Rupert Pupkin Speaks: September 2015 ""

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Scream Factory - THE SENTINEL on Blu-ray

THE SENTINEL (1977; Michael Winner)
If you've ever asked yourself the question,"Would I live in a super creepy old apartment building if I could occasional go to birthday parties for a very flamboyant Burgess Meredith and his cat?" then this movie has the answer for you. Horror movies in the 1970s gave themselves license to be weird in a whole different way than they can be weird now. For one thing, 70s films weren't afraid to cast unattractive people and that adds a lot of character. A good oddball looking actor can bring this extra level of eerie to a scene for sure. One of the things I love about THE SENTINEL is that it has one of those absolutely epic casts, very much along the lines of the 70s disaster films, but it's a horror movie so that makes it more of an anomaly. So first of you have the aforementioned Burgess Meredith who is just a delight in every movie he's ever been in. Love him to death. Then you have Chris Sarandon of FRIGHT NIGHT fame and his girlfriend played by Christina Raines. The rest of the deluxe cast includes Arthur Kennedy, Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Deborah Raffin (who I've had a longstanding crush on), Christopher Walken, Jose Ferrer, Martin Balsam, Sylvia Miles, John Carradine, Beverly D'Angelo, and WIlliam Hickey. Jerry Orbach has a quick bit as a grumpy commercial director. The movie even has a small part for a strangely dubbed Jeff Goldblum as a photographer. The cast is a big selling point, but so is director Michael Winner (for me). Though reputed to have been something of a difficult man to work with in some cases, he was still able to be quite prolific and crank out a ton of interesting films. Though most well-know for his DEATH WISH movies with Charles Bronson, he did so much more than that. Even his other Bronson films are sometimes forgotten, though THE MECHANIC is one of Bronson's best. He also made some interesting stuff with Oliver Reed in the 1960s and THE NIGHTCOMERS with Brando in the 70s. He had quite a varied filmography, but one thing he didn't do much of was horror films. THE SENTINEL was basically it (except for the amazingly nutty thriller SCREAM FOR HELP that he made in 1984). Winner brings some oddball touches to this movie and it is still genuinely creepy in parts even now. Makes me wish he'd done more like it.
The last thing I always remember about THE SENTINEL is that it's mentioned specifically in one of my favorite movies. That movie is Joe Dante's film THE 'BURBS. In THE 'BURBS, Corey Feldman's character has a short little monologue about it and thus THE SENTINEL has become inexorably tied to it and has always had a place in my consciousness because of that. 
I know this movie is a favorite of Scream Factory's own Jeff Nelson as he was kind enough to to an underrated horror films list for me back in 2013 and he included it there. Very pleased to see that his passion for the film helped us get a nice Blu-ray of it and I'm grateful to Scream for putting it out. 

Special Features:
Though not a Scream Factory Collector's Edition, this disc has some nice features nonetheless. First off, the transfer is a new one from the Interpositive.-An Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer/Director Michael Winner. Winner passed away in 2013, so this is an older track, but it's very good. He's a very talky fellow and has a very humorous and jovial way about him on this track. He is very honest about his memories of the making of the film, the actors and even goes into personal asides (like how he had an one-night-stand with one of the extras at the time). He is a real character and it's an enjoyable listen for sure.
There are also a couple newly recorded Audio Commentaries included: One With Actress Cristina Raines  and another With Writer/Producer Jeffrey Konvitz. Between all three of these tracks, there is a whole lot to be learned about THE SENTINEL.
Also included on the disc is a new on-camera Interview With Assistant Director Ralph S. Singleton (23 mins).

