It's no secret to Cinema Retro readers that director John Landis has been a long-time contributor to the magazine. What they might know is that his wife, Deborah Nadoolman, has also gone above-and-beyond for us, as well. In 2012, we were shepherding members of one of our movie-themed tours around London film locations. Deborah, one of the most accomplished costume designers in the industry, was in the city for the opening of a major exhibition about famous costumes seen in cinema. The event was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum and there was overwhelming demand for tickets. We requested that perhaps she could give our members a private tour of the exhibition. Deborah readily agreed and she and her co-curator Sir Christopher Frayling arranged to have us gain entrance to the museum an hour before opening time for the public. Deborah regaled us with wonderful anecdotes about many of the costumes on display including those from "Raiders of the Lost Ark", as it was Deborah who created that iconic look for Harrison Ford. The Daily Beast's Joshua David Stein has written a very welcome article about Deborah and her achievements in the film industry. You're likely to find some interesting anecdotes relating to both "Raiders" and Michael Jackson's landmark music video for "Thriller" which John Landis directed and Deborah designed the costumes for. Click here to read.
this author has seen many Italian Westerns, for years I had avoided watching Navajo Joe because I had wrongly assumed
it was an American Western due to its star: Burt Reynolds. Happily, I
discovered that Navajo Joe is a
solidly entertaining film. Reynolds stars as the title character, out for
revenge after a gang of cutthroats massacres his tribe and scalps his wife. The
rest of the film shows Reynolds hunting down the bandits and killing them one
by one. Naturally, as this is a Spaghetti Western, Joe has a few anti-hero
traits. When the same outlaw gang begins terrorizing the town of Esperanza, Joe
dupes the townspeople into paying him to kill the gang, thus managing to profit
from an act he was intending to carry out anyway (hence the film’s Italian
title A Dollar a Head). Though a
solid film produced by Dino de Laurentiis, directed by Sergio Corbucci (Django) and scored by Ennio Morricone,
Burt Reynolds often puts the movie down, stating that it could only be shown in
prisons and on airplanes to truly captive audiences that couldn’t escape. Supposedly
the bad blood began when Reynolds misunderstood that he was to be working with
Sergio Leone rather than Sergio Corbucci, and vice versa Corbucci initially hoped
to cast Marlon Brando. Due to the mutual disappointment the director and his
star didn’t get along terribly well. The film was shot between two of
Corbucci’s other westerns, Johnny Oro
(1966) and Hellbenders (1967). The
camera work and direction for the action scenes are top notch and Reynolds
himself was said to have done his own stunts, in addition to overseeing the stunt
work on the entire film. Ennio Morricone (under the alias of Leo Nichols)
composes another good score, with the main theme being the most memorable.
picture quality on the Blu-ray, though not flawless, is good overall. Included
in the special features is a commentary track by the Kino Lorber Senior Vice
President of Theatrical Releasing, Gary Palmucci. In addition to the usual cast
and crew backgrounds, Palmucci also offers up some interesting insights into
running a company such as Kino Lorber and how they acquire their various
titles. The Blu-ray also comes with a trailer for Navajo Joe and other Reynolds’ MGM/UA action films White Lightning, Gator and Malone.
Anyone who enjoyed the family friendly spectral
shenanigans of The Amazing Mr Blunden should
find much to enjoy in mid-70s Brit TV series Nobody's House, out now on DVD in the UK from Network. Written by Michael
Hall and Derrick Sherwin, and lensed by stalwart TV director Michael Ferguson,
it was a self-contained tale spanning 7 episodes – with an open ending for a
second series that never happened. And, as with many such shows, in a slightly pared-down
format it would have made for a very workable movie.
The story revolves around
the Sinclair family – Dad (William Gaunt), Mum (Wendy Gifford) and children (Stuart
Wilde and Mandy Woodward) – who move into Cornerstones, a fixer-upper residence
that a century earlier functioned as a workhouse for orphaned children. One of
them, a nameless young boy (Kevin Moreton) died of the plague and his ghost continues
to haunt the premises. The Sinclair children befriend him and name him Nobody.
The youngsters may be the
focus of the series, but one of the major draws here for viewers of a certain
age will be the eminently watchable William Gaunt, best remembered perhaps as
one of the telepathic trio in ITC’s 60s supernatural-tinged tele-actioner The Champions. Although, in this
writer’s opinion, he never really got the break he deserved, Gaunt continued to
work steadily across the decades, recently showing up in impressive inde
western The Timber. There are also
guest appearances throughout the series – some as less than affable ghosts – from
Flash Gordon’s Brian Blessed, Legend’s Annabelle Lanyon and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter’s John Cater
(married to lead Wendy Gifford), as well as TV reliables Brian Wilde and Joe
Although the flavour is
there, Nobody’s House admittedly doesn't
share the emotional heft of the aforementioned Blunden – indeed, it's played more for light comedy – and it
probably won't entice many folks unfamiliar with it. But those who recall it (and
its infectious Anthony Isaac theme music) fondly from the original run between
September and November 1976 won't be able to resist wallowing in the memories
and perhaps even introducing it to the younger members of their own families.
The image and sound
quality on Network’s DVD is about what you'd expect from a mid-70s TV show:
acceptable, nothing more. Technically the only bonus feature is a short (but still
worthwhile) gallery of production photos, but pleasingly several of the
episodes are tail-ended by original previews for the following week’s story,
and all of them open with the nostalgia-tweaking Tyne Tees television ident and
finish with a plug for the tie-in novel penned by series co-scripter Michael
Hall (which this writer recalls as vividly as the TV show itself).
