Rupert Pupkin Speaks: June 2015 ""

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Underrated '65 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog ( which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (, tumblr ( facebook (, and letterboxd (

Check out his Underrated '75 list as well:
1965 will always be remembered for  THE SOUND OF MUSIC. That movie is a much loved and timeless classic.

Of course 1965 wasn’t just Julie Andrews singing with kids and running from Nazis through the Austrian mountains, and here are my picks for some underrated films from that year that should be checked out.

36 HOURS (Directed by: George Seaton)
IMDb has 36 HOURS as a 1964 release, because it had a UK opening then, however the U.S. release date is February of 1965 and I’m going with that.

I have written about 36 HOURS in the past both for my own blog and for Rupert’s blog, however it deserves mentioning again.

Following a WW II battle, James Garner wakes up in an Allied hospital with a commander and nurse (Rod Taylor and Eva Marie Saint) that tell him the war is over. Is Garner in an Allied hospital or not? That’s the ultimate question which I won’t give away in this psychological thriller that features a fantastic score by Dimitri Tiomkin which deserves mention.

Can you get any more of an ideal American hero than James Garner? I don’t think so!

THE NAKED PREY (Directed by: Cornel Wilde)
THE NAKED PREY has a very simple premise. A group on safari offends an African tribe who captures and kills the group with the exception one (Cornel Wilde acting and directing here). They send him on the run and hunt him as prey. Stripped down to nothing except enough of a cloth to protect his privates, he endures a grueling marathon of survival as he comes across all sorts of obstacles while he tries to stay alive.

With minimal dialogue, this is an extremely suspenseful film that will keep you on the edge of your seat for the full running time.

Criterion has released this title on Disc.

How about a transition from a list of thrillers, to a goofy comedy so we this list will at least end on a light note.

Remember the Hanna Barbera wacky races where a collection of characters raced in different locales trying to outfox each other by any means possible? This is a live action version of that (and predates Wacky Races by 3 years) with an international air race in a series of crazy flying devices. That’s it, that’s the whole movie. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the zany antics.

1965 had two similar movies, seeing also the release of THE GREAT RACE with Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Jack Lemmon.

Twilight Time released this as a limited edition Blu-ray, however I believe it is now sold out.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (Directed by Otto Preminger)
1965 seems to be a year filled with paranoia and suspicion as this is the third psychological thriller to make my list.

Carol Lynley, having just moved into a new town, drops her child off at a daycare only to find that she has mysteriously disappeared, and nobody remembers seeing her in the first place which leads to everyone thinking that  she’s just making this up. The police struggle to believe her and the daycare workers aren’t much help. Only her brother seems to be on her side.

This is one of those movies that will infuriate you even while you’re being entertained. The disbelief of the police and unhelpful nature of the day care will anger and frustrate you which makes for a very uncomfortable watching experience – but in a good way. There is a twist of course, but that I’ll leave to your discovery.

Director Otto Preminger is masterful (as always) behind the camera building up the paranoia to a point where the audience will even start to question whether Bunny actually exists.

Twilight Time recently put this film out on Blu-ray Disc in a limited edition.

REPULSION (Directed by: Roman Polanski)
I’m not sure if this is exactly underrated, but I’m mentioning it here because I love it.

In Roman Polanski’s first English-language film, it – like THE NAKED PREY – features a single person just trying to survive, but in a different way. 

Catherine Deneuve is alone in an apartment and starts to lose her mind. Experiencing all sorts of paranoid hallucinations thanks to her obsessive dislike of her sister’s boyfriend, she slowly descends into madness.

Even as Deneuve loses her mind, you feel extreme empathy for her and just pray that someone will come along before she completely loses it. The approach is very Polanski, and no matter how you feel about the director personally, it’s a masterful film that deserves to be seen.

REPULSION is available via the Criterion collection.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Underrated '65 - Steve Q

Steve Q blogs about terrible movies at and can be found on Twitter at @Amy_Surplice.
He also recently did list for both the Underrated '85 and Underrated '75 series:
Steve is a new Letterboxd member and can be followed here:

Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (Norman Taurog, 1965)
I have to include this because it was the first film I ever saw; "Paint Your Wagon" was the first I saw in a theater, so my taste in film has always been questionable. This is a spy film spoof, following the James Bond/Derek Flint/Matt Helm craze, but it's also a continuation of the William Asher "Beach Party" series - "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" and "Beach Blanket Bingo," both also from 1965, share some cast members - and a Vincent Price mad scientist self-parody (which he would perfect soon in "The Abominable Dr. Phibes"). As loosely constructed as that sounds, when the comedy works it's quite enjoyable. The theme song is sung by The Supremes! I met Marianne Gaba, one of the robots and a former Playboy Playmate, in 1980; she told me (unasked) that she had a son my age.

