Rupert Pupkin Speaks: May 2015 ""

Sunday, May 31, 2015


ERIK THE VIKING (1989; Terry Jones)
Those of us that grew up loving Monty Python couldn't help but see the films from their glorious "trilogy": HOLY GRAIL, LIFE OF BRIAN and THE MEANING OF LIFE. HOLY GRAIL seems to be the most popular of those three and justifiably so, but the other two get plenty of love from Python fans as well. A film that gets less love and has been forgotten by many is ERIK THE VIKING. Though it is not quite a full Python movie in the same way those other movies are (the Python members are present here, but not in every scene as they were in the other films). Terry Jones was director or co-director (with Gilliam) on those main three films and he flew solo on LIFE OF BRIAN and ERIK as well. The spirit of Python is certainly present in ERIK and it's a little unfortunate that it has been lost in the shuffle a bit. 
This movie always gave a little trouble though I must admit in that the opening scene plays off a joke about rape and that's a tough spot to start a movie from. That said, the scene proves to be rather poignant and pivotal for our main character Erik (Tim Robbins) so it's not played completely for comedic value. The whole crux of the movie lies in the existential crisis of the titular Erik who has never fully embrace the looting, raping and pillaging ways of his viking brethren. He believes there must be something more and he convinces his comrades to travel across the sea to try to talk to the gods. The movie is filled with darkly comic Python-esque jokes and asides, taking some pretty humorous shots at the viking "lifestyle". Terry Jones is certainly a solid director and while not the visual stylist that Terry Gilliam can be, he makes good films for sure (I am particularly a fan of his MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE which doesn't get enough attention either). All told this is an honorable entry in the Python cannon and one that should find more fans via this new Blu-ray (which looks pretty good).
Quick Note: Olive Films has done fans of ERIK THE VIKING something of a service in that they have released the longer cut of the film (107 mins) as opposed the version that was out on DVD a while back (which had been cut down to 79 minutes by Terry Jones' son (with Jones' blessing)). Apparently Terry Jones had always wanted to trim the movie a bit and they took this opportunity to do so. Fans were not pleased with this (see the Amazon reviews of the DVD for some vitriol), but they will hopefully like this new Blu-ray, which looks nice and has the movie restored to its original runtime.

YELLOWBEARD (1983; Mel Damski)
This is yet another underseen Python spinoff from the 1980s. Though not directed by Jones or Gilliam, this one was co-scripted by and stars the great Graham Chapman as Captain Yellowbeard himself. It also has John Cleese and Eric Idle, but thats not all. No this movie has the comic pedigree of some other heavyweights as well. First off, it has a very Mel Brooks-y vibe in that Marty Feldman (in his last film appearance), Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, and Kenneth Mars are all featured, but the comic thoroughbred-isms don't stop there. Cheech and Chong are also part of this mighty farcical ensemble as is Peter Cook (who is also one of the co-screenwriters). So you have this intermingling of powerhouse comedy troupes for this tale of a pirate who escapes prison to gather a motley crew and go off looking for the vast amounts treasure that he stashed years earlier.
One of the biggest things I remember about YELLOWBEARD is how difficult it was to see for a really long time. It looks like the DVD didn't even come out until 2006, which is pretty late if you think about this cast and how much of a following they have. I'm sure it's probably a matter of the films rights getting tangled up legally in some way, but it always seemed strange to me that it was so tricky to find it. Its scarcity and the reputations of the featured players certainly set up some pretty immense expectations in my mind though and these expectations were perhaps more than any film could live up to. It's not bad though (if a bit under lit in spots). I've always had a great fondness for Graham Chapman and his ability to carry off ludicrous comedy in the most delightful way. I've heard it said that he and John Cleese used to write Python sketches together and that Cleese would work for hours on certain bits, trying to figure out how to make them right. Apparently Chapman had the ability to come in and solve such problems quickly and with seemingly little effort. He was a man who lived and breathed absurdity and carried it into both his writing and his performances. YELLOWBEARD is no exception. Since his character is a pirate who has been in prison for twenty years, when he gets out he looks rather haggard. This only makes him funnier to me as his actions as a madman here are backed up by his appearance. The whole ensemble is fun though and they have their moments of hilarity (John Cleese as a blind bar patron with acute senses is good for a laugh or two). The script itself feels slightly undercooked or the film is not edited and shot in such a way as to get quite the most mileage as it could out of the ridiculous goings on. It's still worthwhile though and I had a good time with it. I just always enjoy seeing the Pythons (and the rest of this gang) working in longform as opposed to sketch. Happy it's out there in HD (though as I said the film is a little dark, especially during the indoor scenes).

SHE-DEVIL (1989; Susan Seidelman)
This movie is one that has been completely obscured by the stuff I vaguely remember about seeing it at the time it came out on VHS. I remember not liking it too much honestly, but the reason why is shrouded in guesswork. I think it had something to do with me being kind of over Roseanne Barr at the time. While I was a fan of her show for a while, at some point I just stopped finding her funny back then. The other thing was that at its core, it was a revenge movie that got a little mean-spirited. On top of that, I never would have known who director Susan Seidelman was when I first saw the movie. I may have already seen DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, but that one went over my head to in terms of digging it. Nowadays I have a much great appreciation for Seidelman and her films. SMITHEREENS and SEEKING SUSAN are two that I am definitely a fan of.
This rewatch of SHE-DEVIL allowed me to re-examine it with wiser eyes. At one point, Seidelman cuts to two close-ups of Meryl Streep's and Ed Begley Jr.'s eyes. It's a little jarring, but it is the moment where the somewhat fantastic tone of the movie starts to come into focus. I was reminded of Sergio Leone and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. It's a very interesting tone for sure and one that I'm sure probably put me off when I was in high school. Everything is stylized and almost cartoonish in this Frank Tashlin kinda way, but with a darker edge than Tashlin ever ventured to try. The music is even reminiscent of a Looney Tunes short in parts. It's a remarkably interesting undertaking for a studio film. While the 1980s was certainly home to its fair share of wacky comedies, few were quite like this one. I like the closing shot quite a bit.

