sister. With a score by Henry Mancini, who had paired with Edwards for the Peter Gunn tv series in the late 1950s, the soundtrack sets the tone early on and intensifies and sustains the mood throughout. Ross Martin is particularly effective and believable as the asthmatic psychotic killer, Garland “Red” Lynch. The on-location filming in and around San Francisco California includes the Crocker-Anglo Bank (presently Wells Fargo Bank) atOne Montgomery St.; Fisherman’s Wharf; North Beach including great scenes inside the Roaring 20’s nightclub; the Richmond District neighborhood including George Washington High School; Twin Peaks (Sherwood residence is located at 100 St. Germaine St.) and the soon-to-be demolished Candlestick Park with some actual baseball game footage between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers (with Vin Scully announcing!). Memorable line: Kelly Sherwood tells Red Lynch “I’ll scream and this is a dead end street” with Red replying “You won’t scream and I know what kind of a street this is!”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Leah Young

Leah Young is an ex-acting, ex-film student who writes about film noir here: twitters about mostly film noir @hardboiled_girl. She's also obsessed with horror movies, Golden-age Hollywood, 60's pop music and taxidermy.
Beware My Lovely (1952)
Robert Ryan. Ida Lupino.
In case you needed to know more than that, Beware My Lovely is a taut, somewhat odd little thriller produced byLupino's production company. Lupino plays a kindly widow Helen Gordon, who, after seeing her long-time boarder off, has the misfortune of hiring handyman Howard Wilton (Ryan) for a day's work in preparing her hulking Victorian home for Christmas. We know he's on the run, after seeing him flee his last place of employment after discovering a dead body and it is quickly apparent that Howard is dangerously unstable, oscillating from clumsykindness to snarling, murderous rage. Make no mistake,Beware My Lovely is solely a vehicle for Howard's unpredictability as her terrorizes Helen, but with performances of this calibre, what more do you need? As an actor, Robert Ryan was gifted with an ability like no other to play unpleasant characters- villains- who were so precisely rendered that they were frighteningly relatable, and this film is no exception. His Howard is confused and troubled then aggressive and tortured, often within a few frames. There's plenty of artistic photography, Lupino is characteristically excellent, and at a lean 77 minutes, Beware My Lovely is a marvelous golden-age roller coaster. Remember it next time you're home for the holidays.

Dead of Winter (1987)
“Haunting weather,” Dr. Lewis observes in the final act of Arthur Penn's box office flop Dead of Winter. He's right,part of the novelty of the story is the harsh beauty of the punishing New York winter. In the least credible sounding job offer this side of Craigslist, Mary Steenburgen stars as a struggling actress who's been offered the opportunity to take over a lead role in an independent film, provided she'll hole up in a remote mansion in the – you guessed it, dead of winter to prepare for the role by cutting her hair short and shooting an audition tape with two complete strangers. Turns out, our ill-fated actress is a dead ringer for a kidnap victim they've killed. The plot doesn't break any new ground, but what makes the film such a delight is the relationship between Jan Rubes as the sinister wheel-chair bound doctor, and Roddy McDowall as his fawning assistant. It's so much better than it needs to be. Like many thrillers, the script requires a high suspension of disbelief – you have to be willing to buy into the fact that Steenburgen's character is painfully naive, but McDowall is so disarmingly genial that he lights up every scene. Without him, it's hard to imagine the film working as well as it unexpectedly does. With Dead of Winter, you come for McDowall, but you stay for the idiosyncratic flourishes – the gas station that gives away free goldfishes, the onion cutting scene, the hot cocoa, the player piano. Night Moves may be the last great Arthur Penn movie, but Dead of Winter proves he still had 'it'.