Harlow (Alex Segal, 1965)
There were two films with this title and plot released in 1965.The other one starred Carroll Baker, who was miscast; this one had Carol Lynley, who gave one of her better performances. The film was shot in 8 days on high-res video and then transferred to kinescope, giving it an odd look.The film fails as historical biography, but it works as a drama, with a good performance by Ginger Rogers who was a last-minute substitute. This showed on television through the 1970's, but is almost impossible to find today.

Vinyl (Andy Warhol, 1965)
1965 was a big year in experimental, underground and art films. Andy Warhol directed 19 films that year, half starring Edie Sedgwick, including this one. I've seen all of them and this is the easiest to find. It's a barely recognizable take on "A Clockwork Orange," shot on one set with an immobile camera, unrehearsed, with Edie silent, flicking cigarette ashes on Gerard Malanga as he has candle wax dripped on him, after he dances to "Nowhere to Run" (twice). It's polarizing, like all Warhol.

The Defilers (R. Lee Frost, 1965)
1965 was a banner year in exploitation films, with Barry Mahon directing 15 titles, Doris Wishman directing one of her only two watchable films ("Bad Girls Go to Hell"), Russ Meyer directing three films ("Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!" and "Mudhoney" are great, "Motor Psycho" is not) and David Friedman working with H.G. Lewis on "Color Me Blood Red" and with Lee Frost on this one. Based on the John Fowles novel "The Collector," which was also made into a much better film by William Wyler in 1965, this follows two men who kidnap a woman and make her a sex slave in the basement of a warehouse. It's misogynistic, dated, and offensive, but it's also one of the best "roughies" from that brief period of grindhouse films.

Film (Alan Scneider, 1965)
Samuel Beckett's only work intended to be filmed, this 20 minute short stars Buster Keaton trying not to be seen.Keaton was also in the aforementioned "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini." Now that's what I call range!

Friday, June 26, 2015


THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975; Herbert Ross)
I never cease to marvel at watching a great actor take an abrasive, thoroughly annoying character and make them feel sympathetic in some way. A great example is Walter Matthau in this movie. Right out of the gate his character is tough to take. He is a huge grump and I'm sure it's supposed to be humorous, but I just found myself cringing. Matthau is an over the hill ex-vaudeville comedian who is basically unemployable. Richard Benjamin plays his nephew  who is constantly trying valiantly to get him work. 
There's a moment when Matthau is at home, alone in is tiny dilapidated apartment and it starts to become clear just where this guy's life is at and it's hard not to feel your emotions tipping into pity and sympathy. It's all about how Matthau plays it though. 
And when George Burns finally shows up in the movie that opens things up for more brilliance. Never before did I ever find two characters moving furniture around to be more humorous and engaging than in this film. It's all just so well timed and choreographed, but not in a high precision way. Watching these two actors do their thing is like watching moving artwork. They can't help but be as sublime in just bickering back and forth and shuffling around Matthau's apartment. I couldn't be more entertained by two guys almost starting to rehearse a comedy sketch for like 20 mins. Of course it doesn't hurt that Neil Simon wrote the words they are saying, but Matthau and Burns make them absolutely magical. I usually get slightly annoyed with stage-originated material in movie form because it often feels a little stiff and overly verbose. In this case though, there's plenty for the duo to do besides talk. The dressing room scene is a short bit of wonderful for instance. And there's a nice build up to the time we finally get to see the amusing "Doctor Sketch" that these guys are so famous for. Though the movie is really the Matthau and Burns show and all the stuff they do is fantastic, Richard Benjamin is no slouch himself and he adds quite a lot to the proceedings and the humor of it all by just struggling to wrangle both of them. I've been a big Benjamin fan for quite some time and he provides that essential final piece that helps keep the movie going.
The transfer here is good (if a bit grainy) and gives that gritty feeling of New York City in the 1970s that I love very much.

Special Features:
-An enlightening audio commentary with actor/star Richard Benjamin.
-"The Lions Roars" - a vintage MGM featurette.
-Makeup and Screen Tests for Matthau, Burns and Phil Silvers.

THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943; David Butler)
THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS opens with the title song being sung by the wonderful Dinah Shore (as herself). This entire movie is filled with actors playing "themselves". The Dinah Shore song is followed by a pretty hilarious scene of John Garfield ("That Bad Boy of Burbank") bullying Eddie Cantor before they go on stage. Good stuff. Soon after that Garfield even sings a song (while continuing to manhandle Cantor)! That's just for openers though as the rest of the ensemble here is beyond ridiculous. Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Humprey Bogart, Olivia de Haviland, Ann Sheridan, Joan Leslie, Edward Everett Horton, Alan Hale, Jack Carson, Hattie McDaniel and more. Spike Jones and his band (the City Slickers) even make an appearance. It's a film that is very much cut from the same cloth as something like 42ND STREET. That sort of behind-the-scenes of "putting on a show" kind of movie but with a supercharged cast.
Lots of goofy fun in this movie including Eddie Cantor playing a dual role (as not only himself but also as a Hollywood tour bus driver). There are also many lively musical sequences peppered throughout the picture. One of my favorites features Eddie Cantor auditioning a dopey song for Edward Everett Horton and S.K. Sakall who are continually trying to get up to leave as Cantor's ditty goes on and on. Cantor has a really great sense of humor about himself  in the film as a whole and I'm always pleased to see an actor go to that place. 
THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS is just one of those light and jubilant musicals that leaves you with a smile on your face.

This transfer is another of those splendid looking black and white beauties from Warner Archive. They have truly demonstrated how good b&W can look in high definition wiuth their Blu-rays.

Special Features:
There's a nice collection of things here that could easily simulate what it might have been like to spend and evening at the movies back when THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS came out:
-Classic Cartoons: "Falling Hare" (HD) and "Little Red Riding Rabbit" (HD).
-Patriotic Short: "Food and Magic" (HD)
-Musical Shorts: "Three Cheers for the Girls" and "The United States Army Band"
-Vintage Newsreel: "Hollywood Canteen Celebrates First Birthday" (Silent)

-Audio-Only Bonus: Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast (9/27/1943).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Underrated '65 - Joe Gibson

Joe Gibson is an extremely serious Cinephile living in Austin, Texas. He can be found on twitter @Karatloz and on Letterboxd (a highly recommended follow) here:
Joe watches a lot of movies and has excellent taste.

Check him out on this episode of the My Favorite Movie Podcast (very cool show):

Here's his Underrated '85 list:
And his Underrated '75 list as well:
1965 - 50 years ago, and it feels like yesterday! There's a good lineup of solid, underrated stuff that came out that year, and some of them I even saw recently enough to write about cogently (we'll see about that)!

I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965; William Castle)
This is a William Castle chiller with one of the very, very best thriller premises of all time: A teen girl kills a lonely Saturday by calling up random people and saying "I saw what you did, and I know who you are." Unfortunately for her, she calls a guy who happens to have just murdered his wife (in the shower, naturally). How the two manage to cross paths after that requires some good old-fashioned suspension of disbelief, but if you can't handle that what use are you anyway?

UP TO HIS EARS (1965; Philippe de Broca)
BELMONDO! One of my favorite discoveries of the last year or two has been Jean-Paul Belmondo's double life as an incredibly ambitious action star in addition to his French New Wave duties. This is one of those, a cartoon romp with stunt work so insane you'll see Belmondo in a new light forever hence.

VINYL (1965; Andy Warhol)
I wouldn't have thought of this as underrated were it not for a couple recent conversations during which I discovered that there are people who like movies who don't know this exists. Vinyl is Andy Warhol's screen version of A Clockwork Orange, years before Kubrick's much more famous cinephile catnip came out. I went in wanting to like it more than Kubrick's version just for the sake of contrarianism, but even though I couldn't quite make it there this is still a fascinating piece of work, with Warhol drawing parallels between the story's Ludovico technique and S&M sex that, uh, aren't in Kubrick's version. Great soundtrack, too.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (1965; Francesco Rosi)
This is a bullfighting drama starring Miguel Mateo, a real bullfighter, with some actual bullfighting footage mixed in with the slightly stilted quasi-neo-realist drama. I saw this years ago but it sticks in my mind mostly since like a lot of my fellow ignoramuses I had no idea how brutal bullfighting actually was, having only seen sanitized versions through various channels. Here you can see all the blood and danger that are really associated with the sport. Kind of messed up, if you think about it.

THE CINCINATTI KID (1965; Norman Jewison)
This is Steve McQueen's card playing movie, originally supposed to be a Sam Peckinpah joint but he got fired for trying to attach blood squibs to playing cards. Slick 60s cool, but I admit that I only saw this once years ago and the main thing I remember is Ray Charles' theme song, which still gets stuck in my head from time to time. Edward G. Robinson!