THE SENTINEL can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

New Release Roundup - September 29th, 2015

TWICE UPON A TIME DVD (Warner Archive)


CHRISTINE Blu-ray (Sony)

COP CAR Blu-ray (Universal)

MAN WITH THE GUN Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

YOUNG BILLY YOUNG Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

SAVAGE WEEKEND Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber)

A ROOM WITH A VIEW Blu-ray (Criterion)

SPY Blu-ray (Fox)

Monday, September 28, 2015


MANNEQUIN TWO: ON THE MOVE (1991; Stewart Raffill)
There were many goofy franchises in the 1980s. I'm a fan of most of them. That said, it seems to me that MANNEQUIN TWO: ON THE MOVE gets a pretty bad rap amongst the lot. Let's not forget that made a sequel to THE JERK (sure, for TV but still...) if we really think this movie is so bad. I for one find it pretty adorable. With William Ragsdale and Kristy Swanson as the romantic leads, how can you go wrong? Ragsdale has charmed us in both FRIGHT NIGHT and HERMAN'S HEAD and he's delightful here. Swanson is THE DEADLY FRIEND and the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE! It's a match made in heaven. For this follow up to the 1986 hit film (which I saw for the first time at a drive-in by the way), the creatives behind it have bumped up the initial timeline from Ancient Egypt to Medieval Times. A prince (Ragsdale) falls for a peasant girl (Swanson) and when his mom the queen catches them, she has her magician guy (Bernie from WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S) cast a spell on her that keeps her frozen as a mannequin for one thousand years. Roughly one thousand years later, (again Ragsdale), is on his way to a new department store job (after a killer opening title song that rivals the one in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH) where his is assigned as assistant to Hollywood (Meshach Taylor) who is still an artiste extraordinaire. One thing leads to another, Ragsdale meets the mannequin, discovers he's the ancestor of the prince and so on and so forth. Sweet right? Well it is and I am not ashamed that I enjoy it. 
Part of this movie's bad reputation may come in part from director Stewart Raffill's somewhat questionable legacy. Some of his other work include things like STANDING OVATION, MAC AND ME, THE ICE PIRATES and TAMMY AND THE T-REX. I happen to enjoy most of these and actually really like his movie THE SEA GYPSIES, but I can see how perhaps folks might think he makes movies that others find less than great. My point here though is that MANNEQUIN TWO deserves some re-evaluation. Check out this MANNEQUIN-centric podcast episode from my friends over at Married with Clickers for a lovely discussion of the film's merits:
MANNEQUIN TWO: ON THE MOVE can be purchased on Blu-ray here:
DIRTY WORK (1998; Bob Saget)
Of all the silly films that grew out of Saturday Night Live, DIRTY WORK is easily one of my favorites. Norm MacDonald was one of those guys that I didn't fully "get" at first. His style and cadence on Weekend Update perplexed me at first when I saw in high school, but he soon won me over. He really was (and is) one of those personalities that is comically unique and kind of iconic in his own way. I still find myself entertained by just about anything he's involved with (see VAMPIRE DOG for example). Sadly, DIRTY WORK didn't exactly set the box office on fire when it was released in 1998 (in fact it only made back about $10 million of its $13 million budget). Despite that, it was a pretty big deal to my coworkers and I at the video store when it came out on VHS. It was definitely in the rotation of films we would throw on the TVs when we were prepping to open the store in the morning. I feel it definitely picked up a good deal of momentum on home video (as did a lot of the SNL spinoff movies). A lot of that has to do with Norm himself and the endless quotability of the movie. Bring up the movie in conversation and you're bound to get at least one, "I've never seen so many dead hookers in all my life" thrown at you. It's the randomness of some of the comedy that I love a lot about DIRTY WORK. The little asides, the oddball moments. One scene has Norm and Artie Lange standing in a room holding dead fish whilst a whole bunch of ridiculous stuff goes on in another room off screen. Fun stuff. There's even a sodomy joke that is handled in the most memorable way ("It's the lack of respect!"). There are also lots of funny bits with Jack Warden's character and Chris Farley's too.
This is an odd comparison to make, but there is something about Norm MacDonald that reminds me ever so slightly of Groucho Marx. Before you start throwing things at me, know that I'm not saying Norm is in any way on par with Groucho, but there is just something about Norm's delivery that occasionally makes me think of the Marx fella. Something about the way he leans on a joke as if to say, "Hey that's funny right?". Anyway, I'm also always amused by the fact that Bob Saget directed this thing. For those that only associate him with FULL HOUSE and AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS (and not his rather explicit standup), this movie may have seemed pretty raunchy. Knowing about Saget's true nature, it really makes me wish they'd have moved forward with an R-rated version of DIRTY WORK (which was supposedly a thing at one point). I guess that part of the film's charm is its PG-13-ishness and how that leaves room for a slight air of innocence amidst the raunch and random antics. Like a lot of films from the late 1990s, DIRTY WORK gets lost in the shuffle a bit and that's a shame cause it's funny stuff and deserves more love. 
Note to self: learn to fight.