White of the Eye (1987)
Oh my God, White of the Eye. Set in an affluent community in Arizona (basically a post-apocalyptic wasteland with some really nice houses), DonaldCammell's supremely strange serial killer film opens with murder scene which plays like a giallo perfume ad; there's a goldfish stuck in the ribcage of a plate of pork, wine spilling, flowers, plastic wrap everywhere, and pulsing synthesizer from Pink Floyd's Nick Mason. We are then introduced to happily married couple Paul White (David Keith) and his wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty). Paul is a master installer of high-end stereos who happens to have a set of rare Baja tires on his truck, implicating him in a string of bizarre murders on wealthy housewives. In addition to being Arizona's preeminent stereo equipment guru (he can vibrate sound in his sinuses), could he also be harbouring a murderous secret? Probably, but going through the fine points of White of the Eye isn't important. Calling it merely a serial killer film undersells the layers and layers of cinematic weirdness – sort of a MTV exploitation art film by way of a giallo, with misplaced Americana filtered through the lens of an Englishman. Possibly the only thing missing from White of the Eye is a role for Dennis Hopper. Believe it or not, by the time we've hit the car chase, the best parts of White of the Eye are in the rear view, as if the standard Hollywood car chase is the only way to resolve the narrative. Basically, we're left with a man in samurai make-up and dynamite strapped to his chest chasing a woman in a peacock coat, with her ex-boyfriend and his shotgun going on about the TV in his head. As the detective remarks while surveying the initial crime scene, “I know a goddamn work of art when I see one.”

A Perfect Murder (1998)
Okay, hear me out on this one. I don't know whether I have a weak spot for the high-gloss sexy thriller trash of the 90s, but I kind of love A Perfect Murder. It's not even the best of the Indecent-Fatal (I know, 80's)-Basic-Disclosure-Attraction movies, but there's just something about Andrew Davis' marble and mahogany remake of Hitchcock/Frederick Knott's Dial M for Murder. Despite some major structural changes, the premise is more-or-less the same – Michael Douglas, after years of perfecting the surly capitalist role, hits pay dirt as Steven Taylor, the ultimate morally bankrupt cuckold. He offers the edgy ex-con artist boyfriend (Viggo Mortensen) of his wife Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow) a cool half-million to kill her. Blackmail, deceit, and double-crossing ensue. The three leads are all particularly good, Douglas and Mortensen are especially nuanced with some clunky dialogue (not to mention some unexpected black comedy), and Paltrow sees to it that Emily never becomes caricature. There's a shallowness atA Perfect Murder's slick, nasty heart - nothing really deeper at work here than some bad people living in good apartments, but it sure holds up as an unsentimental thriller with some satisfying twists. Alas, for Hitchcock purists who hated this film on principal, '98 got worse – that year also saw the release of Gus Van Sant's dreadful Psycho remake.

Ne le Dis a Personne (Tell No One), (2006)
Eight years ago, the wife of Dr. Alex Beck (FrancoisCluzet) found was murdered near a pond – Alex was there, but he was knocked unconscious, falling back into the water. Hit so hard he was in a coma for three days, though mysteriously pulled out of the pond and left on the dock. Though he was the prime suspect at the time, eventually the murder was attributed to a prolific serial killer. When two bodies turn up buried on Beck's property, the police are prompted to re-open the case. A deceptively simple set up gives way to full-tilt Hitchcockian madness.Strange e-mails from someone who may be his wife. A murder. New evidence. Shocking secret photos. A conspiracy. Horses. Street thugs. Faintly erotic photography. Soon enough, the wrong-man-chase situation gives way to something much larger. Tell No Oneisn't just a cracking good thriller; it's a marvel of craftsmanship – if it wasn't so consistently paced, well-acted, and so tightly plotted, it would be easy to lose the story in the constant plot turns and switchbacks. As dense with details and information as Tell No One is, it manages not to be overwhelming – just sit back, pay attention, give director Guillame Canet the benefit of the doubt, and watch the puzzle play out. It's rare to see a thriller that leaves zero loose ends - this is how it should be done, folks. (Incidentally, I hear there's a completely unnecessary American remake in the works.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scream Factory - NIGHTBREED -The Director's Cut on Blu-ray

