Rupert Pupkin Speaks: April 2015 ""

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Second Sight - MIDNIGHT RUN on Blu-ray

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988; Martin Brest)
While it has yet to really receive it's proper due, MIDNIGHT RUN is truly one of the great American comedies of all time. I mean, I put it up there with SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, BRINGING UP BABY, ANNIE HALL and SOME LIKE IT HOT. It's a brilliant combination of drama, heart and humor and the cast is second to none. It was an early excursion into comedy for Robert De Niro and he shows just how good he is at being funny. MIDNIGHT RUN is also the prototype for what we came to know in the 80s as the "Buddy Movie" genre. This type of film had it's roots in things like 48 HOURS, but I feel like MIDNIGHT RUN is the best of the Buddy Movies. It's the back and forth between comic genius Charles Grodin and De Niro that makes this movie come to life and sets the tone. I once read that W.C. Fields used to say that a lot of his comedy was based on characters annoying each other. Well his philosophy is full on at work here and in the most wonderful way. So you've got two amazing actors as your leads here, but beyond that there's a remarkable gallery of character actors to back them up. Joe Pantoliano, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton and Dennis Farina to name just a few. It's just a spectacular array of talent in front of and behind the camera. 
Let's talk about Martin Brest for a second. This is the director behind BEVERLY HILLS COP and one of my favorite movies of all-time, GOING IN STYLE. His abilities at mixing drama, heart and comedy are among the best I think I've ever seen. BEVERLY HILLS COP is that rare exception of what could have been a straight up star vehicle that ends up being just a superlative movie. Yeah so between BEVERLY HILLS COP and MIDNIGHT RUN, Brest is responsible for two iconic and outstanding American comedy films of the past fifty years. It's a terrific thing that BEVERLY HILLS COP made the AFI's 100 Comedies list, but I find it kind of criminal that MIDNIGHT RUN was left off.
Even just listening to Danny Elfman's music from the film that plays over the menu of this Blu-ray reminded me how much I love this movie. The music has this transcendent joy and exhilaration to it and it makes me think of the superior cinematic themes from John Williams and others. The orchestration is completely different mind you (and unlike most of Elfman's other work), but the music is fantastic and the final piece of the puzzle that is MIDNIGHT RUN, which is awesome.

Special Features:
This disc features a bunch of new interviews that Second Sight did for this special edition.
-"We Got The Duke - interview with Charles Grodin" (13 mins) A neat chat with Grodin who discusses how he was cast, his process and how he deals with people in general. He also adds some touching personal asides.
-"Moscone Bail Bonds - interview with Joe Pantoliano" (15 mins) Pantoliano talks about how he came to acting and finding his place as a character actor. He also discusses his audition process for the film and things he observed other actors doing that he learned from.
-"Hey Marvin! - interview with John Ashton" (18 mins) Ashton talks about getting into acting and how he was basically a have lie delinquent prior to that. He mentions his work with Martin Brest on BEVERLY HILLS COP, and how he later auditioned with De Niro to get the part. Ashton is a very lively storyteller and the tale he tell about how he got the part in MIDNIGHT RUN is a good one.
"MIDNIGHT Writer - interview with screenwriter George Gallo" (25 mins) Gallo talks about his other scripts for WISE GUYS and BAD BOYS prior to MIDNIGHT RUN. I love to hear writers talk and Gallo is a down to earth guy who has tons of insights into the process of writing, getting a film made and how different the business is now. This is probably my favorite interview on the disc. Good stuff.
-"I'm Mosely! - interview with Yaphet Kotto" (8 mins) This is an audio only interview with actor Kotto in which he talks about the films he made (ALIEN, RUNNING MAN etc) that were getting him the most attention. Apparently he got very few comedies offered to him so MIDNIGHT RUN was quite refreshing which was what sparked his interest. He also talks about working with director Martin Brest and De Niro.
-Original Making MIDNIGHT RUN Promo (7 mins) This is a promotional featurette made at the time the film came out. It has interview bites from De Niro, Grodin, Kotto, Ashton and the rest of the cast as well as director Martin Brest.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Underrated '85 - 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, or follow his Twitter feeds, @MikeDrewFlynn and @ElPleasuredome.
1985’s a great year for movies. You had big hits like Rambo and Back to the Future, a lot of great movies that achieved hit status, and even more that went wayward until the skyrocketing cable and home video markets immortalized them. To Live and Die in L.A. and After Hours are two of my all-time favorite films that top my ’85 list, I love them, they should be firm-minted classics, but I won’t have them here because there’s just too much to explore from the year.

These are the ones that slipped through the cracks, and even if they did, their obscurity or appreciation isn’t strong enough.

