Rupert Pupkin Speaks: August 2016 ""

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Olive Films - AMERICAN NINJA 1 & 2 on Blu-ray

AMERICAN NINJA (1985; Sam Firstenberg)
Michael Dudikoff is a name that is mentioned with a great deal of affection and reverence by action genre fans of a certain age these days. He represents another heroic badass that can stand rightly in the same line with the likes of Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Though his notoriety is not quite on the same level as those three, he is still a talented physical actor and martial artist who helped bring  a lot of memorable action films to the VHS obsessed youth of the world in the 1980s. After you worked your way through the Chuck Norris and Van Damme films in the action section of your local video store - it was on to the Cannon Films movies and Dudikoff for more entertainment. He was a more stoic hero than the others and his voice was not that of a tough guy. He felt more lie a regular shy dude than most of his contemporaries, but he certainly had a solid amount of output. Cannon Films was no stranger to spotting and cashing in on trends, so they made several ninja related films before Dudikoff entered the picture. In fact, director Sam Firstenberg (who helmed both AMERICAN NINJA 1 & 2) has directed both REVENGE OF THE NINJA and NINJA III: THE DOMINATION before this. He also did the unforgettable BREAKIN 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO for Cannon (another trend spotting businesses venture). Firstenberg and Dudikoff would work a lot together after the first AMERICAN NINJA film as well. 
In the first film, Dudikoff is established as a mysterious and troubled man who has little memory of who he is and where he came from, but has been trained in the arts of ninjutsu - the art of assassination. It's kind of one of those scenarios where a guy has great power and skill, but prefers not to use them unless he gets backed into a corner (and Cannon films have a lot of "backed into a corner" scenarios). AMERICAN NINJA also has a fun "ninjas training" scene with an elaborate obstacle course. It also establishes the duo of Dudikoff and the great Steve James. James is one of those charismatic and physical actors that really stands out. He's like a combination of Carl Weathers and Fred Williamson, but with more of a martial arts and stunts background. A real hard working dude who plays a perfect partner to the hero. AMERICAN NINJA also has the extra added bonus of having the lovely Judie Aronson (WEIRD SCIENCE, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER) as the daughter of a military colonel and the film's love interest. 
AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION plays like a "further adventures of" with Dudikoff and Steve James being sent to a tropical island in the Caribbean to help an group of marines stationed there. The mystery at the core of this one is that several marines have gone missing with not trace, no ransom demands and some witness to the abductions noticing large guys in black suits (ninjas, duh). So Dudikoff and James rock their solid buddy chemistry from the get-go as they go up against many many ninjas. Similar to the first movie, but more islands, water, boats and beaches. An enjoyable follow-up that's got enough action and clumsy plotting to satisfy fans. The fact that you get to the Dudikoff/James team-up right away is to this movie's benefit.

Special Features:
Both of these discs have some good supplements:


Audio Commentary with director Sam Firstenberg
• “A Rumble in The Jungle” - The Making of American Ninja: Featuring interviews with director Sam Firstenberg, actors Michael Dudikoff and Judie Aronson, Associate Producer Avi Kleinberger, Screenwiter Paul De Mielche and Stunt Co-ordinator Steve Lambert
• Theatrical Trailer


Audio Commentary with director Sam Firstenberg
• “An American Ninja in Cape Town” - The Making of American Ninja 2: Featuring interviews with director Sam Firstenberg, actors Michael Dudikoff and Gary Conway, Executive Producer Avi Kleinberger and Stunt Co-ordinator BJ Davis
• Theatrical Trailer

AMERICAN NINJA 1 and 2 can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Release Roundup - August 30th, 2016

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT on Blu-ray (Criterion)

DISCO GODFATHER on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)

EVILS OF THE NIGHT on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)


BARBAROSA on Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

THE COMMITMENTS on Blu-ray (Image Entertainment)

FRITZ LANG'S DESTINY on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

THE IMMORTAL STORY on Blu-ray (Criterion)

THE JUNGLE BOOK on Blu-ray (Disney)

STAR WARS REBELS: The Complete Second Season (Disney)

TABOO on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Underrated '76 - Everett Jones

Everett is an avid movie watcher and user of Letterboxd like myself - follow him there: - I've gotten many good film recs this way.

