Rupert Pupkin Speaks: May 2016 ""

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Release Roundup - May 31st, 2016

WIM WENDERS: THE ROAD TRILOGY on Blu-ray (Criterion)

BLOOD BATH on Blu-ray (Arrow Video)

VENOM on Blu-ray (Blue Underground)

HUMAN TORNADO on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)

PSYCHIC KILLER on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)

CITY OF WOMEN on Blu-ray (Cohen Media)

TRIPLE 9 on Blu-ray (Universal)

GODS OF EGYPT on Blu-ray (Lionsgate)


RACE on Blu-ray (Universal)

HORSE MONEY on Blu-ray (Cinema Guild)

Underrated '86 - Patrick Bromley

Patrick Bromeley is Editor-in-chief at @fthismovie. Contributor at@dailydeadnews, Deadly Magazine and @aboutdotcom. Champion of the ambitious failure. Check him out on twitter at @PatrickBromley.
Also, Check out his Underrated '85 list from last year:

So many movies were released in 1986 that were staples not just of my youth but also a steady part of my balanced movie diet to this day: Aliens, Big Trouble in Little China, The Fly, Stand By Me, Night of the Creeps, Blue Velvet, Something Wild…the list goes on. But many of my favorite movies from this excellent year in film aren’t as popular or as well-regarded as others. These are the movies that need my love. These are my favorite underrated movies from 1986.

F/X (dir. Robert Mandel) A great little thriller about a movie special effects artist (Bryan Brown) hired to fake the death of a gangster turned government witness and getting embroiled in a murderous conspiracy. While other kids my age were busy looking up to professional athletes and rock stars growing up, I wanted to be Rollie Tyler. This might explain why I was always picked last for everything. Come to think of it, F/X probably isn’t that underrated, seeing as it was a big enough hit to warrant a sequel, F/X2: The Deadly Art of Illusion, in 1990. I like the first movie a lot better. Next!
Lucas (dir. David Seltzer) One of my favorite teen movies of the decade rarely gets mentioned in discussions of ‘80s teen movies. Corey Haim, full of early promise, plays a nerdy kid who falls in love with Maggie, the new girl in town (Kerri Greene, because who wouldn’t?), over the summer only to discover that everything changes once school starts. Charlie Sheen gives a really nice performance as the jock who starts dating Maggie but doesn’t want to hurt Lucas; the movie also marks the first role for a young Winona Ryder. Whereas most teen movies of the era would paint most of these characters in broad strokes — popular girl, football captain, band geek — director David Seltzer’s screenplay treats everyone like a real human beings. This is such a sweet, gentle and well-observed film about first loves in which real heartbreak is on the line.
Dangerously Close (dir. Albert Pyun) No list of underrated movies from the ’80s would be complete without at least one entry from my man Albert Pyun. This is one of his best efforts — a moody teen drama about a group of cool kids who go to any lengths to keep the unwanted riffraff out of their high school. Drenched in ’80s MTV visuals and new wave music, the film is one of Pyun’s most stylized and personal — a metaphor for his own career, with the villainous “cool” kids standing in for mainstream Hollywood and Pyun positioned as ever on the fringes. It’s fairly standard stuff as ‘80s teen movies go, but made with style and just enough of an edge to stand out despite being largely ignored for more well-known titles. I maintain that this is one of Pyun’s best movies.
Invaders from Mars (dir. Tobe Hooper) One of my favorite filmmakers made one of my favorite movies in 1986 when Tobe Hooper directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, but that movie has finally found its audience and no longer really qualifies as “underrated.” Lucky for me he also released this remake of 1953’s Invaders from Mars (the second of his three-picture deal with Cannon Films) just a few months prior in ’86. Of the two movies, Invaders gets a lot less love. And sure, it’s clunky and more than a little silly, but it’s also a lot of fun. This is Tobe Hooper’s “kids’ movie,” told very much from the vantage point of young Hunter Carson (the son of co-star Karen Black and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, who wrote Texas Chainsaw 2) as a kid who begins to suspect that all of the adults in his small town have been taken over by aliens. The effects by John Dykstra and Stan Winston are a lot of fun, looking good for the ‘80s but capturing the spirit of ’50s sci-fi. It lacks the scary dread of the original movie, but Tobe Hooper doesn’t seem to be going for scares; he embraces the campier aspects and makes a film that has a sense of humor about itself. How can anyone not love a movie in which James Karen gets to say “Marines have no qualms about killing martians!”
Running Scared (dir. Peter Hyams) As both a lover and a student of the buddy cop movie, this is one of my all time favorites. It’s little surprise that Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal could play wisecracking police officers, but Running Scared even makes them convincing action heroes. Besides a supporting cast that includes Dan Hedaya, Jon Gries, Jimmy Smits, Joe Pantoliano and Steven Bauer, Running Scared boasts quotable dialogue, an incredible car chase on the L tracks and Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” as its theme song. As someone who has lived in Chicago his whole life, the movie even gets the city’s winters right. Peter Hyams is a filmmaker with a lot of underrated movies in his filmography, but I think this is my favorite of everything he’s made.
Dead End Drive-in (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith) An Ozploitation classic from the godfather of Ozploitation. It presents a dystopian future in which teenagers have so terrorized Australia that they are rounded up and held in drive-ins that double as prison camps, given endless supplies of drugs, booze and snack bar food. Borrowing liberally from The Road Warrior and Class of 1984, Trenchard-Smith feverishly throws all the stuff he loves into a crazy blender and this is what comes out. It’s nice to know that exploitation filmmaking was still alive and well in 1986.