Explorers (dir. Joe Dante)
E.T. made friendly aliens a zeitgeist du jour for four-quadrant blockbusters, and while it remained king as a pop-culture touchstone and money maker, the residual trail of films in its footsteps, like Starman and Joe Dante’sGremlins followup, painted more mature or honest portrayals of our connection to intergalactic visitors.  Independent of the Amblin machine, Dante’s attempt to go full Spielberg is simultaneously more realistic and fantastical in how it portrays the imagination of its kid leads and the gamut of emotions they deal with. Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix are barely teenagers in this, and their sincerity in capturing Dante’s wonder is a testament to their future trajectory. Where moremainstream parallel would lose steam in the third act,Explorers submerges into the astounding and soul-opening with the same curiosity running through the film. Plus, when has Rob Bottin ever designed more benevolent visuals?

Paramount was unsure of how to position the film during the summer of 1985, when Back to the Future had started to devour anything in its wake a week prior, and the reason why that became an instant classic and Explorersis a grower is true and acceptable. Zemeckis went for the “Morning in America” jugular of Reagan and nostalgia. This sings to the introverts and the nerds, and it is, of my opinion, the superior family sci-fi offering of the summer.

Flesh + Blood (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
The Dark Ages. The Black Plague is cast over Europe. Soldiers want compensation. An arranged marriage is complicated. Because this is Paul Verhoeven, the title materializes itself in excess. Sex, violence, swords, sorcery, and Rutger Hauer ensue—and sometimes, all of those things intersect in one scene! Verhoeven’s American crossover doesn’t suffer fools, having the audience accept a fantasy world where white and black knights are firmly gray and totally fucked up. Hauer’s Martin pushes the “anti” in antihero and he commits horrible acts to preserve whatever chivalry he has left, but this is a movie with Brion James and Bruno Kirby as slimy pillagers and that makes Rutger as dashing as he was in Ladyhawke in comparison.

Flesh + Blood isn’t a pleasurable movie to watch—the unsettling meter is higher than any of Verhoeven’s subsequent bloodbaths, but it’s damn compelling.

Gotcha! (dir. Jeff Kanew)
You could never make this movie today without sanitizing the espionage aspect. Ever. If The Interview got America to throw the gloves off, then a college student who engages in paintball combat and ends up in deep with the Soviet Union would be the sort of thing that inadvertently starts World War III. In 1985, this sort of behavior was condonable as entertainment, and it’s effective, fun stuff. Anthony Edwards plays aloof but smooth. He realizes the danger he’s in, and if he can splatter orange paint on an unsuspecting peer, then surely he can hold a semi-automatic pistol on a KGB officer. It’s rated PG-13, and because it’s 1985, it can get away with nudity (in a rather dark scenario here) and a sizeable amount of violence and peril. The tone is comedic—Russians singing Randy Newman!—but as an action-comedy coming from the guy who made Revenge of the NerdsGotcha! is high concept at its most exciting.

Into the Night (dir. John Landis)
1985 gave us two terrific, dangerous black comedies turning the glamor of American cities into locales for lurid, surreal nightmares. After Hours got the critical acclaim, but I unabashedly love every scene, frame, and emotion thatInto the Night offers. From B.B. King’s theme song matched to the scrawled cursive credits to Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer’s evolving chemistry to its fearlessness to kill off safety nets of characters, Into the Night is a hypnotic experience. Going from midlife crisis drama to quirky romantic comedy to Charade on uppers isn’t something that should work, except Landis—who’d been stigmatized by his notorious, then-recent legal troubles—never makes the offbeat feel condescending and there’s a warmth and adventure feeling to every moment, and from the spurts of viciousness to the well-wishing cameos, it’s catharsis and atonement in an auteur setting.

And very few movies are like it. Try to name another movie where David Cronenberg plays a draconian office manager, or one where Bruce McGill plays a misanthropic Elvis impersonator, or a thriller that resolves with Jonathan Demme gunning down the villains (Louis Malle and Landis himself!) in an airport. Its spirit has been channeled by everything from Superbad to Drive, but nothing has ever quite been like it since.

FUN FACT: Writer Ron Koslow also wrote 1984’sFirstborn, a film that I’d put on a list for that year in terms of the underrated, an emotionally brutal family drama with a tyrannical, show-stopping performance from Peter Weller as the worst father figure this side of Jerry Blake.

Just One of the Guys (dir. Lisa Gottlieb)
John Hughes anchored the 80’s teen comedy, but he never had the most honest voice. It’s not to say he made bad movies, but compared to the films that orbited his teen material, they’re delusional fairy tales. Take Just One of the Guys, for example, a film that’s remembered for its—ahem—reveal than the fact that Terry Griffith is a better female character than Hughes ever dreamed up. Oh, don’t worry, there’s tacky gender-bending humor, but there’s a fascinating feminist message at the heart of it. Romance is peripheral to ambition and subversion as Terry goes the Method route of proving that men get priority in the halls of her school.

Joyce Hyser’s performance is terrific in this. Terry starts out with the dream life, but doubts it when she’s overlooked by her male journalism teacher for an internship. It leads to a crisis of identity, of whether the ideal young life of the older boyfriend and the in-crowd status is worth it. We believe her proto-Andrew Dice Clay shtick as a man because we see, through her, the preferential bias and what the hell hole known as high school expects of her peers. Her chemistry with clueless new friend Rick (the magically coiffed Clayton Rohner) is spot-on and Rick hits that sweet spot of coolness—he dresses for status but he doesn’t hide behind the nerdy vulnerability. It’s that kind of energy that sets it apart from fluff like Pretty in Pink, where Andie is designated dream girl and all the males are some different variation of a sociopath. Here, you just have William Zabka.