NIGHTBREED (1990; Clive Barker)
My relationship with NIGHTBREED goes back to early high school. My best friend at the time and I had started getting into horror pretty heavily if I recall and we'd begun with his brother's copy of EVIL DEAD II followed by my copy of Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD. Somehow or other, I feel like Clive Barker got on my friend's radar. Maybe it was via the HELLRAISER movies or maybe some comic book stuff that Barker did (my friend was a natural artist and we both had an interest in comics at the time). Regardless, it was he who brought NIGHTBREED to my attention. Because I am old and have a faulty memory, I cannot recall if we snuck in to see it when it was in theaters (though I feel like that is a good possibility) or if we rented it on VHS. Thinking back on it now, I may have been kind of overwhelmed by the movie at the time. I'm sure I was floored by the creature design/FX and the mythology Barker was going for, but I feel like maybe it there was too much going on for me to keep track of it all. I remember coming away with a feeling of , "geez that was neat, not sure I'd watch it again", but not in a bad way. If memory serves, I also had had high expectations for it. Obviously this is all pre-internet so anticipation consisted of seeing a trailer some months before and maybe a tv spot or two the week it came out. I feel like it was one of a few movies that I had heard about in advance of it coming out and starting to imagine in my head what in the world it was going to be like. I can't rmember if people actually made comparisons or said it was going to be like "The STAR WARS of horror films", or if I'm just imagining they did. Maybe through Fangoria or some other such magazines, I think I started to get a sense of other horror fans and the horror community in general getting excited about it. That may have been one of the earliest times I became aware of a great horror community at large. Being from a small town in Wisconsin, it was hard for me to get a sense of this sort of thing, especially in the late 80s and early 90s. We mostly saw movies at our local multiplex or occasionally the drive-in, and it was difficult in those situations to size up other horror fans. As far as we could tell they were just other high school kids. I never was very aware of horror or comic book conventions so I never went to them and missed out on connecting with other fans like myself. So anyway, NIGHTBREED was a thing that took some processing for me. It certainly was not what I expected, I can say that much. I think the fact that I had been watching relatively unsophisticated horror films (a lot of gore and slasher films), was part of the reason I was unprepared for the density and mythology of NIGHTBREED. It was just way outside the paradigm of horror I had become accustomed to. I was just in over my head, or so it felt. In my limited horror history, I never realized that most of the stuff I had been watching was pretty juvenile. I was pretty juvenile myself so I guess it made sense at the time. Point is is that I had not gone too far in the direction of trying to seek out challenging movies for myself. NIGHTBREED had a complexity that made me feel like a dumb kid (which may have been a little alienating, I must admit). There were multiple components of evil to it that I had trouble wrapping my head around. There was the more traditional psychopathic killer aspect to the movie and then there were the monsters and Midian (where they lived). At the time I really grappled with my expectations of monsters being evil creatures and these monsters, though they seemed evil at first were really just trying to live their lives undisturbed in what was ostensibly kind of a hippy-commune kind of environment. I think that 16 year old me didn't know what to make of the movie, other than it seemed cool in parts, but genuinely disturbing in others. I had never fully connected with the HELLRAISER films so my sense of Clive Barker was extremely limited to that point. Via this film, he came across to me as a pretty dark dude. I know I wondered how he had come up with this universe in his head. NIGHTBREED was pretty original in a lot of ways at the time and I think that uniqueness helped it stick with me. Another thing that stuck with me was Danny Elfman's score. At that time, I was not really conscious of Elfman, outside of having seen BATMAN in the summer of 1989 and having enjoyed the music quite a bit. I never realized that NIGHTBREED was one of the first features he scored after BATMAN (along with DICK TRACY). It's hard not to watch a film with Danny Elfman music now and not think of him and how much he brings to the table. He's a neat fit for this material certainly. So all in all, NIGHTBREED had many things about it that kinda blew my mind. Somehow though, I didn't watch it again except for the one or two times I saw it back when it came out so I was quite curious to revisit the movie on Blu-ray. Scream Factory advertised that this new cut "contains over 40 minutes of new and altered footage", which I knew could certainly shift my view of a movie that I could barely remember the specifics of anymore anyway. When I go over it in my head, I realize that maybe part of my slight disconnect with the movie had to do with the fact that it was cut up upon its initial release. Maybe I hadn't been ably to make complete sense of it the first time. Watching it again, there were still some structural and motivational things that ended up confusing me slightly, but overall the movie films more "complete" in this new cut.

Special Features:
Scream Factory has given this title a lot of love. The transfer looks quite good and all the features together form a Criterion-level release and one of the better complete packages that Scream has put out. It's a pretty ambitious achievement I must say. The supplements include:
-Introduction by writer/director Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller.
-Audio Commentary by writer/director Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Alan Miller.
-"Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed
(72 min.) featuring interviews with Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley and more.
-"Making Monsters
(42 min.) - interviews with makeup effects artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones.
-"Fire! Fights! Stunts! 2nd Unit Shooting
(20 min.) - an interview with Andy Armstrong .