series’ fifth installment explodes on the screen as Matt Damon returns to the
role he originated way back in 2002. The
Bourne in this film is a bulked up, bare knuckle street brawler, earning money
to support a humble off the grid existence. While never chatty and light, this Bourne incarnation is – if possible –
even more grim and purposeful than before. (Supposedly Damon has only 25 lines of
dialogue in the entire film!) His old
CIA ally, Nicky Parsons (played by the wonderful Julia Stiles) tracks him down,
offering freshly hacked information that will finally put the missing pieces in
Bourne’s identity puzzle. When he learns that his own father was deeply
involved then sacrificed, this chase becomes personal. Let’s just say you don’t want to get in
Bourne’s way when it’s personal…
important as Damon’s return to the franchise is, his reteaming with director
Paul Greengrass is truly cause for celebration. Greengrass is undoubtedly one
of the most gifted action filmmakers working today. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd’s constantly
moving cameras keep the action going at a frenetic pace that never lets up. An early sequence set in the middle of a
Greek anti-austerity riot is literally breathtaking as is the film’s ferocious Las
Vegas climax. Jason Bourne features the best Vegas car chase
since Diamonds Are Forever – except without the occasional one-liner to lighten
things up. It is just a high-speed
demolition derby that tears up the Strip.
beautiful Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander plays an ice-cool CIA tech officer
trying to reel Bourne in to serve her own hidden agenda. Veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones is her CIA
Director boss. Jones’ craggy face is almost
a separate character in the film – when the camera lingers on it, the miles and
battle scars show. Shadowing Bourne
throughout is a brutally efficient CIA killer known only as “the Asset”, convincingly
played by Vincent Cassel. Out of all the
spooks Bourne has dispatched over the years, Cassel might actually cross him
off the Company’s hit list.
filmmakers cleverly wrap their story in the headline issues of today – web
surveillance, civil unrest, and big government paranoia, making the entire plot
totally and sadly believable. (There’s even a nod to Edward Snowden early on.) Damon
was a svelte 32 when he first took on Bourne. Now 45, his Bourne is starting to age and you can see the toll his years
on the lam have taken on his face and his soul – more proof, if needed, of what
a spectacular actor Matt Damon really is.
Angst is a 1982-lensed horror thriller based
upon the real-life case of Werner Kniesek, an Austrian loner who,
in 1972, shot and killed a random woman and spent time behind bars until his
release(!) in 1980 when he was set free on a
three-day furlough to search for employment. Gotta love their judicial system. Unfortunately, his murderous urges came back to the forefront, and three
other innocent people perished at his hands. It is this horrific event that Angst
depicts to startling effect.
Angst is extremely effective in depicting The
Psychopath, brilliantly played by Erwin Leder, on his first time out with a
gun, ringing the bell of a random home and, without reason, murdering the
elderly woman who answers the door, her husband falling by her side in shock
(the camera is attached to The Psychopath’s body to enhance the sense of unease
and make the audience play into his distorted mind). Captured and jailed, the problem that lies
with him is his inability to control himself. Why does no one do anything about this?
Blowing off his freedom and knowing
full well that he wants to murder again, he immediately sets out to find a
female victim to hurt (when he was thirteen, he was seduced into
sadomasochistic games by a woman in her forties, and this and similar scenarios
are reveled to the audience through the creepy and effective use of his
voiceover narration). An attempt to
seduce two young and attractive female diner patrons stops before it can get
started, and a taxi ride with a female driver ends abruptly before he can
muster the guts to harm her. Stressed,
he breaks into a house and finds a man in a wheelchair who can only recite the
word “Pappa”. When the mother and her
daughter return home, all hell breaks loose in real time as The Psychopath
tortures and eventually murders the house dwellers. He takes their dog and feeds him well, but is
The most distressing parts of this film
are, of course, the murders, carried out before the eyes of the family
Dachshund who attempts to stop The Psychopath but ends up hiding under a
blanket in one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments. Actor Erwin Leder throws himself into the
role with such gusto and commitment it is almost unbearable to watch as he
strangles the mother, drowns the paraplegic, and stabs the tied-up daughter to
death, all for his own perverse reasons. We hear his thoughts through a perpetual voiceover that reveals why he
is the way he is. We want to reach into
the screen and scream at him to stop, though he is powerless to do so. Do we hate him? Do we feel sorry for him? In reality, Kniesek is still
alive and in prison, a fact that will make even pacifists ponder whether his
monstrous deeds should have seen him condemned to death.
far as the film goes, I don’t recall ever hearing about it in the days of VHS
rentals. The closest I ever came to
seeing anything this disturbing was the well-known Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) on video in 1992. Henry
was a composite of real-like serial killers, and even 2008’s The Strangers was based upon the brutal
and grisly Keddie Murders which took place on April 11, 1981, a case which, 35
years later, has gone completely cold.
Angst had a tough time
getting theatrical exhibition in 1983. Now, with the Internet and real images of people dying almost daily, the
film has had a much easier time of being distributed as the public is probably
almost numb to such imagery (sad to say). The film’s director, Gerald
Kargl, made this one film and although it is expertly made, it is also highly disturbing
and not for the faint of heart.
of the film from Cult Epics contains the following extras:
A new high-definition Transfer
Optional playback with or without the prologue
New DTS HD MA 5.1 Surround
A 2015 introduction by Gaspar Noé, the director of the highly controversial Irreversible (2002)
Featurette: Erwin Leder in Fear (an
alternate title for the film) (2015)
Interview with director Gerald Kargl by Jorg Buttgeriet (2003)
Interview with cinematographer Zbigniew Rybzcynski (2004)
Audio commentary by Gerald Kargl conducted by film critic Marcus Stiglegger
New HD Trailer
BD Exclusive perfect-bound 40 page booklet includes interviews with Gerald
Kargl, Erwin Leder, Silvia Rabenreither, essay by Carl Andersen, illustrated
with rare photos and Werner Kniesek original Kurier articles
– Collectible Blu-ray Slipcase and Sleeve
Is the film a masterpiece? Perhaps.
It is a powerful work, with cinematography by Polish
animator Zbig Rybczynski, and elegiac music by early Tangerine Dream member
Klaus Schultze. However, it is not the sort of film
that I would want to watch again…
Between the early 1950s and mid 1980s the Children's Film
Foundation was a non-profit making establishment behind dozens of films aimed
at a young audience, most of them screening as programme constituents at
Saturday morning 'Picture Shows'. I didn't catch many of these during my own
childhood. But I do recall a couple of particularly enjoyable ones that I did get to see in the early 1970s: Cry Wolf (1969) and All at Sea (1970), both of which are conspicuously absent from the
half dozen or so collections issued on DVD to date. Many of the CFF’s films had
a run-time of around an hour, although there were also a number of serials in
their catalogue. Masters of Venus was
one such production. Comprising eight 15-minute instalments, it arrives on DVD
in the UK in a restored release from BFI.