DIRTY WORK can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Criterion Collection - MOONRISE KINGDOM on Blu-ray

MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012; Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson is a pretty big deal to me. I came to discover him at a very serendipitous time in my life. I was in college and had just changed my focus of study from marine biology to film. I was taking my first cinema theory courses and my mind was blowing wide open with love and fascination for Howard Hawks, John Ford and Billy Wilder. I was digging deeper into Hitchcock and other classic film giants, but I was also keeping a close eye on new movies, especially independent stuff. I was working at a video store through all four years of college and it was a constant as far as allowing me to stay tapped into the newest movies and allowed me to discover so much that I never would have tried had I been paying for each rental. So my co-workers and I took full advantage of the free rental benefits we got (I think we got three free rentals at a time) and that sometimes led to us finding movies that we off the beaten path. BOTTLE ROCKET was one such discovery and it blew me away. The sensibility and sense of humor present in the movie was not really like much I had seen previously and it hooked me completely. By the the time RUSHMORE was hitting theaters I was fully Wes Anderson obsessed and beyond ecstatic after I saw it. It became my favorite film for quite a while. A few years later, when the Criterion Collection DVD of RUSHMORE came out, I was working at a video store and we happened to get copies of it early. A few days before it came out, Wes Anderson himself came in and I was able to get him to sign a copy for me. It is still one of my most prized possessions. I have rarely been more flummoxed and speechless than when he was signing that disc for me and I was desperately trying to think of something to say. I was absolutely starstruck. I'd be even more so at present. It sounds strange to say that there is some nostalgic affection intertwined with my Anderson fandom, but he has been making movies for just about twenty years now after all. So it's partially a product of my having seen his stuff at just the right time when I was still kind of forming my taste in movies as they are today. Not only my taste in movies, but also the direction my life was headed in. The experience of seeing his early movies right at this moment when I was thinking about my new curriculum and where it might lead me career-wise with some trepidation was quite illuminating. Those Anderson films were part of what helped me feel better about my decision to take a different path. If there were filmmakers out there like this, there was a place for me inside this world somewhere. At least, that's how I think it subconsciously affected me at the time.
I prefaced with all that stuff just to give you an idea if where I'm coming from when it comes to Wes Anderson cinema. I love it and it's tough for him to do much wrong in my eyes (not that I think all his stuff is perfect, but I do like all of it). It's gotten to the point now where I find myself going to the latest Wes Anderson movies and keeping my expectations low for fear that this new one might be no good. He hasn't disappointed me yet (especially after multiple viewings of each of his movies). MOONRISE KINGDOM is very much one of my favorites of his and my adoration for it seems to grow each time. The film really had me from the first time I saw it. Once that "No. I said what kind of bird are YOU?" scene happens in the movie, I was hooked. I have an absolute weakness of unabashed public romantic displays like that (in movies). There's a scene I am reminded of in SUPERMAN'S RETURN. Superman saves a plane from crashing and gets on board to check on everyone. He zones in on Lois Lane (who had been a passenger) and asks if she is okay. He obviously cares about all the other passengers too (as they all look on during his inquiry), but at that moment he just wants to talk to Lois. So MOONRISE KINGDOM is like that, but more like a whole movie of that kind of thing. It's the story of two kids on an island of who run off together. How romantic is that? How romantic and adorable are the letters they exchange before their clandestine meetup? How romantic are the marital proceedings in this movie? It's all just delightful and the two kids (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) and quite good. As with every Anderson outing, the supporting cast (including Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman and more) superb as well. Some folks might complain that Wes Anderson just keeps making the same movie over and over again. Whilst I can see how those people might be led astray, I find that each of his films, though quite specifically marked with his own unique brand of hipster quirkiness, is an interesting step forward in some way. Lately he has really been trying to expand his pallet beyond films that are more parts comedic than dramatic. He is really finding a way to solidify his voice even more as this thing that lives between a laugh and a gasp - many scenes in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL demonstrated this certainly. MOONRISE is just another step in that evolution of Anderson as a filmmaker wherein in he moves closer and closer to making movies like nobody else makes them. It has been a terrific treat to see him become more and more adventurous with the drama and emotional content of his films, whilst still maintaing his particularly congenial sense of humor throughout. MOONRISE in particular seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people since it was released. The proliferation of fan artwork for this entry in Anderson's filmography is quite excellent and I've included some of my favorite pieces in this post.