Monday, October 27, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a writer, film curator, and archivist based in Los Angeles, where he currently works in film distribution. He is presently writing and editing a two-volume set for The Critical Press on the pioneering and highly influential LA-based pay cable station, the Z Channel, which existed from 1974 - 1989. As a film curator, he has helmed high-profile screening events for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and UCLA's Melnitz Movies. Otherwise, he deeply admires Dick Cavett's savoir faire and his favorite Sonny Chiba film is Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's perpetually unavailable WOLFGUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE (1975). Find him online at for essays and free streaming movies.

1. PETULIA (Dick Lester, 1968)
At this point in my life, any narrative about marriage or divorce seems like a horror story. PETULIA isn't helping alleviate any hang-ups I may have about love, loss, and commitment. Boasting a peculiar, innovative, and alternating flash-forward and flash-backward structure, the terror underlying Dick Lester's tale of fidelity and adulthood unravels at a painfully gradual pace, but with grandiose purpose. Once Archie (George C. Scott) along with the audience realizes the conundrum of Petulia's (Julie Christie) imperceptible prison and his own powerlessness, all that can be done is to bemoan that what is chiefly moral or ethical is not always easily achieved.

2. VENUS IN FURS (Jess Franco, 1969)
VERTIGO, but with dreamlike jazz structure and syncopation - also, Klaus Kinski S&M scenes.

3. DANGEROUS GAME (Abel Ferrara, 1993)
Filmmaking as a violent, complicated, emotional act. I saw this film when I was 10 years old and I didn't understand a damn thing except that Madonna was one of its top-billed actors. A decade and a half later, I find it one of the most harrowing, haunting meta-cinematic films I've ever seen, a chilling exploration of where one draws the line between reality and performance.

4. THE NINTH GATE (Roman Polanski, 1999)
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a smarmy, "unscrupulous" book dealer who in the selfish pursuit of a salary delves too deep into a world of deepest darkness. I don't know if I can even capture in writing exactly what it is that I love so much about this particular Polanski, but it is a film that even having seen it upwards of 50 times, I never tire of the experience. Maybe it is because, like Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT, there's always more to see onscreen at any given time than is initially evident. The film itself is quietly playful in its presentation. That some are thrown off by its occasionally goofy tone is a testament to the difference between immersing yourself totally in the film and simply wanting to know how it ends.
5. COLD WEATHER (Aaron Katz, 2010)
Aaron Katz - a somewhat tertiary figure in the Mumblecore movement - crafts a deceptively brilliant feature film that begins in that familiar, annoyingly awkward indie mode but that gradually, masterfully evolves into an edge-of-your-seat thriller by its final sequence. It is as if Katz himself evolves as a filmmaker throughout the course of its 90-ish-minute runtime.


Beginnings are often quite interesting. In the case of this collection, the beginnings I'm speaking of are that of the Three Stooges. These shorts feature the Stooges before they were the stooges. Moe, Larry and Curly are all here and doing some of the schtick that would make them some of the most iconic comic actors of the twentieth century. It's interesting though because you can see the personas are relatively well formed (especially Moe's) but there are some subtle differences. For instance, Curly isn't quite as dumb as his characters would often be in the Stooges films. Don't get me wrong, he still plays a dimwit, but there are indications in the way he speaks that he is a little more intelligent. It's always surreal to see an actor play a slightly removed version of a comic persona that they've come to be known for.
The Shorts included in this collection are as follows:
PLANE NUTS (1933) (20 mins) is a stage bound bit of nonsense with Ted Healy continually trying to belt out a lame song whilst continually being interrupted by Larry, Moe and Curly (and occasionally by some very elaborate Busby Berkeley style (he was an uncredited choreographer) musical numbers).

ROAST BEEF AND MOVIES (1934) (16 mins) In this Two-Color Technicolor short, three buffoons pitch their new film to some studio heads. Contains another Berkeley-esque dance sequences.

THE BIG IDEA (1934) (19 mins) Ted Healy runs "The Big Idea Scenario Company" which provides "Ideas While You Wait". Short consists of Healy, sitting in an office at a typewriter trying to write whilst all kinds of random annoying and silly characters wander in and out. Slightly reminiscent of the "Stateroom Scene" in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA during certain moments. Also reminded me of the John Candy movie DELIRIOUS (man types and we see story play out). This too has a Berkeley-esque dance number.