SKI SCHOOL (1990; Damian Lee)
SKI SCHOOL comes from a long tradition of sex comedies about underdogs. Watching sex comedies at a certain point becomes just like watching slasher films. The formula is fairly tried and true and is often just a matter of plugging in a new setting and in this case, a new sport. SKI SCHOOL is later in the sex comedy cycle in that it came out in 1990 but feels for all intents and purposes like an 80s movie. It follows the likes of HOT DOG: THE MOVIE, another skiing sex comedy that hit theaters six years prior. SKI PATROL was yet one more ski comedy and it came out the same year as this film (there must have been some kind of ski-resurgence in 1990). One thing SKI SCHOOL has to its advantage though is some solid and humorous chemistry between it's main group of three dudes (Dean Cameron and the other two guys). A sex comedy really can float on the charisma of its goof-offs and these fellas are charming enough and silly enough to keep things going. You know you're in for a specific kind of thing though when you have bare breasts onscreen within the first two minutes. That is a thing of the past I think. Back before the rise of the internet and freely available porn when cable was the great place where a kid could catch something like this late in the evening. When someone told you that they had cable, part of the draw was that we could see movies like SKI SCHOOL. Same thing for VHS and straight-to-VHS comedies. Folks don't feel the need to make films that show boobs almost right out of the gate anymore. Many films directed at a youth audience now land in that quagmire of the PG-13 rating. SKI SCHOOL reminds me that R-rated wacky comedies were a thing that we sorely need in this day and age. They've not completely gone away, but I feel like we as a society need to concern ourselves less with PG-13 material and more on R-rated material. Let's not be afraid to scar our children people, them being too sheltered is just not a good thing. End of pseudo-rant. Watch SKI SCHOOL. It's dopey, but it's still kind of a hoot. I mean, if you're not a Dean Cameron fan I just don't even know what to say to you. Plus SKI SCHOOL also stars the guy who played "Styles" in TEEN WOLF TOO. What more could you want?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Vinegar Syndrome - MADMAN on Blu-ray

MADMAN (1982; Joe Giannone)
MADMAN is among my favorite slasher movies from the 80s cycle. It's right up there with MY BLOODY VALENTINE and THE BURNING for me (and THE PROWLER as well which I know some dislike). One thing that I love about it is how it pretty much cuts right to the chase. The slasher formula usually dictates that there be an  "inciting incident" and then some expository stuff before the killer begins to terrorize the characters . This "incident" usually comes in the form of a death of some sort (often tied to the origins of the slasher character). This is a fun structure once you become accustomed to it, but it can sometimes be a long whole before the killing begins again (depending on the film in question). MADMAN has no inciting incident in that respect, but rather starts with a campfire tale explaining who Madman Mars is and that his name should never be uttered above a whisper. Of course some jackass has to break that rule and Madman is awakened. Like I said though, they don't mass around, so the kills start to get going within the first 10 minutes or so. Another cool thing about the movie is the design of Madman Mars himself. He really is pretty freaky looking and is more of a monster who resembles and old man. The filmmakers wisely keep him mostly in shadows towards the front of the film, which sets a delightful disturbing and uneasy atmosphere right away.
There's also a scene with a woman crying that has never left me since I first saw it. Horror movies and crying go hand in hand so one can become a little desensitized to it all. But the scene I am talking about does something unique in that the movie stays with this girl as she stumbles around hysterical and sobbing. It stays with here for a good couple minutes of her crying and wandering around looking for a friend of hers. She's just seen her boyfriend killed and this scene really allows that to set in a little and the whole thing gets kind of sad (in a moving kind of way) which is unusual for a slasher film. Usually what happens is that either this kind of scene is broken up by cutaways to other characters or the person crying is quickly dispatched, not allowing for any kind of emotional impact to be realized. I'm not saying this woman is the greatest actress ever, but I find her performance here (especially at the beginning of the scene) to be pretty genuine and affecting. Like I said though, the movie kind of stays with her through the crying and an attack from Madman Mars and the whole thing takes about 7 minutes or so, which is a decent chunk of the movie when it is near the end. I'll always remember this sequence for sure and it gives the movie more of poignant punch right towards the back end. The other thing that always stood to me was the fact that the movie has actress Gaylen Ross in a prominent role. She made a real impression on me when I first saw her in Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD for the first time. She had this bright blonde hair and striking eyes (in retrospect, her face and eyes remind me slightly of Uma Thurman). I saw her in CREEPSHOW after that and so when I finally saw MADMAN for the first time (when the Anchor Bay DVD came out in 2001), I was a bonafide Gaylen Ross fan. 