On the day prior to mankind's first mission to Venus, chief
scientist Dr Ballantyne (No Road Back's
Norman Wooland) is being assisted with last minute preparations on the
rocketship Astarte by his two intellectual children, Jim (Robin Stewart) and
Pat (Amanda Coxell). When the base is infiltrated by a pair of sinister,
ray-gun-toting saboteurs the siblings' only route of escape is the Astarte; it blasts
off and catapults them, along with two technicians, into space. When it
transpires the Chinese are on the verge of launching their own exploratory rocket
ship, rather than guide his children home Ballantyne asks that they continue to
Venus in order to secure Great Britain's place in history. Upon their arrival the
team are made welcome by the planet’s inhabitants, but it soon becomes apparent
that a plan to invade the Earth is underway.
Shot on sets at Pinewood Studios, this sub-Flash Gordon-esque serial was directed by Ernest Morris (as prolific
a second unit director as he was an occupant of the centre seat) from an
endearingly dumbed down Michael Barnes screenplay: "They'll be on the trip
for several weeks, you know," remarks Ballantyne casually (Weeks?! More
It takes a while to get to Venus – it's episode 4 before our heroes
arrive – but curiously enough at this point, where the fun factor ought to
escalate, things become less interesting and the plot meanders through a clichéd
few episodes of political insurrection whilst the humans collaborate with
friendly Venusians to bring down the rebel faction.
Where most of the adult characters in CFF films are inept – or at
best ineffectual to the point of comical – the very purposeof these movies was to allow the kids to shine. Both youngsters here
are likeable enough and outsmart their elders regularly. Amanda Coxell (the nom de guerre adopted by Mandy Harper)
had worked regularly as a child actor but as she got a little older her career
wound down (Masters of Venus was in
fact one of her last pieces of work). Robin Stewart on the other hand made that
tricky transition from child to adult actor very successfully, carving out a
career that found him lead roles in such films as The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires for Hammer and The Haunted House of Horror, as well as
a lead role as Sid James' son in a 65-episode run of TV sitcom Bless This House. There’s worthy support
from The Revenge of Frankenstein's
Arnold Diamond, From Russia With Love's
George Pastell, Where Eagles Dare's
Ferdy Mayne and Zienia Merton (who later became a regular face on TV’s Space: 1999). The effects of pretty
respectable given the shoestring budget – the Astarte itself is a nicely Gerry
Anderson-esque hunk of space hardware – while Eric Rogers (best known for his
whimsical scores on a couple of dozen Carry
On entries) supplies suitably dramatic musical accompaniment to the action.
With a total running time of just over two hours, if you were to
lose the “Our story so far…” and “See next week’s exciting episode to find out…”
bookends and a little of the loquacious padding you're probably looking at a decent
90-minute adventure. In any event, it is what it is and Masters of Venus will certainly find an appreciative audience among
those who remember it from their halcyon childhood days (which, to be fair, is
a statement applicable nowadays to all the CFF's output).
The BFI’s DVD presents the 8-part black-and-white serial in
its original 1.66:1 ratio. Transferred from the best extant elements held
at the BFI National Archive, there are occasionally patches of detritus
accumulation in evidence and a couple of episodes bear some
light vertical scratching, but overall picture quality is fine given
the age of the material. The PCM 2.0 mono sound labours under varying
degrees of crackle but seldom is it too intrusive. There are no additional
Paris Burning? Composed by Maurice Jarre, The 50th Anniversary Recording of the
Complete Score. A Special Collectors 2 CD Edition featuring a brand new
recording by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra Conducted by Nic Raine.
Released by Tadlow Music, Price: £16.95 TADLOW023, Date: August 25th 2016 Anniversary
of the Liberation of Paris.
It’s always exciting to receive the latest release from
Tadlow music. When award winning producer James Fitzpatrick and respected
conductor Nic Raine join forces and combine their talents, you know the result
is always going to be good. Maurice Jarre’s music is, of course, nothing new to
the long standing partnership. Together in recent years, they have overseen triumphant
new recordings of Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Villa Rides (1968).
Is Paris Burning? (1966) is their latest collaboration
and features the complete 69 minute film score including previously unrecorded
cues. A great deal of Jarre’s patriotic score is heavily militaristic, with defiant
marches that reflect the repetitive beat of German foot soldiers. Jarre chose
to use ascending pianos to achieve this ‘strange and disturbing sound’, twelve
pianos in fact, and drew upon his childhood memories of living in Paris. It’s a
very methodical score, almost industrial in its strokes and leaves very little
room for lush or sweeping melodies. However, this wasn’t the case with Jarre’s
original soundtrack album where the composer took a more logical musical
approach as opposed to a filmic approach. Naturally perhaps, this is the more familiar
arrangement that we have become more accustomed to, and where Tadlow again go
the extra mile. Never a company to cut corners, Tadlow have also included a
complete reworking of Jarre’s album version which was originally released over
two suites. In fact, the second CD in this collection is a joyous collage of
Aside from the original album version of Is Paris
Burning? Tadlow’s second disc (running a generous 73 minutes) contains a
wonderful selection of concert suites comprised of Jarre’s similar period assignments.