Just One of the Guys is a sly denouncement of chauvinism, a crazed idea you couldn’t do now but which has a sincerity and message that remains universal.

Silver Bullet (dir. Daniel Attias)
…okay, so just because we’re discussing “underrated” doesn’t excuse the fact that, eventually, there has to be a goof entry, and this is the one. Even more than MaximumOverdrive, personal friends deride me for enjoying Silver Bullet with the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old who just discovered Jolt. This is a serious-minded werewolf film, a Stephen King adaptation with the quotable versatility of such noted era comedies as Caddyshack and Road House, where the plot of the film is best described by a beer-gutted, possibly improvising Gary Busey—a couple years out from buffing out as everyone’s favorite albino jackrabbit—refusing to abide by his curious nephew (Corey Haim) playing “The Hardy Boys Meet the Reverend Werewolf.” Suspense, terror, and all of the things we expect from King just don’t exist in Silver Bullet. It’s a comedy clueless of its genre identity.

Look, Dino De Laurentiis gave us some great films, but what he lacked was the ability to keep is tongue to cheek. When the townsfolk impulsively plan to root out the lycanthrope, it plays out like an episode of South Park and TV veteran Daniel Attias—bless his contributions to some great shows over the years—plays everything straight. An intimidated man is asked by his wife, “Are you gonna make lemonade in your pants?” A dream sequence multiplies the Carlo Rambaldi werewolf suits by 120. The same grieving father says a variation of “My son was torn apart!” countless times. You have spectacular appearances from beloved characters like Terry O’Quinn, Lawrence Tierney, Bill Smitrovich, and the incomparable Everett McGill, whose bellowing of “YOU MEDDLING LITTLE SHIT!” to the Haimster later became my standby avatar on a frequented message board.

I have nothing to apologize for in loving this movie. I feel like a virgin on prom night when I talk about it!

Tuff Turf (dir. Fritz Kiersch)
“Don’t let them fool you. It’s the 80’s. Size does matter. I mean, not in bed. We’re all the same size in bed.”

Okay, I need a minute here. This is another one that, admittedly, is a bit of a screwball contribution to my list. MTV was starting to dominate pop culture in every facet by 1985. In the years prior, FlashdanceFootlooseStreets of Fire, and Electric Dreams could be considered the first real “MTV movies”—straightforward narratives padded out by extended music montages that furthered the plot through glorified music videos. (Not a strike!)

At 111 minutes, the film is exactly the same length asRebel Without a Cause, a film that this one makes its primary objective to recall the cultural impact of and update it for the edgier and infinitely more nihilistic generation of degenerates whose parents had actually grown up idolizing the exploits of James Dean. This film, however, is not the source of a cultural watershed but a product of it. Forget the term “classic,” however, Tuff Turfis an insane film. Literally and figuratively, it dances all over the place, relishing in an era of excess like the cinematic embodiment of a multi-millionaire with a Rolodex full of call girls.

We’re talking a sadomasochistic locker room attack on the same wavelength as the one in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

We’re talking guidance counselors who see profanity and malice as acceptable means of shaping our youth.

We’re talking its female lead (Kim Richards?!) being forced to lose her virginity to a boyfriend she’s fallen out of love with, which her father commemorates—in the moments before the act—by pouring a glass of champagne. Today, this would be an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

We’re talking a young Robert Downey Jr., before anyone could ever complete a game of Six Degrees of Iron Man in six steps or less to associate him with the role, let alone a Brat Pack member, as the drummer of a New Wave (or would it be considered “College Rock” by this point?) band, wearing nothing but a bow tie and black and red leather pants—a getup near-identical to that of the late professional wrestler “Ravishing” Rick Rude. (Did I mention that this summer’s most anticipated film is a reunion of Tuff Turf’s most famous stars?)

This escalates from a dark coming of age parable all the way to a climactic battle inside some kind of abandoned establishment. Tuff Turf  is like Road House or The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, the kind of movie that can’t be explained and analyzed unless you’ve seen the nuts-be-gone occurrences, heard its one-liners, and realize who stars in it. It’s one of those ones that exists, whether you love or hate it.

Turk 182! (dir. Bob Clark)
Bob Clark had a filmography that couldn’t be merely described as bizarre. He makes two seminal 70’s horror films, transitions from a sleeper Animal House ripoff to the family Christmas film that became Gen X’s It’s a Wonderful Life, directs his era’s superstars in some of the biggest embarrassments of their careers. Seriously, the only reason Rhinestone gets off easy is because Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot happened, and Loose Cannons was forgiven, if not forgotten, because Gene Hackman is incapable of a bad performance and Dan Aykroyd followed up that film with one where he wore a phallic nose in addition to playing an articulate, adult-sized baby.