Special Features:

Vinegar Syndrome has really outdone themselves here as this disc is loaded to the absolute gills on top of the film being Scanned and restored in 4k from 35mm original camera negative (it looks good), It also has the following supplements:
+ New video interviews with star, Paul “Madman” Ehlers, Producer & co-creator Gary Sales, and for the first time ever, “Richie” actor Jimmy Steele.
+ The Legend Lives: 30 Years of Madman documentary by Victor Bonacore (90mins).
+ Madman: Alive at 35 featurette.
+ Commentary track with Producer, Director and Cast.
+ Commentary track by The Hysteria Continues!
+ Music Inspired by Madman featurette.
+ In Memoriam featurette.
+ Original Theatrical Trailer.
+ English SDH Subtitles
+ Reversible cover w/ original artwork (Designed by Madman himself, Paul Ehlers)

To top it all off, this is an All-Region Disc so it can be enjoyed anywhere in the world!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Underrated '75 - John D'Amico

John D'Amico is a New York City based filmmaker and theorist who
writes for and On Twitter @jodamico1.
He did a list of underrated Action/adventure films and westerns for my previous series which you should have a peek at:

AFONYA (1975; George Daneliya)
Piercingly funny and disarmingly emotional little character study about a drunken slacker trying to make it through Soviet society. There was a lot of great Soviet cinema around this time (Sergei Bondarchuk’s massive WW2 epic They Fought for Their Land is another ’75 highlight), but this is the one I think the majority of western viewers will most readily latch onto. It’s got the spirit of Mark Twain, a gutsy and sloppy iconoclasticism that, while not always admirable, is always very funny.

GIVE ‘EM HELL, HARRY! (1975; Steve Binder/ Peter H. Hunt)
100 minutes of Harry Truman isn’t for everyone, but if it is, you’ll love this. The always underused James Whitmore (probably best remembered for Them! and Shawshank) really gets to stretch his legs here as a fiery Truman looking over his life and times. It gave Whitmore his second Oscar nomination, the only time anyone has ever received one for a one-man show.

FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975; Lucio Fulci)
Lucio Fulci, better known for his splatter-fests like The Beyond and Zombi, surprises us with a deeply sensitive taken on Bret Harte’s stories “The Luck of the Roaring Fire” and “The Outcasts of Poker Flats.” I’m not gonna lie to y’all, the movie is saddled with just plain the WORST soundtrack I’ve ever heard and it’s a little uneven overall, but the whole shebang is worth it for the 20 minutes or so spent in an all-male mining camp in winter (the “Roaring Fire” story). It’s a delicate and beautiful sequence, the spirit of McCabe and Mrs. Miller crossed with Fulci’s unerring eye for vast lonely settings.

FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975; John Frankenheimer)
Like everyone else, I adore the ’71 original, but for my money this underrated sequel is in every way the superior film. Hackman is an absolute powerhouse here, cursing and blustering his way through France until slamming headlong into addiction, culminating in a grueling comedown sequence that could almost be its own short film. I miss Roy Scheider (I ALWAYS miss Roy Scheider), but his replacement Bernard Fresson more than holds his own as a cop just as ruthless as Popeye Doyle. It manages to fit neatly into both the brash run-and-gun American crime tradition and the more quiet observational French style. Regarded as mediocre at the time, an oversight more forgivable when you remember that’75 was arguably the single greatest year for Hollywood filmmaking.

FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON (1975; Luigi Bazzone)
Eerie, elegant mystery about a woman who can’t remember the last three days. Haunting music, a strong performance by Florinda Bolkan (one of the strongest in the entire giallo genre), and tremendous cinematography by, of all people, Apocalypse Now’s Vittorio Storaro, make this a very rewarding watch.

Out-and-out North Vietnamese propaganda from 1975, it's very much the equivalent of those “plucky optimism” style of British and American flag-wavers during WW2. It’s always an enlightening thing to watch propaganda from a culture you’re not connected to, it helps you see it in your own cinema. This is the story of a little girl wandering the Vietnamese countryside when her whole family is killed in a B-52 strike. It’s predictably devastating at times (the footage of real bombed-out cities is harrowing) but what’s most striking about Little Girl of Hanoi is how light at touch it has at times. There’s a real humanity under it. It focuses on domesticity and day-to-day life under wartime, and there are even some sympathetic American characters in it. Absolutely indispensable if you’re interested in the era or in propaganda filmmaking, and a fine little movie even if you aren’t.

MANDINGO (1975; Richard Fleischer)
Famously loathed and often accused of virulent racism, but I think this is a genuinely good, intelligent, and cynical deconstruction of the antebellum south. The always controversial Ricahrd Fleischer is in his element systematiccaly and gruesomely blowing up the plantation myth and taking apart every notion of civility and honor among the "gentlemen" and "belles."

MILESTONES (1975; John Douglas)
From the other side of the Vietnam conflict as Little Girl of Hanoi, Robert Kramer’s seminal slice-of-life about the end of the war years across America is sprawling and heartfelt, a memorably beautiful and delicate work. It’s quietly experimental and massively ambitious, though it’s only ever composed of intimate moments.

MUNA MOTO (1975; Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa)
Romeo and Juliet relocated to rural Cameroon. Full of powerful scenes - one sequence involving a pair of children’s shoes will break your heart - and rich black and white photography. The ending musical theme is one of my favorites in all of film.

RAPE (1975; Joann Elam)
Unrelentingly powerful documentary, we are a fly on the wall listening to rape victims discuss what happened to them and the way our culture lets them down and enables such inhumanity. Joann Elam keeps things moving with brisk editing, powerful b-roll, and strong MTV-ish title cards highlighting key points. This should be shown in schools... and to Congress.
Can be seen on YouTube here:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Twilight Time - AMERICAN BUFFALO and HOMBRE on Blu-ray