Avenging Force (dir. Sam Firstenberg) At one point I considered putting this entire list together with nothing but titles from my beloved Cannon Films, as it appears that 1986 was their peak year. Obviously I decided against it, but their output is still well represented here: Invaders from Mars, Dangerously Close and now Avenging Force are all Cannon productions. This one is supposed to be a sequel to 1985’s Invasion U.S.A., with Michael Dudikoff recast in the Matt Hunter role originated by Chuck Norris one year prior. Dudikoff takes on a shadowy organization called The Pentangle when his best friend (played by the great Steve James) is targeted. Plenty of kicking and stabbing ensues, directed with Sam Firstenberg’s usual style: straightforward to the point of artlessness and completely casual about the graphic violence on display. Aside from the use of the name Matt Hunter, there’s hardly anything to connect Invasion U.S.A. with Avenging Force, but that’s ok. Avenging Force is still awesome.
Let’s Get Harry (dir. Alan Smithee/Stuart Rosenberg) If you’ve never seen Let’s Get Harry — and there’s a good chance you haven’t, as it has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray — let me lay out a description of the movie that’s sure to move it to the top of your must-see list: Robert Duvall shaves his head and grows a goatee to play a badass mercenary hired by Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles, Biff Tannen from Back to the Future, Slider from Top Gun and the lead singer from The Eagles to rescue Mark Harmon in a film directed by Alan Smithee with a story by Sam Fuller. I know, I know…ONE, PLEASE. I haven’t even mentioned Gary Busey as a car salesman-turned-enthusiastic soldier or the cameo from Predator’s Elpidia Carillo and David Hess. The movie is utterly implausible but still super entertaining mostly thanks to the talent involved. It’s part Deer Hunter, part Missing in Action, part Red Dawn and even manages to sneak in a few surprise developments along the way. Supposedly director Rosenberg took his name off when the studio insisted on adding more scenes with Mark Harmon (playing the titular Harry), who was hot at the time thanks to his TV work. Studio tampering is evident — a key scene in which the boys turn to a government agent (played by Jere Burns!) for help has been reduced to being part of a musical montage — but the soul of movie is still intact. Brad Fiedel’s score helps class the movie up, too. I wish this would get a proper release.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Underrated '86 - Daniel Budnik

Daniel Budnik is a writer whose second book about movies has finally been sent to the publisher. His first book, co-written with Joseph A. Ziemba, is Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey. Daniel is part of two podcasts: The Made-For-TV Mayhem Show, which he co-hosts with the awesome Amanda By Night of Made-For-TV Mayhem. And, Podcastmania, which is a bunch of fun folks talking about horror movies, pop culture and life in general. You can follow him on Twitter at @dannyslacks1. His current writing can be found at his blog Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things and there are also reviews of his on the Bleeding Skull! website.

Police Academy 3: Back In Training (Directed by Jerry Paris)
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the PoliceAcademy movies. At least once a year, I have Police AcademyWeek in my home. I watch one movie a night for 7 nights with my two dogs. Then, I deliver lectures (with Q&A) about each of the movies as I pace around my living room. So there’s no way I would leave a PA movie out of a list like this. 3 is a remake of 1. There are two academies in the city. One of them is run by Lassard. One is run by Mauser from Part 2. (They gave Mauser an Academy? What city is this?) The cadets from Part 1 now train minor characters from Parts 1 and 2 to be cops. Don’t let any story or plot stop you. It’s all about the gags here. 3 abandons any semblance of story or character development and is, basically, a sketch comedy. Some gags hit, some don’t. But, in general, this is a pretty entertaining, mostly funny to amusing, film. Highlights being the very silly opening sequence, Mouser trying to talk to the Governor after the opening graduation, Proctor’s midnight nude run and almost any moment with Zed. There’s a lot more I’d like to say but I save that for my After Movie Lectures. Watch out for invitations to next year’s Police Academy week. I’d love to have another human join me.

Eliminators (Directed by Peter Manoogian)
An evil scientist living in the jungles of South America has created two super cool sci-fi items: a time machine and a Mandroid. The evil scientist wants to travel back to ancient Rome and become head of the Roman Empire, thereby changing history. The Mandroid revolts against this. So, he/ it, a government scientist, the scientist’robot, a river boat captain and a ninja team up to stop him. I didn’t remember this film being that great when I saw it decades ago. Shout Factory put it on a Blu-Ray with The Dungeonmaster and it turns out…  Eliminators is pretty great. It’s well-directed. The action scenes are exciting. It’s paced very well. Fine acting. Wonderfully weird story. And, possibly most important of all, it has a sharp, fun script that isn’t afraid to throw in the odd twist or turn as it goes along. Match this with The Dungeonmaster and you have probably the most underrated Blu-Ray release of the year.