BEER AND PRETZELS (1933) (20 mins) Ted Healy and the Stooges get the tossed out (literally) of their jobs working as actors for a small theatre and get jobs as waiters at an upscale club. The boys attempt to take perform their act amidst their  waitstaff duties to humorous results. Some fun Stooge/customer interactions in this one.

"We don't want the boiled beef! We want the pate de fois gras!"

NERTSERY RHYMES (1933) (20 Mins)

2-strip Technicolor short featuring the Stooges as boys in pjs all sharing a single bed. Their pop (Ted Healy) comes in late to tell them bedtime stories (of Paul Revere, Indian Chiefs and other nonsense). Lots of Healy smacking the Stooges in the face. There's also a scantily clad lady in her skivvies that sings a song. There's also another lavishly produced musical number (a couple of them in fact)!

HELLO POP (1933)(17 mins)

In this, one of the more sought after shorts in this set (it was thought lost until 2013), Ted Healy plays a stage director who is attempting to put on the opening night of his new musical review. Healy must contend with all manner of chaos and stupidity including his not-so-bright three sons (played by you-know-who). The Stooges are in annoying youngsters mode and they are great at it. They are costumed in full-on fancy lad attire (with ruffles) to boot which only makes this short funnier. This is definitely one of the better films included here.
Also 2-strip Technicolor.

You can purchase this set via Warner Archive here:

OH SAILOR BEHAVE (1930; Archie Mayo)
Of all the comedy teams of the 1930s (and thereabouts), Olsen & Johnson were maybe the most certifiably insane. Rarely have a seen performers where I felt while watching them that they could just as likely walk up to me in an asylum as do a song and dance number on the silver screen. There's just something about the way they interact with each other. Feels like they are operating on their own plane of reality. I mean this in a good way. They are still very funny, but my brain occasionally puzzles at what is going on in their heads. Early on in OH SAILOR BEHAVE, there's a scene wherein Ole is listening to Chic tell a story about a how a man died. Every time he asks Chic another question about the scenario, Chic says something that randomly applies to the chap dying in a different way than he was just explaining. It's perhaps hard to express what this scene is like, but it's quite humorous. There's something about the gag of it though, this guy who is telling nine different stories at once and can't keep any of they straight - it just feels like an interaction with a schizophrenic or something. This is perfect though as it really feels like its coming from a place of pure lunacy which is a succinct way of encapsulating the Olsen & Johnson comedy paradigm. I get a little bummed out sometimes when I think about O&J. They seemed to have nearly slipped out of the conversation when it comes to comedy teams of this era. Everyone knows the Marx Brothers, and Laurel & Hardy and it seems that Wheeler and Woolsey are getting a bit of a resurgence in popularity, but O&J don't get as much attention in general. I think it certainly has to do with the availability of their films. Two of their best movies - HELLZAPOPPIN' and it's unhinged sequel CRAZY HOUSE are pretty tricky to see (outside of sketchy youtube copies). They first came to my attention years ago when Quentin Tarantino was given a week to program the then fledgling TRIO Network with a bunch of movies he loved. QT picked some really interesting stuff (CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND, BUS RILEY's BACK IN TOWN, THE CAT BURGLAR) and one of his choices was CRAZY HOUSE. He did a really neat intro and outro to each film and I wish I could find them online, but they seem to be not available. One thing I remember for sure is him saying something like, "If you don't know who Olsen & Johnson're too f*?kin' young!". He really appeared to have a great deal of affection for them and clearly wanted to spread the love. Once you see CRAZY HOUSE and HELLZAPOPPIN' you will either be totally on board with them or you'll think they are nutjob idiots. Seeing OH SAILOR BEHAVE after having seen some of their other later films was a treat as it is really wonderful to see them doing their thing and kind of developing towards their later delirium. This movie is, not surprisingly, at its best when they are on screen and far less interesting when they are not.

You can purchase this DVD via Warner Archive here:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Steve Grzesiak

Although I'm not involved in the film industry in any capacity, nor do I have a blog dedicated to films, I am a lifelong film fan who grew up on an odd mixture of Clint Eastwood and Laurel & Hardy films. My tastes now lie mostly in 1960s and 70s crime films, recent South American cinema, and 1980s and 90s action films. Really, I'll try just about anything, truth be told.