Here you will find music from The Night of the Generals (1967), The Train (1964),
Weekend at Dunkirk (1964) and The Damned (1969). As an extra bonus, Tadlow has
also added two new vocal versions of “Paris En Colere” performed by The City of
Prague Philharmonic chorus conducted by Miriam Nemcova and a solo vocal version
by new French singing discovery, Melinda Million, both of which rounds off this
collection rather nicely.
with all of Tadlow’s releases, the audio (recorded in dynamic 24Bit/96kHz
digital sound) is quite stunning and provides an entirely new clarity to such
familiar themes. Nic Raine conducts the reconstructed score from the original orchestrations
by Leo Arnauxd, and in return extracts a powerhouse performance from the
acclaimed 100 piece City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Tadlow’s packaging
includes a handsomely produced 24-page booklet with informative liner notes by
Frank K DeWald and producer James Fitzpatrick.
over 140 minutes of music, Tadlow always maintain the ability to deliver
quantity as well as quality. Reliability is something of a rare factor in the
soundtrack market. Fortunately, with the arrival of a Tadlow release, you can
always guarantee it’s going to be right on the money, before you’ve even hit
the play button.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
SANTA MONICA, CA (June 13, 2016) – A powerful reimagining of the essential American story,
HISTORY’s Roots arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD) and DVD (plus Digital) August 23
from Lionsgate. Debuting on Memorial Day,
the premiere episode of Roots was watched by 14.4 million
total linear viewers over the course of all premiere week telecasts. Based on
the Alex Haley novel and inspired by the wildly successful 1977 series about
one family’s struggle to resist the institution of American slavery, Rootsis the can’t-miss television event of the year.
“Nearly 40 years ago I had the privilege to be a part of an epic
television event that started an important conversation in America,” said LeVar
Burton, Co-Executive Producer and the original Kunta Kinte. “I am incredibly
proud to be a part of this new retelling and start the dialogue again, at a
time when it is needed more than ever."
The 4-part miniseries is brought to life by an all-star cast including Forest
Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland),
Anna Paquin (TV’s “True Blood”), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (TV’s “The Tudors”), Mekhi Phifer
(The Divergent Series), Tip “T.I.”
Harris (Ant-Man), Matthew Goode (TV’s
“Downton Abbey”), alongside breakouts Regé-Jean Page and Malachi Kirby.
The classic American saga is reimagined for a whole new
generation. This epic 4-part miniseries tells the story of Kunta Kinte, a
West African youth sold into slavery. This time, we follow Kunta and his family
through the generations, up to the Civil War.
The home entertainment release of Roots
includes an in-depth behind-the-scene featurette and will be available on
Blu-ray and DVD for the suggested retail price of $29.99 and $26.98,
the years I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena among Star Trek fans which is that most of them love the television
series but seem only to tolerate the films. Maybe my perception is off, seeing
as how I fall into the category of a non-fan who greatly enjoys the films—namely
the ones from the 1980s starring the original cast—but not the TV series from
which they were based. For whatever reason, there seems to be a strange sort of
disconnect between fans of the TV series and mainstream audiences. Take for
example the films that deviated greatly from the series, such as the overly
comical Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
(1986) which soared at the box office, while films that most resembled episodes
of the TV series—namely the awful Star
Trek: Insurrection (1998)—performed below expectations. The rebooted Star Trek of 2009 was also pretty far
flung from the Original Series to a degree with its blaring of “Sabotage” on
the soundtrack among other elements, but was a big hit with mainstream
audiences. Now with this year’s Star Trek
Beyond (which also blares the Beastie Boys on the soundtrack) many critics
say this is finally the Star Trek
film that fans of the TV series and mainstream audiences can finally mutually
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) which
was perhaps too reverential of Star Trek
II:Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek Beyond is a completely
original tale that, if condensed, could almost seem like an episode from the Original
Series. Perhaps this is why I didn’t enjoy this one as much as 2009’s reboot,
but that being said, it’s still a highly enjoyable film with some excellent character
moments and set-pieces. I can’t say much more without getting into SPOILERS, so
if you prefer not to know about certain surprise elements (like the identity of
the “new” ship seen in the trailers) quit reading now.
the biggest difference between this film and its two predecessors is the
character dynamics. Mostly audiences had seen the crew together on the bridge
of the Enterprise, while in this film the characters are spilt into pairs on an
unexplored planet after the Enterprise gets destroyed by the new villain Krall
(Idris Elba). Kirk and Chekov have an excellent action scene amidst the ruins
of the Enterprise; Uhura and Sulu try to discover the villainous motivations
behind Krall in captivity; Scotty teams with an intriguing new alien warrior
named Jaylah, and McCoy must do his best to stabilize a wounded Spock. Not
surprisingly, the McCoy/Spock pairing makes for the film’s best character
moments and one-liners, with Scotty (Simon Pegg who also co-wrote the
screenplay) and Jaylah’s scenes in a fairly close second. And while on the
subject of Jaylah, portrayed by Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), the alien warrior makes for an
excellent addition to the cast who will hopefully return for future
all being said, for me Star Trek Beyond
didn’t really take off until the third act when the cast regroups on a
long-lost federation ship that had crashed on the planet’s surface (this would
be the “new” ship spotted by eagle-eyed fans in trailers). Those hoping that this
ship is the NX-01 Enterprise from the 2001 prequel TV series Enterprise will be disappointed though.
While the new creation is the same class of ship from the same era, it is a heretofore
unknown ship called the Franklin. While it would have been fun to see the new
cast commandeer the Enterprise from the 2001 TV series, from a writer’s
standpoint the Franklin makes more sense for reasons I will soon reveal.
climax, wherein the crew utilizes the Franklin to save a massive space station
named Yorktown, actually reminded me of the climax for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Just like in that film, it’s great
fun seeing the cast adapt to and use a rickety unfamiliar ship to save the day
and then come crashing into the water with it. It was after said crash that the
film had me fooled into thinking that it was headed towards the obligatory
face-to-face showdown between Kirk and Krall. It instead took me by surprise
when it is revealed after the watery crash that Krall isn’t actually an alien,
but used to be a human—specifically the original captain of the Franklin. This
slightly resolved one issue I had with Krall in that he seemed to be too much
of a cookie-cutter alien menace. As to both his evil motivations and how he
went from a human Federation Captain to an alien menace, the explanation relies
perhaps a bit too much on last minute exposition but still works for the most
part. On top of the surprise reveal, the hand to hand duel between Krall and
Kirk—which I expected to be a boring paint-by-the-numbers fist fight—is made
fresh and exciting due to the fact that it took place in a zero gravity
atmosphere, allowing them both to the fly about the gigantic Yorktown space
station as they trade blows.
