Rupert Pupkin Speaks: July 2016 ""

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Scream Factory - HELLHOLE and BAD MOON on Blu-ray

HELLHOLE (1985; Pierre De Morro)
My joke with this movie is, "Hey look, it's the film based on the popular Spinal Tap Song!". Silly I know, but I couldn't help myself.
HELLHOLE is an Arkoff International picture. Not to be confused with American International, Arkoff International is the company that Samuel Z. Arkoff formed after he sold of his shares of AIP. HELLHOLE was the last movie produced by Arkoff International. Previous to this, they had done Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, THE FINAL TERROR and UP THE CREEK. Though far from well-known, the other three Arkoff International productions are certainly more renowned than HELLHOLE. Interestingly, HELLHOLE is the most exploitation slanted of all the Arkoff International oeuvre. It's basically a women in prison movie, with all the nudity (unnecessary shower scenes and whatnot), lesbianism and general sleaziness of the American International/New World Pictures classics like CAGED HEAT and THE BIG BIRD CAGE. It also gets a little boost of cult appeal due to the cast. Roger Corman and AIP regular Mary Woronov plays a much more evil version of Nurse Ratchet here and she's great of course. Also, 80s movie fans will recognize star Judy Landers from her many appearances in various films from the period. Also, Terry Moore is in this and I have been a fan of hers since I saw SHACK OUT ON 101 for the first time. As for the dudes in the cast, you've got Ray Sharkey, Marjoe Gortner, Robert Z'Dar, and Richard Cox - all of whom will be familiar if you watched any serious amount of 80s action movies and television. The story of HELLHOLE is pretty straightforward. A woman (Landers) witnesses the death of her mother at the hands of a disturbing creep called Silk (Sharkey) and suffers a serious fall which leaves her an amnesiac. She ends up in a mental institution where she continues to be tormented by Silk and also by the crazies and the doctors at the place. It's a real skeezefest overall, with copious amounts of nudity - so if that's your bag then this may be worth a look.
Bonus Features:
-NEW Interview With Actress Mary Woronov
-Original Theatrical Trailer
While the features are a little thin on this disc, the Woronov interview is fantastic as she is just one of my favorite people ever.

BAD MOON (1996; Eric Red)
This one had slipped by me. As much as I enjoy many aspects of it, including that it's a werewolf movie and that it stars Michael Pare and Mariel Hemmingway - two actors that I like very much. It even has a post DENACE THE MENACE/pre RUSHMORE Mason Gamble, which is very cool as well. Eric Red (writer of THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK) directs here and he had done the same for the 90s horror gem BODY PARTS prior to this.
This movie has another example of "animal vision" as a stylistic choice. In this case, it is used to represent the POV of both werewolves and dogs. This type of thing is often shown as a skewed perspective and in this case, it looks like a vertically squished 2.35 to 1 framing. You know, kind of like that look you used to see when a Panavision frame was horizontally squeezed into a 4:3 square aspect ratio, but in this case, everything is wider and strange looking as opposed to tall. It's an interesting choice as it is kind of disorienting, though you'd think this kind of "hunter" perspective would be a little more clear. Anyway, it's a stylistic conceit that's a little overdone, but always ups the tension in a scene as it makes us aware of where the werewolf is and the proximity to a potential victim. One thing this movie has a decent amount of is werewolf violence. The other big plus is the large amount of practical werewolf and gore effects. Steve Johnson (while he's no Rick Baker, Rob Bottin or Tom Savini) headed up the FX team here and he does a solid job. Johnson worked on such other films as BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, DEAD HEAT, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III, PET SEMATARY II, HIGHWAY TO HELL and BRAINSCAN and more so it's clear that he knows what he's doing and the movie benefits greatly from it. As much as I love THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK, I didn't find this to be one of Eric Red's strongest writing efforts. It's still enjoyable nonetheless with this cast and some solid special effects work though, but don't expect Aaron Sorkin-esque dialogue. The movie has one of my own personal big pet peeves in that it has a brother character (Pare) calling his sister (Hemmingway) "Sis", which I've never heard anyone say in real life. I have two sisters myself and I've called them plenty of names on my life, but sis has never ever been one of them. Thats said, if you a werewolf movie fan (and I most certainly am) and a practical makeup/effects fan - this movie is something you might dig.
Bonus Features:
Scream Factory has put together a nice collection of extras here that should absolutely please fans of the movie:
-High-definition Theatrical Cut Of The Film Plus A NEW Director’s Version Supervised And Approved By Eric Red
-NEW Nature of the Beast: Making Bad Moon Featuring Interviews With Writer/Director Eric Red, Actors Michael Paré And Mason Gamble, Special Effects Make-up Artist Steve Johnson And Stunt Coordinator Ken Kirzinger
-NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Eric Red (Director’s Version Only)
-Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Eric Red And Actor Michael Paré (Theatrical Cut)
-Unrated Opening Scene From The Director’s First Cut (Sourced from VHS)
-3 Storyboard Sequences
-Original Theatrical Trailer