But I digress. Turk 182! is probably Clark’s best film and a weird mashup—effectively, it’s a cleaned-up take on transgressive art and the punk scene retrofitted as a mid-century crowdpleaser. It has a strong anti-establishment statement, but it does so in an inspiring and thoughtful way that never feels cynical. Timothy Hutton, who had played so many brooding roles in the early 80’s, reinvents himself here with the same angst but with the kind of likable charisma that Ron Howard got out of Keaton and Hanks. Hutton doesn’t quit with his performance—he talks fast, escalates his intentions to physically enormous proportions (that bridge stunt!), and has the urban-legend driving power of Batman. He’s outraged because his brother got shafted by the system and the medical bills are piling up, and as someone who’s had family in the health-care industry, it’s a cause that is all too relatable to countless people.

In today’s Obamacare-fearing society—where corporations and the government have denied health careand virtually held workers for ransom over their machinations and the Almighty Dollar—there’s still a potent relevance to “Zimmerman Flew, Tyler Knew, Turk 182.” By the end, you’ll wish we had more Jimmy Lynches and less Edward Snowdens in this world to prank society.

Year of the Dragon (dir. Michael Cimino)
Returning from his Heaven’s Gate exile, Michael Cimino was inflicted with even more vitriol for his follow-up. Critics accused him of misogyny, demonizing the Asian community, turning the Vietnam-vet experience he nurtured in The Deer Hunter into xenophobic exploitation, and miscasting a 33-year-old Mickey Rourke as a seasoned cop with (amazingly cool) graying hair. Year of the Dragon is a crackling action film with a nasty if alluring cultural spin that culminates in Cimino, who’d co-scriptedMagnum Force twelve years earlier, making his own breed of Dirty Harry film. The conservative values from Rourke’s Stanley White and the criminal ambition of John Lone’s Joey Tai are palpable. They feel like real people in an ugly, real world. Cimino takes strong cues from Peckinpah in blocking the film’s action sequences, realistically depicted in circumstances where safety is forbidden from the good, bad, and uninvolved. En masse civilian casualties have become a hot topic in recent blockbusters geared towards younger audiences, but in an adult-oriented film like this, Cimino doesn’t glamorize. The restaurant showdown is a master class in tension, from the suddenness of its onset to the desperation that White fights with in order to eliminate the threat. The conflict is fantasy, but the world is honest.

Young Sherlock Holmes (dir. Barry Levinson)
Where was the audience for this movie? Steven Spielberg’s name all over the marketing materials. Chris Columbus hot off Gremlins and The Goonies. A four-quadrant concept if there ever was one, and but audiences were too fixated on Rocky IV to take it seriously during the holiday rushIf this got done now as an aspiring young-adult juggernaut, we’d be looking at the cast getting locked in for three sequels. Here’s your recipe for success:

1. Young adult-skewing reimagining of an iconic character
2. State-of-the-art visual effects
3. Enormous action sequences
4. Eclectic world building
5. The last thing you would expect a director of small-scale, intricate character dramas to tackle
6. Impeccably cast unknowns with a chance to breakout
7. Clear establishment of a sequel…

Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch wouldn’t have assumed Holmes’ mantle if this got made now. It’s a modern blockbuster checklist, exactly what you expect every brand or franchise to do now, but the eccentric charm and its full-tilt hold on the PG-13 rating are way ahead of most contemporary curves. Who cares if the third act is a Temple of Doom rehash?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Underrated '85 - Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke is a Senior Editor and columnist for The Digital Bits, one of the leading DVD/Blu-ray websites on the net. On Twitter as @DrAdamJahnke.
In many ways, 1985 was a very transitional year for me as a movie fan. That’s only appropriate since I turned 16 that year and that’s an extremely transitional age. My tastes in movies were evolving, seemingly on a weekly basis. When I saw The Goonies in June, I thought it was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen in my life. By the time I dragged my cousin to see it about a month later, I was already a little embarrassed by my enthusiasm for it.

I’m not even sure what the word “underrated” means in this day and age. It seems pretty easy to find somebody who’s a rabid fan of just about any movie that’s ever been released. These half-dozen titles may or may not be underrated. Let’s just call ‘em movies I enjoy that I very rarely see or hear mentioned by others.

Dreamchild (1985; Gavin Millar) – Dennis Potter is one of my favorite writers of all time in any medium. This is one of his rare non-TV works and arguably one of his lesser scripts, although a merely adequate Potter script is still about a zillion times better than a lot of writers’ best efforts. Coral Browne gives a moving performance as Alice Hargreaves, the inspiration for Alice In Wonderland, attending an event in New York City celebrating the 100thbirthday of Lewis Carroll, a man she knew better as the Reverend Charles Dodgson (extremely well-played by Ian Holm). Punctuated by elaborate fantasy sequences featuring stunning puppets designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Dreamchild has never received any respect in the US. It’s currently only available as a DVD-R from MGM’s Limited Edition series (also known as the Better Than Nothing series). That’s a real shame. A movie this good doesn’t deserve to be so obscure.