See his Underrated '96 and '86 lists here:
Peter Bogdanovich was arguably the first of the “movie brat” directors of 1970s Hollywood to emerge, as both a recognized name and a box-office success. He was also the first to experience the large-scale failures and public backlash that eventually, either at the end of the decade or start of the next, overtook them all. The odd thing is that, unlike his contemporaries’ not necessarily bad but undeniably excessive Waterloos--One from the Heart, Heaven’s Gate, New York, New York--his string of flops seem hardly in diminished in quality to me from his hits. 1974’s Daisy Miller is--aside from a not-great Cybill Shepherd performance--the best Merchant Ivory movie Merchant Ivory never made. 1975’s At Long Last Love is admittedly not good, though also unique if nothing else, but 1976’s Nickelodeon is delightful. Especially in the B&W version put out on DVD--the movie’s about the early, pre-Birth of a Nation days of filmmaking, and Bogdanovich’s precise, witty direction is a good match for the classics of silent comedy, which tend to be both hilarious and beautiful.

The Desert of the Tartars
This all-star European production starts off like an entry into a particularly old-fashioned Hollywood genre--the colonial adventure movie. Think Beau Geste or Gunga Din. It will only gradually become apparent to you, if like me you never read the once-popular novel the film was based, that this is something else entirely. Director Valerio Zurlini is an underappreciated name, not as unmistakable in signature or colorful in public as many of his peers in ‘60s and ‘70s Italian cinema, but very accomplished and consistent in turning out accomplished dramas. I’d be surprised if the Criterion Collection or some other comparable party didn’t spearhead a major rediscovery of his work in the U.S. at some point. Of what I’ve seen so far--and none of it’s easy to see--this is my favorite, something like a David Lean movie that turns into a Franz Kafka novel.

Robin and Marian
A low-key, revisionist Robin Hood movie starring Sean Connery that hasn’t really received much more attention in recent years even as director Richard Lester’s career, as a whole, has. But it made a big impact on me as a kid, not particularly as a Robin Hood movie (Lester doesn’t make a big deal out of his Robin’s feet of clay, certainly not enough to eclipse memories of my favorite, Errol Flynn), but as a cynical, antiheroic ‘70s movie. I was raised on ‘80s popcorn movies, on Spielberg and Lucas and Joe Dante, and along with the similarly themed Little Big Man, this was probably my first encounter with the New Hollywood sensibility (even if American-born Lester was British-based.) What made the greatest impression on me wasn’t the reimagining of fictional characters, but Richard Harris’s performance as the real-life King Richard I, presented here as an alcoholic, psychopathic despot just returned from a futile foray into the Holy Land, along with the middle-aged, weary Robin and Little John (Nicol Williamson.) Harris has only a few scenes, all in the beginning, but he’s unforgettable as a prototypical ‘70s bad authority figure. The remaining cast couldn’t be better chosen: Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian (probably the best role of her spotty later career), Robert Shaw as the Sheriff, Denholm Elliot as Friar Tuck, and Ian Holm as King John.

The Ritz
A prolific director these days is one who releases a movie every year, or even every other year, but in 1976 Richard Lester managed to release two. And I’d also recommend that second film, which if anything is even lesser-known. As an adaptation of a play, Terrence McNally’s then-hit Broadway comedy, it might not seem to reveal many traces. And being almost entirely set inside one (windowless) location, gay a NYC bathhouse, it feels much more than one decade removed from his visually freewheeling ‘60s work, like A Hard Day’s Night and Help! But this admittedly minor film is also a great deal of fun, probably one of the more successful old-fashioned farces made on film since the heyday of Billy Wilder and Blake Edwards (along with Bogdanovich’s Noises Off, another underrated Bogdanovich picture.) I think it works a lot better than the much better-knownLa Cage Aux Folles, which has the same theatrical feel and now very dated, but then positive, approach to gay characters at a time of still-generalized movie homophobia. The standouts in the cast, many of them from the original production, are Rita Moreno, as a third-, or maybe fourth-, rate lounge singer who performs at the bathhouse, and F. Murray Abraham (to someone born in the ‘80s, it’s somehow just impressive seeing him anywhere outside the court of Vienna) as its most uninhibited patron. But it’s also always great seeing “that guy” character actor Jack Weston (Wait Until Dark, A New Leaf), here in the closest thing to a starring role either he or the movie ever had, as a Cleveland waste-disposal exec hiding out from his murderous Mafioso brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) in the least likely place he’d encounter him (the central joke of the story being that many of these establishments were owned by religiously observant Mafiosi.)

Next Stop, Greenwich Village
Paul Mazursky is a quintessential ‘70s Hollywood director who--just like Hal Ashby--seems to belong all the more to that decade in not having a signature style that could be imitated outside of it. His actor-driven, seriocomic movies are a still-semi-undiscovered treasure trove of the era. This is an autobiographical piece, his I Vitelloni or American Graffiti, about moving from Brooklyn to, of course, the Village in the ‘50s, as Mazursky did. The appealing, not very well-known Lenny Baker plays the Mazursky stand-in, the proverbial nice Jewish boy with a proverbial Jewish mother (Shelley Winters), who aspires to be an actor (Mazursky became one, and appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s independent first movie, Fear and Desire.) The rest of the cast is filled with more recognizable faces, mostly in the start of their careers and less locked into the personas we now know them by: Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum (particularly funny as a Victor Mature/Tony Curtis-like ‘50s matinee idol), Lois Smith, Antonio Fargas, Ellen Greene (and Bill Murray, mustachioed and for a few seconds in the corner of one crowd scene).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - MODESTY BLAISE and CHANDU THE MAGICIAN on Blu-ray

MODESTY BLAISE (1966; Joseph Losey)
I first became aware of Modesty Blaise as a character way back in 1994 when I was seeing PULP FICTION for the third or fourth time in the theater. I was past paying attention to the plot and had now turned my focus on the minutiae and the little details. Tarantino packed that film with visual references and when I finally noticed the book that John Travolta's Vincent Vega character is reading in the bathroom at Butch's (Bruce Willis) apartment. It was something called Modesty Blaise and it immediately aroused my curiosity. Though I did track down the book, I never ended up reading it. I did however discover the existence of the film version starring Monica Vitti and directed by the great Joseph Losey. I also just discovered that Blaise herself was actually a popular British comic strip character (later made into a book series and several films) - which absolutely makes sense after seeing this movie. The plot is quite simple and concerns the British Secret Service enlisting the services of Ms. Blaise to help protect a big diamond shipment. It all feeds into Monica Vitti getting to show off lots of snazzy outfits and kick a little butt.

The 1960s was rife with spy films. Spy films of all shapes and sizes as far as the eye could see. James Bond was just the tip of the iceberg, but there were so many more and lots of them could be pretty campy (in an entertaining way). Movies like DANGER: DIABOLIK encapsulated a wildly stylish 60s espionage aesthetic that would rarely be achieved again. MODESTY BLAISE is something like James Bond and Diabolik rolled into a sleek and sultry female package. She even has her own swingin' theme song (man do I love these kind of theme songs). Watching this movie, I was shocked at just how energetic and lively Monica Vitti could be. I guess I was just used to seeing her in Antonioni films where she tends to be bit more on the aloof side of the spectrum. From the very first glimpse of her rotating space age pad with lots of fancy gadgets and equipment - you can tell you've entered a very flashy and excessive universe. One thing that defined a lot of these 6os spy films was excess and elaborate design. There's something that is at once incredibly dated and somewhat timeless (in a retro kinda way) about these movies. Two things that help this one (besides Vitti of course) are Terrence Stamp and a wonderfully white-haired Dirk Bogarde (as the villain of the piece). While it's no DANGER: DIABOLIK, it is an enjoyable and silly romp and is certainly for fans of spy films from this period.

Special Features:
-A very entertaining Audio Commentary by Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Armand Mastroianni
-Interview with First Assistant Director Gavrik Losey
-Interviews with Screenwriter Evan Jones and assistant art director Norman Dorme
-Trailer Gallery
MODESTY BLAISE can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932; William Cameron Menzies)
Based on a children's radio show that gained notoriety in the 1930s, CHANDU was kind of a detective character - not quite a super hero - though he can cloud men's minds through the use of hypnotism and other "magic". It is a neat little adventure film that has one foot firmly planted in the supernatural. Let's not forget that Universal had huge hits with DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN in the year prior and that proved that audiences at the time were clearly ready for this kind of subject matter. CHANDU was made by Fox who clearly were trying to grab onto some of that audience share - by in this case going to radio for content to adapt. The title role is played by Edmund Lowe (DINNER AT EIGHT) who gets outshined in a big way by Bela Lugosi. Fox couldn't have gotten Lugosi at a better time - he was still very much riding the wave of enthusiasm that folks had for him from DRACULA. CHANDU as a film has the feel of an elevated serial - very much the kind of thing you might think that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg may have been influenced by for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or TEMPLE OF DOOM. It also seems like something that fans of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA might possibly enjoy. The magic stuff in CHANDU could possibly have been a thing that inspired the Egg Shen/Lo Pan conflict in BIG TROUBLE. Even if not, it's still fun to see magic used as basically a super power in a film like this and Chandu and Roxor (Bela Lugosi) have some groovy magic on display.
As much as I like Bela Lugosi as Dracula, I am always intrigued to see him step outside that career-defining role and do other things. One thing that he does well is play villains and especially when he's given some room to take it to a big place. And he really goes for it here and chews up the scenery a bit - making him kind of the centerpiece of CHANDU. I've always thought that a good movie needs a solid bad guy and Lugosi really wins the day here and runs away with the movie. Though CHANDU doesn't necessarily stack up against the classic Universal horror stuff, I would still strongly recommend it to fans of those movies as the supernatural elements and the presence of Lugosi make it stand out from some lesser films that were coming out in the wake of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA. It feels like the kind of film that perhaps Harry Knowles would unearth an show as part of his Butt-Numb-a-thon. CHANDU might even make an interesting warm-up for the new DOCTOR STRANGE film now that I think about it.
Special Features:
-Audio Commentary by Bela Lugosi Biographer Gregory William Mank
-Masters of Magic: The World of Chandu Featurette
-Restoration Comparison

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Underrated '76 - Matt Bourjaily

Matt Bourjaily is an English teacher, a former teen film critic, and a shamefully unknown writer who was once dismissed from the test audience of the POINT BREAK remake for being too negative.

Check out his Underrated '86 list here:
VIGILANTE FORCE (written & directed by George Armitage)
Okay, so the opening of this movie is entirely amazing. Set to a rollicking banjo soundtrack, we immediately get a montage of a hootin’ n’ hollerin’ gang of oil workers wreaking havoc on a small California town. At first, it seems like ordinary good ol’ boy fun (speeding cars, drinking, strippers, bar fights), but it quickly becomes WTF THOSE GUYS JUST MURDERED TWO COPS AND THREE CIVILIANS AND BLEW UP A POLICE CAR. And, thus, VIGILANTE FORCE begins.

In any other town, the governor might be called, maybe the National Guard would come in, because you’ve got a murderous band of lunatics on the loose. (Imagine TOMBSTONE set in 1970’s California, and you’ve got a good idea of what’s going on here.) But instead, the hapless sheriff decides hiring a mercenary is a more reasonable solution. So, local nice guy Jan-Michael Vincent calls on his loose cannon Vietnam Vet brother, Kris Kristofferson, to clean house.

By the way, this all happens in the first fifteen minutes, which is what makes this movie awesome. It doesn’t waste any time with needless exposition--it gets you right into the action, which involves a lot of punching, a lot of KK not wearing a shirt, and a LOT of unwarranted murders (most of which happen in full view of a few dozen witnesses, which doesn’t seem to make one bit of difference). As the extortion, brutality, and body counts pile up, it becomes clear to JMV that hiring his brother was a REALLY bad idea, but no one who matters will listen, and it all builds towards an explosive climax that I can’t even begin to describe. (Let’s just say things seem to reach Fallujah-level combat rather quickly.) You also get an unbelievably gorgeous Victoria Principal playing JMV’s love interest, and Bernadette Peters playing KK’s girlfriend, or perhaps indentured servant, or maybe personal prostitute. (They seem to avoid putting labels on the relationship. Always a wise move in the early stages of emotional abuse.) Also, keep your eyes open for Paul Gleason as a thug with great fashion sense, an uncredited Loni Anderson as a prostitute named “Peaches,” and the always awesome DICK MILLER tickling the ivories.

THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (aka EXPOSE, aka TRAUMA) (written & directed by James Kenelm Clarke)
Probably the weirdest one on this list, mainly because at points, it’s hard to tell if you’re watching a halfhearted effort at a porn film, or a halfhearted effort at a horror film. (Based on its original X rating, it’s probably both.) Udo Kier plays an egocentric novelist who, while living in a secluded English farmhouse, is growing increasingly paranoid for unidentified reasons. He hires a typist (Linda Hayden) to help him write his next novel, and the sex and violence meters spike soon after her arrival.

While the film often settles into fairly standard slasher/sexploitation fare, there’s enough weirdness and twists to keep it engaging until the end. Clarke creates an effectively claustrophobic feeling in the house, with lots of tight shots and narrow hallways enclosing the performers, and at points the film seems to take a few well-advised (but more amateurishly executed) nods from STRAW DOGS. Perhaps it’s the fact that film never seems to settle on its genre that makes it intriguing, while at the same time never fully successful. But the alternate titles for the film reveal a bit of that disconnect: Is there something about the House on Straw Hill that causes people to lose inhibitions and, eventually, their sanity? Is this a film about revealing hidden secrets? Or is it about the lasting psychological damage caused by painful events? It’s never really clear, and the answer probably lies somewhere in the nexus of all of those questions. Worth a watch, if only for the conversations you’ll have afterwards about Udo’s predilection for latex gloves.

THE DIAMOND MERCENARIES (aka KILLER FORCE) (written by Michael Winder, Val Guest, and Gerald Sandford; directed by Val Guest)
Does Telly Savalas even own a shirt that buttons higher than his navel? If so, I don’t want to know about it. A caper/action film with a great ensemble cast, THE DIAMOND MERCENARIES centers on Peter Fonda as Bradley, a security guard for a diamond mining syndicate. Bradley gets surreptitiously asked by the company CEO to join a team of diamond thieves in order to root out their contact inside the company. However, the head of security, Harry Webb (Telly Savalas) doesn’t know anything about this plan, and he’s a guy who doesn’t hesitate to use KILLER FORCE (!) in dealing with trespassers, thieves, and anyone else who crosses him.

Like any good heist film, the thieves have to negotiate a number of obstacles, including heat-detecting helicopter patrols, hidden pressure plates, a time-locked vault, and high-tech radar systems (which include a giant Lite Brite and what I swear is a library microfiche machine). But what’s worse, Webb isn’t in the know on Bradley’s secret mission, so he’s just as dangerous as the criminals are. Telly brings his classic cool-guy toughness to intimidate everybody, including Bradley’s super-cute, super-sassy love interest Clare (Maud Adams).

Speaking of whom, the ragtag group of mercenaries planning the diamond heist are a whole lot of fun. Led by Hugh O’Brian looking rather dapper in a turtleneck and leather jacket (must be one of those pesky South African cold spells), the team also includes real-life mercenary Ian Yule as tough guy Woody, OJ Simpson and his funky suspenders as undercover funny man Bopper, and a fantastic Christopher Lee as Chilton, a poetry-reading, stiletto-wielding enforcer. Fonda has some great one-liners, although he doesn’t always seem to deliver them with his fullest effort, and there’s a level of inelegance to the heist that makes you feel like these guys spent about fifteen minutes planning the whole affair. But throughout the whole thing, Telly never takes his sunglasses off and never buttons his shirt, and isn’t that all anybody really wanted in the 70s?

ALICE SWEET ALICE (aka COMMUNION, aka HOLY TERROR) (directed by Alfred Sole; written by Rosemary Ritvo & Alfred Sole)
Now here’s a film that will make you uncomfortable for a lot of reasons. Two sisters, the younger Karen (Brook Shields, in her first role) and the elder Alice (Linda Miller), are constantly fighting, mostly due to the mother’s constant doting on Karen as the perfect little princess. But, when Karen is rather graphically choked to death in church just before her first communion, all suspicion falls on Alice, and the body count rises as a pint-sized, raincoat-wearing psychopath runs amok throughout New Jersey.

So what makes this film so uncomfortable to watch? Well, first off, everybody’s constantly yelling at each other. Alice yells at her mom, mom yells at Alice, the nutty aunt yells at both of them, the morbidly obese pedophile living upstairs yells at the kids, who yell right back at him...seriously, it’s pretty exhausting. Oh, did I mention the pedophile? Yep, Alphonso DeNoble makes one of his three film appearances in Alice, Sweet Alice, and it’s hard to tell if he’s more inappropriately interested in young girls or in his own cats. Meanwhile, the most incompetent police detectives ever promoted out of parking meter duty are being shown up by Alice & Karen’s estranged father (Niles McMaster), who’s determined to prove Alice innocent, and a neighborhood priest (Rudolph Willrich), who tries to help , but ultimately offers little solace or explanation for the events.

While Alice, Sweet Alice occasionally reveals its budgetary restrictions a bit too overtly, it’s a film that really does offer a lot to fans of slashers. Linda Miller’s performance is fairly strong considering her age and the role, and the scene in which she lures her sister into an abandoned warehouse is rather brilliantly suspenseful. The cast of characters, most of whom are family, neighbors, and neighborhood folk, effectively develops a crucible of tension and claustrophobia within the urban setting; despite the chaos and multitudes of city living, Ritvo & Sole’s decision to keep all of the conflict and violence restricted within a family unit and their close acquaintances helps to enhance the larger themes of alienation and abandonment that underpin almost every moment. Even the film’s twists and reveals are thoughtfully timed, answering core questions earlier than is usual for slasher fare, but then adding new complications as a result. It’s not a perfect film, and certainly suffers from a handful of plot holes and oddly hapless characters who seem to have no survival instincts whatsoever, it’s a grimy, slow burning film that, while clunky in ways, is also worth a watch.