Olive Films - GUN THE MAN DOWN and THE QUIET GUN on Blu-ray

GUN THE MAN DOWN (1956; Andrew V. McLaglen)
I love it when a movie cuts right to the chase. I also like it when a movie kicks of by "introducing" Angie Dickinson. GUN THE MAN DOWN does both. It opens with three thieves plotting to rob a bank. It literally starts almost mid-sentence. No opening music or credits even (not until after this scene). I always enjoy those well-worn "heist planning" scenes anyway (you know - the ones where one guy is pointing to a map of the target) so to have one right at the front is fun. Even the actual robbery itself is played out in a few shots with a couple guns shooting at camera. I love the economy of the storytelling. Also enjoyable are revenge stories in general. There's just this primal instinct in all of us to want to see injustice avenged - even outside the bounds of what the law would have found a suitable comeuppance. James Arness plays Rem Anderson here and he's the fella that gets left behind by his scumbag partners after their bank holdup. Not only do they leave him wounded (to be picked up by the authorities), but on top of that - they even drag his girl (Angie Dickinson) with them. Serious dick move. A lot of folks may recognize Arness for his longtime role on TV's GUNSMOKE, or any of the oodles of other westerns he made, but I know him from THEM (one of my favorites) and from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (where he played the creature). He's a solid leading man and this is a solid revenge western. And any movie with a young Angie Dickinson is alright by me. I feel like her character here has a kinship with her "Feathers" character from RIO BRAVO (one of my favorite movies). It's almost like an prequel version of that character or something. And the movie has another direct tie to RIO BRAVO in that Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez has a small part too. Another neat thing that I noticed is that  the film is written by Burt Kennedy. Kennedy is responsible for some of the best Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott Westerns (THE TALL T, RIDE LONESOME, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW) and you can feel the hand of an assured and clever writer behind this story. Kennedy was great at these low-budget, stripped down tales of retribution. Also interesting is that this movie is a BATJAC production. BATJAC was John Wayne's production company, which was founded in the 1950s. Director Andrew V. McLaglen worked with John Wayne a lot. He would go on to direct some really solid Wayne films in the 60s like HELLFIGHTERS, CHISUM and CAHILL, U.S. MARSHALL.

GUN THE MAN DOWN can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

THE QUIET GUN (1957; William F. Claxton)
"Now shoot or shut up!"
Interestingly, this movie also features an actor who did tons of westerns, but also dabbled in a bit of science fiction genre work. That would be Forrest Tucker of course and he was in stuff like THE CRAWLING EYE and THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN. I like him a lot in both of those films - though he seems more at home in a western like this. This movie also features the great Lee Van Cleef and since he's one of my very favorite actors, there's big points for that. The flick even opens with a short and sweet little standoff between Van Cleef and Tucker after the former has been harassing John Ford regular Hank Worden. It's a nice, subtle little exchange, but Lee Van Cleef is dynamite in this sorta thing so the tension runs high. All he needs is another actor that can hold their own against his badassery and Tucker does just fine as the town sheriff in this movie.
This movie came recommend from my friend Laura (of Laura's Misc Musings) who has turned me onto many a fine western film discovery. This one is a neat little story with some unexpected turns and it's well worth a look. Lots of law taken into civilian hands and we know that that means trouble. Also, a slightly RIO BRAVO-ish vibe to be found here too in spots and you know I can't get enough of that. Just a whole lot of people doing things on their own terms and the conflict that arises from it. Also a good running gag with the town undertaker and a solid climactic shootout. 
The movie was shot in lovely black and white 2.35 to and the Olive Films Blu-ray transfer looks nice.

THE QUIET GUN can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Friday, July 29, 2016

Books: THE GOOD, THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY: Action Movies & Stars 1960s-Present

David J. Moore has quick become one of my favorite movie book authors. On the off chance you didn't snag his previous tome: WORLD GONE WILD, you really should. It's a great-looking omnibus about post apocalyptic films and it deserves a spot on your shelf. That said, he may have even topped himself with THE GOOD, THE TOUGH & THE DEADLY as it is an even bigger and more epic magnum opus this time and it is a thing of beauty. Though there are certainly a lot of publishers still putting out nice hardcover coffee table books, it seems like they are not quite as prominent as they once were. With as much reading as we all do digitally nowadays (online, kindle etc), I wonder of some folks have forgotten (or maybe never known) the pleasure of holding a physical book - let alone a wonderfully assembled, heavy-duty, tactile reference guide such as this. 

The book is laid out in a cool, but practical way and is broken down alphabetically and the selection of titles is very thorough. You can tell that this thing was assembled by a huge fan of action films - from the big releases on down to plenty of straight-to-video films I've never heard of (many of which either caught my eye or had been on my "to watch" radar for some time). Lots of artwork, posters and lobby cards from the films have been included as well. Many of them are from Moore's own personal collection too, which is quite cool and shows just how much he loves the genre and how it has been a part of his life for a long time.
As with WORLD GONE WILD, Moore has included TONS of interviews with actors and filmmakers who worked on these movies. Lots of names you'll recognize right away like: Carl Weathers, Fred Williamson, Michael Dudikoff, Lorenzo Lamas, Roddy Piper, Olivier Gruner, Billy Blanks, Reb Brown, Cynthia Rothrock, Zoe Bell, Gary Daniels, Mark Dacascos, Don "The Dragon Wilson", Michael Jai White, Sam Firstenberg, Boaz Davidson, Mark Goldblatt, Phillip Rhee, Leon Issac Kennedy,  and there's even a short chat with Wesley Snipes!