Terror At Tenkiller (Directed by Ken Meyer)
A slasher film that is mostly ignored when people wander into the second half of the 1980s looking for thrills. Why? Well, it’s a little languid. The acting isn’t the sharpest. And, for much of its run, it seems to be more a Lifetime TV movie about two college women determined to discover themselves. One of them, Leslie,is having trouble with her man, Josh. The two ladies head to Tenkiller Lake for the summer to get away from it all. They hang out by the lake. They flip burgers at a local joint. They go out on a boat. And there’s a very slow paced killer on the loose. Could it be Josh? Could it be the pervy fisherman known only as Preacher? Could it be Tor, a local guy we see killing a woman in the very first scene? I’m not going to ruin it for you. The movie never goes quickly, even during the final chase. But, for me, one of the joys of slashers is that they have infinite variety within the structures of the genre. I will gladly watch one that never goes too fast and risk putting everyone to sleep, as long as I know that the next one I watch will have a stronger pace or be really weird. Terror at Tenkiller has never put me to sleep. But, look at it this way: If you fall asleep watching it, maybe you needed the rest. You can thank Terror at Tenkiller for that nap.

The Millionaires Express (Directed by Sammo Hung)
This film is part of an unrelated trilogy of fantastic films that Sammo Hung made for the Hong Kong cinema in the second half of the 1980s. It’s a wonderful free-for-all western/ action piece that has about five different things going on in it at any one time. Sammo has always been one of the best action directors around. Plus, he’s a kung fu powerhouse and very, very charming. The two films he made right after thisEastern Condors and Pedicab Driver, I probably watch once a year. Express, I haven’t watched in about 10. And I don’t know why. It doesn’t have the pathos and action of Pedicab Driver. It doesn’t have the grittiness of Eastern Condors. It’s a goofiermovie about a bunch of odd people who keep getting in fightsI, personally, underrate this filmSo, this paragraph is as much for the writer as it is for the reader. Sammo’s direction is superb. The action is top notch. The time period is perfectly achieved. Cynthia Rothrock shows up and kicks all the ass. And, YuenBiao has a scene where he drops from the second story of a burning building, hits the ground with a roll, stands up and delivers a line…  all in one shot. This is a cool, exciting Hong Kong action film from a time when they were making so many good ones. Dan, watch this today. Thanks, Dan. I will. And then mow the lawn. Sure, Dan.

Action U.S.A. (Directed by John Stewart)
Texas-made action film about two FBI agents and a woman who are on the hunt for a MacGuffin hidden somewhere in the middle of nowhere. A huge group of bad guys, including Ross Hagen, are after them. For being, what looks like, a relatively low budget action film, Action U.S.A. goes for it. From the crazy (surely must have been done illegally) helicopter opening sequence to a wild car chase to a brilliant barroom brawl to the exciting ending, this film is just one damn thing after another. And it’s so good. The bad guys are bad. The good guys are charming. Everyone treats it (fairly) seriously. It never stops being a constantly moving romp that is always a couple moments away from more action. Don’t let the VHS cover throw you. It’s strangely designed. I always thought it was a documentary on stunt people for some reason. It’s not. It’s a fiction film filed with fast, furious fun for folks. I’d recommend a viewing. And, hey, maybe someone wants to release a Blu-Rayof it? I’ll gladly moderate the commentary.

Cry Wilderness (Directed by Jay Schlossberg-Cohen)
I love this movie. It’s the story of Paul, a kid who goes to a snooty boarding school in the NW United States. He spends every summer in the Pacific NW woods with his dad, a forest ranger. Paul made a special friend last summer: Bigfoot. And, one winter, the Spirit of Bigfoot (or Teleporting Bigfoot, it’s not made clear) appears at Paul’s school. Bigfoot tells Paul to go up north and help his dad, who is in great danger. The film treads the finest line between being completely silly and being an earnest coming-of-age Boy with Bigfoot story. This film was on a Vinegar Syndrome DVD double feature with In Search of Bigfoot. I will watch anything Bigfoot-related. In Search of Bigfoot promised documentary-style hunt for the Big Guy with the star being the man who directed Bloodstalkers. I’d only vaguely heard of Cry Wilderness. But, man, I was glad I watched it. From Teleporting Bigfoot to Paul frolicking with a bobcat to the beautiful locations, Cry Wilderness (which is a rather silly title) is great. And it is legitimately something the whole family can watch. Team it with The Force on Thunder Mountain.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Olive Films - RICH KIDS and FRENCH POSTACARDS on Blu-ray