This Director-Approved Special Edition sports a healthy helping of extras that will satisfy the hardcore Wes Anderson nerds and others as well:
-Restored 2K digital transfer, supervised by director Wes Anderson, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
-An Audio commentary featuring Anderson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola. Peter Becker (of Criterion) himself is also a moderator on this commentary and that's pretty neat because it doesn't happen very often.
-Selected-scene storyboard animatics.
-Interviews with cast and crew.
-Exploring the Set of “Moonrise Kingdom,” an original documentary about the film.
-Edward Norton’s home movies from the set.
-Behind-the-scenes, special effects, and test footage.
-PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a selection of commentary from young writers, along with a map of New Penzance Island and other ephemera.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Warner Archive - MURDER, MY SWEET on Blu-ray

MURDER, MY SWEET (1944; Edward Dmytryk)
Philip Marlowe is probably the most popular private detective in all of cinema (though Sherlock Holmes is a biggie too obviously). Raymond Chandler is just one of those writers whose work makes for good movies. Marlowe has been played by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Elliott Gould, Robert Mitchum, James Garner, James Caan, Powers Boothe and even Danny Glover. Oh yeah, and also Dick Powell. Dick Powell's Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET is one that gets a little overlooked I think. He's easily top four Marlowe in my mind. And people definitely forget that Powell played Marlowe two years before Bogart took up the mantle. While the film is hardly completely forgotten, I don't believe it comes up in the conversation about great Film Noirs as much as it should. Powell makes a perfect Marlowe and the movie is one of the best detective noirs out there. I understand that Dick Powell is inherently maybe not as dynamic an actor as Bogart, Mitchum or Gould, but he is spot on solid to play the world weary gumshoe. This was a change of pace for him too as he was mostly known for his work in musicals and comedies to this point. The film's director Edward Dmytryk, like Dick Powell also gets short shrift a bit these days. He is certainly not forgotten, but deserves more praise for films like THE SNIPER, CROSSFIRE and MIRAGE, all of which have a fantastic air of noir about them. Lots of twists and turns. MURDER, MY SWEET also has one of those delightfully labyrinthine and episodic plots that we love so much in a hardboiled tale. As the Dude in the BIG LEBOWSKI might say, "A lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous". Our hero Marlowe is smacked with a blackjack within the first ten minutes and is rendered otherwise unconscious more than once throughout the proceedings. He doesn't respond well to threats and does his share to irritate people with his sarcastic tone (which is awesome). The supporting cast joining Dick Powell here is a sharp lot of actors including Claire Trevor, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki and the lovely but underappreciated Anne Shirley.
Warner Archive has done yet another bang-up job with this Blu-ray and the results are beautiful. If anyone ever had any question about Blu-ray making a difference for black and white films, they need look no further than WAC's OUT OF THE PAST Blu-ray and this disc for examples of how nice a movie this old can look. Hats off to them for their continued pursuit of excellence when it comes to their high definition output. I know I've heard lots of queries about films they've yet to release on Blu-ray that they have offered in their streaming service in 1080p. They've made a point time and again to indicate that just because a high-def master exists, does not mean they have what they need to put out a proper Blu-ray that meets their current standards of quality. As a result, I look forward to each new release from them (especially the B&W ones) with a great amount of anticipation and this new MURDER, MY SWEET disc has done nothing to dissuade me. 
This disc also includes an enjoyable commentary track from author/Film Noir specialist Alain Silver (THE FILM NOIR READER, THE NOIR STYLE).
MURDER, MY SWEET can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Severin Films - TURKEY SHOOT on Blu-ray