I regularly post film-related tweets, in-between stuff about eating and sport, here and I also post almost daily film reviews on my Letterboxd page.

Coma (1978, directed by Michael Crichton)
Michael Crichton's organlegging medical thriller is a film that he himself described as being a bit like a Western. I can't say that thought ever occurred to me on the many occasions I've watched Coma and now, having thought about it for a few minutes, I can't say there are many similarities.
There is a fantastic cat-and-mouse chase through Genevieve Bujold's hospital that sees her pursued by hoodlum Lance LeGault, in arguably his most famous role outside of playing gruff army Generals on long-running action TV series. That reminded me of the climax chase between Richard Benjamin and Yul Brynner in another Crichton film, Westworld. Except that isn't even a full-on Western. So, what the hell was Crichton talking about?
Bujold's reasons for becoming nosy about the unexplained comas at her hospital are initially shaky ground on which to build this film's plot, but once she starts getting chased, barked at by Michael Douglas, and slips in to a sinister research facility, Coma becomes a terrific suspense thriller with a superb ending.

Union Station (1950, directed by Rudolph Mate)
The French Connection was far from being the first film to feature a thrilling chase scene involving an elevated train. While Gene Hackman hurtling his way recklessly through New York City is a rightly memorable scene, William Holden's pursuit on and off the Chicago L is pretty good as well. A superbly filmed scene that comes to a somewhat improbable and inadvertently amusing ending, it's perhaps the highlight of Union Station but it's far from being the only reason why this film deserves to be remembered or rediscovered.
Lyle Bettger as a vicious kidnapper deserves to be remembered as one of the very best film noir antagonists as he slaps his way through any woman that gets in his way, while Nancy Olson's rightly nosy young secretary would be the basis for one of her frequent pairings with Holden. Not terribly easy to get hold of at an affordable price unless it has been restored to the dustier areas of Netflix, this is a consistently exciting way to spend 80 minutes.

Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964, Bryan Forbes)
After the recent sad passing of Richard Attenborough, it was additionally quite sad to see a lack of mentions for his stunning performance in Seance On A Wet Afternoon. Playing the shrinking violet husband to Kim Stanley's domineering and frighteningly intense psychic, he almost disappears into the set when on the receiving end of her tirades. What a quite magnificent actor he was - and the same could be said of Stanley.
For many, Stanley was frustratingly picky about the projects she chose, and you can understand that frustration after witnessing her performance here. It wouldn't be even slightly surprising to me Elizabeth Taylor was inspired by her for the following year's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? This film's turn from what looks like an eerie supernatural drama into a kidnapping suspense thriller is one of the many masterstrokes that it has - the ending, however, is the best of them. A brilliant film.

Transsiberian (2008, Brad Anderson)
Transsiberian is one of those cases of a film extremely well received critically compared to a rather apathetic reaction from audiences, a reaction that was reflected in this film's box office. Brad Anderson's adventure thriller is one that might chug towards a slightly disappointing and predictable climax, but much of what happens before that is anything but predictable.
The narrative decision taken to remove one of the characters for a long stretch in the middle of the film is one that creates all manner of possibilities, and Anderson explores them expertly. It could just be that I'm a completely gullible fool (work with me on this) but the unpredictability of Transsiberian is what really drew me in. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer's leads are an unusual pair to have leading a film such as this as well, while Eduardo Noriega gets to show why he's now one of the better villains for hire around. It all looks as wonderful as you would expect, too.

A Perfect Getaway (2009, David Twohy)
David Twohy slipped A Perfect Getaway out between his two sequels to Pitch Black and really it deserved a lot better than to be overshadowed by that pair. His psychological thriller might seem from the outset as though it's going to be another fairly standard serial killer horror-thriller, but a suspense drama of outstanding quality emerges.
It's all brightened up by some surprisingly lively and amusing dialogue with some particularly marvellous exchanges between the always excellent Steve Zahn and Timothy Olyphant ("Got my skull rebuilt with space-age titanium!"), and for a while you are left wondering exactly what it is that you're watching. It might all go predictably silly at the end but the major twist is well done, even if it's not especially surprising, and a handful of excellent performances make this a really enjoyable romp that deserved a fair bit more attention.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Scorpion Releasing - THE FIRST POWER and JENNIFER on Blu-ray