RICH KIDS (1979; Robert M. Young)
This movie is one of those hidden gems from the 1970s that not a lot of people know about. This is due in no small part to a lack of availability on Home Video since the film's release. Sure, it came out on VHS, but never hit DVD. It popped up on Netflix for a time some years ago, but I feel like that was an instance of too little too late as so few people had any inclination as to what this movie is. What it is is a heartfelt and touching drama about two youngsters in New York City, trying to figure things out for themselves. They are trying to figure out their parents first of all. The two kids - a girl and a boy (played by Trini Alvarado and Jeremy Levy)  - both come from broken homes. Franny (the girl) has discovered that her parents are headed for divorce and that her dad (John Lithgow) hasn't been living in their apartment, but instead has sneaking home in the mornings to pretend like he's getting up with her mom and saying good morning to her. It's a thoughtful effort, but is more perplexing than anything to Franny until she figures out what is actually happening. Jeremy (the boy) splits time with his mom and her psychiatrist husband (Paul Dooley) and his jet-setting, commercial directing father (Terry Kiser from WEEKEND AT BERNIES). Franny hits it off with "new kid" Jeremy and they end up hanging out at his dad's posh apartment. It's one of those crazy 70s New York pads, in this case, decked out with the latest gadgets but more importantly - featuring a nearly rainforest like setup as the centerpiece (complete with exotic birds). Franny sees it as a wondrous place - the incarnation of a utopian paradise that she's had in her head for a long time and even has a special name for. Jeremy has come along at just the right time too as he has been dealing with divorced life for a while and Franny is just about to enter into it. The two twelve-year olds quickly form a special bond and Jeremy invites Franny to sleep over at his dad's place. After some hustling of both their parents, the kids end up spending the evening together and just enjoying each other's company. There's more to this tale than that, but it's really one of those 70s sleepers that is more about character than anything else. The movie was directed by Robert M. Young (SHORT EYES, ONE-TRICK PONY, DOMINICK & EUGENE) and produced by Robert Altman. I love Altman of course, but I'm also a big fan of the films he produced in the 1970s. He did a few with Alan Rudoplh and those are excellent, but RICH KIDS has a bit of a different feeling from those. While Rudolph's films are in some ways quite similar to Altman in terms of their style and approach, Young establishes a different feeling for this movie. It's an ensemble production and in that way correlative to Altman, but there's not much in the way of overlapping dialogue and some of the other Altman signatures here. That said, it is an adult drama with kids at the center of it and that has become increasingly less common since the 70s. Both the kids are excellent and instill Franny and Jeremy with a nearly precocious intelligence that could border on obnoxious if not properly maintained. It helps that their folks are played with an equal intelligence as well as a clear compassion for their children despite being flawed humans themselves. It's a rare movie that can balance humor and bittersweetness in the way that RICH KIDS does. The ending does not offer any resolute happily ever solutions, but rather shows the kids as coping and trying to be mature about what they are going through. This film also reminds me that I would have loved to have seen Trini Alvarado in more movies as her work here and in the cult favorite TIMES SQUARE (which could really use a Blu-ray release too by the way) is quite memorable and she brings a carries a certain realistic and emotional quality into her performances that I find quite compelling.
I am truly delighted that this movie is finally available on Home Video again for adventurous cinephiles to see it for the first time. I also have a great deal of affection for the closing song (below), which I put onto a mixtape once (with the audio recorded straight off my VHS tape):

Quick bit of trivia - apparently this movie had $2.5 million cut from its budget so that United Artist could pour it into the swirling vortex that was Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE and it would be the last film Altman would be producer on for fourteen years.

RICH KIDS can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

This is another movie somewhat obscured by Home Video releases. In the case of FRENCH POSTCARDS, it has been on DVD (from Legend films back in 2008), but this Blu-ray marks a return to the film's original soundtrack - which has been restored to it's fully glory after some rescored music was included in the previous DVD release. Music rescoring is an issue that even many cinpehiles may be unaware of. Many films of a certain period (usually from the 1970s or early 1980s) came to Home Video with some of the songs that were part of their original soundtracks replaced with new music. This was typically due to the music not having been licensed for Home Video and the studios being too cheap to pony up the cash to pay for it. John Carpenter's THE THING features Stevie Wonder's amazing song "Superstition" in it's current releases, but there were versions of the movie on Home Video that had that song replaced. Same thing happened with movies like NIGHTHAWKS and BABY IT'S YOU. It happened more than a few times with MCA/Universal and Paramount titles and it is a sad thing. I get that the expense to clear the original music can be cost prohibitive, but it does end up detracting from the movie in that it is now not as the director intended. Thankfully, as FRENCH POSTCARDS opens we hear a french version of The Lovin' Spoonful's song "Do You Believe in Magic", which not only sets a buoyant and upbeat mood, but also is a perfect scene-setting tune for this story of some American students spending a year abroad in Paris. Said students - Laura (Blanche Baker), Joel (Miles Chapin) and Alex (David Marshall Grant) - find themselves learning more about love and life than academics as they get caught up with various local guys and gals. Most notably, Joel finds himself falling head over heels for a girl who works in a bookstore. This girl is played by the exquisite Valerie Quennessen, who would become much more well-known for her follow-ups to this movie. She have a big summer in 1982, starring first in CONAN THE BARBARIAN and then another "Americans abroad" coming of age film in Randall Kleiser's SUMMER LOVERS. Quennessen is so beautiful and so perfectly embodying of the exotic French Girl aesthetic that she will capture your affection after seeing her in only the few performances she had in the late 70s and early 80s. She sadly had her life and career cut short by a tragic car accident in 1989 or she would probably have been in more movies. Thankfully, we can enjoy her and Miles Chapin's chemistry in this film and easily see why he is positively mesmerized by her.
The movie was directed by Willard Huyck and written by he and Gloria Katz - the same duo that scripted AMERICAN GRAFFITI (and who also notoriously brought HOWARD THE DUCK to the big screen). I am fascinated by these two in that they did not only some iconic American films - even though HOWARD THE DUCK is not good, it is still and interesting George Lucas-produced flop from the mid-eighties. The Huyck/Katz team also did one of my favorite early 70s horror films in MESSIAH OF EVIL - which is one of the most dreamy and atmospheric portraits of terror from that whole decade. FRENCH POSTCARDS is of course a very light and humorous dramedy and has a good deal in common with AMERICAN GRAFFITI as far as this kind of story goes. I myself have still never been to Paris, so I find this sort of travelogue to be quite fascinating - even if it is a picture of Paris circa 1979. The supporting cast is excellent and includes Debra Winger and Mandy Patinkin among others. I find that this movie and RICH KIDS go together quite well and I'm happy to see them both hit Blu-ray in the same week. Hats off to Olive Films for putting it out with the restored  soundtrack too! It gives me some small shred of hope for one of my dream Blu-ray releases - LITTLE DARLINGS (which was another casualty of expensive soundtrack clearance issues).