TURKEY SHOOT (1982; Brian Trenchard-Smith)
Brian Trenchard-Smith is one of the most intelligent, well-spoken directors you're ever likely to run across. Just check out some of his commentaries over at the venerable Trailers From Hell webiste and you'll see what I mean. That said, BTS certainly made his share of trashy films in his day. He always seemed to bring something more to them though. That fierce intelligence shone through in one way or another via the cleverness of his filmmaking. TURKEY SHOOT (aka ESCAPE 2000) is not an unfamiliar story. Set in a dystopian future (my favorite kind of future), this tale focuses mainly on one particular "re-education" camp wherein the Orwellian powers-that-be have locked up a bunch of deviants. The dystopia itself is very much out of 1984 or some such thing and the people of its society are kept in line with fear tactics and torture. It is an ugly time and this prison camp is an ugly placed filled with rape-y guards and sleazy officers. Our three main characters are Paul Anders (Steve Railsback), Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey) and Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) - all of whom have been shipped off to this camp for various crimes against society. Anders in particular is a troublemaker and has escaped from many camps previous to this one. The three form a bond against the forces of evil within the place but end up as bait for a "Most Dangerous Game" style hunt that is put on for rich folks. So the movie is very much a dystopian take on that story within an exploitation context. The film has some rough torture scenes, violence, blood and nudity, just what every genre fan is looking for from a movie like this basically. It even has a hairy freak of a half-man/half-beast who looks like a refugee from TEEN WOLF (seriously, this guy resembles Michael J. Fox's wolf double from that movie). This creature/dude's presence adds a lovely touch of ISLAND OF LOST souls to the proceedings which is a little odd, but quite welcome.  
Despite a compacted production schedule and a much smaller budget than was initially planned for, BTS pulls of a movie that is an enjoyable and memorable genre exercise. I personally understand why the Most Dangerous Game plot has been used over and over and over in movies - it's just a good cinematic scenario. TURKEY SHOOT is at least as good if not better than most of the Most Dangerous Game movies out there and for genre acolytes, it's kind of a home run. It's no surprise at all that this movie has developed a significant cult following since its release back in 1982. The three lead actors are all cult performers in their own right so that has only helped the movie continue to maintain its reputation as a classic. Well worth seeking out for Brian Trenchard-Smith-heads and everyone else too.