AMERICAN BUFFALO (1996; Michael Corrente)
I think I was too young to really appreciate David Mamet and the beauty of his writing (and two great actors performing it) when I first saw this back in 1996. I mean, I could get behind GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS at that age, but that movie is a goddamned house on fire of amazing acting and sharp, attacking exchanges. It's dynamic in a much different way than AMERICAN BUFFALO. And on top of that, Mamet himself didn't direct that one, James Foley did. Michael Corrente directed this Mamet script (adapted from his famous play). Corrente is certainly a different director than Foley and this story was a bit smaller (only three characters) so it's kind of a different animal. I must admit nonetheless that when I first saw it, AMERICAN BUFFALO didn't grab me in the way I hoped it would (though Mamet's own THE WINSLOW BOY would completely mesmerize me three years later). Corrente would really get my attention with his film OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE (based on a novel by Peter Farrelly) in 1999. That said, this go-round I caught the dynamism of language that I underappreciated my first time. From Dennis Franz's very first lines I could feel the magnetic poetry of Mamet's dialogue. I even noticed phrases like "Am I wrong?" and others that immediately made me thing of a certain Coen Brothers stoner noir and that completely made sense. Of course the Coens would be fans of AMERICAN BUFFALO (or at least it wouldn't surprise me if they were). Once "the thing"of AMERICAN BUFFALO is established, it's pretty outstanding to watch Franz and Hoffman go around and around in conversation trying to figure out how to go about it, while all the while not really trusting each other and trying to feel each other out. It really is the talking around things that is the most gratifying thing when you watch actors performing Mamet. He really is one of the true masters of the talk-around. It's a fucking glorious thing.
There's something pretty great about Dennis Franz delivering Mamet-speak for me. The harsh nasal-y tone of his very Chicago-bred voice adds this certain layer of blue collar filtering on top of the Mamet poetry and it gives it a nice twist. Mamet himself is of course from Chicago so he knows that voice well, but I am so used to non-Chicago actors saying his words that I forget how good they sound with homefield advantage so to speak. Franz is an actor who doesn't get his deserved credit in my opinion. Maybe because he played a lot of cops (because he's great at it) and the fact that he  was on NYPD BLUE for so long has made people forget about him a little and how good he is. The other factor is that he hasn't really acted since that show ended in 2005. That's ten years we've been deprived of Dennis Franz in movies and it's kind of a bummer. AMERICAN BUFFALO was actually a little bit of a swan song for him in a way in terms of this kind of acting. He had a role in CITY OF ANGELS in 1998, but that was his last movie as far as I know. It wasn't until this rewatch that I came to realize all this and suddenly the whole thing became a tad bittersweet. I have loved Dennis Franz since I first saw all of his collaborations with Brian De Palma. De Palma seemed to be the one big film director who understood the acknowledged the value of Dennis Franz. 
Dustin Hoffman is certainly a much more appreciated actor and one who is not afraid to make choices that can tend to push his characters into some less likable territory. I couldn't help but be reminded of one of my favorite Hoffman films (STRAIGHT TIME) when watching this thing. His career criminal character Max Dembo in that film is not by any means the same kinda guy as his character "Teach" in AMERICAN BUFFALO. They are similar though in that crime isn't something they are averse to and it's something that has been in and out of their lives for a long time (or so it would seem). Teach is more of a grifter/gambler type loser who's hungry and desperate and yet is able to project enough confidence to con people. Hoffman can play anything, but his take on this sort of cocksure desperation is particularly compelling. He seems to really be able to tap into something when he plays roles like this, the sheer vulnerability of these folks is something he can make compelling while still being slightly off-putting.

Special Features:
-This disc features a Twilight Time commentary track with the excellent and ubiquitous Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. It's no secret that I love their commentaries and they've yet to disappoint me.
Julie and Nick discuss the play itself here and how it launched Mamet and the actors who were in it in it's various Broadway productions. It's quite interesting to hear about the differences between what the film shows as far as the characters and how they are played versus how they were interpreted in some of the various stage versions with other actors. There's a lot more discussed here, but I'll leave it to the listener to enjoy.

HOMBRE (1967; Martin Ritt)
There are several things you should know about this movie from the outset. First, the cast includes Paul Newman, Fredric March, Cameron Mitchell, Richard Boone, Martin Balsam, and Barbara Rush. Second, it was directed by the great Martin Ritt and was shot by the equally great James Wong Howe. Third, it's based on an Elmore Leonard novel. That's a whole lot this movie has going for it right up front right? It was certainly enough to sell me on checking it out.
This movie plays out in a couple parts. The first has to do with Paul Newman who plays John Russell, a white man who was raised by Apache Indians. There is much disdain for the Apaches and as a result, John Russell himself too. When he inherits a boarding house, he cleans himself up and dresses like the white man to claim it. The boardinghouse already has its own story going on and the characters that live there become part of the story. The second part of the tale has to do with a stagecoach and its passengers (which include John Russell and the folks from the boardinghouse plus others). Enter Cicero Grimes (Richard Boone). Grimes bullies his way on to the coach as only Richard Boone can do. Once the coach leaves town the movie becomes kind of a STAGECOACH kinda thing. Plenty of good Elmore Leonard dialogue throughout. The movie is solid until Richard Boone shows up and then it goes up a notch. Boone is one of those actors who can play evil characters like just about nobody else. He has a deadly charisma and often charms before he strikes. He has a world-weathered face, a bulbous nose and a gravely voice to menace people with. He is one of my favorite character actors, especially in roles like he has here. He can truly give a sense of a man who just as soon kill you as look at you in the most believable way. I truly believe that a movie is only as good as its villain and Boone is one that I've found has elevated everything he's been in. I also feel like not enough cinephiles know about him. He exists in a certain pocket of genre films (often westerns) for the most part wherein if you haven't ventured into those movies, he doesn't exist. When I first came across him in Budd Boetticher's THE TALL T (one of my favorite movies), he won me over immediately. And Boone fits perfectly into the Elmore Leonard universe.
Leonard is one of the great genre writers of the twentieth century without any doubt. And he's a fella whose work can and has been adapted into some pretty great films. He paints of world of weariness and distrust. A world where things can get stripped down to the "it's you or me" paradigm quite quickly and once it goes there, there's no coming back without some kind of showdown. But he's clever about it. Clever about his villains and clever about his "heroes". He can create a bleak, but potent heroism born out of pure self-preservation. That cutting away of the bullshit is quite primal and really can hook you. The Leonard microcosm functions fantastically well in a western setting. It also functions well in a noir setting and he seems to bring elements of both genres to either type of story with terrific skill. Both noirs and westerns have the darkness of life and death hanging in the balance often at the hands of merciless people. Paul Newman's John Russell is wonderful Elmore Leonard character. He's an outsider and is disliked by much of the rest of the folks involved. Disliked and seen as dirty and useless until he makes a stand where the others wouldn't. Then suddenly he's their savior, but a savior who wants nothing to do with them. It makes for great drama and a great Paul Newman performance. HOMBRE is a film that will certainly be among my favorite "discoveries"of 2015 and I have Twilight Time to thank for that. This is one of Ritt's best films and is right up there with HUD in terms of his collaborations with Paul Newman. A very fine film.