THE FIRST POWER (1990; Robert Resnikoff)
"Satan Has Created the Perfect Killer. One Who Cannot Be Stopped. Be Warned."
I remember this film being kind of a big deal to me when it came out on VHS. I rented and watched it several times from my local mom and pop video shop. I was a fan of Lou Diamond Phillips from various 80s films (YOUNG GUNS, LA BAMBA etc), but I think I was caught off guard (in a good way) seeing him in a horror movie. I think it was also an early movie for me that exhibited this sense of dread, like "everything is not necessarily gonna be okay" in this world. It featured a pretty powerful villain (Jeff Kober) and I think I was probably mesmerized by the idea of how Phillip's character was gonna stop him. I think I also remember just being creeped out by the movie. The paranoid terror of it was not something I had seems ton of at that point in my horror-watching "career". I think the movie also appealed to me in a big way at the age that I saw it because it had lots of great action (ie stunts) mixed in with its horror elements. The stunt work in this movie is pretty spectacular and apparently there were many injuries sustained in the process. This might be part of the reason why the movie resonates like it does. Today it would look so much different in the world of CG effects.
Lou Diamond Phillips fills out a cool niche cast which also includes Tracy Griffith (Melanie Griffith's little sister), Jeff Korber and Mykelti Williamson. I know that Tracy Griffith certainly caught my eye as a kid and I can still see why upin rewatching the film. Her fiery red hair, flirtatious nature and natural beauty (you can see a lot of her sister in her) hooked me immediately. She did some other movies besides this one, but I'll always associate her with THE FIRST POWER. As for Jeff Kober, as I said, he is one hell of an antagonistic force in this movie. The dude is downright unnerving and out and out scary. He's played many heavy roles in his career, but this is by far his most effective. His presence just makes the film better and more memorable. It should also be mentioned that Stewart Copeland did the score to the film and it's solid stuff and it goes a long way to elevate the creepy, paranoid atmosphere of the movie.
One enjoyable thing this time around was seeing the film as the Los Angeles movie that it is (the last time I watched, I had never even been to L.A.).

Special Features:
-"Power of Logan: An Interview with Lou Diamond Phillips" (32 mins). Actor Phillips discusses how he came to be involved in THE FIRST POWER (same producer as his film RENEGADES), working with a first time director, the demanding nature of the shoot, the rest of the cast, and other production details. He did most of his own stunts in the film and he has many great stories about that experience. He comes off as a very jovial, fun guy and has a ton of stuff to say about the movie.
"Channing Lives: An Interview with Jeff Kober" (17 mins). Actor Kober talks about his involvement in the film, the script and his character as well as how it related to the occult and his process for developing his character. He is highly affable in the interview which is best because he is so darned evil in the film. 

JENNIFER (1978; Brice Mack)
"She's Got the Power...and You Haven't Got a Prayer!"
Have you ever wondered what CARRIE would have been like if she had psychic control of snakes instead of straight telekinesis? Well JENNIFER is the film that answers that question. I love how this trailer makes no mention of her snake control powers, but rather makes it very much look like she is a telekinetic just like CARRIE:
I guess you can't blame the producers too much for trying to fool folks a little bit here. The snake powers aren't quite as sexy as telekinesis I suppose. Jennifer is a hillbilly kid on scholarship to a snooty private school and her rich girl classmates do not like her at all. Another thing that stands out about the movie is just how mean the rich girls are to her. I mean we're talking terrible, from egging her books and stealing her clothes to attempting to drown her in the school's pool and more! I totally understand that a film like this really has to establish its villains in a big and pronounced way and JENNIFER certainly does that. It has to be done this way so that when Jennifer finally cuts loose on them, we don't blame her in the slightest and wish these bullies the worst fates possible. I've just always found that to be an interesting structural dynamic in terms of story with a supernatural high school revenge movie like this. As I said before, I can totally see why it was made to look like CARRIE and clearly the whole film was produced to capitalize on the popularity of that film. One neat thing though is that Jennifer's snake control powers are pretty interesting and organic to her backwoods character. It fits that she would have these abilities somehow, based on where she comes from. She's kinda like a female Aquaman. On land. With snakes. Jennifer is played by Lisa Pelikan who some may remember from things like LIONHEART (1990), GHOULIES, JULIA and RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. Also headlining this movie is singer/actor/gameshow host Bert Convy. Convy was quite active in 1978 and also had a roles on both FANTASY ISLAND and THE LOVE BOAT that same year. Here he is singing on the Tonight Show in 1978:
Lastly, another dude you'll likely recognize is that of Jeff Corey. Corey has one of those character actor faces that made him perfect as background in hundreds of movies over the years, especially westerns and period pieces.  He's an absolute "that guy" actor and is perhaps best remembered for roles in films like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, TRUE GRIT, LITTLE BIG MAN and CONAN THE DESTROYER. He makes a nice addition to any cast and is a boost to this movie for sure.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - KC (of A Classic Movie Blog)