Special Features:

Severin Films went all out on this disc. Not only does the transfer look very good, but they also and added quite a few nice supplements so hats off to them. 
-First up is a very good audio commentary from director Brian Trenchard-Smith himself. There is also a separate 10 minute interview with BTS also.
-For those that dug Mark Hartley's excellent documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, this disc includes about an hour of extended interviews from that production from the following folks: Brian Trenchard Smith, Antony I. Ginnane, Steve Railsback, Lynda Stoner, Roger Ward, Gus Mercurio, Bob McCarron. A lot of these extended interviews focus on TURKEY SHOOT which is great. 
-The Ozploitation Renaissance – a round table discussion with director Brian Trenchard-Smith, producer Antony I. Ginnane and Ozploitation cinematographer Vincent Monton. (26 minutes).
-Turkey Shoot: Blood & Thunder Memories – featurette (24 minutes).
-Escape 2000 Alternate Title Sequence and Blood Camp Thatcher Alternate Title Sequence.

TURKEY SHOOT can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New Release Roundup - September 22nd, 2015

MANNEQUIN TWO: ON THE MOVE Blu-ray (Olive Films)

BUSTING Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

THE SATAN BUG Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

MOONRISE KINGDOM Blu-ray (Criterion)

THE SENTINEL Blu-ray (Scream Factory)

TURKEY SHOOT Blu-ray (Severin Films)

THE MIGHTY QUINN Blu-ray (Olive Films)

SLAUGHTER Blu-ray (Olive Films)

BLACK CAESAR Blu-ray (Olive Films)

DIRTY WORK Blu-ray (Olive Films)

EATEN ALIVE Blu-ray (Arrow)


LISA Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

THE AMERICAN DREAMER Blu-ray (Etiquette Pictures)

SOME KIND OF HERO Blu-ray (Olive Films)

MADHOUSE Blu-ray (Olive Films)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Twilight Time - FAT CITY and EMPEROR OF THE NORTH on Blu-ray

FAT CITY (1972; John Huston)
I wish I could find this list that I first heard of FAT CITY from. It was a list of actors and directors naming their favorite underrated and underseen films. It included things like David O. Russell talking about THE HEARTBREAK KID and SHAMPOO and Jodie Foster talking about MISHIMA. It was a great list. Director Ron Shelton (BULL DURHAM, WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP) talked about his affection for FAT CITY and I had honestly never heard of the movie before. Even though it was directed by John Huston, a director whose work I enjoyed very much, I had somehow never seen it mentioned really. This was of course pre-IMDB, so that says a little something, but nonetheless. I was immediately intrigued by the combination of elements at play in FAT CITY - boxing, Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, and John Huston. Susan Tyrell I was unfamiliar with, but after seeing the movie I could not believe I wasn't aware of her. This movie is a veritable smorgasbord of amazing performances and on top of that, it was shot by the stellar Conrad Hall so you know it looks fantastic.
FAT CITY (based on the book of the same name by Leonard Gardner) is set in the dilapidated city of Stockton in central California. It is a far cry from the Philadelphia that Rocky Balboa hailed from. In fact, FAT CITY is quite a different movie from ROCKY in a lot of ways. Though both movies deal with boxers on the fringes, FAT CITY is not particularly the story of triumph that ROCKY ends up being. FAT CITY, like a lot of Huston films, focuses on some kinda doomed and downtrodden dudes trying their best to keep their heads above water. The story focuses on Billy (Stacy Keach), an over-the-hill ex-boxer who spends his time as a day laborer in the nearby farm fields and Ernie (Jeff Bridges) who is a young pugilist trying to work his way up. The two men's lives converge at a local training gym and a friendship develops. It's sort of a mentorship kinda thing, but as I said, this movie isn't your standard sports tale of redemption. Billy is an alcoholic and a loser and Ernie is just desperate. What's neat about FAT CITY is that it is the beginning of John Huston's "second wind" of remarkable films in his latter career. Not to say that he made a lot of bad movies, but FAT CITY to me is the start of a special segment of his filmography wherein he would crank out such dramatic powerhouses as THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, UNDER THE VOLCANO and WISE BLOOD. KING is a movie people seem to remember pretty well (perhaps in part because of Sean Connery and Michael Caine), but the other two (and FAT CITY) are oft overlooked and are all cinematic achievements of greatness. So as much as there was a huge "youth movement" happening in movies in the 1970s, here is an old guard filmmaker still putting out great stuff early on in that oh so golden decade. What he's put together is one of the great boxing films of all-time and he does so by focusing less on the boxing and more on the lives of the boxers.