The Man With One Red Shoe (1985; Stan Dragoti) – This is a remake of The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe, a French comedy I’ve never seen. Admittedly, I haven’t made much of an effort. I find most French comedies of the 70s and 80s to be pretty dire. But I’m an unapologetic Tom Hanks fan from back when he was a TV star. I almost included his other ’85 effort, Volunteers, on this list but I haven’t seen it in a very long time and I kind of suspect it doesn’t hold up. But this one is still lots of fun with Hanks in full-on flummoxed everyman mode and a killer supporting cast including Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Lori Singer (somehow finding another role that spotlights her talent as a cellist), Carrie Fisher, Edward Herrmann, Tom Noonan, Irving Metzman, David L. Lander and Gerrit Graham. Even Jim Belushi is funny in this as Carrie Fisher’s jealous and frequently unconscious husband. I used to include this in discussions of remakes that don’t suck, until I realized that lots of people think this sucks pretty badly. Oh, well. More cherries for me.

O.C. And Stiggs (1985; Robert Altman) – This one’s a real head-scratcher. What on earth was anybody thinking when MGM hired iconoclast Altman at one of the lowest points of his up-and-down career to make a teen sex comedy based on a National Lampoon story? Instead of getting the next Porky’s or Revenge Of The Nerds, they got a very Altman-esque twist on a genre the director clearly held in contempt. I’m always hesitant to recommend this to people, especially if I don’t know where they stand on Altman. I completely understand why some folks might not like this but personally, I think it’s a hoot, especially the performances by Jane Curtin, Martin Mull and Dennis Hopper.

The Quiet Earth (1985; Geoff Murphy) – With last-man-on-Earth narratives making a comeback, I’m surprised that this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama from New Zealand hasn’t been rediscovered. Bruno Lawrence stars as a scientist who played a role in an experimental energy project that’s seemingly wiped out everybody on the planet. He eventually finds a couple more survivors and their shared bond is just one of many surprises in store. A moody and atmospheric gem, this is unfortunately out of print in the US and ripe for a re-release.

Return To Oz (1985; Walter Murch) – The only feature directorial credit for legendary sound designer/editor Walter Murch is this dark, utterly bizarre take on the L. Frank Baum stories. It’s hard to believe a movie this creepy came out of the Walt Disney Studios. Characters like the Wheelers, the Nome King and especially Mombi, with her gallery of interchangeable, detachable heads are never to be forgotten once seen, much to the horror of a generation of children. It’s hardly a surprise that this tanked during its initial release and even less of a surprise that it’s developed a cult following.

The Stuff (1985; Larry Cohen) – Larry Cohen is one of the quintessential cult filmmakers and The Stuff is one of his sharpest and most entertaining movies. A deliciously addictive goo marketed as The Stuff becomes America’s newest dessert craze. Unfortunately, The Stuff turns out to be a parasitic organism that devours its host from the inside out. Surprisingly, this is not a documentary. Cohen regular Michael Moriarty is joined by Garrett Morris as a Famous Amos-like junk food mogul, Paul Sorvino and a handful of choice cameos shilling The Stuff. Another one that seems even more relevant today than it did thirty years ago.

Scream Factory - GHOULIES & GHOULIES II on Blu-ray

GHOULIES (1984; Luca Bercovici) / GHOULIES II (1988; Albert Band)
"They call me Dick, but you can call me...Dick."

I really love this trend of Scream Factory putting out some of the sillier horror comedies from the 1980s. Sure, we all remember the GREMLINS, but what about all the knockoffs that followed in the wake of its massive success? Who could forget the CRITTERS movies? Those seem to be remembered and pretty well thought of, but the lesser GREMLINS rips like MUNCHIES and THE HOBGOBLINS are understandably forgotten by most. The GHOULIES films hold a special place for some reason though. Maybe it has to do with the more supernatural element to them - the way they seem to be trying to capitalize on both GREMLINS and even GHOSTBUSTERS a little might be a factor. I also think it has a lot to do with that poster. If you were a child of the 1980s, there was no way that you didn't see that on the cover of a VHS box at your local rental store and not pause to go, "What the hell is that?". And what a tagline. They don't write em like that anymore. It's a shame. So wether or not you think too highly of the movies themselves on a quality level, you probably remember THE GHOULIES. What I didn't remember is how not-like-GREMLINS the film is. I mean there's a supernatural element and little mischievous beasties in both, but other than that they are pretty different. I forgot how much GHOULIES focuses on the occult and how the main character becomes obsessed with rituals and stuff (from which he obviously conjures the Ghoulie monsters as well). GHOULIES is not about a family and a small town, it's more focused this couple and how his obsession is pulling them apart. The monsters themselves don't really show up much until after the  30 minute mark (in this 82 minute movie) and even though GREMLINS had a similar wait time, at least that film makes the mysterious mogwai its focus. The monsters in GHOULIES are much more extraneous really. The movie is a bit raunchier than GREMLINS of course and a bit more immature which is expected from a Charles Band movie and isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the special features, Charles Band mentions that he and Stan Winston had been kicking around an idea/project they were calling BEASTIES for a while but that it had never worked out. When I hear stories like that my first reaction is to think that the filmmaker is just trying to cover the fact that they blatantly ripped off another movie and that their film was actually more their own idea. In rewatching GHOULIES though, I realized that Band was not just covering up and that his movie really was quite different in a lot of ways. I can see from a Roger Corman-y point of view how it was a great time to put the movie out in the wake of GREMLINS, but that the poster and the ad campaign (which seemed to be quite effective) were just a simple bait and switch type means of selling the film. While GREMLINS is much more lighthearted and relatively non-threatening (though it has some scary moments), GHOULIES is much more creepy in tone and contains some sequences that fall much harder on the side of horror than anything else. All in all, the film is just a bit more grim and a bit less rompy than I remembered. Kudos to John Carl Buechler for his effects though I must say. He is one of the better practical effects guys of the 1980s and I get very nostalgic when I see his stuff.