FRENCH POSTCARDS can be purchased here:

Underrated '86 - Alan Dorich

Alan is an avid movie watchin' fella that I recommend you follow on twitter AND letterboxd:

BAD GIRLS' DORMITORY (D: Tim Kincaid) There are two ways to watch BAD GIRLS DORMITORY -- either embrace the absolute trashy idiocy of it or tear it apart for its flaws. I choose the former, as writer/director Tim Kincaid (you know, the guy who brought us BREEDERS!) crams as much seediness as he can into this film's 95 minutes. It's darn entertaining, even when it feels like a parody of a WIP movie than a real one.

COBRA (D: George P. Cosmatos) COBRA gets a pretty bad rep, and I don’t really blame people for feeling that way, since often times, the titular cop (Sylvester Stallone) comes off as the reckless nut that the goody-two-shoes cop (Andrew Robinson) says he is. But this is also a wonderful piece of ‘80s excess that pits Stallone against a villain (Brian Thompson) who feels like he wandered his way out of a slasher movie. The climax is pretty amazing, with Thompson and his axe-clanging followers coming after Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen in a foundry town. I think you can guess who wins, though.

DEADLY FRIEND (D: Wes Craven) It makes me feel bad when I find joy in a film that its director disowns, and for all the hassle he went through, I can’t say I blame the late, great Wes Craven for doing so. But DEADLY FRIEND saw repeat viewings in my youth, enthralling me with the story of brilliant young Paul (Matthew Labyorteaux) bringing back to life girlfriend Sam (Kristy Swanson), with the help of robot parts. Admittedly, the film has its problems, but it’s also wonderfully insane, including the infamous “basketball” kill and its final scene, which I dare not reveal.

HOWARD THE DUCK (D: Willard Huyck) This is probably going to be the most universally hated film on this list — but I love it so. Seeing the surly, animatronic Howard, voiced by Chip Zien, making his way from a world he never made still brings out the kid in me. And I defy you to tell me that the stop-motion Dark Overlord creature at the end doesn’t look damn cool.

HUNTER'S BLOOD (D: Robert C. Hughes) A B-film treasure from Robert C. Hughes, the director of MEMORIAL VALLEY MASSACRE. While the script steals largely from DELIVERANCE and SOUTHERN COMFORT, it’s just as entertaining as Clu Gulagher and Sam Bottoms play a father and son out hunting with buddies and family (including Joey Travolta!) who come upon a psychotic group of poachers, including Billy Drago! Also, the film has Billy Bob Thornton as “Billy Bob.”

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Underrated '86 - Nick Clement

After spending close to a decade working in Hollywood for the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony and Ridley Scott, and Gary Ross, Nick Clement has taken his passion for film and transitioned into a blogger and amateur reviewer, tackling old, new, and far flung titles without a care for his cerebral cortex. His latest venture, Podcasting Them Softly, finds him tackling new ground as an entertainment guru, co-hosting a podcast that's attracting some diverse and exciting talent. Some of Nick’s favorite filmmakers include Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, David Fincher, Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, George Miller, and Billy Wilder, while all-time favorite films include The Tree of Life, Goodfellas, Heat, Domino, Seven, Back to the Future, Fitzcarraldo, Zoolander, Enter the Void, and Babe.

Few thrillers from the mid-80's are as underrated as At Close Range, which features two blistering performances from Christopher Walken and Sean Penn, as a father/son unit that's repeatedly tested via a life of crime, and a final act of nearly unbearable tension and intensity. Written with emotional heft by Nicholas Kazan and directed with gritty integrity by James Foley, Orion distributed this severely low profile gem in April of '86, and while critics embraced it, the film failed to find a theatrical audience. But over the years, and as the two main stars continued to gain in popularity, Foley's red-hot drama has become a major cult classic, with the supporting cast, including Mary Stuart Masterson, Chris Penn, David Strathairn, Candy Clark, Crispin Glover, and Kiefer Sutherland, adding lots of colorful background to this already volatile mix of crime, violence and family dynamics.

Not many films have instilled as much wide-eyed wonder as The Flight of the Navigator, which was released in the summer of 1986, and while not attaining the runaway big-screen blockbuster status that it truly deserved, has lived on throughout the years as an all-time cult favorite for many children of the 80's. Directed with a terrific sense of old-school movie-magic by Randal Kleiser and written with gee-whiz excitement by Michael Burton and Matt MacManus, child star Joey Kramer got the role of a lifetime as a kid who gets abducted by a friendly alien (voiced by Paul Reubens!) who then takes him forward in time from 1978 to 1986, all the while battling the charms of a then extremely young Sarah Jessica Parker. The film had a weird gestation, first set up as a Disney production, who then backed out as financers but agreed to distribute, and over the years, it's become one of those treasured items that feels too refreshingly quaint to be remade in today's overly slick and cynical CGI movie landscape.