Special Features:
This disc has an excellent commentary from Nick Redman and screenwriter Lem Dobbs. No Julie Kirgo this round unfortunately (though one of her lovely essays is included in the disc's booklet), but Lem Dobbs is one of my favorite recurring regulars on these Twilight Time commentaries. He and Nick are a great pair to spend 97 minutes with when it comes to movies like this.

FAT CITY can be purchased on Blu-ray via Twilight Time's site:

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973; Robert Aldrich)
Much like FAT CITY, EMPEROR OF THE NORTH also represents a great filmmaker in the back end  of his career doing some outstanding work. Robert Aldrich was a little younger than Huston, so his heyday was more in the 1950s and 60s. He is of course most well known for things like KISS ME DEADLY, THE DIRTY DOZEN, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? and perhaps FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX and HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. Aldrich made a ton of great movies though and even amidst a career thick with goodness, EMPEROR OF THE NORTH may still be my favorite. I'm guessing that opinion might be slightly controversial in a career filled with so many gems, but there is just something about this movie that has always hooked me. For one, it's a mentor story and those have this natural appeal for me. EMPEROR OF THE NORTH is the story of A-No.1 (Lee Marvin), the greatest hobo in the world and the train he's determined to ride. That train, "The 19", happens to be guarded by a brakeman called "Shack" (Ernest Borgnine) who is just as determined to keep all hobos from getting free rides. Shack has even gone so far as to create a small arsenal of tools and things to use as weapons to beat the crap out of any vagrants that try to board The 19. He'll even go so far as killing them as he sees them as less than humans apparently. Shack is truly sadism incarnate (and Borgnine goes enjoyable over the top in bringing him to life). As a result, none of them have ever successfully hitched a ride on The 19.  Enter "Cigarette" (Keith Carradine), a young and arrogant upstart hobo who thinks he knows it all. He and A-No.1 form a bond despite Cigarette's obnoxious ways and he tries to act as a teacher to the kid. So there's that part of the movie and the A-No. 1's underlying mission to ride The 19. EMPEROR OF THE NORTH was initially developed by Sam Peckinpah and you can feel it certainly. It has the earmarks of the kind of story he was telling in those days, but Aldrich has absolutely put his stamp on it and for the better.
Set in the Great Depression year of 1933, The film has some lovely location work in the American Northwest. In an age of films made predominantly in front of green screens, it is quite refreshing to watch a movie filled with a different kind of outdoorsy green. Also, you just can't beat seeing to great American actors going head to head (literally and figuratively). As cliched as it is to say, they just do not make em like Marvin and Borgnine anymore. Faces like theirs are so iconic and perfectly cinematic that it is a purely blissful thing just to see them photographed. And when they speak and fight with each other it's even better!

Special Features:
This disc features a solid commentary track from Film Historian (and prolific film writer) Dana Polan. It's not quite as good as the Twilight Time commentaries of late, but it is nonetheless informative and fascinating.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH can be purchased on Blu-ray via Twilight Time's site:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - BUSTING and PRIME CUT on Blu-ray