THE COLLECTOR (1965; William Wyler)
This is a kind of respectable Psycho knock-off directed by William Wyler of all people. It features Terrence Stamp as the obligatory lonely young guy who upgrades from collecting butterflies to collecting ... human beings. I love this kind of small-scale thriller that unfortunately doesn't seem to get made much anymore.

I don't know if this is underrated in a general sense, but within the filmography of Mario Bava it definitely fits the bill. Stylish in terms of cinematography, yeah, but also in terms of those completely bitching leather jumpsuits that the crew wears, black leather and collars up to their ears - equally entertaining in shimmering HD or a battered 16mm print. Some great homemade special effects too, my oft-cited favorite is the plastic window acting as a "viewscreen" between two spaceships.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scream Factory - I, MADMAN on Blu-ray

I, MADMAN (1989; Tibor Takacs)
There are lots of us who love the cinema of the 1980s. We latch on to certain actors and they become touchstones for us. Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, and Matthew Broderick all hold a special place for us. But then there are those actors who aren't as well remembered by some but who deserved to be. Jenny Wright and Clayton Rohner  are two of those unsung actors that I absolutely adore. Wright was in such cult items as NEAR DARK, OUT OF BUNDS, THE CHOCOLATE WAR and THE WILD LIFE, while Rohner headlined things like JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, MODERN GIRLS and APRIL FOOL'S DAY. Jenny Wright is a remarkably beautiful and talented actress who eventually dropped out of the profession sadly. Thankfully she made a good amount of movies and there are still things like this to discover from her filmography. Clayton Rohner is just a great everyman kinda guy that I've always gotten a kick out of in all of the aforementioned 80s movies.
In I, MADMAN, Jenny Wright plays a bookstore employee who becomes unhealthily fascinated by one particular author of old pulp novels. The author's name is Malcolm Brand and he writes books with tiles like Much of Madness, More of Sin and of course the titular I, Madman. As she becomes more and more involved with reading Brand's books, she begins to notice that there are things from the stories that are starting to intrude on her real life. She may have even released a psychopathic killer on the city. The movie makes great use of this blurring of reality and fiction as a stylistic device to jump back and forth and eventually blend the two. Some could easily make comparisons to John Carpenter's 1994 film IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS and those would be apt. I am quite curious if I, MADMAN was a direct influence on that film as it seems probable that it was. I, MADMAN as film has this retro film noir vibe to it and truly has the feel of the kind of pulp fiction that is being featured prominently within. The noir side of things also allows for some fun, shadow-y photography throughout. It reminded me of a Val Lewton film or something (obviously with more gore than Lewton would ever have shown). Another thing that's neat about the movie is that it takes place in Los Angeles (mostly Hollywood actually) and that meshes well with the noir trappings. The makeup effects are great too. The stop-motion animation in the film is kind of wonderful. Special effects man/animator/actor Randall William Cook apparently used some of the same kind of techniques that Ray Harryhausen used for many of his most famous sequences. Tibor Takacs directed the 80s classic THE GATE prior to this movie and one of the more memorable aspects of that film is its use of stop motion for the creatures in it. Randall William Cook also did those effects so it's pretty striking to have that visual stamp in I, MADMAN as well. And the creature in MADMAN is actually quite freaky. It is a bit of a shock to me that I could find myself unnerved by a stop motion monster these days, but I must admit that I was. On the whole this is a fun little horror flick and one that I am very glad to have finally experienced for myself after having circled it for years. Bravo to Scream Factory for putting this gem out. It should take its rightful place along other such gems as DEATH VALLEY and DEADLY EYES in terms of movies I am very happy are now on Blu-ray. I, MADMAN will definitely be on my year-end list of favorite "Film Discoveries" from 2015.

Special Features:
Though not technically a Scream Factory Collector's Edition package, this I, MADMAN Blu-ray has an excellent collection of supplements:
"Ripped From the Pages - The Making of I, MADMAN" (33 mins) This very enjoyable new documentary features  interviews with writer David Chaskin, director Tibor Takacs,   and actors Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook (who also did special effects) and Stephanie Hodge. All the participants share their memories of the production including their recollections of working with Jenny Wright (who is unfortunately absent from the doc). Since I'm just now finally discovering this movie and so I found it quite nice to have a cool retrospective piece like this one the Blu-ray. 
-Behind the Scenes footage with commentary from Randall William Cook (11 mins). He discusses how the video footage he shot was often to help with figuring out the insertion of the stop-motion effects. Cook also explains and illustrates how some of the other effects were done as well. He has obviously prepared a sort of free form essay to read from and it makes the whole thing feel more like an old Criterion laserdisc commentary in the best possible way. Educational and informative.
-Also included is a new audio commentary track from Tibor Takacs and Randall William Cook which is moderated by Rob Galluzzo (of Icons of Fright and Killer POV). Lots of great production stories and a solid track overall. 
-Lastly there is even a still gallery that has optional commentary from Randall William Cook.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Underrated '65 - Luke Goodsell

Luke Goodsell is a freelance film editor and writer at Empire, Flaunt, MIFF, Movie Mezzanine and various disreputable places, but more importantly makes the tumblr He’s on twitter at @timebombtown.