OBSESSION (written by Paul Schrader; directed by Brian De Palma)
I’ve been on a massive Paul Schrader kick lately, which led me to this heavy-handed offering from a director who shares Schrader’s lack of subtlety. Part Hitchcock, part southern Gothic, part John Lithgow with a glorious moustache, this is a film that wallows if not glories in its melodrama. Cliff Robertson plays a wealthy businessman whose wife and daughter are kidnapped, then killed in a botched recovery effort (led by a uniquely terrible police officer, I might add). Fifteen years go by, and Robertson is still torn up over the loss of his family, so much so that his business partner (Lithgow) basically forces him to come along on a trip to Italy. Once there, Robertson runs into a woman who looks exactly like his dead wife, and...well, you can probably take it from there.

All the great DePalma/Hitchcock trappings come out to play in this one. There’s shady waiters who walk into frame, giving the audience a peek at the handguns tucked in their belts. There’s a number of split-focus shots that allow DePalma to play with power dynamics between characters. And, most notably, there’s the Academy Award-nominated Bernard Herrmann score that permeates the entire affair, with swells and shocks punctuating virtually every line of dialogue. Really, the entire production almost becomes self-parody, and in less capable hands, it certainly would have. But once the final act is in full swing, it’s impossible to look away--and not just because of Lithgow’s flowing pompadour.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Warner Archive - CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF on Blu-ray

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958; Richard Brooks)
"I'm not living with you. We occupy the same cage, that's all."
Much like another cinematic classic from around this time (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE), this movie opens with a drunken lead character doing something ridiculous. In the case of REBEL, James Dean's character is sprawled out on the sidewalk in an inebriated state, playing with a toy monkey. In CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, Paul Newman's is setting up hurdles at his old high school's track and attempting to run them. Something about this kind of setup tends to draw me in as a viewer - especially when it's a great actor doing it. One thing this movie made me realize is that I have completely underrated Liz Taylor for quite some time. She became such a caricature of herself in her later years that sometimes I plumb forget how fine an actress she was. Like I somehow start to equate her in my mind to those actors that are all remembered for how they loom and little else. Don't get me wrong, Liz Taylor is quite striking. Her eyes are some of the most cinematic eyes in the history of cinema. The same can of course be said for Paul Newman so it's great to see them both in a movie together. But Liz Taylor in particular was really one of the most dynamic actors of hers or any time. You can really tell what an performer is made of when you see them do this kind of stage play adaptation where they are given long sections of dialogue and have to inhabit it. Between this film and my recent rewatch of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (Also via a nice Warner Archive Blu-ray), I am fully convinced of Taylor's abilities and am fully in awe of them. Both VIRGINIA WOOLF and CAT have disintegrating relationships at their cores and that gives Taylor room to spread out and display affection and contempt with equal aplomb. I engage with stories like this for some reason - in part because it plays like some kind of mystery story  wherein I have to put together the voices of what lead these couples to their current emotionally crippled states. One thing I'll say for CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF - Richard Brooks (who directed and co-wrote the adaptation) does some nice work executing the film, because it feels more like a flowing cinematic thing than a stage play turned into a movie. I had forgotten that Brooks was involved with this one, but he surely elevates it. Besides Paul Newman and Liz Taylor, Burl Ives does one heck of a job bringing the grumpy, clear-eyed patriarch of the family to life. He has this air of world-weary disgust about him and has little tolerance for the hangers on. He's a rich plantation owner you see and word got out they he might be in his deathbed, so the suck-up family members have shown up to do some sucking. But Ives handles his character masterfully. He's by no means likable, but he speaks his mind and has no qualms about telling folks that are blabbering to shut the hell up. Ives is a powerhouse actor and seeing him play a scene with Paul Newman is a treat to say the least. This movie even has one of my favorite performances from Jack Carson and he's an actor I've never been wild about. It also makes great and frequent use of the word "mendacity", which I very much appreciated.
Special Features: 
-Commentary by Biographer Donald Spoto, Author of The Kindness of Strangers: The Life f Tennessee Williams.
-CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF: Playing Cat and Mouse Featurette

-Theatrical Trailer

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Underrated '76 - John S. Berry

Attempted positive guy on Twitter @JohnSBerry1 (I am not high on quantity of followers but overflowing with quality), occasional wise cracker on Gonzo Guys podcast and guy that saw Alien on HBO at way to young of an age. I still actively hunts down VHS tapes and am constantly taking notes to seek out films. It is near impossible to describe how happy I am after watching a gem of a film, often I have to go walk it off in the cool night air. Viva la cinema!
Now on:

See Also his Underrated '86 and '86 lists:
I was born just a little before this great year of cinema, but thanks to the early days of Starz and Encore with marathon weekend sessions during the HBO and Cinemax free I have seen my fair share of movies from 76. Making this list I used it as an opportunity to try and go a little B Side deep tracks (at least to me) and knew I had some unwatched gems in house.

There are a lot of strong and unique characters coursing thru films of this era. Would you really base a movie these days around an amazing Neville Brand or Millie Perkins? Or go full steam ahead with a dark comedy with heads getting lopped off or alien/god themes? Researching 76 releases once again pounded home the point of how there are so many gems and such little time on this moving conveyor belt that we call life.

Drive-In Massacre
The past few years I have watched a few George C. Scott films and always marvel how refreshing it is too see an older conservative insurance salesman like man in the lead role. In current movies you never let them lead and if they have a decent sized role they are either sick or on their way to being sick and usually played for hack different generation humor.

These two leads are in that vein, they look like the cops I grew up with as a kid. They are chunky, in bad suits, they sigh a lot, drink a lot and wear suits from JC Penny. The tone is kind of all over the place reminiscent of The Town That Dreaded Sundown with the mix of heavy violence with random scenes of silly action and interactions with awkward teen confessions and a WTF drag undercover operation.

The other characters are kind of over the top such as the bumbling doofus who cleans the grimy drive and his angry Anton LeVey looking boss (Robert E. Pearson may be the grumpiest performance in 70s cinema).

The movie does have a drive in sticky feel and I am pretty excited to see the updated Blu-Ray that Severin is releasing later this year. The movie never gets too scary but I had a moment with the end voice over/ post script where I thought that if I had seen this as a kid the ending would have chilled me and made me keep an eye on all the people watching with me.

Mother, Jugs and Speed 
Believe it or not Bill Cosby is not the creepiest character in this very dark comedy. Nope, that dubious honor is given to Larry Hagman, good ole’ JR goes full tilt in this one.

This is one of the darkest comedies to this day I have ever seen. For every thrust of a funny moment there is then a parry of a sad and or disturbing one. What is kind of great is it is several stories in one. One of a disgraced cop trying to earn something back while falling in love, a turf war between ambulance companies and/ or a woman fighting for equal rights among a bunch of rooting pigs.

In Captain Obvious statements Harvey Keitel is complex and great in the film and makes you wonder is he a creep or saint? Raquel Welch is not just content in being possibly the most gorgeous women ever but also just projects a charming sweet nature. With all the peaks and valleys thru this you actually care about the characters and are hopeful that some of them end up happily ever after (some I repeat).

I caught this film on Starz or Encore and told my friend Laura about it at school and she mentioned it to her cooler than hell, Parliament loving, Fender bass playing Dad and he wanted to meet this kid who knew of Mother, Jugs and Speed. He could not believe anyone had seen this movie and was promoting it to other teens. Now even as an older gentleman (I hope) I would recommend this movie for its amazing mix and hell I owe it as it told me about the glory of the peanut butter hamburger.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea
Sorry to hit the same note most do when writing about this film but this may be the most misleading cover paired with title in cinema history. It would be like having a bad ass Conan cover for The Sandlot. Millie Perkins gives one of the most unhinged performances I have ever seen and she is awkward and alluring all at the same time. Oh but mainly just terrifying and it is a true vision of someone losing all grips on reality.

The film feels disorienting as hell (in a good way) due to disturbing flash back scenes, possible dreams or hallucinations by Molly. It feels similar to when you wake up from a nap and are not sure of what time it is or where you are. A good bit of the movie you are trying to figure out what actually happens or who and what is real.

The supporting cast is also pretty great in this film as well. Lonny Chapman plays Long John an old grizzled sea captain like bar owner who you can almost smell watching the movie but has a pretty damn big heart for his small community of unlucky losers. Vanessa Brown plays the voice of reality and reason (although a frantic and troubled one) sister who tries not to push Millie over the edge but does not share her idea of the good ole days.

This movie also goes into my category with Martin in that the locations almost play a character in the film. The seedy bar, sister’s shag carpeted apartment as well as Long John’s bachelor lair all show how even though you are by the beautiful ocean your world can still be very dark and bleak.

Eaten Alive
When I was a kid I used to go with my Dad and Gramps around to junkyards looking for parts they needed. Once there was this terrifying guy wearing a dirty undershirt under a metal back brace and the image has still lived with me all these years. Neville Brand in Eaten Alive puts in a performance just as terrifying and haunting. Sure he is scary when performing acts of vicious violence but what really makes me uneasy is the moments when he is by himself muttering and shuffling around the dilapidated old hotel.

This is not a great movie, but it is super entertaining. Tobe Hooper does a Argento tribute with some of the lighting and once again torments Marilyn Burns. At first I was not too into it but then I almost watched it like it was a play with a decent set, it almost feels like Hooper was doing a cover band version in a self-contained space of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The characters are all pretty dark as William Finley plays a beyond disturbed Dad and Robert Englund as Buck is a peak into his creepy greatness that was about to come.

The IMDB has this as a 1976 release but some sources have it as 1977. Arrow USA just put out a super deluxe addition Blu-Ray and I am sure the colors really pop on it. I saw this on a 2 disc and for once I went thru most of the extras which actually increased my enjoyment of the movie. The slideshow of test screening comments are hilarious and the short doc The Butcher of Elmendorf: The Legend of Joe Ball make this a keeper.

I once posted on Twitter that I think I am developing a Franco Nero problem and it was probably after seeing this amazing and unique film. I didn’t know a whole lot about the twilight Spaghetti Westerns and picked this up for a great price on a Blu-Ray double with The Grand Duel.

I went into this thinking I was about to see standard revenge western but immediately appreciated the unique situations such as a plague and what may be a witch warning and reminding Keoma of how awful things are. Nero is a tattered dusty half Indian half white man coming back home to find it in shambles and that his half-brothers have turned their back on their Pa and are helping a ruthless man “run” things.

The movie has flashbacks, slow motion spots and an odd soundtrack that often recaps all the gloom fit to sing in a Cohen like monotone. Keoma continues to be visited by The Witch and maybe she doesn’t exist, maybe only in his mind. Nero plays the troubled but do right man who is searching for something in an amazing fashion. When he rescues a pregnant woman from being quarantined and blood shed ensues he is detached but seems almost confused as to why he got involved.

This film also provided me with one of my favorite villains in Butch Shannon played in a sly manner by Orso Maria Guerrini. The film has a lot of depth to it and has a lot of side stories that are fascinating such as the down fall of George and redemption. It is a complex western and I am pretty sure I will soon be delving into the twilight Western Spaghetti data base soon.

Heart of Glass
This movie feels like being up early, the calm quiet morning on a camping trip. The air is kind of hazy and your mind is as well (hmm maybe a theme in 70s cinema?). The legend is that Werner Herzog hypnotized the entire cast for this film. They do seem to move thru the film in a ghost like manner even when creating amazing works of glass (Herzog hired real glass blowers for the film and the scenes when they create works are amazing).

The story is one of a desperate village that is in crisis when a glass maker dies taking the secret of how to make the ruby glass with him to his grave. You really get the feel of how dire a situation this is for an already struggling village and how the Baron is slowly losing his mind. During all this tension one man is the local Nostradamus predicting their inevitable doom of the village and casting spot on predictions of the world in the future.

I didn’t realize how effective the build of tension was until a ruby glass is broken and I gasped out loud more than I have at recent jump scare horror films. And to once again sound like a broken record I realized I cared about this village and wanted the happy ending which is just masterful film making.

The movie has an interesting shift at the end, throwing in almost a whole other beginning and end of a separate movie that has some of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen. You leave not knowing if this was a bleak allegory or one of triumph? I have plans to view this again and with Herzog’s commentary track as often the stories of creation and tribulations are just as unique and amazing as his films.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Release Roundup - August 23rd, 2016

MIDNIGHT RUN on Blu-ray (Shout Factory)

THE NICE GUYS on Blu-ray (Warner Bros)

MODESTY BLAISE on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

CITY ON FIRE on Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

ASH VS. EVIL DEAD: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray (Starz/Anchor Bay)

PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)

WOMAN IN THE DUNES on Blu-ray (Criterion)

A TASTE OF HONEY on Blu-ray (Criterion)

SPIDERS on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

WIENER-DOG on Blu-ray (Amazon)


RATCHET & CLANK on Blu-ray (Universal)

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR on Blu-ray (Universal)

3 BAD MEN on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

LUCIFER: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)