BUSTING (1974; Peter Hyams)
One of the truly sublime things about being a cinephile is finding an actor that you love and starting to dig back into their filmography to find their best work. In some rare cases, you'll find a run of great films that the actor worked on during a certain period. Sometimes this streak of greatness lasts two or three films, sometimes more. Then there are guys like Elliot Gould. Gould was "the man for his time and place" as Sam Elliott described so eloquently when speaking of "The Dude" in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. People talk about Steve McQueen being the "essence of cool", but for my money he just can't outdo Elliot Gould. Not for the number of stellar films and performances that Gould threw down throughout the 1970s. There's just too much good stuff there. If he had just made THE LONG GOODBYE and CALIFORNIA SPLIT he'd be a legend for me, but he also made M.A.S.H., NASHVILLE, LITTLE MURDERS, THE SILENT PARTNER, CAPRICORN ONE and more. More indeed. Lots that get lost too like HARRY AND WALTER GO TO NEW YORK and especially BUSTING. BUSTING is the one that has only seemingly recently gotten a bit more love and attention and deservedly so. I think we can all agree that buddy cop movies are a pretty fantastic. There are a lot of them though and some occasionally get left behind in the discussions of the best examples of the genre. BUSTING is right up there with RUNNING SCARED and LETHAL WEAPON as far as I'm concerned. It probably leans more into RUNNING SCARED territory in that these two cops (played by Elliot Gould and Robert Blake) tend to use some occasionally questionable techniques in the course of their police-ly duties. As with RUNNING SCARED and LETHAL WEAPON, it's really all about the chemistry between the partners. Good chemistry makes for comradery and good comedy in the mix with the usual cop stuff like shootouts and car chases. And speaking of chases, one of standout things about BUSTING is a great foot chase setpiece that finds our two vice cops pursuing some drug dealers to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles. Once there, things go into standoff mode with a lot of civilians in the mix until the chase continues some more. It's a very solid little sequence and gives the movie some of its distinct L.A. flavor. 
Special Features:
This disc has a couple of great features in two audio commentaries. The first is from director Peter Hyams and it's very good and informative. Even better though is the second track with Elliott Gould and film critic Kim Morgan. Gould should do commentaries on everything. Seriously. The man is a national treasure.
The BUSTING Blu-ray can be purchased here:

PRIME CUT (1972; Michael Ritchie)
This movie is one of those "hidden gems" that has only relatively recently started to get the attention it deserves. First off, it's from director Michael Ritchie (THE BAD NEWS BEARS) which has always amused me. Secondly, it stars Lee Marvin AND Gene Hackman so that alone should pique your interest. Hackman's character goes by Mary Ann, but he's a lot tougher than that monicker lets on. Mary Ann is a sadistic cattle baron who, with the help of his brother "Weenie",  grinds his foes into hot dog links for fun and mails them across the country. Oh and he also runs a sex slavery racket to boot. Enter Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin) who works as mob muscle out of Chicago. Nick is sent on a mission to collect on the money that Mary Ann has been skimming which is up to about half a million dollars. Nick arrives and let's Mary and know he better cough up the dough and he takes one of the girls (a young Sissy Spacek) that Mary Ann is selling off as human sex cattle as a small down payment.
Robert Dillon's (FRENCH CONNECTION II, 99 and 44/100% DEAD) script is filled with witty stuff for the criminals to say to taunt each other. Lee Marvin is surprisingly good at zinging people with verbal barbs, he has a great voice for understatement. The movie has this underlying sense of humor about it too that is neat. A few memorable scenes include an fancy dinner between Lee Marvin and Sissy Spacek and another where Mary Ann roughhouses on his brother whilst two bookkeepers look on. As with BADLANDS, Sissy plays a wonderful naive/childlike girl that takes a shine to Nick Devlin. Spacek was about 23 at the time of this movie and is as adorable as ever on top of giving a great performance.
The score is a lively, plucky jazzy one from the great Lalo Schifrin. It has some blue-grassy elements infused in it which makes for a fun mix. Also, Lalo has an amazing knack for taking lighthearted music and turning it dark when a movie takes a turn for the suspenseful. My favorite scene in the film is this cool pursuit through a flowing wheat field and the music gives it a nice bump. The best though is a climactic gunfight played across a field of sunflowers. Iconic stuff.
I wasn't able to do a side-by-side against the previously released German Blu-ray, but this may look a touch better than that disc transfer-wise.

The PRIME CUT Blu-ray can be purchased here: