Rupert Pupkin Speaks: June 2014 ""

Monday, June 30, 2014

Books: HEAVY METAL MOVIES


Mike "McBeardo" McPadden is a kindred spirit to me. Like myself, he is a longtime fan and admirer of the great Danny Peary. He even went as far as dedicating his new book HEAVY METAL MOVIES to Mr. Peary. Mike's goal with this book is to identify and talk about movies that are directly and even tangentially related to heavy metal. He proposes that it's a "know it when you see it" kinda thing, but he also has lots of specific examples of why certain films are in the book. There are something like 850 entries here and it covers a wide range of flicks. It includes films that have heavy metal themes (heavy metal horror cinema like BLACK ROSES, ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGHTMARE and SHOCK EM DEAD), movies that feature heavy metal bands in their soundtracks (or as actors in the films) and also films that have an iconographic place in the world of heavy metal music (CONAN THE BARBARIAN and the MAD MAX films for example). There's so much movie goodness packed into the book's 560 pages though that I can't possibly summarize it. This excerpt from the back cover gives some idea of what to expect:
"Exploding with way over 666 true headbanger classics-raging with disturbing documentaries, bulging barbarians, satanic shockers, spluttery slashers, post-nuke dystopias, carnivorous chunk-blowers, undead gut-munchers, midnight mind-benders, concert films, killer cameos-plus witches, werewolves, bikers, aliens, lesbian vampires, and vengeful vikings galore..."

Mike has mentioned being partially influenced to write this book by Zack Carlson & Bryan Connoly's amazing tome DESTROY ALL MOVIES from late 2010. The two books go quite well together. McPadden is clearly also taking cues from Danny Peary's GUIDE FOR THE FILM FANATIC a bit as far as structure and layout goes. Being that GUIDE is basically my favorite book of all-time, it's hard for me not to admire what he's doing. One neat thing thing that Mike does is to put a little star and a key word above each film entry. Things like *ALIEN, *ZOMBIES, *SATANIC PANIC, *DEMONIC POSSESSION, *MUTANT, *SWORDS & SORCERY and many others stand as qualifiers for what each of the movies has going on in it. Mike also makes some interesting choices in that he lists some very popular films in HMM. Things like WAYNE'S WORLD and some of Peter Jackson's more recent Tolkien adaptations find their way in here among tons of interesting and obscure oddities to boot. As I was reading through the book I've found myself constantly jotting down titles. GHOUL SCHOOL (1990), BAD NEWS TOUR (1983), CAPTAIN CLEGG (1962), HARD ROCK NIGHTMARE (1988), EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 (1988), DEAD GIRLS (1990) and DEATH RIDERS (1976) to name just a few. As I mentioned though, the book is a fun mix of these kind of oddballs as well as some tried and true cult favorites like OVER THE EDGE, THE GATE, THE OMEGA MAN and RIVER'S EDGE. It's really a mix of genre's too. Comedies, horror films, documentaries, and action movies intermingle freely with each other. I'd say the book leans with a slight majority to horror which is OK with me. I just respect the heck outta the fact that McPadden wrote all 85o entries himself. For better or for worse the book is in his voice, much the same way his Peary approached his books. Gotta love that. It's like this cool mashup of Psychotronic movies, Cult movies filtered through the sensibilities of Mike McPadden to create this glorious new thing that is uniquely its own hybrid testament to one man's maniacal movie mania.
There are a few extra things in the book besides the main section of film listings. The front of course features and introduction by McPadden and also a really fantastic interview with Alice Cooper recollecting his experiences on pretty much all of the films he's been in. Great stuff. At the back of the book, there are three appendicies. There are as follows: "The 66.6 Most Metal Moments in Movie History", "The Unfit Fifteen, Metal Moments in Non-Metal Movies" and " TV Casualties, Notable Headbanging on the Small Screen".
HEAVY METAL MOVIES really is a new film reference guide for the ages. One of those books that you'll want to keep handy and return to often. I just love that there's a new cool film reference book for folks to get excited about and put up on their bookshelf next to their Psychotronic Guides and Danny Peary books. It's very much a loving throwback to that kind of movie writing and I couldn't be more pleased that it's out there for folks to dig into and enjoy. In this day and age of digital media and ebooks, I still love the sensation of holding a hefty book in my hands and just flipping through it. Digital is great, but it doesn't allow for the same "what was that title that just caught my eye" kind of discovery process that comes from being able to flip the pages of a book. It's also neat because I'm hoping that it may turn some younger film viewers onto some awesome older films (which, after all, is what this here blog is all about).  I am sincerely hoping that it will ignite some passion for cinema in a new generation of film fans out there. In a time where the amount of films at our disposal at any given moment is growing at an ridiculous rate, it's always comforting to have guides like this to give folks ideas about what to check out.
Mike's affectionate dedication to Danny Peary.

Mike has done a few podcasts wherein he discusses the book and some of the movies in it. 
Here he is on the CinemaJaw podcast talking about the book and some of his favorite comedy sequels:
http://cinemajaw.com/wordpress/?p=1315
And here he is on The Projection Booth talking BLACK ROSES:
http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-169-black-roses.html

Mike also has a HEAVY METAL MOVIES Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/heavymetalmovies
 and can be found on twitter @McBeardo.

HEAVY METAL MOVIES can be purchased here:

http://www.bazillionpoints.com/shop/heavy-metal-movies-by-mike-mcbeardo-mcpadden/



HEAVY METAL MOVIES on my bookshelf amidst some of my favorite film reference books.

Warner Archive Grab Bag: John Garfield

DUST BE MY DESTINY (1939; Lewis Seiler)
DUST BE MY DESTINY opens with some exciting below-the-line talent. Names like Robert Rossen (screenplay), Max Steiner (music) and James Wong Howe (cinematography) flash by in quick succession. Also, within the first 7 mins there's a fistfight between Ward Bond and John Garfield. That's pretty fun.
Joe Bell (John Garfield) plays a man who had the unfortunate instinct to help a man who was shot after a holdup and ended up serving 16 months for the crime (which he didn't commit). This, understandably, makes Joe a little embittered and sour on humanity in general. Enter the dame (Priscilla Lane) and she starts to slowly dissolve a tiny bit of that gigantic chip that Joe has on his shoulder. What we have here though is a pretty gritty drama with some trappings of romance inside. The movie truly feels noirish in a lot of way (not the least of which coming from Wong Howe's cinematography). It's a tale dripping with fatalism though which I always find to be the driving force behind all the best films noir. That sense of being trapped, in a character not being able to get a break and have that happy ending that you might come to expect from the escapist movie world. "Happy ever after" was basically the antithesis of what noir was all about. Some might call it cynicism, others might call it something more akin to "reality". Myself, I fall somewhere in the middle, depending on my frame of mind. All that said, it should be noted that John Garfield is a fondly remembered actor for good reason. He is often quite at home bringing some subtle shreds of humanity to damaged, doomed characters. He is one of those guys that you watch on screen and believe a little bit more than other actors. What he's bringing to the roles seems to be coming from some real place, and has a genuine nature to it that I feel cannot be faked no matter how much an actor might want it. He's absolutely one of a kind and one of the best their ever was.





SATURDAY'S CHILDREN (1940; Vincent Sherman)
This film also has some interesting pedigree to it. There's a certain CASABLANCA factor here in that the film was written by the duo of Julius & Philip Epstein and produced by Hal B. Wallis. Also, it has Claude Rains! This film was a few years before CASABLANCA, but nonetheless it is always exciting to see this team come together. In the cinematography department, James Wong Howe makes another showing. That man can handle a camera like no other.
Allow me to take a moment to talk about Claude Rains. It's not a revelatory statement, but he is truly one of our greatest actors. 

John Garfield plays an uncharacteristicly nerdy , nervous type here. He plays an amateur inventor - kind of a low-rent Randall Peltzer type named Rims Rosson. He's a dreamer though and the adorable Anne Shirley finds him to be the man for her. What follows is a mostly lighthearted drama about the two of them trying to work things out, mostly financially. It shares a certain sad outlook to DUST BE MY DESTINY, but with a softer more optimistic touch. I've come to notice more and more lately the emphasis on economics that so many of the films of this period had. It makes sense when I think about it. Audiences at the time certainly liked stories about poor struggling folks and almost as much as they liked stories about rich folks, with elaborate sets and costumes. When I watch a movie like this it really does make me count my blessings for some reason. Granted it's done, as I said, in lighter way for at least part of the film, but when it starts to turn sadder and darker it was that approach that allowed me to go with it and empathize even more. It's a tiny bit like a film that starts out screwball and goes to romance and then to a kitchen-sink drama. The cast really carries it ultimately.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Silver Scenes