thing I found interesting in the marketing of the film was that the Limited
Edition poster for Star Trek Beyond
is a callback to the original Star Trek:
The Motion Picture poster. That film finds Kirk now an Admiral and Spock
having left Starfleet to return to Vulcan. Perhaps not coincidentally this film
seems to be setting up the same story elements for the “future” film as Kirk is
applying for an Admiral position and Spock is pondering leaving Star Fleet to
better serve his race. For Kirk, life in space is becoming monotonous, and he
laments that he is now older than his father ever lived to be over a birthday
drink with McCoy. Spock is likewise saddened to hear of the loss of his future
self, Ambassador Spock. This makes him question his relationship with Uhura, as
any children he has with her will only be 1/4th Vulcan leading him
to the conclusion that he should procreate with a full Vulcan to better further
his species. In the end both Kirk and Spock decide to stay with Star Fleet as
they witness the building of a new Enterprise. Spock’s reason for staying is actually
a touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy. The scene, and I would say this is a big
spoiler, has Zachary Quinto’s Spock discovering a certain photograph amongst
the deceased Ambassador Spock’s belongings. The photo is of Nimoy, William
Shatner, and the rest of the original cast (which looks to have been taken for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
on the bridge of the Enterprise. The realization dawns upon Spock that he is
meant to grow old with these people, and his place is on the bridge of the
Enterprise. It’s also obvious that Kirk’s toast “to absent friends” during the
end scene was initially meant as a nod to Nimoy, but sadly ended up
encompassing the late Anton Yelchin as well. Yelchin, who played Chekov in the
new series, was tragically killed in a car accident shortly before the film’s
Star Trek Beyond is projected by
analysts to have healthy grosses at the box office, and a sequel (which will see
Chris Hemsworth return as George Kirk) has already been announced.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
By Raymond Benson
original 1954 Japanese Kaiju (it means “strange beast”) film, Gojira, is not only a classic monster
movie, it’s one of those significant game-changers that is important to pop
culture and cinema history.Gojira,
known as “Godzilla” in the west, was the first of an onslaught of “strange
beasts,” spawning a Kaiju franchise that is still popular today.In fact, Hollywood is remaking Gojira as a reboot at the time of this
’54 film, directed by Ishiro Honda and produced by Toho Studios (it’s ironic
that it was being made at the same time as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai from the same studio), was little seen in the West
until recent DVD releases appeared.Instead, for over fifty years we’ve had Godzilla, King of the Monsters, an abominably bastardized,
re-edited import of Gojira.Joseph E. Levine had bought the rights but
had additional footage shot in Hollywood featuring Raymond Burr as an American
reporter caught in the Tokyo chaos—and throwing out much of Honda’s film except
the Godzilla sequences—thus, creating an entirely different storyline and
movie.It was released in 1956.
was this an egregious thing to do?Honda’s artistic statement was jettisoned.Gojira was
a Japanese reaction to and a social comment about the atomic bomb.It’s quite obvious, actually, that Godzilla
is a metaphor for nuclear destruction.Part of the plot also involves a scientist who has unwittingly invented
a new weapon of mass destruction and threatens to destroy his research so that
no country can get its hands on it.Of
course, it’s the only thing that can stop Godzilla, so he has to use it
once.In the end, he sacrifices himself,
and the weapon, to do his duty for Japan; but the message is clear—get rid of the bombs.
the other hand, the American version, directed by Terry Morse (and using
Honda’s footage), is seen in the West as just another giant monster romp in a
decade when Hollywood was churning out giant monster romps by the dozens.The cliché of giant beasts destroying Tokyo
arose from this release.The real
message behind the Gojira is totally
has done a terrific job with its new high-definition digital restoration of
both versions of the picture in this wonderful two-disk set.The commentary on the two pictures is by film
historian David Kalat.You also get
interviews with Akira Takarada and Haruo Nakajima, two of the stars, and
several of the special effects team.Film critic Tadao Sato provides an insightful interview, as does one
with composer Akira Ifukube.The clever
packaging contains a pop-up of the “strange beast” in question along with an informative collector's booklet.
you’ve never seen the original, it’s time to check it out.Sure, the monster scenes are crude—it is a guy inside a suit—but that’s part
of the appeal.
subject which seems to rear its head more and more in today’s society is
paedophilia. It feels like every other week brings with it some story of a TV
star, singer, film star or MP who has preyed upon young and vulnerable victims
for their sexual gratification. That’s not counting the number of domestic
cases or the growing problem of online abuse and degradation against minors.
Thankfully the culprits are in a minority, but such stories - when they break -
send ripples of shame and outrage throughout the journalistic world.
have been tackling this most difficult of subjects for longer than people
realise. One example is Hammer’s Never
Take Sweets From A Stranger (1960), which was largely dismissed by critics
when released, but is actually a very well-executed attempt which highlights the
horrors of child molestation. If nothing else, it is worth watching just to see
Hammer serving up a rare and stark ‘message’ picture. There were a number of other ‘60s and ‘70s
films featuring adult males preying on young girls. David Greene’s I Start Counting (1969), Sidney Hayers’ Assault (1971) and Sidney Lumet’s The Offence (1973) spring to mind as
front-runners in this once-taboo sub-genre. In 1971, Hayers directed another
film featuring the theme of child molestation: Revenge, starring Joan Collins, James Booth and Kenneth Griffith.
Like Lumet’s The Offence, Revenge doesn’t focus on the victims but
instead on the suspected culprit and, more interestingly, the victims’ parents
who turn to vigilantism to satisfy their thirst for revenge.
the release of suspected paedophile and murderer Seely (Kenneth Griffith) in a
gritty north-of-England town, the relatives of his last two victims decide to
take the law into their own hands. Pub landlord Jim Radford (James Booth), his
son Lee (Tom Marshall) and friend Harry (Ray Barrett) plot to kidnap Seely and
beat a confession out of him in the cellar of the pub. Later, when Jim’s wife
Carol (Joan Collins) learns what they’re up to, she too joins in with the
plan quickly spirals out of control and everyone realises three disturbing
facts: first, they have committed a crime themselves and are therefore no
better than the villain they aim to punish; second, they cannot be certain they
have inflicted their revenge on the right man, as no confession is forthcoming;
lastly, there is no way to undo what they have done. How can they ensure their
target stays silent? The obvious way is to kill him – but none of the
vigilantes is completely comfortable with carrying out the deed.