There are a bunch more interviews too - with some folks whose names may not be as immediately familiar, but are nonetheless worthwhile like: Scott Adkins, Mike Moeller, Martyn Burke, Loren Avedon, Jino Kang, Ben Ramsey, Daniel Bernhardt, Matthias Hues, Eric Jacobus, Mimi Lessesos, Cung Le, Steve Wang, James Lew, Karen Sheperd, Dale "Apollo" Cook, Darren Shalavi, Matt Mullins, Mathis Landwehr, Taimak, Sheldon Lettich, Jerry Trimble, Marko Zaror, James Bruner, Issac Florentine, Ross Clarkson, Tim Man, Jesse Johnson, Al Leong, Art Camacho, Kane Kosugi, Isaac Florentine, Ernie Barbarash, Bryan Genesse, Michael Worth, John Hyams, Keith Vitali and more.

This is such a solid book - literally (you could really hurt somebody with it - which is fitting) and figuratively. It looks great and feels nice to hold in your hands and flip through. It makes me nostalgic for the VHS era and the days when countless action titles littered the video store shelves of my youth. In this era of streaming media (which I have certainly embraced by the way), THE GOOD, THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY offers up lots of movies that you may have to hunt a little to find. Stuff that's not streaming and has never made to Blu-ray (they may only be available on out of print DVD or VHS tapes). Films that you may have passed over in the cheapie bin at some point because you couldn't tell if they might be worth picking up. I love books like this because they offer up lots of fodder for film discoveries and plenty of rollicking fun entertainment. Action movies are very much out to entertain you and a lot of these will be new to a lot of people. Moore also conveniently lists the format (DVD, VHS etc) and the company that produced each film to aid in finding them. There's even a nice "Index of Action Stars" in the back of the book that shows what actors have been mention and which of their films were reviewed (plus there's also an alphabetical index of all the movies as well).
As a lifelong action movie fan, I feel like I know a thing or two about these movies, but this book just made me realize how much I still have left to check out.I think there's something in here for even the most hardcore action movies fans to discover, which is pretty neat. And since it's pretty much up to date and not many books like this have been written recently, there are a ton of recent films listed along with the older stuff. Not that any of us have a shortage of things to watch these days, but it's nice to know that there is SO MUCH more out there to be enjoyed. Taschen, eat your heart out - this beast is as good or better than anything you ever did.

You can pickup the book via Amazon here (and you should):


ZELIG (1983; Woody Allen)
Amidst a career as vast as Woody Allen's, it should be no surprise that some of his better efforts get lost over time. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, INTERIORS, ANOTHER WOMAN and others just don't get the continued love and affection that many of his other movies do. ZELIG is one of those films and it's more interesting because of how it could have been an influence on stylistic trends we are bombarded with these days. You see, it's a mockumentary of sorts and though it's not quite the first of it's kind, it is certainly an example of this narrative approach that I'm sure more people (and future filmmakers) saw around the time it came out (or even on video) and that shows how effective said approach can be. Nowadays, it is completely commonplace for movies and TV shows to use a "found footage" or faux documentary style even though we are absolutely aware of the artifice
In the case of ZELIG, Allen is clearly going for more of an "is this real?" kind of thing and at the time, I'm sure the film may have given more than a few viewers moments of pause before they might have caught on to what he was doing. I know for a fact that Paul Thomas Anderson was influenced by ZELIG. In the introduction to the published version of his script for BOOGIE NIGHTS, he talks about it in relation to the DIRK DIGGLER STORY short he made which was ultimately expanded into a feature:
"The short film was a fictional documentary, basically a Spinal Tap and Zelig rip-off. A couple of years later, when I was nineteen, I expanded the short into a feature, keeping the structure of a fictional documentary. Well, by that time, the format, so wonderfully done so many times, had, in fact, 'been done so many times.'"

When I was getting into Anderson's work after being blown away by BOOGIE NIGHTS, I found statements like this to be indicative of a true movie person. Nobody (not even other directors) I was reading interviews with at the time were name checking ZELIG and I thought that was pretty neat. Peter Jackson was certainly a ZELIG-ite as well and he made his own faux documentary FORGOTTEN SILVER (which is great if you haven't seen it) that was the closest "historical hoax" doc cousin to Allen's film that I can think of. 
Woody does a nice job establishing something that feels real right of the gate with an opening interview bite from American writer/activist Susan Sontag that depicts her recollecting Zelig as if he were a true (if odd) historical figure. The basic idea of Leonard Zelig (played by Woody Allen) the man is that he rose to some notoriety in the 1920s for his chameleon-like ability to take on the characteristics of high profile folks of that era. Allen does a delightful job of blending archival footage with his own newsreel-style black and white sequences and still photos of Zelig himself as well as present-day conversations with scholars and intellectuals about this enigmatic fellow and his exploits. What starts as a pretty straightforward near-PBS type thing becomes more and more ridiculous and outlandish, but in that sometimes subtle Woody Allen kind of way, which makes it a fun watch. Interestingly, Woody doesn't say all that much throughout the course of the film. A good portion of the Zelig footage in the film is MOS and thus Allen is left to either express the comedy through his actions or his face - much like a silent film actor. 
Special Features:
-Isolated score track
-Original Theatrical Trailer

Buy ZELIG on Blu-ray here:

When I was a kid, my family was fully immersed in the VCR and renting videos culture. What we were less into was HBO and other premium pay cable channels. Economically, it just wasn't a thing that worked for us. We did however have basic cable and very much enjoyed the "HBO Free Weekends" which cropped up regularly during the mid to late 1980s. HBO is a fascinating cultural touchstone in that it is still an extremely relevant channel today (now more than ever), but it was a huge deal back then for different reasons. Back then, there was a seemingly limited pool of movies that could be licensed and shown on premium movie channels like HBO, so certain films got run repeatedly. We still see this a bit today, but with so many more options for content available, it doesn't impact the culture in the same way. When  I was a kid, EVERYBODY knew THE CANNONBALL RUN really well because it ran on HBO all the time. That and BEASTMASTER (HBO has even been affectionately called "Hey Beastmaster's On").  Movie fans today don't fully understand the impact of huge swaths of people seeing the same movies over and over. Sure, we still watch movies again and again now, but it's not the same because we have so much more to see (in terms of both TV and films) that we don't always watch things into the ground like we did back in those 80s HBO days. When you watch a movie enough times, it just becomes part of your DNA and I miss that. I miss those cable regularities that you could throw out lines from or start conversations about anywhere. THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS ('bout time I actually get the the movie right?) was just such a cable TV staple for me when I was a kid. I think I may have even seen it before I saw THE BLACK STALLION (which I also undoubtedly caught on HBO) but that didn't matter. It made enough sense to me as a youngster and I was particularly intrigued by the movie because I had the tendency to only catch parts of it for a while before I finally saw the whole thing. That's another thing that doesn't happen as much now with so much of our movie watching done via streaming. There's something fascinating (if not altogether ideal) of seeing movies in parts. You kind of have to put the pieces you've already scene together in your head and when you finally see the complete film, your experience with it is different. Anyway, about the time that THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS was cropping up on TV, I was in a big INDIANA JONES phase. I had seen the first movie and TEMPLE OF DOOM in the theater and was utterly captivated by them. Needless to say, I was then drawn to any adventure-y films I came across from ALLAN QUATERMAIN to ROMANCING THE STONE (another cable favorite) to whatever else you can think of. THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS fit the bill for me at the time as it featured some exciting action sequences and the garb and general atmosphere reminded me of RAIDERS in some ways. On top of that, I was then and am still a big fan of animal movies. By that I mean movies wherein in there is a bond between a person and their animal - be it a dog (most often), cat, or horse. There is always this unspoken affection and loyalty conveyed generously by movies like this and it really has always struck a chord for me. I guess that's why I love dogs as much as I do and the reason that I've had them around pretty much my entire life, but I digress. THE BLACK STALLION got a nice Criterion Blu-ray last summer, which was great and well deserved treatment for a fine motion picture. It is a magical and moving effort from director Carroll Ballard. It's never been altogether forgotten, but the same can't be said for THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS. I must admit myself that when I got my hands on that Criterion Blu-ray, never once did I think about RETURNS again. I knew it had existed, but it had completely slipped from my memory because it had been so long since I had seen it. It wasn't until Twilight Time announced their Blu-ray that I finally had my "oh yeah!" moment. When I saw that artwork again, it started to come back to me again. 
As with a lot of sequels and follow-ups, THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS ups the ante a bit and cuts to the chase (literally) a bit more quickly than the first film did. A lot of what is wonderful about THE BLACK STALLION is its poetic lyricism and many quieter moments. RETURNS has some of that, but it is ultimately a bit more conventional (and that's not meant as a knock against it). It's really just the story of a boy trying to get his horse back from some bad guys and the peril he gets himself into to do so. I think that having both BLACK STALLION films is a boost to any cinephile's collection of family-friendly fare and I've often found that my kids get more invested in movies when there are more than one chapter to them. I think we are all just looking for a familiarity of characters and a little bit of adventure after all and THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS has both.
Special Features:
-Isolated score track
-Original Theatrical Trailer

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Underrated '76 - 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.

See his Underrated '86 list here:

I own a lot of unwatched movies on DVD and Blu-ray. I'm a lifelong collector/watcher/student of film and therefore this pile of shame just can't be avoided. Films just aren't as available to rent as they used to be. The last niche or specialty video store in my neighborhood closed down six years ago. Even that was strictly a tiny oasis of broad and bizarre horror offerings. The VHS collection, however, was something to behold. 

So I blind buy a lot of movies with the explicit intent to watch, but life happens and yada yada yada the number of movies I watch rarely exceeds the number that take up residence on my shelves during any given month. With the rental system there were consequences. Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime, stuff on YouTube... these things don't decrease unwatched piles. My wife calls it a disease. I don't disagree, but the tone I'd use to describe this affliction takes on radically different airs. There are far worse diseases to have than a need to be surrounded by movies. And books, too. I'm no heathen.