Our names our Diana & Constance Metzinger and we have been running "Silver Scenes" since April 2013. We love promoting lesser-known classics and obscure films and always enjoy sharing thoughts on classic film with people of all ages. When we're not writing for the blog we spend our time watching films and selling movie collectibles on our eBay store, Silverbanks Pictures.  
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The Bat (1959) 
The Bat may have fallen into the category of a forgotten B horror flick if not for the talents of Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, who really lend this obscure film a touch of class. The Bat, based on Mary Roberts Rinehart's play of the same name, has a pretty simple plot and keeps the characters all confined to a country house during a fierce thunderstorm one night. This version of the story however, spans the events over a period of several days and the screenwriters decided to dip their fingers into the story and really confuse things. Nevertheless its a winner in our eyes and the perfect mystery to watch on a Friday night. - Diana & Connie

Ladies in Retirement (1941) 
Ida Lupino is the real star of the show in this addictive mystery which takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a secluded house on the moors of England. Lupino plays Ellen Creed, the housekeeper to a retired stage actress who is upset that Creed asked her two slighty deranged sisters to visit with her and then promised them that they would remain for good. How Creed handles the situation makes for an eerie and very entertaining drama. I love it because of its old English atmosphere, the great Tudor house setting, and its gentle pace. - Diana 

Murder is Easy (1982) 
Murder Is Easy is one of those quaint TV movies that you would catch midway through on an obscure channel in the middle of the night and then remember twenty years later. We like it because of its English countryside setting, its stellar cast ( Olivia DeHavilland, Helen Hayes, Bill Bixby, Jonathon Pryce ), its amusing dialogue and for the lovely Leslie Anne Down. Also, it being an Agatha Christie story, it has a great twist at the end! - Connie & Diana 

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) 
Fritz Lang rarely made a bum film. This one is one of his best even though it is relatively unknown. Dana Andrews is great as the frustrated novelist who wants to prove the injustice/sin of capital punishment by becoming an innocent culprit of a crime. Just when you think you can guess the "twist" Lang throws in one ringer after another and you end up being stumped to the very end. Highly engrossing. - Diana 


The Chalk Garden (1964) 
This probably doesn't fall under the category of "mystery" for most viewers but when you look at it on the whole, a mystery is exactly what The Chalk Garden is. Deborah Kerr plays a governess who comes to the lives of a young girl ( Hayley Mills ), her grandmother ( Edith Evans ), and their butler ( John Mills ) who are living in a secluded country house by the white cliffs of Dover. Her secret past ignites the detective in each of the characters - especially Hayley Mills - as they try to pry into her life and discover just who she was before she came to them. Every summer I watch this film several times over and no matter how times I have seen it since my first viewing it has not lost its original air of mystery. It's colorful, exciting, rich with drama, and cleverly written...and it is a downright shame that the film is not well recognized. Keep your ears open for Malcolm Arnold's beautiful score as well. Perfect viewing with a cup of tea and scones. - Connie

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - George J G White

George White writes a blog called 'A Teenager's Guide to Trash'.
http://ateenagersguidetotrash.blogspot.com 
He can be found on twitter here:
https://twitter.com/GeorgeW28578312 
And Facebook here:

http://www.facebook.com/george.white.925059
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The  Big Sleep (1978)
Michael Winner and ITV-ATV-ITC do Philip Marlowe goes to 1970s London or Robert Mitchum does the Sweeney. Mitchum looks out of place in Euston Films-land, as does Richard Boone, James bloody Stewart (whose corpse-like appearance here belies the fact he lived another 20 years), Candy Clark, while the sterling Brit cast includes Edward Fox, Ollie Reed, John Mills, Joan Collins, Colin Blakely, RIchard Todd, Harry Andrews, Dudley Sutton, Norman "JR Hartley" Lumsden and Pat Gorman.  It's an oddity. It feels like the pilot for a "Marlowe in the UK" TV series, with Mitchum being the next along the likes of Tony Curtis and Gene Berry of US actors imported by Lew Grade. The fact ITV co-produced the US-set but initially UK-made Powers Boothe Marlowe series doesn't have anything to do with this, bar a mild affiliation, both made by different ITV companies though. The mix of Hollywood glamour and mundane life (see John Mills' watching Miss World on Thames/LWT). 

Appointment with Death (1988)
Michael Winner and Cannon do Poirot in the Superman IV of the Agatha Christie world (Harry Alan Towers' 10 Little Indians are the Swamp Thing films). Ustinov is back (just a year before David Suchet's UK TV portrayal). Now the all-star cast is Lauren Bacall, Sir John Gielgud, David Soul, Hayley Mills, Carrie Fisher, Jenny Seagrove, then Winner's lover and Piper Laurie. Bacall and Gielgud had already been in Finney's Murder on the Orient Express, and this feels like a kind of Poundland Death on the Nile. The setting is moved to Jerusalem rather than the book's Jordan because of Golan-Globus' basis in Israel. Cheap, cheerful, slightly trashy but its not boring even though it may seem to be at certain points. 

Funny Bones (1995)
The slick glitz of Vegas contrasts with the tatty glamour of its UK equivalent, Blackpool in Peter Chelsom's Northern English/US culture-clash showbiz giallo. With Lee Evans, Oliver Reed, Leslie Caron, Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis and Parrot-Face Davies in its one-time-only cast...

And Then There Were None (1974)
Harry Alan Towers' 1974 adaptation of the Christie jewel, here a UK-US-Iran-Italy-Spain-Germany-France-Liechtenstein co-production with Peter Collinson at the helm, the setting moved to a desert hotel, with Elke Sommer, Oliver Reed, Herbert Lom, Towers' wife Maria Rohm, Stephane Audran, Charles Aznavour, Gert Frobe, Alberto De Mendoza and Adolfo Celi all dubbed by Robert Rietty against Dickie Attenborough in post-10 Rillington Place mode, and the voice of Orson Welles. A giallo , essentially. 

Juggernaut (1974) and The Cassandra Crossing (1976)
The two sides of the British disaster movie. Both with Richard Harris. Apart from Omar Sharif and to a lesser extent, Shirley Knight and JR Pepper himself, Clifton James as a stereotypical Yank tourist, this has none of the glamour of the Poseidon Adventure, which was by a British director, Ronald Neame, while an American, Richard Lester took the opposite route. Its grounded in '70s Britain, an industrial nightmare of Southampton, where Anthony Hopkins' kids read Whizzer and Chips comic, where Roy Kinnear as the Entertainments Officer tries to keep everyone safe and well while Ian Holm investigates a bomb scare that Harris and David Hemmings are sent to foil. A great British cast, unlike Cassandra, the UK-Italian-German epitome of the co-production or Europudding which apart from Irish London resident Harris and Anglo-Italian Ray Lovelock, has no British actors. We do have Burt Lancaster, OJ Simpson as a priest, a couple played by Ava Gardner and Martin Sheen, Sophia Loren and Harris and Jonathan and Jennifer (Chamberlain not Hart, but you do get Lionel Stander as a character called Max, honestly, but he's a conductor), Lee Strasberg as a Concentration camp survivor forced back to his old hell-hole and Ann "Mrs. Harris" Turkel and Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue's Lovelock as hippie lovers among others. Turkel badly sings asong, though there's a great Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack and plenty other treats in this "plague on a train" film with a twist. 

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972)
US TVM with Stewart Granger as a silver-haired Holmes and Bernard Fox as a faux-Nigel Bruce Watson on the Universal backlot and Western sets doubling as Cornwall, against William Shatner's Stapleton. Cheesy, cheap and feeling almost like an attempt by Universal to recreate their Rathbone-Bruce films as a failed teleseries. FIlled with anachronisms such as chestnut salesmen, Watson in a 70s fishing hat, baking sun, hills peeking out of London streets and Anthony Zerbe's fascinating accent as Dr. Mortimer, while John Williams assures Sally Ann Howes they're father and daughter and Jane Merrow, fresh from Hammer's Hands of the Ripper looks bemused. Apparently, according to what Merrow told me, no one could keep a straight face when they saw the sets, including the papier-mache moor that is so  small, everyone is huddled together in the same spot.  Shatner's supposedly British character has a distinctly Canadian accent. 

Masters of Cinema - IF... and HAROLD & MAUDE On Blu-ray

HAROLD & MAUDE (1971; Hal Ashby)
Of all the films that can be considered "cult classics", HAROLD & MAUDE is one of the most well loved and well known. It's right up there with THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW in some respects with regards to its notoriety. It's not as obligatorily adored as something like STAR WARS, but I really do believe that its popularity has grown now to the point of started to be a much larger part of popular culture than a lot of cult films from the same period. That is a testament not only to the film, the acting and directing (& editing) and the music but also to the fact that this is one of the great love stories in all if movies. I really do believe that that love story and the characters and the ideas they stand for (especially Maude) are truly timeless and optimistic and life-affirming in this simply glorious way.  It's a really remarkable thing that a sort of "hippie" film like this could have the staying power that it has had. I don't mean "hippie film" as a derogatory comment, I more mean that it is a movie that embodies a specific spirit and mindset from the 1960s in this lovely, non-self righteous way. The message(s) it puts forth are so universal if you allow yourself to connect with it that the film remains to this day the kind that many people will still declare their favorite of all-time. There are only certain films that can be declared to be one's favorite that don't draw some sort of immediate malicious judgment from hardcore cinephiles. HAROLD & MAUDE is one that few movie fans could find much fault in. It is a lovely, poetic mediation on life and love and individualism that is so beautiful and so resonant as to earn it the much deserved label of a classic.
I remember one incident early in my video store years where I was asked to help a customer find a specific film . They didn't know the whole title, but they knew that it was someone "& MAUDE". At the time, I hadn't seen the film (this was 20 years ago) so it never occured to me that it might be HAROLD AND MAUDE that this woman was looking for. Sadly, the only film I could find that for that description was the Dudley Moore comedy MICKI & MAUDE, so I sent the woman home with that instead. I'll never forgive myself for that faux pas. It was unforgivable. I used to imagine that woman trying to explain to whoever recommended the movie to her that she was underwhelmed by it and couldn't understand the appeal. I really do hope she found her way to HAROLD & MAUDE on her own eventually.

Special Features:
This Blu-ray includes the same commentary track by Hal Ashby biographer Nick Dawson & producer Charles Mulvehill that can be found on the Criterion disc. It's a really solid track which gives much in the way of background (for both Ashby the man and the film itself), real-life production anecdotes and insights as well as some thematic observations which make it a great listen for fans of the movie.

The supplement that is exclusive to this release is a 25 minute interview with film scholar David Cairns. This is a very pleasant, educational bit of business that functions as a lean little academic analysis of the film. It's a short lecture in the form of a relaxed Q&A and I rather enjoyed it.


IF... (1968; Lindsay Anderson)
IF... is one of those movies that has fascinated me for a long time. As with most young cinephiles, I had a heavy Kubrick phase early on and was of course obsessed with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE for a time. That film had a big impact on me when I first saw it and as a result, Malcolm McDowell became an actor that I liked quite a bit. When I first came across IF... it was at the local independent video store on my college campus. It was a pretty rare Paramount VHS tape at the time and I'd never heard of it. Seeing McDowell on the cover with a submachine gun certainly caught my eye. 
Another reason I've become a bigger fan of IF... over the years is that it has a direct connection to one of my favorite films - ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. Allan Arkush has talked about it being a big influence on the film and I've always loved that. It was, for me, an early example of one completely tonally different movie affecting another. Once I heard Arkush start talking about it (and his affection for Lindsay Anderson in general) it totally made sense, but I'd never have linked the two movies otherwise. 
Check out Arkush talking about Lindsay Anderson and IF...'s follow up film O LUCKY MAN over at Trailers From Hell:
http://trailersfromhell.com/o-lucky-man/#.U4NbMHi9Kc0
IF... is one of those films though that you can hardly believe was ever made at the time or ever by a major studio. The irreverence and darkness it carries with its portrayal of English public school life was certainly pretty shocking to say the least. It was the first film for the great Malcolm McDowell and what an auspicious debut it is indeed. IF... was also the debut of the Mick Travis character that McDowell would go on to play two more times (in O LUCKY MAN and BRITTANIA HOSPITAL) under the direction of Lindsay Anderson. It's a film that once you've watched it, you'll see why it is quite a remarkable piece of cinema and why it made quite an impact (especially the ending) at the time of its release. The anti-establishment message underlying the story seems appropriate for the time considering that this film came out in the late 1960s and that that sentiment was then a big part the popular zeitgeist. Not sure if it's just me or if we all have some streak of anti-authoritarianism in us, but I always find myself getting pretty caught up in stories like this somehow. The fact that Malcom McDowell is at the center and that he is fantastically charismatic in that specifically McDowell way certainly helps draw me into this particular tale. Like many budding cinephiles, I first saw McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and it wasn't until years later that I finally got into the films of Lindsay Anderson (beginning with this one). It reminded me of a much more intelligent and ballsy DEAD POET'S SOCIETY or something and I have never forgotten it. I highly recommend watching this film and O LUCKY MAN as close together as you can. Both are excellent and compliment each other while being quite different from one another and yet sharing odd touches of poetic surrealism throughout.

Special Features:

-Audio Commentary - A commentary with Malcolm McDowell and Film critic/historian David Robinson. A good track, very informative and educational. Robinson has much in the way of historical data and McDowell has a lot to say about his collaboration with Lindsay Anderson in this film (and some of the others they made together). This being McDowell's first feature film role, he has a lot of memories of it and seems able to deliver a lot of detail regarding the whole production.
(previously included on the Criterion release)

-Interviews - these were conducted in 2014 and are exclusive to this disc. They include interviews with Michael Medwin (producer)(4 mins), David Sherwin (writer)(5 mins), John Howlett (writer)(16 mins), David Gladwell (editor)(14 mins), Gavrik Losey (production mgr)(6 mins), Brian Harris (camera operator)(3 mins) and actors David Wood(46 mins), Hugh Thomas(5 mins), Geoffrey Chater (8 mins), Philip Bagenal (9 mins) and Sean Bury (4 mins). With about 2 hours worth of interviews here, there's a lot of interesting ground covered both in front of and behind the camera. Good stuff.


-Lindsay Anderson short films
--THREE INSTALLATIONS (1952) - an industrial documentary short.
--THURSDAY'S CHILDREN (1954) - academy award winning documentary short about children at the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate, Kent.
--HENRY (1955) - short about a boy dealing with his parents having a difficult time by running away to the city.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn is a journeyman of sorts. Writer, salesman, son, brother, film lover, karaoke wildman—he has quite the variety of talents. Holding a B.A. in Communication Arts with a writing focus from Ramapo College of New Jersey, he spends many a night watching awful action movies, some barely released theatrically or not at all. Above all, he is a smart, well-spoken man. He has many projects in the pipeline, but his most accessible at the moment is The Pleasuredome, a new blog where he writes not only about film but about the entire spectrum of pop culture. You can subscribe to him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/theflynnferno, or follow his Twitter feeds, @MikeDrewFlynn and @ElPleasuredome.
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Hickey & Boggs (1972, dir. Robert Culp)
What hath the 70’s brought to the private eye? Costly divorces, violent radical groups and a dollop of dishonesty operating in the guise of friendly bureaucracy and the streetwise omnipresence of the LAPD. Walter Hill’s first produced screenplay, this is a slow and insidious burn into the world of two detectives lost in the irreparable damage to their personal and professional lives.

It’s a nice slice of cynicism where the good guys can’t effectively discredit the sleazy, eccentric British lawyer who sunbathes in the company of children, or conquer an attack helicopter with their Model 29’s. Plus, anyone who only knows Cosby for sweaters and Jell-O shilling are in for a rude awakening.

Night Moves (1975, dir. Arthur Penn)
As crucial to New Hollywood as Chinatown. Harry Moseby is one of the greatest characters that Gene Hackman has ever played—a washed-up sleuth somewhere between tragic hero and genuine bastard, trying to unlock a convoluted yet too-easy mystery out of blunt desperation. Coincidence or not, its arrival on the coattails of the Watergate fallout makes it a definitive critique of the era.

Hardcore (1979, dir. Paul Schrader)
Culture shock is a force of devastation. This is the core morality of Paul Schrader’s follow-up effort to the magneticBlue Collar, an allegory for his struggles as a young man who fought to deviate from the path of his strict Calvinist upbringing. George C. Scott gives the best performance of his career as the conservative Jake Van Dorn, whose late-blooming shattered innocence is the tragedy of this piece. From The Yakuza to Light Sleeper, Schrader has always run deep psychologically, and the seediness of Los Angeles as Van Dorn sees it turns our stomach—and it is his only path to salvation, to see the darkness the world has to offer for his daughter. And Jack Nitzsche’s score lends the film further into an ambient nightmare.

Cutter’s Way (1981, dir. Ivan Passer)
Of all the 70’s and early 80’s movies I ate up in the first year I steadily held onto a Netflix account, this may be one of the best ones I held onto. Trying to convince friends to watch it is futile; the only way I can strum up some kind of interest is by saying something along the lines of “It’s like a dramatic version of The Big Lebowski.” The Jeff Bridges connection certainly helps, but it’s John Heard’s one-armed, one-eyed, one-legged Vietnam veteran, Alex Cutter, who propels the entire film. When Richard Bone (Bridges) discovers a dead beauty queen being tossed into a dumpster by an oil magnate, Cutter doesn’t just give into the theory—he embellishes it, instigates it, thrusts the lives of himself and anyone close to him into deadly paranoia. Bone accuses Cutter of having “an overactive imagination,” to which Cutter coldly replies, “These are just the facts, Rich. I mean, I haven't even begun to let my imagination loose on this thing.

I’d make a stern argument that this is the most cynical entry to my list—it may be one of the most pessimistic films of all time at that. Representative of all kinds of post-Watergate paranoia, Cutter’s Way is a strangely beautiful and sharply written film whose disturbing echo lasts well past its elegantly sudden finale.

Cop (1988, dir. James B. Harris)
In my honest opinion, the mere presence of James Woods in a film makes anything worth watching. Case in point: I don’t just enjoy Salvador and Diggstown. I think The Specialist is a blast because of his film-sabotaging villain. He was one of many wonderfully entertaining components of last year’s misunderstood White House Down. Hell, I even gave the Straw Dogs remake a pass because of his lunatic redneck.

This pre-L.A. Confidential James Ellroy adaptation is no different. Woods plays on the edge routinely, and the opening Steadicam shot of him barking orders around the squad room at fellow detectives makes that abundantly clear. In a way, Cop is contingent on a performer like Woods: his wild eyes and wiry frame vindicate his desperation for the hooker-slaughtering killer. He possesses great menace and an overzealous demeanor, but he has great affinity for his two young daughters that help balance his edginess. We sympathize for Lloyd Hopkins not because we worship him, but because he fascinates us—he’s a killer antihero and he delivers what may be my favorite final line of a film of all time.

Jack’s Back (1988, dir. Rowdy Herrington)
Here’s a fantastic movie everyone into this genre needs to see. Breathlessly atmospheric and stylishly grisly, Jack’s Back is a rare “slasher noir”—like Manhunter before it and The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en after it, it emerges above the cheap thrills and tropes of young-people-must-die cash-ins of the 1980’s by evoking a smart, pragmatic method to its murder-ravaged plot. All you need to know is that someone is recreating Jack the Ripper’s murders in L.A. a century after he terrorized London, and James Spader is the wrong man—or is he? Just go to Netflix and watch it!

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990, dir. Renny Harlin)
I wrote extensively at my blog on this film, so I’ll try not to reiterate my grandstanding about the virtues of this joyously excessive yet acerbically satirical attempt to christen Andrew Dice Clay a surefire movie star. From the cartoon logic to the mockery of a music industry revolutionized by MTV and promotional endorsements, its obnoxious nature is intentional bless.

A Few Others I Didn’t Mention:

Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971, dir. Roger Vadim): Is it a sex comedy? Is it a murder mystery? It’s fucking brilliant.

The Late Show (1977, dir. Robert Benton): Echoing the love on this. Art Carney is so smooth here.

52 Pick-Up and Dead Bang (1986/1989, dir. John Frankenheimer): Two on-the-cusp efforts from the great Frankenheimer. The former has a following despite not being fully embraced—it’s also one of the best Golan-Globus films of all time. Dead Bang is a trashy but fun Don Johnson vehicle with some fun big-city-versus-hillbillies action.

Off Limits (1988, dir. Christopher Crowe): Platoon meetsLethal Weapon. Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines have great chemistry in this underseen wartime detective thriller.

Shakedown (1988, dir. James Glickenhaus): LawyerPeter Weller and cop Sam Elliott battle corrupt cops in pre-Giuliani New York. Plays beautifully in between grindhouse and mainstream.

Black Rain (1989, dir. Ridley Scott): Another one probably too famous to be “underrated,” but not enough credit is given to Ridley for crafting such a slick, hardassed Eastern-tinged variation on The French Connection. Seen it countless times, regularly quote it and would put it right below Blade Runner and Alien as Scott’s best.

Color of Night (1994, dir. Richard Rush): Clunky, overlong, tonally broken and completely demented… but as a baroque comedy, it’s brilliant.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Jennifer Garlen

Jennifer Garlen writes about classic movies for Examiner.com and her blog, Virtual Virago. A former English professor, she is the author of "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching" as well as the editor of two books about the films and television programs of Jim Henson. She teaches literature and film courses for lifetime learners in Huntsville, Alabama.
Links if you want them (use as many or as few as you like) -
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1) Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) - The Vincent Price remake is more famous, but I love the 1933 mystery for its determined female protagonist and its surreal use of early color. Fay Wray, of KING KONG fame, plays the lady reporter who investigates a series of strange disappearances, while Lionel Atwill appears as the sinister master of wax.

2) The Lady Vanishes (1938) - Hitchcock's Hollywood pictures get more press and public attention, but this mystery from his British career is a great thriller set aboard a moving train. Once again we get a determined heroine, played by Margaret Lockwood, with Michael Redgrave as her assistant/love interest and Dame May Whitty as the disappearing lady.

3) The Leopard Man (1943) - Horror maestro Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur achieve thrills and chills on a shoestring budget in this lean little mystery about a series of violent killings in a New Mexico town. Dennis O'Keefe and Jean Brooks play entertainers who become amateur sleuths in order to prove that the deaths are murders instead of animal attacks.
4) They Might Be Giants (1971) - This weird but wonderful tribute to Sherlock Holmes stars George C. Scott as a delusional man who believes himself to be the great detective, with Joanne Woodward as his doctor, who happens to be named Watson. It's not a perfect movie, especially in the third act, but it's still a lovable story and a unique addition to the canon of Holmes-inspired cinema.
5) Zero Effect (1998) - Here's a far more subtle Holmes salute worth watching, this time with Bill Pullman as a modern version of the dysfunctional detective and Ben Stiller as his reluctant assistant. The plot takes many of its cues from Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia," with Kim Dickens as an updated Irene Adler who both confuses and fascinates Pullman's protagonist.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Scream Factory - THE FINAL TERROR on Blu-ray

THE FINAL TERROR (1983; Andrew Davis)
Amongst the scads of slasher films released in the early 1980s, THE FINAL TERROR seems nearly forgotten by most and not remembered fondly by others. I am an unabashed slasher fanatic, so I find myself drawn to all of them, and I am probably much more forgiving that many because I find the genre and its trappings to be oddly comforting to me. Like a story you've heard many times before, but nonetheless want to hear at least one more time before drifting off to sleep, slasher movies have a warm nostalgic place in my movie-loving heart. My family did a lot of camping when I was a kid, so the horror films set in the backwoods-y kind of places always take on a wonderful eeriness to me. This particular film has the feel of DELIVERANCE colliding with a traditional slasher. For certain movie fans like myself though, THE FINAL TERROR is perhaps most memorable for its amazing cast. Daryl Hannah and Joe Pantoliano are two of the more well known actors in the bunch, but there are also some lesser-known greats like Adrian Zmed, Rachel Ward, John Friederich and Mark Metcalf here as well. Lewis Smith (interviewed for the supplements of the disc) is also one of those "that guy" actors that ended up being in a lot of cult films like SOUTHERN COMFORT and BUCKAROO BANZAI (as well as getting a starring turn in THE HEAVENLY KID). If you like late 70s and early 80s cult cinema a la THE WANDERERS, AGAINST ALL ODDS, BACHELOR PARTY and ANIMAL HOUSE, then you'll provably enjoy seeing all of these actors doing their thing in an earlier "rookie" capacity. It's a pretty well shot movie for a slasher flick. Andrew Davis was a cameraman before directing and it shows as he is able to pull off some nice-liking hand held work throughout. Another interesting thing to note, outside of the cast and director of this film is the folks on the producing side. Joe Roth (of Disney and Revolution Studios) served as producer here and the movie comes to us as a "Samuel Z. Arkoff Presents" (he was an uncredited executive producer). Genre fans will no doubt recognize Arkoff's name instantly from innumerable AIP pictures and other "classics". Think what you will about the quality of THE FINAL TERROR, but it certainly was a jumping off point for some big time Hollywood talent. Were it not to have eve been made, who knows how some of these careers might have been affected. 
THE FINAL TERROR is far from the greatest slasher film of the 1980s, however if you are a big fan of the genre like myself, you'll be wanting to pick it up. As I mentioned, the cast alone makes the movie worth watching as far as I'm concerned. Also, being that the film has never officially been released on DVD prior to this (a few bootlegs have been floating around from what I can see), it was effectively a "lost film" and is in  need of re-discovery and re-evaluation. 

Regarding the transfer: there is a big disclaimer at the front of the film which denotes the fact that all of the original film elements (the negative , the inter-positive etc) for THE FINAL TERROR were lost and that Scream Factory had to go through six different film prints (lent to them by collectors) to mix and match the best looking reels from each. As this film is such a rarity, I knew going in that it'd be a "looks the best it ever will" kind of situation and with that in mind, I had no real issues with the transfer. It still boggles my mind how many of the obscurest films are finding their way onto Blu-ray these days so I am am excited as a movie fan first and foremost and am less critical than I'm sure a lot of hardcore audio/videophiles have been in the past. If it comes down to not having the movie or having it in a presentation like this, I'll almost always pick having the movie - every single time. 

Special Features:
-An audio commentary with director Andrew Davis (best known for THE FUGITIVE, ABOVE THE LAW & UNDER SIEGE). Davis briefly discusses making his first STONY ISLAND and how it led to this job.He gives background on the actors, locations and how certain scenes were shot. There are some bits of dead air in there, but overall it is a worthwhile track.

-"Post Terror: Finishing THE FINAL TERROR" (23 mins) consists primarily of an interview with Allan Holzman (executive in charge of post-production on the film) and a small segment with Composer Susan Justin. Holzman discusses the challenges and difficulties of a low budget production like this while Susan Justin talks about the unique ways in which she was able to make the music for the film.

-"The First Terror: with Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith" (17 mins) Both actors discuss their experiences working on this their first film, working on location and with director Andrew Davis as well as some reasons why the film's release was delayed (the average body count in slasher films kept going up, prompting reshoots).



THE FINAL TERROR can be purchased via Shout Factory's site here:
http://bit.ly/TgYv0Q