Action-adventure auteur John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator) made a unique and striking debut with the fun and freaky supernatural horror film Nomads in March of '86, announcing himself as a major action director in the making, and showcasing the formation of his often imitated muscular visual aesthetic. Starring Pierce Brosnan as a French scientist with a background in nomadic history, the zesty script cooked up by McTiernan mixed biker culture, Inuit mysticism, and the expectations of the vampire genre, and threw all of the ingredients into the cinematic blender, resulting in a strangely compelling slice of B-movie fun. The film features an awesome musical score by Bill Conti, while Lesley-Anne Down matched solidly with Brosnan, who found himself on leading-man turf for the first time in a big motion picture after years of work on the hit TV series Remington Steele.

Tim Hunter's brutal and unforgettable drama River's Edge is one of the most unflinching looks at dysfunctional teen life ever put on screen, and serves as a reminder of how powerful true-crime based cinema can be when properly handled. Inspired by a real murder that took place in 1981 in California, Neal Jimenez's hard-hitting script never soft pedaled any of the scary, emotionless nihilism that permeated a group of kids who were all tangled up in thoughtless murder, with an amazing cast of then-young actors doing sensational work, including Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Roxanne Zal, Josh Richman, and Crispin Glover, with Dennis Hopper providing his usual brand of sinister character acting on the fringes of this chilling film. With evocative cinematography by Frederick Elmes and a haunting score from J├╝rgen Knieper, this is one of those absolutely harrowing efforts that once you've seen you'll never forget, and despite shining a light on some very unsympathetic characters (Larry Clark must love this film!) who are all caught in a deadly scenario, Hunter's steely direction keeps the film from ever becoming cloying or sentimental, as he stressed the inherent cruelty and sadness of the story without over doing it.

The Boy Who Could Fly is likely a special film for a wide number of people, as it presented a thoroughly whimsical vibe with a touch of melancholy that is rarely duplicated these days, tapping into the fears and anxieties that all kids on the verge of growing up might face, while presenting a cinematic world of distinct wonder. Produced by Lorimar pictures and released by Fox in September of '86, this gentle yet emotionally stirring film was written and directed by B-movie maestro Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter, Tag: The Assassination Game, Tap), and centers on an autistic and orphaned teenager (Jay Underwood) who befriends a girl (Lucy Deakins) who is still reeling from the tragic suicide death of her terminally ill father, with a supporting cast that included Bonnie Bedelia, Fred Savage, Colleen Dewhurst, Louise Fletcher, and Jason Priestly. Mixing escapist fantasy with real world trauma can be a dicey proposition, but the way that Castle injected warmth and sensitivity into his characters and his story helped to balance out some of the more painful moments of real-world challenges that were thematically explored.

Kino Lorber - KILLER FORCE on Blu-ray

KILLER FORCE (1975; Val Guest)
Can I just open by saying that it truly fascinates me that there was a time when Telly Savalas, Peter Fonda, Christopher Lee and O.J. Simpson were all just out there doing their acting thing and could casually end up in a film together? What a strange time. And that the film could be heist flick about a giant diamond compound and a group of dudes trying to rob it. Heist movies are a fun subgenre in that even the mediocre ones are enjoyable to watch. This mostly comes from the built-in suspense of the scenario itself. There's always some safe to break into, alarm that needs to be avoided or some guards that need to be taken out. In this case, the whole compound is a giant swath of desert real estate and the main headquarters is surrounded by a "pressure plate". This plate is buried beneath the sand and can be set off by not only anyone walking over it, but also by any metal (guns etc), being carried across it. Also, there's a safe with $20 million in diamonds that starts blasting nerve gas if you put the combination in wrong. When the head of security (Telly Savalas) gets wind of an inside mad trying to help with the heist, things start to amp up and that makes the whole deal more complicated for the thieves. While not groundbreaking, the combination of the cast and the genre elements make this a good watch for fans of 70s films. And if you're into watching a safe be cracked by something that looks like a calculator or seeing Christopher Lee shooting people up with sub-machine guns, then this is the movie for you!
Oh and I almost forgot to mention Maud Adams. Holy smokes is she something. I cannot explain why I find her so irresistibly gorgeous, but I certainly do. She's one of those actors that doesn't get mentioned much anymore, but my gosh was she lovely. She had this 70s magazine model look to her that always appealed to me. And since she didn't do much work (that I've seen) after 1983, she always remains frozen in that period and in that look forever. Lastly, this movie was directed by veteran British director Val Guest. Guest is a name you might recognize from movies like THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT and THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. While KILLER FORCE doesn't quite live up to his previous efforts, it certainly helps the movie to have him at the helm. He really maintains a solid feeling of "Will they make it??" right up until the very ending of the film, which is always appreciated. Films from the 70s did this more often - running the action all the way up to the credits -  and I wish more movies would do this.

Special Features:
-Original Theatrical Trailer
-Alternate Ending
-Alternate Title Card 

You can buy KILLER FORCE on Blu-ray here:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Underrated '86 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong habit of obsessive movie watching. His current project, #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project can be found at Find him on twitter at @007hertzrumble.
The first step in compiling an Underrated 'XX list is creating a tally of all potential candidates. I start with the Letterboxd list of most popular movies from the year and scan the titles until I find a movie that feels way too low. After one pass, on average, I come up with a list of 10-15 titles, plus another handful that I want to watch or rewatch. My list for 1986 started at 27 titles. As a result, I'm going to go as far as to suggest that 1986 is the finest year in underappreciated cinema history. Crown it now. Plan the parade. I could have easily added another five titles to this list of eight, but I'll spare you my magnum opus of Underrated 1986. If you can't get enough 1986, hit me up on Twitter and I'll gladly offer my list of B-sides. Even C-sides. My irrational love of 80's cinema runs deep, friends. 