Inside Daisy Clover (Robert Mulligan, 1965)—As Millie and Brian said, the '60s are an odd stretch for American cinema. With so much attention on the divide between lumbering epics and "youth culture" movies, it's easy to overlook the mid-range studio product that's often just as fascinating. Inside Daisy Clover feels rarely mentioned when it comes to dark showbiz dramas (one of my fave genres), which is pretty surprising. Natalie Wood's at the peak of her tough/vulnerable power as a stargazing tomboy singer who gets her big break only to become a puppet of the entertainment industrial complex, with Christopher Plummer as her controlling svengali Swan (was Brian De Palma a fan?) and a young Robert Redford as a fellow cog in the pop machine who's positively (for the time) played as bisexual. There's more than a dash of Mulholland Dr.(Wood's harrowing breakdown in the recording booth), a hint of Showgirls' nastiness and a helping of Robert Aldrich's actresses-in-peril, and no-one's more vibrant—or heartbreaking—to watch than Wood in this period. To this date, every time I walk out of a bad party I picture her skipping along the beach, her old house and life exploding behind her in a ball of flames.

Who Killed Teddy Bear? (Joseph Cates, 1965)—Speaking of tearjerkerRebel Without a Cause alums, this super-sleazy murder-thriller gives Sal Mineo one of his best roles post his '50s heartthrob moment—but sadly seems to have helped stalled his short-lived career. Juliet Prowse plays a Times Square DJ who starts getting creepy phone calls from Mineo's skeevy stalker, who's messed-up from caring from his mentally disturbed baby sister and possibly having sex with his mother. I can only imagine what Mineo's teenybopper fans would have made of this lurid pulp; not that anyone seems to have given it much love—it's been hard to find on DVD in the US for an age.

Sylvia (Gordon Douglas, 1965)—Gordon Douglas made two movies with Carroll Baker that year, but the one that seems like a no-brainer winner—Harlow, with baby doll in the role of Jean—fell pretty flat for me, save for Edith Head's costumes and the lush production design. By contrast, this more modest drama, with Baker as a beautiful young bride with a sordid past, is effectively cheap and troubling—and in my preferred mode of “unstable women under the influence on the verge of a nervous breakdown.” It's almost a fitting, though much tamer, psychological companion to Baker's performance inSomething Wild. I love Paul Anka’s title song, too.

Gypsy Girl aka Sky West and Crooked(John Mills, 1965)—A very different Hayley Mills from the cute-as-a-button Disney star of That Darn Cat!, here she's directed by her dad in an eerie little English countryside creeper in which she plays a traumatized (and mentally regressed) teenager with a penchant for dead animals and swooning over a very young Ian McShane in a neckerchief (hello, ladies.) By poking around in some precarious psychological terrain (Mills is not a girl, not yet a woman), the film inadvertently catches a child star on the verge of her weird sexualization in stuff like The Family Way and Twisted Nerve that followed.

The Nanny (Seth Holt, 1965)—All hail '60s Bette. I guess there's some perception that, Baby Jane and maybe Sweet Charlottenotwithstanding, Ms. Davis was slumming it in so-called "hagsploitation" (ouch) around this period, but it's one of—hell, it is—my favorite era of hers: Full-tilt derangement electrified by the pizzazz that only a Golden Age star could bring. Hammer stalwart Jimmy Sangster (Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein, et. al.) wrote one of his best monsters for Bette, who goes from a troubled young family's genteel caretaker to, well, you get the picture, while an Anna Karina-looking Pamela Franklin (in between The Innocents and Legend of Hell House) feels like the pouty teen prototype to Lydia Deetz.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Underrated '65 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics. The bottom line though is that Lars is a man who has really immersed himself in interesting and offbeat cinema and has a lot to offer even the most dedicated cinephile as far as recommendations go.
Lars is on Twitter @thelarsnilsen:
The Austin Film Society can be found here:
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:
Check out his recent Underrated Action list here:
I think these are films that most people know about and even have a certain amount of esteem, but I really wonder why, in the case of VIVA MARIA, THE LOVED ONE, and THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT especially, people aren’t freaking out about these movies all the time. ‘65 was a GREAT year, and a really transitional one. These films all reflect that.