GHOULIES II is the better of the two films here for my money and it makes much better use of the Ghoulie monsters almost right out of the gate. It also adds elements of stop-motion animation in addition to the puppetry to give the monsters more of a presence and more character. They obviously feel more like real live creatures when we can see them walking and moving around on screen. This story also has a great setting in that it takes place at a broken down carnival wherein the Ghoulies find their way into the house of horrors attraction called "Satan's Den". They are initially a hit and reinvigorate the antiquated horror show, but soon they start with the killing and must be stopped. It's a clever locale for a sequel like this and is a better fit tonally than the first film. I personally just enjoyed seeing them more the main focus (there is some human drama here as well of course) which shows a sense of what these films should be like (and just how much that Ghoulie in the toilet image sold the first movie which must have disappointed a lot of folks going to see it back in 1984). GHOULIES II features much more Ghoulie mischief and kind of delivers a bit more on that iconic poster image. The GHOULIES II cast has a couple more recognizable faces in veteran character actor Royal Dano, Kerry Remsen (NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST 2, PUMPKINHEAD) and the lesser-known Damon Martin (I'll always remember him as one of the BMX kids from PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE). Oh and last but not least, the film ends in a killer way with the W.A.S.P. song "Scream Until You Like It". Remember when movies really loved to send you out of the theater with a good tune? This is one of those man.

Special Features:
GHOULIES Features:
-"From Toilets to Terror: The Making of GHOULIES" (30 mins) this new featurette contains interviews with Charles Band, composer Richard Band, special effects man John Vulich, actor Michael Des Barres,
Charles Band talks about his early days with Stan winston and how the success of GHOULIES really allowed for Empire Pictures to take off even though it was a tough process to get the movie made and distributed.
-An Audio commentary from director Luca Bercovici is also included. Not a bad track and Bercovici seems to have a decent recall for a lot of the behind the scenes. He kicks off by clarifying that this film was in production at the same time as GREMLINS so it was not a ripoff of that movie. He seems to indicate a lot of authorship for many of the ideas and story elements in the film,which certainly may be the case though it runs a little contrary to some of the things said in the making of doc. Regardless he has a lot of insights about the movie and it's nice to hear his perspective. He leaves a little dead air in spots, but it's not a bad track overall.
-"More Toilets More Terror: The Making of GHOULIES II" (17 mins) This featurette has Charles Band, actress Kerry Remsen, actor Donnie Jeffcoat, and FX artist Gino Crognale talking about their memories of the production. They're are lots of stories of what filming in Rome was like and how the entire carnival set was built on a gigantic soundstage and so forth.
-Some Alternate Scenes (3 mins) are also an added supplement here and they are mostly extra bits of Ghoulie troublemaking and gore.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Underrated '85 - Marty McKee

Marty has cinema love pumping through his veins and he's seen more flicks than you can shake a stick at in his lifetime. He writes about movies at Marty's Marquee (film reviews):
and Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot (blog):
On twitter @MartyMckee.


Wow. This is one schizophrenic movie. AMERICAN DRIVE-IN begins as a meanspirited take on DRIVE-IN, introducing us to a wide range of characters: a family of fatties who set up a spread outside their car, a couple of old ladies, two gay guys who like bowling, a square councilman out to bust potheads, a horny dude who wants sex from his girlfriend, the crazed projectionist (Buck Kartalian), and our heroes: sweet engaged couple Jack and Bobbie Ann. About halfway through, the comedy goes away when Bobbie Ann is kidnapped by a gang of greasers who sexually assault her and beat Jack badly. It’s weirdly violent, completely out of step with the rest of the picture, and made even more uncomfortable by the comic relief within the rape scene. Then it turns into rape/revenge, which at least provides memorable images of the long-haired, long-legged star Emily Longstreth, dressed in cutoffs like Claudia Jennings in GATOR BAIT, freaking out, and holding the whole place at gunpoint. A very strange film, not unwatchable—in fact, its uncomfortable blend of childish hijinks and revenge melodrama probably makes it more interesting than if it had been one or the other.