Clockwise (1986, Christopher Morahan) 
Basil Fawlty on Adderall and subjected to a no good very bad day. It's hard to be disappointed by John Cleese. I get warm and fuzzies for John Cleese as Q/R in the latter Pierce Brosnan James Bond films. (It's probably because I feel like his report with Brosnan is a half-step removed from the Parrot Sketch.) Clockwise tells the very British tale of an obsessively punctual secondary school headmaster who finds himself on the worst road trip ever to receive a prestigious award that would justify his time-scrimping ways. Watching Cleese play a character that steadily unravels over the course of 90 minutes should be more than enough reason to watch Clockwise. 

Some have criticized the film for being inconsequential. True. There's no character arc, no real drama. John Cleese's Mr. Stimpson is an insufferable but still somehow likeable human. Mr. Stimpson must get from Point A to Point B with the aide of one of his students without making a complete ass of himself. (Spoiler alert: he makes a complete ass of himself.) Though we know he'll eventually reach Point B and the misunderstandings will eventually be resolved, the movie serves sidetracks of increasingly delicious absurdity for our anti-hero. When a movie focuses on depicting John Cleese in a rabid state of mania, you'll be entertained. That's all you really need to know.
Crossroads (1986, Walter Hill) 
It's like this Walter Hill film fell off the face the earth. Except that it's still here and available to watch whenever someone has enough good judgment to seek it out. In 1986 the movie opened with a number of glowing reviews. And then poof. Gone. 

Crossroads is a retelling of the Robert Johnson myth through the travels of Joe Seneca's septuagenarian harmonica bluesman (and former companion of Robert Johnson) and his go-gettum white prot‚g‚ guitarist (Ralph Macchio). Macchio, clad in his finest TJ Maxx Miami Vice jacket, locates the bluesman hiding out in a NYC nursing home. The youngster wants to record a lost Robert Johnson song with the old man, thus solidifying his name as legitimate performer of the blues, and not just a Julliard-trained classical guitarist with no soul. 

This variation of the Faustian bargain feels familiar. Your soul for everything you desire. But Crossroads offers more. Crossroads discusses the value inherent to the experiences of a life lived - even the hardships and the lies and the regrets. Seneca's performance conveys every ounce of that character's turmoil and fear. It's not only his confrontation with mortality, it's also his certain confrontation with the consequences of a deal he made with a man named Scratch down at the crossroads. It's a tremendous bit of acting that has largely gone unheralded over the last 30 years. And just when you think the whole story might be getting a bit stale, maybe a bit preachy, Crossroads stages a most excellent guitar battle climax between Ralph Macchio and Steve Vai. I won't spoil it with any more gross details because it's even more amazing and absurd and fist-pump stirring than it sounds.
Heat (1986, Dick Richards) 
I've been a longtime defender of Burt Reynolds' film production of the 1980's. Not only are his films critically undervalued, but his 1980's filmography is also an interesting extra-texual study of a box office star in decline. By the mid-1980's his iconic laugh and comic machismo had been replaced by weary disillusionment. In succession he starred in Stick, Heat, and Malone - critical and commercial failures. They're easily dismissed, but far more interesting than face value in that they were a conscious attempt by Reynolds to rebrand his cinematic persona. 

The low-key Heat stands out for the very same reasons it's forgotten. Reynolds plays Nick Escalante, a heavy for hire in the not-so-great city of Las Vegas. (No job is too small for the right price.) He takes a few punches to help an emasculated fellow appeal to his fianc‚. He helps a young girl seek revenge for a sexual assault by "softening" up some goons so she can waltz in and exact a measure of revenge with a pair of garden shears. "I want to hold his nuts in my hand," she says. Nick dreams of leaving his personal hellhole and retiring to Venice. Only he's a gambling addict with a knack for pushing his luck. Though the film's billed as a thriller, Heat's an episodic character study, a gritty neo-noir, with a few comically awkward slo-mo action shots mixed in. Burt and co-star Peter MacNicol make an unlikely but fascinating duo. 

William Goldman, who wrote the script from his own novel, called Heat one of his major disasters. Consider that Robert Altman was originally tabbed to direct and worked one day on the film before abandoning the project after his Canadian cameraman Pierre Mignot failed to get a work visa. Dick Richards (Farwell, My Lovely) signed on to finish the project, but a scuffle with Reynolds landed Richards a broken jaw. In total 6 different directors worked on the film, fueling Heat's stigma as true cinematic Titanic. Maybe I'm just attracted to these kinds of wreckages but I find Heat to be a rather fascinating portrait of a damaged character reflecting an actor's damaged big-screen persona. Maybe it's also because I still sense the influence of Altman. One could even make a few connections between Heat and Altman's The Long Goodbye. In my world that's high praise. Give Burt another chance, will you?
Off Beat (1986, Michael Dinner) 
At first I blamed the Judge Reinhold/Meg Tilly combo-blinders (OMG MEG TILLY AND JUDGE REINHOLD IN THE SAME MOVIE! WHAT BEAUTIFUL DIMENSIONAL SCHISM IS THIS?), but I grew to sincerely enjoy this mild-mannered, milquetoast comedy about a futsy librarian ensnared in global deceit and espionage. Okay, none of that. The futsy librarian merely pretends to be a cop to get his buddy (an actual cop) out of the highly embarrassing audition for a police department public relations musical stage production. It's no more complicated than that. Lighthearted but with the sincere heart that only the Judge can deliver. Off Beat solidified itself as a winner when it teased traditional mistaken identity plot points (and the associated contrived drama), but sidestepped them all in favor of earnest and reasonable reactions. Everyone accepted that of course Judge Reinhold was just being a good guy with the best of intentions. And of course Judge Reinhold would fall madly in love with Meg Tilly. (Who wouldn't?) He was forgiven, and conclusion reached without even an insufferable "missing you" rom-com montage. Everybody just let bygones be bygones. 