VIVA MARIA (1965; Louis Malle)
Every movie shot by Henri DecaĆ« is worth seeing. Bardot is at her most beautiful here as an Irish revolutionary, raised as a demolition expert by her revolutionary bomb-thrower father, who takes it on the lam and hides out in a traveling circus, which is making its way through an unnamed tropical republic during a revolt. She is taken in by Jeanne Moreau and the two alternate between challenging the morality of the populace with their very popular provocative sideshow act, and committing acts of revolution for love and freedom. Beautiful, funny (in a Warner Brothers cartoon kind of way), and escapist. This is worth a summer night, and that’s a big statement.

THE LOVED ONE (1965; Tony Richardson)
Another star cinematographer turn. Haskell Wexler’s photography really pushes this L.A. satire into high art territory. Adapted by Christopher Isherwood and Terry Southern (!!!) from Evelyn Waugh’s novel, this film shows us the most vulgar of vulgar Americans through the eyes of a young, stupid and aimless British man (Robert Morse) who moves in with his stiff-upper lip relative (John Gielgud). Full of over-the-top satire and, as noted above, next-level photography. Every frame is a work of art. With Jonathan Winters playing multiple parts, the touchingly vulnerable Anjanette Comer and an unforgettable, purgative, ranting performance from Rod Steiger as amorous embalmer Mr. Joyboy.

BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965; Doris Wishman)
All the Doris Wishman black and white films are like photo essays of another forever-lost time and place. The high contrast interiors, the shots of walking feet, the disembodied dialogue. Watching a Doris film is like turning page after page of an imaginary Diane Arbus book documenting the struggles of a young woman in the world of plaid-suited, cigar smoking, completely disgusting men. This is my favorite of her films, and a good place to start.

Why this movie isn’t talked about obsessively by every film nut in the world I will never know. It’s technically astonishing, narratively unique and full of advanced, Eastern European humor and taboo-smashery. Based on a novel by Count Jan Potocki, the film is continually dipping into rabbit holes, and then into sub-rabbit holes, and sub-sub rabbit holes. It’s the kind of movie where a character begins telling a story and as the film presents a dramatization of that story, a character within the story pulls a book off the shelf and begins reading and the film goes into that narrative, then a character in that book has a dream sequence, etc. etc. etc. for the duration of the film. Amazing.

THE GREAT RACE (1965; Blake Edwards)
Constructed to look and feel like a silent serial, though in vivid color, this movie a strangely comforting and euphoric effect. It is deliberately artificial down to every detail. We feel like we’re watching the whole thing unfold in dollhouse scale, like a Rankin Bass Christmas special. With Tony Curtis as the handsome resourceful lead who races around the world, Natalie Wood, with her enormous eyes, as the suffragette reporter who tags along and Jack Lemmon as the Snidely Whiplash-style villain. He may actually say “Curses, Foiled Again!” at one point. Also, Keenan Wynn plays the super-strong Man Friday to Curtis. Peter Falk plays Lemmon's little homey. Blake Edwards has the touch for this sort of thing and, as in most of Edwards’ films, Henry Mancini takes MVP honors. Mancini’s scores for Edwards are major attractions - they underpin the whole show and are every bit as important as whatever is unfolding on screen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Olive Films - THRASHIN', STONE COLD and JOHNNY BE GOOD on Blu-ray

THRASHIN' (1986; David Winters)
"Tear it up today, Thrashin' U.S.A. uh-huh."
THRASHIN' started as kind of a joke movie to me. It was always "that skateboarding movie" that was kinda silly and starred Josh Brolin from GOONIES and Robert Rusler from WEIRD SCIENCE. It wasn't a movie that I watched a ton as a kid so it had some nostalgia for me, but not nearly as much as something liked RAD (the BMX movie) which was a true classic for me and my family watched it often when I was a younger. I still love RAD to death, but I've totally come around to THRASHIN' and it's become a true favorite for me. I love basically everything about it. The cast, outside of Brolin and Rusler also has Sherilyn Fenn, Pamela Gidley, Brooke McCarter (THE LOST BOYS), Josh Richman (HEATHERS, RIVER'S EDGE) and Chuck McCann. Apparently the director initially cast Sherilyn Fenn and her then boyfriend Johnny Depp (who was to play the lead) in the movie, but the producer later got cold feet and Brolin was cast. Also, real-life skaters Tony Alva, Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Christian Hosoi make appearances as well. I love Robert Rusler's rat-tailed skateboard kingpin "Hook", the leader of the evil skate gang "The Daggers". Down to his sinister laugh, Rusler just makes an awesome villain. I am also a fan of the loosely ROMEO & JULIET/WEST SIDE STORY plot that writers Alan Sacks and Paul Brown have hung the movie on. Sure there's lots of skating, but there's also forbidden romance between Hook's sister (Pamela Gidley) and Corey Webster (Josh Brolin). Skateboarding is inherently cinematic though and this movie has lots of gratuitous skating action to show off. It's pretty neat to watch. In this day and age of the proliferation of Go Pro cameras, it's not as unexpected to have follow anybody just about anywhere, but for 1986 THRASHIN' has some pretty neat footage of all kinds from skateboarders. Lots of point-of-view shots of skateboarders rushing down hills, and flying through the air on skate ramps and in swimming pools. On top of all that, the movie has a killer soundtrack featuring the likes of Devo, Fear, The Bangles, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (who perform in the film), The Circle Jerks and more. The theme song to the movie is even performed by Meat Loaf! Oh and by the way, I really miss theme songs that incorporate the title of the movie you're about to watch. Anyway, THRASHIN' is a whole lotta fun and for those that are only familiar with Brolin's more recent work (or even GOONIES), it's a treat.
The transfer on this Blu-ray looks nice, there are no extras.

STONE COLD (1991; Craig R. Baxley)
This movie is one that I will forever associate with my friends Big Willy and The Samurai over at the delightful Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast. I have a long commute to my work each day and so podcasts have been essential to me for years. The "GGTMC" was one of my early favorite shows and these Gentlemen had a cool action movie sensibility that really caught my attention. There were just certain movies that you could look at and say "That's a GGTMC movie" and STONE COLD was one of them. What's to love about STONE COLD? Well to begin with - everything. Taking a page right out of the COBRA playbook, STONE COLD opens with a crazy supermarket standoff between star Brian "The Boz" Bosworth and some crazy criminals. In this lovely opener, The Boz shows off not only his flair for stylish dusters and souped-up violence, but also his truly epic mullet. This probably the greatest mullet in cinema we're talking about here and that's no small feat (I mean, have you seen Kurt Russell's hair in TANGO AND CASH lately?). Bosworth's mullet is a thing of beauty though. It is a luxurious, feathery delight and he wears it with a confidence that few other mortals could pull off.
Bosworth is a case of a professional athlete (a former pro football linebacker) stepping in front of the camera for his own feature. We've seen this happen countless times and is often a case of not being something particularly worthwhile. The Boz is certainly no Dwayne Johnson if that tells you anything, but in this kind of a part and in this kind of an overblown, testosterone-driven action flick he makes for a pretty compelling lead. Bosworth plays Joe Huff, an undercover cop tasked (by FBI agent Sam McMurray) with diving deep into the world of a sinister biker gang. This gang is not beyond lots of evil doings (including blowing up judges) and the FBI needs someone who has logged lots of biker-related arrests like Huff has. This particular gang is also headed up by a couple psychos (played by William Forsythe and Lance Henriksen). Forsythe's character is introduced having another biker shooting a beer can off of his head. Forsythe  is actually one of my favorite movie psychopaths. In the same year as STONE COLD he also played another homicidal maniac in the excellent Steven Seagal actioner OUT FOR JUSTICE. Those two roles alone give him cause to be nominated for the lunatic hall of fame. This whole movie is turned up to eleven though. Violence, machismo, nudity, quippy dialogue and overblown action are all the currency of STONE COLD. It is absolutely something else and it's a hoot of a good time.
Transfer looks good, no extra features included.