The late B-movie queen Lana Clarkson, who was murdered by Phil Spector in 2003, stars in this Roger Corman production as the titular Amethea, who swears vengeance against the pillagers who wiped out her village and snatched her fiancĂ© (Frank Zagarino). What else to do but grab a few warrior hotties, including Katt Shea (HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS) and Dawn Dunlap (FORBIDDEN WORLD), and storm the palace of the tyrannical king? Aside from the sword-swinging violence and sweaty nude bodies, including Clarkson’s quite impressive one, there’s not much here, but with a running time of a mere 71 minutes (!), you don’t need much more. The 5’11” Clarkson was only about 22 years old when she made BARBARIAN QUEEN. She’s quite good—beautiful, of course—handling the action scenes like a pro.

I don’t know how available this excellent documentary is nor have I seen it since it came out, but it was sanctioned by the band and glosses over some of the more sordid details of this consummate surf group's career. Director Malcolm Leo fills it with cool and obscure live, TV, and film appearances. The scenes from THE TAMI SHOW are probably the best known, but the "In My Room" video may be the most fascinating. Highly recommended for fans.

Mature, quiet TV mystery brings back Telly Savalas as Kojak seven years after his series’ cancellation. It squeezes Savalas’ character into some international intrigue involving survivors of a concentration camp in German-occupied Russia. Someone is murdering old Jewish men in New York City. Theo Kojak and government lawyer Dana Sutton (Suzanne Pleshette) discover the victims were inmates at the same camp forty years earlier, and so was Kojak’s friend Peter Barak (Max von Sydow), who has been acting a little weird lately. THE BELARUS FILE isn’t sensational or violent or packed with action and quips. It simply goes about its business, telling an important story by wrapping it inside a police procedural. Savalas does solid work without relying on the “who loves ya, baby” schtick of the series.

Chuck Norris’ best film is a terrific crime drama about a Chicago detective shunned by his fellow cops after he testifies against an incompetent colleague who planted a gun on an innocent teenager he accidentally killed. That means Chuck has to go solo against the very dangerous Luis Camacho (Henry Silva), a Colombian druglord who wants revenge against the Italian mobsters who shot his brother. The great action director Andrew Davis (ABOVE THE LAW, UNDER SIEGE, THE PACKAGE) made it and filled it with incredible Chicago character actors: Dennis Farina, Ralph Foody, Ron Dean, John Mahoney. To make sure you don’t forget it’s a Chuck Norris movie, the finale (in an empty warehouse, natch) features a radio control robot tank. The Chuck Norris movie for those who don’t like Chuck Norris movies.

Perhaps my favorite ALIEN ripoff, THE TITAN FIND aka CREATURE is, of course, about a gooey space monster with big teeth that chomps on astronauts with paper-thin personalities. The second film by writer/director William Malone, CREATURE does a nice job creating a mood and delivering cheap violent thrills on a $750,000 budget. The miniature work and production design by future Oscar winners Robert Skotak (ALIENS) and Dennis Skotak (THE ABYSS) are very good, as are the many gore effects. Really, the goo is the best reason to watch CREATURE—faces are ripped off, heads explode, and blood splashes everywhere. Klaus Kinski cameos as a lascivious, sandwich-chomping astronaut, and pretty Wendy Schaal (THE ‘BURBS) is likable as a brainy scientist (who is forced by the script to do some pretty idiotic things).

I have no idea who Greek filmmaker George Pan-Andreas is, but he certainly assembled a wonderfully inept and frequently hilarious vanity production. He directed, wrote, and plays Zeus, a cop who is tossed off the force for killing two corrupt cops in self-defense. After the U.S. President’s wife and child are murdered, the CIA forces Zeus to return to crime fighting, not that Zeus needs much urging. After all, he is the Crime Killer. After the titles finally roll (illustrated by Greek imagery that has nothing to do with the movie, like a statue that fires beams from its eyes!), it's one mockable moment after another, including gratuitous 'Nam flashbacks, slow-mo kung fu (that shows the actors' kicks missing one another by a mile), inappropriate humor, crazy plot points and ridiculous dialogue. I'm sure the story of how George Pan-Andreas talked someone into giving him money to write, direct, and star in this movie is fascinating.

Mystery masters Richard Levinson and William Link, who created COLUMBO, wrote this clever whodunit that plays like a backstage view of their writing sessions. Anthony Hopkins is a vain criminal attorney who wants to murder his wife (Blythe Danner), and plays various scenarios in his head in an attempt to pick out the fatal flaw in them that will get him convicted. Director David Greene (FATAL VISION) stages them like fantasy courtroom scenes with Hopkins playing both the defendant and prosecuting attorney. I wish I could say more, but almost every scene of this made-for-TV movie is either a clue, a red herring, or a surprising plot twist.

The only film directed by Oscar-nominated actor Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN) is a goofy comedy featuring a very broad performance by Forster as a down-and-out drunken Hollywood private eye named Harry who is hired by a rich Southerner to find the only copy of a pornographic movie featuring his teenage daughter. At the same time, Harry finds himself taking care of his impulsive 14-year-old niece Danielle (Kathrine Forster), who has run away from home to live with her Uncle Harry. I'm sure everyone involved had a fun time making this picture, and it's amusing to see Forster, who normally plays intense action roles, mugging it up like Jerry Lewis.