 As this pertains to Underrated 1976, I've done an intensely scientific survey that concluded I own more unwatched movies from 1976 than any other year. After my definitive selection of three titles, I stared at the my certifiable heap of unwatched '76ers and thought to myself "This must be the biggest of all unwatched heaps." The certifiable heap stared back. Greek horror. Spaghetti westerns. Italian thrillers. Burt Reynolds. Blaxploitation. Fellini. 
J.D.'s Revenge (Arthur Marks, 1976) 
A Blaxploitation film crossed with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde crossed with a 1940's gangster flick. The elevator pitch for J.D.'s Revenge sold me on this film when I came across it on Amazon Streaming some time ago. Otherwise I'd never heard of it. This is quintessential Blaxploitation: hard-boiled and built for pure entertainment without pretense. 

Glynn Turman and Lou Gossett chew scenery and sell a preposterously high concept through stone-faced commitment to their roles. The actors all appear to enjoy themselves so much that by film's end when everyone just accepts the outlandish events with a laugh and a wink - that an old-timey gangster inherited the body of an otherwise standup law student to hunt down the stool pigeon (who ratted him out to the coppers) - you're laughing and winking right along with them, because these things just happen sometimes, ya know?! 

 The only caveat might be the specific narrative that involves the possessed student (played by Turman) beating and raping his girlfriend (while possessed by the ghost of the 1940's gangster, mind you). I'd wager that your enjoyment of the movie hinges on your ability to contextualize these scenes as part of the horror film contained within this underappreciated Blaxploitation classic. The scenes are uncomfortable, without a doubt, but they're not exploitative or played for thrills. The man possessing Turman is a bad man. And this is a really bad thing that really bad men do in movies to show how bad they really are. 

The Magic Blade (Chor Yuen, 1976) 
 I couldn't decide whether to include this Shaw Brothers' essential. It is indeed a 100% certified classic of the Hong Kong swordplay genre. Still, I rarely hear it discussed. 

The Magic Blade is a movie out of time. The 1970's saw the rise of Shaw Bros. kung fu genre to global importance. Chor Yuen's The Magic Blade, however, strongly recalls King Hu's wuxia films of the 1960's. Filmed on the Shaw Bros' massive sound stages, the stylized set design and costuming coupled with the elaborate fight choreography and weaponry turn this entry in the wuxia genre into an engrossing fever dream of color and shadow. 

Fu Hung-Hsueh (Ti Lung, clad in a Clint Eastwood / Man with No Name poncho) aims to kill a competing swordsman, Yen Nan-Fei (Lo Lieh), but finds himself partnering with his foe to fend off attacks from the all-powerful Lord Yu and his assassins. The non-stop action and conflicts concern something called "the Peacock Dart." Peacock Dart means MacGuffin in Mandarin. I can only assume. The film unfolds with the shifting logic of Alice in Wonderland, but all you really need to know is that Ti Lung is badass. He fights a lot. Also, the movie just looks really slick. 

The Magic Blade is the mystic link between the classic Hong Kong cinema and the mainstream explosion in the 1980's, which played fast and loose with genre convention and pushed technological boundaries. This kind of internal conflict between tradition and progress unfolded in the work of Tsui Hark, for example. For Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Tsui tapped the classic wuxia genre but imported Hollywood technicians to create unprecedented special effects. Maybe The Magic Blade doesn't have the same notoriety because it was the one of the guys in Swingers, going from party to party saying, "This place is dead, anyway," before taking its ass home and waiting for someone to call. Too early for the 1980's genre explosion party and too late for the 1960's wuxia. 

Nickelodeon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1976) 
Who would have thought that Burt Reynolds and Ryan O'Neal would become my new favorite comedic duo of 1976? 

Peter Bogdanovich's ode to silent filmmaking goes down like cinematic comfort food. By using the visual beats and rhythms of silent comedies to pace his film, Bogdanovich creates instant nostalgia for a bygone celluloid - or rather, nitrate - era. While Nickelodeon plays like a screwball farce, the film is also a thinly veiled (perhaps not veiled at all?) skewering of the Hollywood studio machine, a studio machine that perhaps not coincidentally battled him throughout the production of the film. Bogdanovich also claims that the story is based on tales told to him by silent directors Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan. Directors Walsh and Dwan were unavailable for comment. 

Without knowing the troubled production while viewing, you still get the sense that certain elements seemed to have had gone awry. Bogodanovich and Lazslo Kovacs wanted to shoot Nickelodeon in a high-contrast, grainy black and white style, reminiscent of the era. Kovacs lit everything for black & white cinematography, but Columbia refused because they wanted a broad comedy like What's Up, Doc? Era- specific camera techniques remain, however, like irising in and out of scenes. The studio even outright cancelled the film when Bogdanovich added Tatum O'Neal to the cast on top of the bloated salaries of Ryan O'Neal and Reynolds. British Lion provided additional budget and Bogdanovich sacrificed a share of his salary in order to complete production. 

Counterpoint to all of this: Producer Irwin Winker who'd purchased the original script by W.D. Richter believes it was Bogdanovich who "screwed up a really terrific script." The end result is clearly the sort of muddled mess that would cause a director to semi-retire for a few years to find his center, but it's also fun and scatterbrained and well intended in the tradition of some of Hollywood's finest mistakes. 

Nuts in May (Mike Leigh, 1976) 
Mike Leigh's biting satire on the back-to-nature phenomenon comes off initially as a lark (this camping thing is shite!), but by film's end you start to sense Leigh's seething distaste for the absurd pretensions of the middle class. Nuts in May is actually a passive-aggressive thinkpiece about class wars. And as a result, this seems to be one of the most very British things I've ever seen. 