who has seen the film will be surprised to learn it was heavily promoted as a
horror film during its theatrical run, especially outside the UK. Alternative
titles in the US included Behind The
Cellar Door, Inn Of The Terrified
People and Terror From Under The
House, all of which create an impression of terrifying and gruesome
goings-on. Even those who realised they were going to see a vigilante movie
probably expected the film to concentrate heavily on exploitation elements, but
in reality such aspects are pretty tame. The only scene of real extended
violence sees Jim furiously beating Seely but it is fairly restrained by genre
standards, and as for sex and nudity there are just a couple of understated
scenes which do little to get viewers feeling hot under the collar. The whole
thing was rather misleadingly marketed: even the theatrical posters at the time
trumped-up the non-existent horror elements, with one poster (for the Terror From Under The House edition)
carrying a disclaimer which boldly declared: “Free with every admission! You
must accept Free Screaming Teeth of Terror as a warning the TERROR FROM
UNDER THE HOUSE might just SCARE YOU TO DEATH!” Additional taglines warned: “If
you look in the basement… be ready to scream!” and “You may never dare go in
the basement again!” Such statements don’t fit the flavour of the on-screen
action. They are, frankly, complete lies. The film provides a few shocks for
viewers but not in the horror sense - this is a melodrama with an ambiguous
moral dilemma at its core, and its shocks are rooted in man’s cruelty to fellow
possible explanation for the bizarre alternative titles bestowed on the film is
that another 1971 movie called Revenge
was made starring Shelley Winters, Stuart Whitman and Bradford Dillman. To further add to the
confusion, the other film shares common threads with this one: a daughter dying
under tragic circumstances while the man believed responsible is held captive
in the cellar by her family. The American Revenge
was a made-for-TV release.
British Revenge works well because it
takes primarily normal, upstanding characters and pushes them to moral and
emotional limits. The man they believe is guilty of attacking their daughters
is released by the police, leaving them with no sense of justice or catharsis
over the crime inflicted against their beloved. Until one has experienced such
heartbreak, one cannot say with certainty what extremes one would go to in
order to get justice. Booth encapsulates this dilemma perfectly: first, we see
him as a reluctant conspirator taking the law into his own hands; later, he
becomes consumed with hatred, unleashing his fury by beating the suspect nearly
to death. The distressed family members become as sadistic as the supposed
child molester – a vicious cycle gathers momentum and cannot be stopped.
Griffith is splendid as the suspected paedophile. After being captured by the
vigilantes on suspicion of the rape and murder of an innocent young girl, we in
the audience only begin to learn about him as a character after he has been beaten, so in many ways we view him as a victim.
We witness his kidnapping, see him beaten and left for dead, watch his
attackers treat him like dirt and discuss how to dispose of him – there is
considerable doubt and ambiguity about whether he is guilty of the crime, and
we are left to ponder if his captors have made a mistake. Credit to Griffith
for playing the role with just enough bashful nervousness to create this doubt.
Even his tormentors show uncertainty at times, slowly realising they might have
vented their rage on the wrong man. The Radfields’ other daughter discovers
what her family has done and becomes sympathetic towards Seely, showing that
she thinks they have become monsters in their quest for justice. The sometimes
hammy Collins gives a very decent, restrained performance as a woman who feels
indirectly responsible for the murder of her step-daughter. There’s also an
interesting subplot showing her rather sordid affair with her own step-son.
directs the film with a firm hand, keeping things interesting and engrossing
without tipping into total sensationalism. He later reteamed with some of the
crew, including writer John Kruse and cinematographer Ken Hodges, for the
similarly confrontational Assault (aka
In The Devil’s Garden), another
overlooked but worthwhile film about an attack on a young girl. One mis-step in
Revenge is the score by Eric Rogers
which seems a trifle out of place. Rogers mainly scored comedy films, and
doesn’t quite convey enough seriousness to complement the drama here.
Garry Marshall, the man who helped create iconic sitcoms such as "Happy Days", "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy", has died at age 81. Greatly beloved in the entertainment industry, Marshall helped kick many actors' careers into overdrive including Julia Roberts, Ron Howard, Henry Winkler and Robin Williams. He also adapted Neil Simon's stage and screen hit "The Odd Couple" into a long-running TV series starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. He grew up in a modest home in the Bronx and never lost his almost stereotypical "New Yawk" accent. Marshall became a writer on some classic TV series of the 1960s including "The Dick Van Dyke Show", The Lucy Show" and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson". He even became a prolific actor graduating from an un-billed role in "Goldfinger" to some juicy character parts in major films. Marshall would go on to direct features himself including such smash hits as "Pretty Woman", "The Princess Diaries" and "Runaway Bride". He also directed Jackie Gleason in his last feature film "Nothing in Common" in 1986. For more click here.
In 2003, the renowned American artist Jeff Marshall (known for
his James Bond work) was commissioned to create a lithograph (officially
sanctioned by Hammer themselves) featuring several famous Hammer actresses -
Ingrid Pitt, Caroline Munro, Valerie Leon and Martine Beswick.
The first 100 of these limited edition lithographs were signed
and numbered by Jeff himself and have never been available to buy....until
have 006 - 100 for sale, unfortunately we cannot accommodate requests for
lithograph measures 20" x 30" and is printed on museum quality
lithograph will be shipped rolled in a sturdy poster tube.
Joe Sirola (left) and Robert Creighton at The Players club in New York City where Cagney was also a member. (Photo: Sam Hodgson for the New York Times).
If you haven't seen the smash hit musical "Cagney the Musical" starring Robert Creighton, currently playing to packed houses off-Broadway, then you're missing a sensational tribute to one of Hollywood's greatest legends. In a New York Times article, Creighton is interviewed along with actor (and Cinema Retro contributor) Joe Sirola about the Cagney legacy. Sirola, a Tony-award winner who is one of the producers of "Cagney the Musical", can speak about Cagney through first-hand experience, as he co-starred with him in the last scene Cagney ever filmed in the 1984 television production "Terrible Joe Moran". Click here to read. Click here for the official "Cagney: The Musical" web site.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise
will boldly go where they have never gone before when STAR TREK II: THE WRATH
OF KHAN Director’s Edition arrives for the first time ever on Blu-ray June 7,
2016 from Paramount Home Media Distribution. As part of the 50th
anniversary celebration of the Star Trek franchise, this classic film has been digitally
remastered in high definition with brilliant picture quality and will be
presented in both Nicholas Meyer’s Director’s Edition and the original
theatrical version. The Blu-ray also includes a brand-new, nearly
30-minute documentary entitled “The Genesis Effect: Engineering The Wrath of
Khan,” which details the development and production of this fan-favorite film
through archival footage, photos and new interviews.
In addition to the new documentary, the STAR TREK II: THE WRATH
OF KHAN Director’s Edition Blu-ray is bursting with more than two hours of
previously released special features including multiple commentaries, original
interviews with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban and DeForest
Kelley, explorations of the visual effects and musical score, a tribute to
Ricardo Montalban, storyboards and much more.
Captain Kirk’s Starfleet career enters a new chapter as a result
of his most vengeful nemesis: Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically enhanced
conqueror from late 20th century Earth. Escaping his forgotten prison,
Khan sets his sights on both capturing Project Genesis, a device of god-like
power, and the utter destruction of Kirk.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN Director’s
The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with English
7.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish Mono Dolby Digital and
Portuguese Mono Dolby Digital with English, English SDH, French, Spanish and
Portuguese subtitles. The disc includes the following:
Director’s Edition in high definition
Theatrical Version in high definition
Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer (Director’s Edition &
Commentary by director Nicholas Meyer and Manny Coto (Theatrical
Text Commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda (Director’s Edition)
Library Computer (Theatrical Version)
The Genesis Effect: Engineering The Wrath of Khan—NEW!
Original interviews with DeForest Kelley, William Shatner,
Leonard Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban
Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Visual Effects of Star Trek
II: The Wrath of Khan
James Horner: Composing Genesis
The Star Trek Universe
Collecting Star Trek’s Movie Relics
A Novel Approach
Starfleet Academy: The Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI
By 1974 John Wayne was in the twilight of his long, distinguished film career that had spanned six decades. Although the genre that we associate him most with, the Western, was still in vogue, the trend among audience preferences had clearly shifted to urban crime dramas. Surprisingly, Wayne had never played a cop or detective - unless you want to count his role in the lamentable "Big Jim McLain", a 1952 Warner Brothers propaganda film that served as a love letter to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In that turkey, Wayne played an investigator for HUAC, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee that served as McCarthy's private police force, presumably searching out commie infiltrators. All they ended up doing was ruining the lives of left-wing people in the arts and academia. Wayne, for his part, remained unapologetic for his support of HUAC even after McCarthy's popularity plummeted and he ended his career in shame and disgrace. However, Wayne might have been discouraged from sticking his on-screen persona into volatile contemporary situations. His next bout with controversy would not be until the release of his 1968 pro-Vietnam War film "The Green Berets", which outraged liberals but brought in considerable boxoffice receipts from Wayne's fan base. By the early 1970s, the success of the "dirty cop" genre led major stars to gravitate to these films in much the same way many actors had longed to play secret agents during the James Bond-inspired spy rage of the previous decade. William Friedkin's "The French Connection" (1971) is generally credited as being the influential film that launched this type of film but, in reality, one could argue that Steve McQueen's anti-Establishment cop in "Bullitt" (1968) paved the way. The late 1971 release of "Dirty Harry" sent the genre into overdrive and even John Wayne decided to get on board. In fact, Wayne had been offered the title role in "Dirty Harry" but had turned it down because he felt his fan base would not accept him in a film that had so much violence and profanity. His instincts were right: had Wayne played the role, the script would have had to have been altered and watered down to the point that all of its social impact would have been lost. Still, Wayne saw the monumental success of the Clint Eastwood crime classic and decided to play a rogue cop in the thriller "McQ". The project also marked the first and only time he would work with esteemed action director John Sturges.
The film, which is refreshingly set in Seattle instead of the usual locales (New York, L.A., San Francisco) opens with Seattle Police Detective Stan Boyle (William Bryant) assassinating two uniformed fellow police officers before getting knocked off himself. When Boyle's partner, fellow Detective Lon McQ (John Wayne) gets word he has been killed, he becomes obsessed with finding the murderer, unaware that Boyle himself had carried out the killings. McQ's boss, Captain Ed Kosterman (Eddie Albert), who also does not know about Boyle's dark side, feels that the murders are the work of local radicals. McQ disagrees and suspects that the killers were hired by Santiago (Al Lettieri), a local drug kingpin who hides behind the veil of being a respected businessman. Santiago has long had grudges against McQ and Boyle for times they've tried to bust him in the past. When Kosternan discounts McQ's theory and refuses to assign him to the case, McQ abruptly resigns from the force in order to move more freely. Relying on his police informants and contacts, McQ signs up with his friend Pinky's (David Huddleston) private detective agency in order to be able to carry a firearm legally. (An amusing running gag in the film finds McQ constantly being relieved of his weapons.) McQ learns from a local pimp, Rosie (Roger E. Mosley), who he routinely bribes for information, that the murders may be tied to a major drug robbery that Santiago has hired an out-of-town heist team to carry out. McQ's belief that Santiago is behind the police killings is reinforced by the fact that that he narrowly escapes two assassination attempts carried out by professional killers. Meanwhile, McQ learns that the brazen plan involves snatching seized heroin from the police department before it can be burned and abscond with a couple of million dollars of the white powder. McQ doggedly carries out his investigation and charms Myra (Colleen Dewhurst), an aging cocktail waitress with a drug habit who used to be friendly with Boyle. From her, he learns that corrupt police officials are in on Santiago's scheme and are willing confederates, but he doesn't know exactly who they are. McQ attempts to thwart the heist at police headquarters but the brazen thieves manage to get away despite engaging in a shoot-out with McQ, who fails in his attempt to catch them in a wild car chase through the streets and highways of Seattle.