This movie also features Joe Mantegna, Harvey Keitel and John Turturro if you can believe it. I'm not alone in this affection for Off Beat. I had to do a little bit of research to prove I wasn't crazy. Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars and called it "a movie about sweet, likable people who get into a funny situation and watch it grow funnier the more they try to escape from it." I don't always agree with Roger, but in this instance I'll let him be my wingman.
Round Midnight (1986, Bertrand Tavernier) 
A powerful, potent tale of fictional jazz legend Dale Turner, played by real jazz legend Dexter Gordon. Gordon's natural charisma and gravitas anchor a film riddled with moments of tenderness and solitude. At times infringing on the cinema verite style of filmmaking, Round Midnight is a love letter to fans of jazz. It's hard to fathom that this film remains rather unseen, even by music fans. You don't have to love jazz to appreciate Round Midnight, but if you love jazz, there's just no excuse. It's a thrill watching the late, great Dexter Gordon own the screen in his only film performance. He offers a snapshot of himself, baring his soul (and maybe a bit of Bud Powell's as well, based on what I've read) and hiding behind the guise of the fictional story to suggest that it's not just Dexter Gordon you're seeing, but the struggles of all great jazz musicians of that era.  
Round Midnight and Crossroads share more than a few thematic threads. The nature of inspiration. The potency of our scars. The tragedy of creative brilliance. The movie shocked me upon first viewing - a viewing I believe was inspired by Midnight's appearance on another list featured on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.
X: The Unheard Music (1986, W.T. Morgan) 
A visceral collage of sight and sound. Familiarity with the band not necessary to enjoy this prescient, experimental rock-doc about the punk band that nobody knew because, as the film and the band members suggest, X never sold their soul to the highly commercialized institution. 

Fortunes have shifted somewhat for X, who are now revered for the very qualities that made them largely anonymous in the mid-1980's. Therefore, It might not be entirely fair to call X "the unheard music" anymore; they've gained a larger reputation as champions of the 1980's punk scene, and maybe even as the quintessential L.A. punk outfit. I do think it's fair to say that X: The Unheard Music is more X: The Unheard Music: the Unseen Documentary. The film stands out because it's more about the music and our visceral response to the music than it is the parts that actually fall into the "documentary" genre. This is experimental filmmaking, an 84-minute music video inspired by Un Chien Andalou.

Bonus picks:

Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986, Gene Saks) 
An underappreciated dramedy about growing up Polish-Jewish in the 1930's based on the Neil Simon play. Brighton reminds us that sex-crazed teenage boys were sex-crazed teenage boys in all eras. And while the film trades in some of the hornball tropes of the 1980's (albeit with a PG-13 decorum), Jonathan Silverman (in his first starring role) offers us a character about which we actually grow to care. He ponders how he'll make the Yankees with a name like Eugene, bemoans the haunting smell of cooked cabbage, and discusses with his brother which woman has the best boobs in the neighborhood. The movie bounces along, a series of clipped vignettes and side chats with the camera. No scene runs too long and most end abruptly after witty jab or comical quip. A solid script and quotable dialogue boost many endearing moments of pubescent angst. Blythe Danner and Bob Dishy are both fantastic as our horny, liver-hating protagonist's parents.
Peking Opera Blues (1986, Tsui Hark) 
Maybe it's not underrated, per say. I've seen claims that this is Tsui Hark's finest film. But is it just me or does nobody talk about this movie anymore? When I'm considering what movies are truly underseen or underrated for these lists, I often take to Letterboxd to compare log numbers. As I debated the merits of including Peaking Opera Blues on this list, I compared it with another Hong Kong film from 1986, A Better Tomorrow, just to see where it stood, raw numbers-wise. Woo's film has been logged more than six times that of Hark's. There's a few contributing factors here. Action readily transcends cultural barriers, and Woo's a far bigger name here in the United States than Hark. But I don't care about any of that. Great movies are great movies and Peking Opera Blues is a great goddamn movie, the kind of broad comedy that recalls the screwballs of the classic studio era. Bringing Up Baby comes to mind. A genre-less blend of action, comedy, adventure and gender-bending chaos. The narrative never stops for a breather, but the controlled, anarchic chaos is hardly the only selling point. Set in 1913 Beijing, Peking Opera Blues offers a visual splendor of sets, costumes and theatrical design. You may note a few murky bits of gender politics, but it's hard to focus precisely on any of the film's warts when the story constantly usurps expectation. Every character in the film is putting on some kind of performance - be it for the cause of theater, espionage, or rebellion - all for the benefit of our pure entertainment.