Amazingly ridiculous, hilarious, and action-packed picture casts CHIPS star Erik Estrada as a tough cop who is introduced stripped to his briefs to defuse a hostage situation. Erik gets the case when rejected scientist Ennio Girolami (THE NEW BARBARIANS) creates a death ray and uses it to melt the skin from his victims (like in the climax of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK). There is a ton of action, including wild slo-mo shootouts, explosions, car chases, squibs, you name it. Near the end, Estrada steals Albert Arciero’s racecar and jumps practically every hill in San Francisco. As usual, director Enzo Castellari mixes live stuntwork with unconvincing miniatures to add to the film’s bizarre tone.

Miami-lensed mystery stars Kurt Russell as newspaperman Malcolm Anderson, who feels burned out at his job and is considering a move with his girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) to sedate Colorado. But then, here comes The Big Story He’s Been Waiting For in the form of a serial killer (Richard Jordan) who begins calling Malcolm and giving him sneak previews of his next murders. Philip Borsos (THE GREY FOX), a talented Canadian director who died of leukemia much too young at 42, handles the suspense like a real pro. Jordan, who also sadly died young, is an excellent foil for Russell, even though he’s mostly heard and not seen as just a malevolent voice on the telephone. Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Bradford, William Smith, Andy Garcia, and Rose Portillo offer support.

James Garner earned his only Academy Award nomination for his crisp role as amiable Murphy Jones, the widower owner of a drugstore in the tiny Arizona town where determined divorcee Emma (Sally Field) moves to start her new life with young son Jake (Corey Haim). Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch's sharp screenplay makes it clear that these two independent-minded survivors with equally strong senses of humor are destined to be together, despite the obvious age difference, but the fun is seeing them realize slowly realize it. Garner is great portraying a well-rounded character who seems to have been written especially for him, since it capitalizes on the actor's noted persona as a crusty iconoclast, and his chemistry with Field is impeccable.

Richard Crenna won his only Emmy for his brave dramatic performance in this ahead-of-its-time TV movie as a chauvinist homicide cop who is reassigned to Sex Crimes as punishment for his less-than-progressive views on rape and its victims. Unfortunately, Beck’s enlightenment comes after being raped while chasing a pair of drug dealers into the Seattle Underground. Director Karen Arthur tastefully portrays the assault off-screen, but Crenna’s performance and her sure direction leave no doubts about the terror Beck experiences. If you’re looking for THE RAPE OF RICHARD BECK on DVD, check the more PC but generic title DEADLY JUSTICE that does this moving film no favors.

TARGET (1985)
Arthur Penn directed this entertaining action movie starring Gene Hackman as a regular Dallas lumberyard owner with a beautiful wife (Gayle Hunnicutt) and an estranged teenage son (Matt Dillon). When Hunnicutt is kidnapped in Paris, Hackman reveals to Dillon that he is actually a retired CIA agent, and that Hunnicutt has been kidnapped for revenge! The father-and-son team flies to France to track down the kidnappers themselves. The action scenes are well done, and Hackman is believable in his role. Obviously.

A must for Michelle Bauer fans. This is merely a cheap collection of gory clips from other videos released by Continental Video, including VAMPIRE HOOKERS, CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD, and Fred Olen Ray's SCALPS. Some of the stars featured within the clips are James Earl Jones, John Carradine, and Lydia Cornell. Cameron Mitchell hosts the wraparound segments as the zombie-like owner of a video store (a very cheap-looking set) trying to frighten his customers by showing them these clips. Bauer scores as a leather-wearing sexpot who can only achieve orgasm by being scared.

Charles Band’s low-budget production, made and released by his Empire Pictures, is one of the most imaginative science fiction films of a decade filled with very good and great ones. Much credit should go to debuting screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, who demonstrate a real knack for the genre, but the movie wouldn’t work without leading man Tim Thomerson as tough-guy hero Jack Deth, a rebellious cop patrolling post-earthquake Los Angeles of the 23rd century. Without getting too much into the clever story, Deth time-travels to 1985, takes up with a cute Santa’s elf (Helen Hunt), and seeks nefarious cult leader Whistler (Michael Stefani), who is creating zombies (or “trancers”). Great dialogue, a mix of action and humor, colorful performances, and one of Empire’s best scripts add up to a real sleeper sci-fi movie.

WITNESS (1985)
Everyone forgets WITNESS was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Half thriller and half love story about a young Amish boy witnessing a murder in a Philadelphia train station, cop Harrison Ford discovering the killer is a policeman, getting shot, and holing up in disguise in an Amish community, where he falls in love with Kelly McGillis as the boy’s widowed mother. The romance is actually more interesting than the cops-and-killers stuff, though it’s fun to see Danny Glover as one of the heavies. Ford and McGillis are a compelling couple — their romance being a forbidden one.