JOHNNY BE GOOD (1988; Bud Smith)
I have this theory that this entire movie is the nerd fantasy/alternate dimensional dream of Brian Johnson. It's easy to picture right? Brian is sleeping soundly after having knocked it out of the park with that essay for Mr. Vernon when his mind suddenly conjures up this fantasy about him being a star football player. Not only a star player, but a player that college recruiters are lining up outside his house to convince him they are the place he should go. I'm not saying that Brian wants to be a football star, but maybe after spending that day with the rest of the kids in Saturday detention, his subconscious mind started coming up with ideas. I mean, Mr. Vernon (the late great Paul Gleason) is in the dream as his coach. It makes sense that Vernon would find his way in there. Brian as the football player even rebels against Mr. Vernon as his coach which also makes sense. So in this dream, Brian is not only a highly sought after athlete, but he has a smoking hot girlfriend (Uma Thurman) as well. He even has a dorky sidekick (Robert Downey Jr.). It all makes sense to me.  Seriously though, here you have Anthony Michael Hall, only three years after THE BREAKFAST CLUB (where he played one of cinema's greatest geeks) and he's playing this superjock. It's kinda nutty when you think about it. I'm sure there was some wish on Anthony Michael Hall's part to break out of that nerdy stereotype and I guess it's tough to blame him, but this is such a one hundred eighty degree turn from that. It's tricky to even take at first. I guess it was for the movie-going public in 1988 too. The movie supposedly cost around 22 million and only pulled in about 18. JOHNNY BE GOOD is still not particularly well thought of these days it seems. As 80s comedies go it's not bad in my eyes. Seeing Anthony Michael Hall in this over-confident, smart ass kind of role is an enjoyable curiosity at the very least. At most it is goofy and entertaining. Interestingly, this film is one of the earliest credits for master cinematographer (and longtime Wes Anderson collaborator)  Robert Yeoman. It also features the "Introducing" credit for the gorgeous and wonderful Uma Thurman as well.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - F/X on Blu-ray

F/X (1986; Robert Mandel)
I'm not one hundred percent sure how F/X found its way into my family's home on VHS, but I know we rented it at one point and it became a big hit. My parents renting the movie most likely had something to do with Bryan Brown and his previous work on THE THORNBIRDS which was a mini-series that my folks liked quite a bit. But F/X was nothing like THE THORNBIRDS. It was in fact like no movie we had seen really. The whole spin on special effects being used to portray real violence within the "reality" of the film was a mind-bending bit of coolness that engaged all of my family, but especially me. You see my love of horror films was still in a early stage, but I was definitely catching the "horror fever" for sure. And action movies were also kinda my bread and butter at that time, so to see this movie about a special effects guy who worked on both kinds of films was right in my wheelhouse. My parents were never big horror movie people, but they always loved a good thriller and F/X created a world where the normal rules of who's dead and who's alive were thrown into question. The filmmakers were definitely able to amp up the paranoia in this tale of an F/X man (Bryan Brown) who allows himself to become entangled with staging a fake assassination for the Department of Justice. The witness he is trying to protect is a mob snitch played perfectly by the late great Jerry Orbach. Brian Dennehy plays a cop that's investigating the faked murder. It all gets complicated and twisty, but the movie is a solid thriller that still holds up to this day. I believe that F/X was something of a breakout role for Bryan Brown (at least for movies), who was a lesser-known Australian actor who had a couple things he was recognized for (THE THORNBIRDS as I mentioned, and the film BREAKER MORANT). Australian actors seemed to have a spike in popularity around this time. The release and subsequent success of CROCODILE DUNDEE that same year definitely made Americans more aware of Australia via that movie's main character, Mick Dundee (played by Paul Hogan). I remember that my family say CROCODILE DUNDEE in a drive-in and we all loved it at the time. While that film was pretty family friendly, F/X was much more an R-rated movie and that's one of the things I remember about. My parents were pretty careful about showing R-rated stuff to my sisters and myself. I certainly saw a few rated R movies on my own outside of my parents supervision, but F/X was one of the earliest ones that I can recall my parents showing to us. There something special about that to me at the time and it made F/X stand out to me among a lot of the films I was seeing around that time. That combined with the fact that it is a genuinely good and suspenseful flick has given it a lot of staying power with me. I remember showing it to my son (now 16) several years ago for the first and it went over quite well with him too. As I am guessing it was with my parents showing the film to me, the fact that the movie illustrates that many of the most violent sequences within it are totally fake and goes one further by showing how they were done makes it a much different experience. It's almost educational.
For the cinephiles out there, the cast should be appealing as it includes Cliff De Young, Mason Adams (the voice of the Smucker's Preserves commercials) Tom Noonan, and Joe Grifasi.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics has put together a nice transfer for this Blu-ray and has included a few extras as well.

Special Features:

-- "Murder By Illusion - An Interview with Robert Mandel"(14 Mins) In this new Interview with Director Robert Mandel, he discusses his early career as well as his recollections of F/X.
--"Making F/X" (14 mins) This vintage making-of featurette includes interviews with Bryan Brown, Jerry Orbach, Director Robert Mandel, Special Effects man John Stears and others. For a fluffy little promotional piece, it's pretty neat and shows the behind the scenes setup fora few key sequences in the film.