Special Features:
This disc also features a very solid commentary track, this time from Film Historians Lee Pfeiffer (of Cinema Retro Magazine) and Paul Scrabo. Both share a fondness for films of the 1960s and 70s and both are quite knowledgable about cinema (this is apparent right out of the gate). You can just tell when folks know their stuff based on the incidental films and such that they mention early on in a commentary. They discuss the new found freedom and the new kind of westerns (like HOMBRE) that were emerging during this amazingly fertile period in cinema history. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Underrated '75 - 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. Find him online at for essays and free streaming movies.
Check out his Underrated '85 list here:

CRACKED ACTOR (Alan Yentob, 1975)
A made-for-television documentary that covers the snapshot in David Bowie history where Ziggy had just been buried and with Diamond Dogs and Young Americans came a sonic and spiritual rebirth informed by a certain white powder confidence. Brief at 53 minutes, certainly, but brilliant for capturing those critical 'golden years' that might otherwise be lost to memory.

THE DIVINE NYMPH (Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, 1975)
Painterly and perfect, The Divine Nymph is a film whose every composition could well be a Renaissance masterwork. A memorable early scene has the sultry mistress of the narrative (Laura Antonelli) posed as Titian's Venus of Urbino. I imagine there are many more similarly explicit references, but I will leave those for the art historians. This film is slow and delicious, stale with visible wafts of cigarette smoke hanging in the air with nowhere to go, and it evokes a salacious satisfaction from its twofold moral message: a divine creature cannot be kept by any mortal man regardless of his status, nor can an old whore be taught new tricks.

FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (Dick Richards, 1975)
Mitchum is Marlowe as a washed-up old dog, a detective who has definitely seen better days. In-between legitimate capers, he chases down runaway schoolgirls and saves felines from modest heights. There is a kind of poetry to the cheapness of this film that - incidentally or otherwise - seems to reflect its dime store origins. Too often the world of noir collides with high-minded social melodrama and the result is almost always disingenuous. By contrast, Dick Richards' approach to the material seems above all honest, as if he were allowing the work to simply unfold and be true to itself rather than craft something deliberately thematic.

THE SUPER INFRA-MAN (Hua Shan, 1975)
Dark-hearted, cave-dwelling villainess Princess Dragon Mom is out to rule the world. Only the Super Infra-Man can stop her with a mix of lethal kicks, thunder fists, and erupting bullets. Siskel and Ebert were also major fans of this wonderfully bonkers Shaw Bros. title.

WOLFGUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975)
Sonny Chiba is a werewolf detective, the only surviving member of his clan. For some reason, there is an invisible ghost-tiger terrorizing the Tokyo streets, ripping people to shreds. It's a conspiracy! I think? Anyhow, the J-CIA (Japanese Central Intelligence Agency) is behind the whole thing and all they really want anyway is Wolfguy's blood. This is easily one of the best and strangest movies I have ever witnessed. This one is a definite favorite. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - ENTER THE NINJA & REVENGE OF THE NINJA on Blu-ray

ENTER THE NINJA (1981; Menahem Golan) / REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983; Sam Firstenberg)
Just to sort of set the stage here, be aware that 'ninja fever' was truly a big thing for me in early high school. Some of my friends and I had a lotta love for G.I. Joe and thought Stormshadow was a badass. I recall many a sketchy catalog of deadly weaponry (throwing stars being the most popular) being confiscated by school officials from my unsuspecting classmates. Ninja stuff was everywhere, and there were lots of ninja movies to appease us. Our good friends at Cannon Films have brought us tons of great stuff. Their contributions of awesomeness to cinema are innumerable. I was aware of them without really knowing who they were and connecting all of their action films together. I must have seen that fantastic Cannon Logo slam together before dozens upon dozens of movies before it started to register. It wasn't until much later in my movie watching that I started to look back and see how much fun stuff they had brought into the world. They brought us ENTER THE NINJA in 1981(one of their first productions) and the superior REVENGE OF THE NINJA in 1983. They had found a way to make ninjas into unstoppable (and often gruesomely so) killing machines. To me, it was a way to take the dying slasher genre and spin it off into a different, more action-y direction. Martial arts, exotic bladed weapons and blood were the currency of this filmic universe and myself and guys my age totally went for it. I even recall writing a story about ninjas and halloween for one of my classes in middle school. These mysterious, highly skilled killers were just the coolest thing to ever exist when I was a kid. I had a similar fascination with Navy SEALs later on. Ninjas were something else though. They were seemingly trained in secret and their tradition went back a centuries. It was like one step beyond the straight martial arts I was so fond of from guys like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris (and even Steven Seagal). These ninjas were not only great martial artists, but they were also big on using all kinds of weaponry to dispatch their victims. That just had these great appeal to me as a youngster. Weapons and wanting to know more about them kind of went hand in hand with getting my kicks watching violent movies. It seems pretty immature now, but back then it was a huge deal to me.
When I first saw ENTER THE NINJA on my local video store shelf, I had no idea who Franco Nero or Sho Kosugi were. I may have seen them in passing in a few genre films, but they still weren't on my radar. I have little to no recollection of what my initial takeaway was after I watch the movie for the first time. I seem to recall it being pretty neat to see guys dressed in white and black ninja costumes though. I had gotten used to only seeing Stormshadow in animated form and so these real life interpretations of the ninja garb left an impression. I rewatched ENTER THE NINJA some four or 5 years ago on MGM HD and I must admit to being slightly let down by it. It had been hard to see for quite a while and I think had only just gotten an MOD DVD release around that time. I think it was a classic case of having built it up a bit too much in my head after so many years. In watching this new Kino Lorber Blu-ray, I found it more engaging and entertaining than that previous view, but it still is missing something. Maybe it has to do with the casting of Franco Nero. I love the guy and he and his persona are a great fit for Italian crime films and spaghetti westerns, but I think perhaps that martial arts isn't quite his genre. There are some script/structure and directorial problems too. Regardless, I think those that remember this one fondly will want to be picking up this disc. Oh and Susan George is easy on the eyes so that gives this one a little boost.
REVENGE OF THE NINJA does just was a sequel should do (though it doesn't really tie into ENTER THE NINJA directly). It amps up the violence and streamlines its story down to something pretty silly (which helps set up the opportunity for more kills and some good stunt work). They really bust out all the ninja toys here too. Throwing stars, blow darts, steel marbles, caltrops (floor spikes), smoke bombs, numerous edged weapons, and some kind of flamethrower thingy.  There are even some creepy looking metal masks with hypnotic eyes (see above). Director Sam Firstenberg is a little better at handling this kind of thing than Menahem Golan and he would go on to helm AMERICAN NINJA (1 & 2), AVENGING FORCE and even NINJA III: THE DOMINATION and BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. He's a Cannon Films workman director. Some pizazz in spots, but mostly just solidly handled action scenes and solid choreography (which of course he had some help with). This was his first action movie along theses lines, but thanks to the assistance of a lot of veteran crew members, things turned out quite well. Having the remarkable Sho Kosugi (in one of his breakout American movies) in your cast always helps. He's the best part of ENTER THE NINJA and clearly the best here too. Making him the center of this movie is absolutely a choice that makes it better. There's a great bit where Kosugi runs down an van full of goons, jumps on top of it and then swings down and kicks through the windshield and keeps on fighting the dudes until the fan crashes. It's a pretty entertaining scene and tops anything in ENTER THE NINJA I have to say. Reminds me of some Jackie Chan kinda stuff and it's great. Once the movie moves past this setpiece, the fight sequences keep coming and don't really stop until the end. The final showdown is good stuff. Never forget, "Only a ninja can stop a ninja".

Special Features:
While ENTER THE NINJA is pretty bare bones, REVENGE OF THE NINJA has a couple new extras. First up is a short and sweet introduction to the movie by Director Sam Firstenberg. It also includes an Audio Commentary with Firstenberg and Stunt Coordinator Steven Lambert.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Underrated '75 - Steve Q

Steve Q blogs about terrible movies at and can be found on Twitter at @Amy_Surplice.
He also recently did an Underrated '85 list you should have a look at:
This was a very tough list for me to make. I have seen nearly 300 films from 1975, mostly irredeemable trash, such as "Spermula" and "Vase de Noces." I have a blog where I review terrible films, more than a dozen from 1975, so if you want to see positive reviews of "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S." or "Delinquent Schoolgirls," you should go there. After deciding to leave cult films to others (watch "Infra-Man," though), I decided to focus on excellent, but underrated films. 

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) 
This film, like its title, is detailed, fastidious and difficult to remember. Chantal Akerman wrote the screenplay, directed and gave herself a role, but wisely not the starring role. Delphine Seyrig plays a woman who is meticulous in carrying out the minutiae of her orderly life and this film quietly observes her go through her day, which just happens to include prostitution. 

Deewaar (Yash Chopra, 1975) 
"Sholay," which also came out of Bollywood in 1975, is considered by many, mostly of Indian descent, to be the greatest film ever made. This overshadowed "Deewaar," which actually swept the Filmfare Awards, the Indian equivalent of the Oscars for that same year. Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor play brothers who are forced to struggle on the streets of Mumbai, but fate and circumstance conspire to erect a wall (deewaar) between them. Parveen Babi created a new archetype for female Bollywood characters with her portrayal of Anita, the smoking, drinking, partying good girl. 

The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (Ivo Caprino, 1975) 
A forgotten masterpiece of animation (though it reportedly was shown continuously in theaters in Norway for decades), this stop-motion film works as well in English as in the original Norwegian. It has a 95% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. A bicycle repairman, a hedgehog and a magpie build a gigantic race car - so big it registers on the Richter scale! - and enter it into the Grand Prix to compete against a former assistant who has been winning races with an engine that came from stolen blueprints. The race scene appears to have been the inspiration for the race in "The Phantom Menace" and I think the original is better. 