Kendahl "KC" Cruver writes about movies at A Classic Movie Blog and as a regular contributor to ClassicFlix. You can find her all over the web:

The Moon-Spinners (1964)
One of my favorite films. It's got gorgeous Cretan atmosphere, beautiful costumes, a purring and delightfully matronly Joan Greenwood and some surprisingly heart thumping moments. I would never have pegged Hayley Mills for an action heroine, but in a tense scene with a whirling windmill, I wondered how her pink gingham charm could have worked with the genre. It would have been fascinating to see her take up the challenge, but here you at least get an idea of what she could do. Mills goes up against a jewel thief, and you really fear for her because it's Eli Wallach. You wonder if anyone told him he's in a Disney flick, because he's as menacing as in any other crime film he madeIn the end, Pola Negri shows up on a yacht with a cheetah and steals the whole movie.

Dark of the Sun (1968)
Rod Taylor as a mercenary in Africa. This is a mean film, set in a brutal world, but it's so exciting that your sense of social outrage is impossible to separate from the thrills. One of my major problems with modern action films is that you can't see what's going on half the time. Scenes are so often cut into such fast-moving chaos that your eye never really focuses on anything. Here the action is filmed with startling clarity, and with many of the actors semming to do their own stunts, which makes it feel much more immediate. There's a palpable excitement seeing Taylor leap from a balcony onto a pool table and you know it's him (yes, I'd recognize that butt anywhere).

The Liquidator (1966)
In a much sillier role, Rod Taylor is Boysie Oakes, a former soldier who is pressured into killing for the British Secret Service. He is terrified of violence and thus outsources his work so that he has more time for womanizing. Of course, he can't stay out of the action forever. It's all a huge goof on James Bond, with a theme song belted out by Shirley Bassey, Bond girl Jill St. John as an elusive love interest and lots of perfectly-coiffedbeautiful woman gliding around with that blank-faced, soft-voiced passivity that proliferated in 1960s spy flicks. Trevor Howard has fun tangling with Taylor as his contact with the Secret Service.

Inferno (1953)
A prickly millionaire with a broken leg is left for dead in the desert by his wife and her lover. With long scenes of his struggle to survive, and an interior monologue shared with the audience, the set-up doesn't necessarily scream thrills. But the man is played by Robert Ryan, who can generate plenty of excitement by raising an eyebrowThere's so much to love about this movie, the bright, almost feverish color, Rhonda Fleming's anxious tension and blazing green eyes (she's always coiled tight, like a cobra ready to strike) and the way the lovers' story diverges from and then intertwines again with their less-than-hapless victim. But it is Ryan who touched me the most. He gets an ideal showcase for his remarkable ability to communicate with an audience. When he feels relief, you feel it with him;when he's angry, you feel the outrage in your guts. Watching him is a visceral experience.

Jeopardy (1953)
It's been a while since I've seen this Barbara Stanwyck flick, so my memories aren't too clear, but the tension I felt watching it sticks with me. Stanwyck is on a seaside vacation with her husband (Barry Sullivan) when he becomes stuck under a timber by the sea. Babs rushes off to find help, and has the misfortune to run into Ralph Meeker's escaped convict who is making a break for the border. It's a conventional beat-the-clock plot, but Stanwyck is so tough she gives it a punch. Meeker is even better. He's so sleazy that you want to hate him, as does his captive, but he has a weird charisma that is both mesmerizing and repulsive. It's easy to see why Stanwyck is strangely drawn to this man she has also threatened to kill.