Made for TV, Nuts in May depicts a horribly grating married couple, Keith (Roger Sloman) and Candice Marie (Alison Steadman), on their quest to find the ultimate camping destination. To borrow a phrase from Joe vs. the Volcano, they long to be "away from the things of man" - but their efforts leave only a trail of bourgeois pretense and disillusionment in their wake. They harangue a man at a quarry about fossils and barter for unpasteurized milk. The condescending Keith parades his misguided knowledge about the number of times one must chew a vegetarian meal and lambastes Candice Marie about her particular footwear decisions. He attacks a fellow camper with a tree branch for not respecting nature and then properly loses his gourd when a lower-class couple dares to thoughtlessly have a good time in his vicinity. Keith's good intentions become lost in cold formality and ignorance. 

You'll be singing a tone deaf "I want to see the zoo, she said, I want to see the zoo..." for days after your viewing and slowly, ever so slowly, coming to realize that you even saw a small part of yourself in Keith and Candice Marie. This is Mike Leigh at his most acerbic, but also his most accessible. 

The Ritz (Richard Lester, 1976) 
I wrote about The Ritz some time ago for my Underrated Comedy list on this here website. I stand by my love of The Ritz. In fact, I popped in my Warner Archive disk recently to watch a couple of scenes for this blurb and I'm still surprised that a movie got away with this brand of social comedy. This is the perfect example of why we should embrace the anything-goes filmmaking style of that decade. Porous and ill-defined genre barriers. Daring to offend without fear. 

Upon close inspection, however, this film about a persona non grata (Proclo, played by Jack Warden) using a gay bathhouse as a hideout presents stereotypes from all ends of the spectrum. It isn't offensive unless you only focus on certain eccentric aspects of the production. If you choose to be offended, you will. The gay characters in the film are all far better humans. 

The movie succeeds because of the vivid supporting performances from F. Murray Abraham and Rita Morena as Googy Gomez, D-grade nightclub singer. And then, like the cherry on top of the whole manic sundae, Jerry Stiller runs around ranting and raging for the final thirty minutes (and I ask what else would you have him do?). The movie devolves into a slapstick cacophony residing somewhere between Jack Benny and the finale of Casino Royale (1967). 

As an adaptation of the original Broadway play, I've read that The Ritz suffers. I can't testify to any of that. I can only enjoy what we've got here on the screen. And that's an effective, offbeat farce depicting New York City's grimy and glamorous bathhouse culture of the 1970's from the director that brought you A Hard Day's Night and Superman II. 

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Herbert Ross, 1976) 
How much fun is this movie? Goddamn. Sherlock, Watson and Sigmund Freud solving a kidnapping while Freud aims to cure Sherlock of his cocaine addiction? Fun without being flippant and serious without ever being dour or mired in procedural minutiae. 

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution may have slipped through the cracks for a couple of reasons. First, it doesn't really fall into any one genre. Second, it doesn't treat its famed protagonist with traditional reverence. So the Sherlock purists won't champion Nicol Williamson's portrayal of the detective. Director Herbert Ross embellishes the character's identity as an addict and as an ill-adjusted human unfit for public consumption. It's the interplay between Sherlock and Alan Arkin's Freud that puts this Holmes mystery over the top. When in doubt, cast Alan Arkin. Speaking of casting... this movie features Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin, Nicol Williamson, Vanessa Redgrave, Joel Gray, Charles Gray and Laurence Olivier. Top that. (That's your cue to pull up the "Top That" clip from Teen Witch.) 

I do want to take a moment here to reflect on the career of director Herbert Ross, a man who quietly, almost anonymously, churned out a 24-film career of highly entertaining movies. Underrated gems like this one, The Last of Sheila, Pennies from Heaven, My Blue Heaven, and Play It Again, Sam... all the way up to Footloose, Steel Magnolias, The Goodbye Girl, The Secret of My Success, and Funny Lady. For the longest time I only knew Ross as the director of Footloose. It wasn't until I first saw The Seven-Per-Cent Solution a few years ago and made the great "Herbert Ross Connection" that I recognized how omnipresent he'd actually been. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Olive Films - THE RATINGS GAME and GANG RELATED on Blu-ray

THE RATINGS GAME (1984: Danny Devito)
It's crazy to me how long Danny Devito's career has lasted. He's obviously a ridicoulsly talented comic actor, but even so, a lot of his contemporaries from the 1980s have faded into obscurity by now. Devitio is very much in the brash 80s RUTHLESS PEOPLE mode in THE RATINGS GAME, where he plays Vic DeSalvo - a trucking magnate who wants to throw his hat into the ring of TV producing. When he fails to make any headway with the major networks, he sneaks his way into last rated MBC. With a lineup of shows like H.O.T.B.O.D.S. AND LEVAR, WHACKED OUT (about a guy who pretends to be a woman to get in the army), THE DAWN PATROL (about a group of garbage men), THE SENATOR AND STINKY and BEERNUTS - MBC is in a position to be looking for some new programming. Vic DeSalvo manages to get in to see an MBC development executive on his last day, just after he's been unsanctimoniously fired. As revenge, the exec green lights one of DeSalvo's TV show ideas. It's called SITTIN' PRETTY and it's all about two twins who find themselves with in college and with a new roommate (played by Devito). The MBC execs are none to thrilled with the show, so they stick it up against The World Series to bury it. Little do they know that Devito and Perlman have a plan to make it a big hit.
There's a kind of a UHF vibe to some of the TV shows, even though the whole thing is a bit more dramatic while still taking a lot of satirical jabs at show business in general. It's kind of this charming love story between Devito and Rhea Perlman mixed with this spoofy comedy thing. It was apparently the first original movie financed entirely by Showtime Networks (and was shown heavily on The Movie Channel, which they owned) and is of course the directorial debut of Devito in films.
The supporting cast is great and includes the likes of Vincent Schiavelli, Kevin McCarthy, Garrit Graham, and Michael Richards with cameos by Jerry Seinfeld, George Wendt, Jason Hervey, Huntz Hall (in his last film).