The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) 
I'm a sucker for children-in-WW II films, such as "Forbidden Games," "Hope and Glory" and "Empire of the Sun." This one intersperses black and white flashbacks of historical events with color scenes of ordinary family life. Not as acclaimed (at least originally) as Tarkovsky's similar first film "My Name Is Ivan," this shows the director moving away from the formalism for which he was known; it is largely dreamlike stream-of-conscious and that plotlessness has kept it from being better known. 

The Ax Fight (Timothy Asch and Napoleon Chagnon, 1975) 
This half hour ethnographic documentary of the Yanomami tribe of Brazil is still causing controversy. The film starts with 10 minutes of raw footage showing the fight that occurred the day after the crew arrived, a fight that escalates through clubs to machetes to axes. The second part has slow motion with the director narrating; he explains that this is not the brawl they thought at first, but a ritual. Then there's kinship trees and political charts to back up his comments. Lastly, there's an edited version, showing how truth depends upon the teller. Others have claimed that this encounter was a fluke and that the fight was partly staged (infuriating the film makers). While "Grey Gardens" by the Maysles brothers may be the best remembered documentary of 1975, it is far from the most shocking.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Masters of Cinema - PAPER MOON on Blu-ray

PAPER MOON (1973; Peter Bogdanovich)
Perhaps it's the current climate within which filmmakers must function, but it's a rarer and rarer thing to see a streak of outstanding work even from the most promising of talents these days. I'm talking a run of three or four great movies. It still happens sure, but I think we undervalue how remarkable a feat it is to pull something like that off. Peter Bogdanovich was absolutely on fire in the early 1970s. As much Coppola, Scorsese or Friedkin, he was fully firing on all cylinders. In 1968 he made TARGETS, which I still believe is one of the all-time best debut films ever. Sure he had a little help (luck to get one of the greatest actors ever in Boris Karloff and some help from Sam Fuller on the script), but he made a fantastic movie (and it's still one of my personal favorites). That was 1968. In 1971 he would make THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, which is arguably one of the standout American films of the past fifty years. It is a true classic and still resonates today. Then in 1972, he would turn on a dime and make a winderful tribute to his beloved screwball comedies with WHAT'S UP DOC. That movie gets better every time I watch it and totally captures and updates the feeling that screwball had during its heyday. Finally in 1973, Bogdanovich made PAPER MOON. It's another slice of Americana and delightful companion piece to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. One thing PAPER MOON had going for it that PICTURE SHOW didn't was the dynamic duo casting of Ryan O'Neal and his daughter Tatum in the leads. I think we've become kind of accustomed to precocious child actors currently, but Tatum's performance here is revelatory and among the most outstanding ever. She and her dad play stunningly well off of each other and it's easy to see why she was awarded for her work here. I'm not sure how folks think of Ryan O'Neal these days (or if they think of him at all), but he should be remembered as a gifted comic actor for sure. He's not quite Vary Grant level or anything, but he's in the same ball game when he's at his best. I sometimes forget about how funny he is myself until I rewatch WHAT'S UP DOC or PAPER MOON. 

What happened after PAPER MOON was by no means a tragedy, but it's herd not to notice a dip. I personally like DAISY MILLER and even AT LONG LAST LOVE, as well as SAINT JACK and THEY ALL LAUGHED. These are good films (for the most part), but when one starts to look at the best ones, one notices a certain commonality. Hitchcock had Alma and Bogdanovich had Polly Platt. Polly had a hand in all of Bogdanovich's best work and even turned him into Larry McMurtry's book (which led to him making THE LAST PICTURE SHOW). I don't know the specifics of their working relationship, but as a married couple and as filmmaking collaborators, it seems clear that they were a big help to each other. I may be projecting some stuff here, but I always kind of pictured Polly as the voice of encouragement and reason for Bogdanovich. When he and Platt divorced around 1971 (because of Cybil Shepherd), they continued to work together for two more movies. I still don't fully understand why she stuck with him, but she was a part of two excellent movies so there's that. After PAPER MOON, you can see Bogdanovich sliding off the rails a bit and though he would recover, I feel like he never hit that stride again in quite the same way. A stretch like he had from 1968 to 1973 is the stuff of lottery winners and is very once in a lifetime. As I said, few directors have done what he did in terms of quality cinema in such a concentrated period. 

Special Features:
-A very good-looking new 1080p transfer of the film.
-A Feature-length commentary by Director Peter Bogdanovich.
-Three video pieces on the making of the film, featuring interviews and outtake footage.
-A 36-PAGE BOOKLET featuring a new essay on the film by Michael Brooke, rare production stills, and more!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Warner Archive - LADYHAWKE on Blu-ray

LADYHAWKE (1985; Richard Donner)
This movie takes me back to my drive-in heyday. I know I saw movies at our local four-screen drive-in during years other than 1985 and 1986, but I have such a concentrated memory of seeing certain films there during that time. I specifically remember us leaving the drive-in as the last bit of FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF was playing out. I wouldn't get to see Matthew Broderick deliver his wonderfully quippy final lines to camera about the movie being over until later. And speaking of Broderick, LADYHAWKE was most likely the first film I saw him in. I remember being aware of WARGAMES around the time it came out, but I have this feeling that I didn't see it in the theater. I think there are a ton of movies from 1983 and 1984 that I didn't see theatrically because my family wasn't going to the movies as much then. In '85 and '86 I recall that my family went to the movies more. We went to the drive-in many weekends. I know a lot of folks associate the drive-in with schlocky genre and exploitation fare, but I always remembered it is this place where I saw big Hollywood movies. I saw BACK TO THE FUTURE, CAN'T BUY ME LOVE and others that would become the classics of my own personal lexicon. I would even seen Richard Donner's second 1985 film (GOONIES) at the drive-in during that summer too. So anyway, Matthew Broderick. At the time I found his cowardly character with a penchant for talking to himself to be quite funny. He really impressed me. Like I think I can recall him being the big standout thing about the movie for me (and this is a film with Michelle Pfeiffer mind you). I had a sense of how good he was and that feeling you get when you see someone who is going to be a star. I mean he already kind of was at that time, but I had no idea who he was. It wasn't until recently that I realized how much of a huge stage actor he was early on and how that was what led to his movie career. To me he was this nebbish dude in LADYHAWKE and the next year, the complete opposite as Ferris Bueller. For anyone who hasn't seen LADYHAWKE, just a quick warning that I'm going to spoil slightly here. I'm not sure how I must have felt about medieval films as a rule when I saw this, but this one had a kind of a twist that totally hooked me. At the beginning, we see Rutger Hauer's character introduced as a guy with a hawk (and a killer crossbow btw, which I also dug as a kid). That's during the day. When night fell, suddenly he vanished and Michelle Pfeiffer appeared an so did this scary black wolf. The next morning, Pfeiffer is gone and Hauer is back with the hawk. See where this is going? The day/night lover's curse thing was an interesting novelty to me at the time and the wolf gave the film the air of something more horror-like and obviously supernatural. I think I also enjoyed seeing such a distinct lack of bravery as one of the defining things about the film's main character. That kind of thing had been done before, but this was one of the first times I was seeing it. When I watch it now I see a little bit of Woody Allen in Broderick's performance (though that may or may not actually be there). When I was a kid though this kind of subversion of the hero of the movie was fascinating to me. It also made me feel like maybe this weakling could be killed or something and that probably pulled me into the move even more. So when I watched the film again on this new Blu-ray (which is gorgeous by the way), I had all these sensations come rushing back to me. It was like putting on a familiar album I used to listen to when I was younger and surprisingly being able to remember all the lyrics, even after not having heard the songs for twenty years. There were scenes and bits of dialogue that were as fresh to me as if I had watched the film only a week ago. This tells me a couple things. One is that, as I said, this movie really made some kind of imprint on me for one reason or another. And two that I must have watched it several times as a youngster. One thing I did NOT remember though was the score. Holy smokes. It certainly feels a bit out of place now. It is this synthy 80s near-rock at times and though I understand it was most likely done to make a period piece feel more modern, it is hard not to snicker at when hearing it now. I mean, it stands out so much that I can't believe it didn't stand out to me back then. But then I think to myself that this style of music was clearly in vogue in movies of this period so it probably just seemed more "energetic" than most but not out of the ordinary. That said, my nostalgia for this movie overrides any issues and I can easily get lost in it which is what happened this time. Warner Archive's  Blu-ray turn towards the 1980s is a welcome one and with the upcoming WOLFEN disc I do hope it's a trend that they continue straight on through the rest of this year. LADYHAWKE is a bit of a cult item now and I love to see a company like WAC give loving HD releases of 8os cult favorites. That is truly fighting the good fight.

Bonus: Matthew Broderick on working in the theatre - circa 1985:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Underrated '75 - J.T. Lindroos

JT Lindroos is a Finnish-American designer and writer. He currently reviews mostly european comics for Bookgasm, and designs book covers and occasional dvd releases. Formerly the owner of Point Blank Press, he published two volumes of Glenn (DVD Savant) Erickson's writings, as well as three books by film director Josh Becker (or Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except 'fame'). His portfolio on pinterest, hosting sharpie caricatures of Barbara Stanwyck, Warren Oates and Sam Fuller among other work, is as good a place to start as any:
Dersu Uzala (1975; Akira Kurosawa)
Much as I love Yojimbo, Rashomon and all his other magnificent work, Dersu Uzala remains my favorite Kurosawa title. It takes what’s wonderful in his work and combines it with what’s wonderful in much of Russian cinema, and exponentially magnifies both to what might not be underappreciated except within the body of work of Kurosawa himself. Gorgeously moody masterpiece.

Report To The Commissioner (1975; Milton Katselas)
This is a film I haven’t seen in 25 years or so, but after getting hooked on Larry Cohen’s films back in the day, I moved quickly through what was available in Michael Moriarty’s back catalogue, and this Warner Bros. VHS tape knocked me out. Moriarty is fantastic, the storyline fascinating, the support in cast spectacular. I watched it three or four times within a couple of months after seeing it for the first time, and am happy to see it making its bluray debut in the US this summer.

Lisztomania (1975; Ken Russell)
This is hardly a great film, but it is all kinds of spectacular. And it was the first Ken Russell film I ever saw, so it holds a dear place in my heart. Made in the same year as TOMMY, this completely mad musical (of sorts) wallows in its own weirdness, stars Roger Daltrey as Franz Liszt, Rick Wakeman as Thor and Ringo Starr as The Pope.

Night Moves (1975; Arthur Penn)
I rented this Warner VHS not because of the director or the star, although I had certainly been a longtime fan of both when I did, but for the fact that James Woods appeared in it in a small early role. He’s fine, but the rest of the film is mind-bogglingly wonderful. It’s a fine modern private eye film until the truly magnificent ending which makes me think there is an enigma machine somewhere capable of deciphering it from the screenplay clues, while being fully aware that it doesn’t reside inside my head.

The Land That Time Forgot (1975; Kevin Connor)
Perfect exemplification of that wonderful “Lost World” genre whereupon modern man stumbles accidentally upon a prehistoric spot littered with dinosaurs and other mortal perils. The screenplay is co-credited to the great Mike Moorcock, and it is for the most part functional and engaging, but the parade of colorful action set pieces and thrills on a fairly meager budget is exactly what the poster promises. In the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard, this is fun for the whole family.