THE RATINGS GAME can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

GANG RELATED (1997; Jim Kouf)
This is one of those 90s movies that only stands out to me for a few reasons. First, it came out on VHS when I was working at a video store so I do remember it from back then. The other thing that stood out was that it was a Tupac movie. To me, it just seemed like a gimmicky urban police drama that was meant as a vehicle for Shakur. I never bothered to watch it back then because I made the unwarranted assumption that Tupac was a bad actor and the movie must be bad because of him. Despite my being a big fan of James Belushi, I wrote it off. So this movie was completely lost to me and this Blu-ray was like an archaeological dig. It was a throwback to the time when Tupac was a huge part of the popular culture of the time and he is certainly not as much so today. He has been somewhat immortalized by his untimely demise, but people are not talking about this movie nowadays. What I didn’t expect was that Tupac was actually pretty good here. Belushi is solid too. The duo play some cops who make a major mistake when they murder an undercover DEA agent and then get assigned to solve the crime. The cops have to scramble to find a scapegoat and in doing so, they paint themselves into bit of a corner. As lies have a tendency to do, these lies spiral out of control and the tension continues to amp up. Shakur and Belushi are a good team. Shakur has this ability to make his performance feel real and genuine and Belushi is great as this kind of desperate, but oddly charismatic character. These cops are not all that sympathetic, but the actors pull off a sizeable feat in making you kind of root for them not to get caught. Kudos to Belushi and Shakur for pulling it off and making this film more engaging than I expected.
Supporting cast includes Dennis Quaid, David Paymer, James Earl Jones and Gary Cole.

GANG RELATED can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New Release Roundup - July 26th, 2016

DEADLINE U.S.A. on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

DEADLY TRACKERS on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

DEATH WISH II on Blu-ray (Shout Factory)

THE NEW WORLD on Blu-ray (Criterion)

THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)

PETEY WHEATSTRAW on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)

THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)

HELLHOLE on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)

FIVE MILES TO MIDNIGHT on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

THE INVITATION on Blu-ray (Drafthouse Films)

SING STREET on Blu-ray (Starz/Anchor Bay)

THE BOSS on Blu-ray (Universal)

HARDCORE HENRY on Blu-ray (Universal)

ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST on Blu-ray (Severin Films)


Criterion Collection - CARNIVAL OF SOULS on Blu-ray

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962; Herk Harvey)
One of the things I that I think most draws people to movies is their ability to occasionally capture the feel and texture of a dream. I'm not necessarily taking about "dream sequences" in films either. No, I'm more referring to atmosphere. Atmosphere is something that cinema can do better than just about any other medium. Sometimes style and a lack straightforward logic can express so much in terms of setting a mood or giving an uneasy impression. There's something about black and white too that carries a dreamlike quality. Director Herk Harvey was an industrial filmmaker by trade and made CARNIVAL for the low low price of $30,000. He said they selected black and white film to give it "the feel of a Bergman and the look of a Cocteau". While the film doesn't quite achieve those things, it does achieve it's own thing which is quite distinct and haunting. Writer John Clifford attributes some of the film's continued notoriety to the fact that he and Herk Harvey were not trying to copy the success of other films of the time.  I'd like to think that because they both came from working outside Hollywood and the filmmaking tropes and style of big movies of the period - they were able to come up with this thing that is pretty unique. And it's basically one of the first modern zombie movies ever (and Herk Harvey himself plays one of the zombies by the way). We're talking about a time pre-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and George A. Romero has acknowledged that CARNIVAL OF SOULS was certainly an inspiration for him. The film is a contemporary of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and that is perhaps its closest relative. Watching CARNIVAL OF SOULS all the way through, you can't help but put it into that same supernatural category as Rod Serling's classic show and that's not a bad thing at all.

The story of CARNIVAL OF SOULS is a pretty simple one. Mary Henry is an organist who gets into a car accident (the car that she is riding in ends up going off a bridge into a river). After she emerges from the river, she ends up on a trip to a new church to become the organist there. Along the way on her journey, she is constantly menaced by this zombie fella - "The Man" (Harvey). He just appears to her over and over again and scares the crap out of her and then disappears. When Mary finally gets to Salt Lake City, things get even creepier. The actress that plays Mary - Candace Hilligoss  - has this very interesting exotic look to her. A lot of it has to do with her face and her eyes. She's almost elf-like in some way and that only adds to the overall fabric of fantasy that the movie creates. She was apparently in acting training with Lee Strasberg around the time she was cast and her peers there were Marilyn Monroe and Roy Scheider among others.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS is a cult movie in the purest sense of the descriptor. It is strange in this very memorable way. I've often thought it would make and interesting leith F with one of the greatest cult films of all time - ERASERHEAD. I can't exactly explain why these two might go together, but there's something about the loneliness and isolation of the two main characters tat resonates with me in a similar way. Don't get me wrong, CARNIVAL OF SOULS is tame in its weirdness when compared to ERASERHEAD, but they both have this feeling underlying the visuals that makes me think a person's mind would be melted a little if watched back to back. Interestingly, David Lynch himself has cited CARNIVAL as a favorite of his - which totally makes sense.
 One of the most unforgettable things about the movie is the ending and it's use of the abandoned and decaying Saltair Pavillion in Salt Lake City Utah. There's really no place like it. I have this odd fascination with abandoned amusement parks and such and the Saltair Pavilion is one part that and one part dance hall - but it's 100 percent bizarre and ghostly looking. Another thing that stands out and helps the mood is the film's score by Gene Moore. It's all organ music and that obviously plays into Mary Henry's character, but that sound also adds this otherworldly creepiness that makes everything that much more eerie. It's hypnotic and mesmerizing while still adding to the overall sense of disorientation we feel while watching it.

Cult movie writer Danny Peary says of the movie, "But, rather than being a straight horror film, it delivers a message similar to the one in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS about how we are all turning into pod people. Mary is such a passive, uninvolved (soulless) character --she has no religious convictions, no interest in men,no desire for friendship--that she was never really alive."

Special Features:

This disc sports a nice looking new transfer - which is great, but it should be noted that this release doesn't contain both the theatrical and director's cut versions of the film (as the previous Criterion DVD did). This one just has the theatrical cut, so you may want to hang onto your old discs if you want both*. Nonetheless, this new Blu-ray has some nice supplements:
-New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
-Selected-scene audio commentary featuring director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford
-New interview with comedian and writer Dana Gould
-New video essay by film critic David Cairns
-The Movie That Wouldn’t Die!, a documentary on the 1989 reunion of the film’s cast and crew
-The Carnival Tour, a 2000 update on the film’s locations
-Excerpts from movies made by the Centron Corporation, an industrial film company based in Lawrence, Kansas, that once employed Harvey and Clifford
-Deleted scenes
-Outtakes, accompanied by Gene Moore’s organ score
-History of the Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City, where key scenes in the film were shot
-PLUS: An essay by writer and programmer Kier-La Janisse

For old-school horror and cult movie fans, this disc is simply a must own. It is still a disturbing and uneasy watch and it will stay with you for years afterwards.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

*differences between the theatrical and director's cut of the film are detailed here:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Underrated '76 - Steve Q

Steve Q has reviewed more than 1000 bad films at and can be found on Twitter @Amy_Surplice.

See his Underrated '86 list here:
For this post, I've decided not to discuss the plot of any of the films I chose, but rather my history with them.
The Oily Maniac
The Shaw Brothers are almost synonymous with Hong Kong martial arts films. Like most people, I saw "Shaw Brothers" and expected fight scenes, not a monster movie reportedly based upon a Chinese legend and, like most people, I was at first disappointed, then overwhelmed with the enjoyable trash fest this film is. I watched it twice back-to-back, I enjoyed it so much.

The Great Texas Dynamite Chase
I wanted to marry Claudia Jennings in 1976. Yes, I was 14 and she was a former Playboy playmate living 1000 miles away, but I thought it was a possibility - and then she died three years later, after having made a bunch of terrific exploitation films, this one being my favorite (though "Gator Bait" is a close second). I researched her life after I found out she was born in my hometown. For the record, she had a type... and I wasn't it.

Queen Kong
Rula Lenska made an ad for Alberto VO5 in 1979, which led Johnny Carson to ask "Who's this 'celebrated actress' I've never heard of?" When his staff researched it, they found she had been in this film - now it only takes a few keystrokes; then you had to have sources in the industry - and he had a field day with it. He interviewed her and was actually quite nice to her. The film itself was only in theaters for two weeks because Dino DeLaurentiis, who had just re-made "King Kong" sued; it was the Holy Grail of hard to find films until it got a DVD release. I found a 35mm print and got a local theater's projectionist to give me a private screening (he fell asleep).

Chesty Anderson, U.S.N.
This was a film that Russ Meyer could have cast. Rosanne Katon, a Playboy Playmate, stars, with Dyanne "Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S." Thorne as a nurse. Uschi "Supervixens" Digard and Shari "Supervixens" Eubank also have roles. There is extremely little nudity involved, making it a curiosity. I first saw it on network television with my dad; it was awkward for both of us.

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man
Ruggero Deodato is known for his extremely violent and gory horror films and I'm not a fan, so I was not looking forward to seeing this. It's like Jim Thompson's "Pop 1280" mixed with "Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish," but with the cynicism and violence cranked up to 11. It's the kind of film that Quentin Tarantino keeps trying to make. I saw it in a retrospective of Deodato's films done by a friend of mine. That friend hated my taste in film.