McQ's private investigation leads him to infiltrate Santiago's business office where Santiago and his men are anticipating his arrival. They get the drop on McQ but Santiago has a surprising confession for the ex-cop: he freely admits to orchestrating the drug heist from police HQ- but shows McQ the disappointing fruits of his labors: white powder that turns out to be sugar. Both McQ and Santiago can appreciate the irony: the real drugs had been stolen by police officials prior to the robbery and replaced with sugar. Crooked cops have succeeded in swindling the crook himself. McQ and Santiago part company, both knowing that the other man is intent on finding the location of the real drugs before they can be sold. The closer McQ gets to the answer, the more precarious his personal situation becomes as a close personal informant is murdered and McQ finds himself being framed for complicity in the drug heist. The script by Lawrence Roman builds in tension under John Sturges' assured direction and leads to some relatively surprising plot twist in a caper film packed with red herrings. Wayne was faulted by some critics for being miscast and because he was nearing seventy and had a noticeable paunch. However, Wayne's appearance actually works to his benefit. He doesn't look like some glam movie star and his real world appearance makes him convincing as an aging everyday cop. Additionally, he remains quite convincing in the action scenes even sans saddle and can engage in punch-ups and shoot-outs with as much conviction as ever. Most refreshingly, McQ isn't some "know-it-all" hero. He frequently makes wrong judgments and assumptions and pays a heavy price for these miscalculations. Wayne benefits from a fine supporting cast. In particular, his scenes with Eddie Albert and Colleen Dewhurst are especially strong and its regrettable that this is the first time he ever appeared on screen with either of them. (Dewhurst had a memorable role in Wayne's 1972 film "The Cowboys", but they never shared the screen together). Al Lettieri, in one of his final screen roles, proves again why he was one of the most reliable movie villains of the era. Other fine support comes from Clu Gulager and Jim Watkins (now acting under the name of Julian Christopher) as McQ's police cronies who may or may not be as loyal as they seem and Diana Muldaur, who gives a very effective performance as the grieving widow who seems a bit too flirty with McQ. Some lighthearted moments are effectively provided by David Huddleston and Roger E. Mosley, both of whom become exasperated by McQ but who can't resist assisting him. The movie features some very fine action set-pieces and climaxes with a superbly staged car chase along the Olympic Peninsula that finds McQ driving on the beach through the crashing surf with Santiago and a car full of armed goons in hot pursuit.
Warner Home Video has released the film on Blu-ray land it looks terrific on all counts. Bonus extras are a vintage six-minute production short that includes brief interviews with Wayne and other cast members but which concentrates on filming the climactic car chase, which made screen history for the number of "roll-overs" a car did during a particularly dangerous stunt. An original trailer is also included.
I've always liked "McQ" and in our present era of dumbed-down cop flicks, it plays even better than it did at the time of its original release. It's one of the Duke's best latter career action movies and the new Blu-ray is a "must have" for Wayne fans.
The 1968 jungle-based adventure The Face of Eve has been released on DVD in the UK as a constituent
of 'The British Film' collection from Network.
Hunting for treasure in the Amazon, Mike Yates (Easy Rider's Robert Walker Jr)
encounters taciturn, scantily-clad jungle beauty Eve (The Velvet Vampire's Celeste Yarnall) when she rescues him from
certain death at the hands of savages. Meanwhile in Spain, Yates's financier –
the wheelchair-bound Colonel Stuart (Christopher Lee) – has knowledge of the
location of a fabled stash of Incan riches, but he's unaware that his friend
and business partner Diego (Herbert Lom) has been plotting to cheat him out of
his fortune. Diego has coaxed his wife Conchita (Rosenda Monteros) into
infiltrating the household in the guise of Eve, the ailing Stuart's long lost
granddaughter and imminent sole heir. After Stuart divulges the treasure's
believed location to Diego, the duplicitous pair take off to find it...with
Yates, in the company of the real Eve, in hot pursuit.
Emerging from under the wing of legendary and prolific producer
Harry Alan Towers – the man behind some marvellous exploitationers throughout
the 60s, including a splendid run of Christopher Lee/Fu Manchu chillers, plus
Shirley Eaton star vehicle The Million
Eyes of Sumuru and its sequel The
Girl from Rio – if nothing else The
Face of Eve gives audiences an abundance of plot for their money. What it doesn’t deliver is anywhere near enough
of its star attraction. The film was directed by Vengeance of Fu Manchu's Jeremy Summers, a jobbing director whose
name will probably be most familiar in that capacity to fans of ITC TV shows of
the 60s. Towers himself took on scripting duties under his oft-employed nom de plume Peter Welbeck. As such, its
pedigree was certainly sound enough. It's just a shame that the resulting film
falls short of expectation, largely because, as already touched upon, the pair
failed to capitalise on their main asset: Celeste Yarnall.
Following a fistful of appearances in TV shows (among them The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Land of the Giants and Star Trek), as well as
blink-and-you'll-miss-her walk-ons in films such as Around the World Under the Sea and The Nutty Professor, 1968 proved to be Yarnall's big screen
breakout year when she secured a major role in Elvis starrer Live a Little, Love a Little and,
perhaps a tad less prestigiously, the titular role here in The Face of Eve. The actress plays the ‘Sheena Queen of the Jungle’
bit to perfection, clad in an admirably-filled chamois leather bikini that gives
the eye-catching attire of other jungle babes (such as Evelyne Kraft, Marion
Michael and Tanya Roberts) more than a run for its money. Thus, unsurprisingly,
whenever she's on screen she's very much the focal point, amusingly changing
hairstyle as often as she does her outfit. The problem is that Eve is side-lined
for the middle third of the picture, which relocates to Spain and gets a little
bogged down in the despicable duplicities of the Diegos and their mission to separate
Stuart from his wealth. So protracted is the business going on here that viewers
could be forgiven for wondering if Summers is ever going to get back to the more
interesting vicinage of the Amazon.
Beyond the obvious audience-bait of Yarnall (depicted on posters clinging
to a jungle vine far more fetchingly than Tarzan ever did), Lee and Lom bring
star name lustre to the aid of the party – though the former's age-augmenting
makeup falls some distance shy of convincing – and wiry-framed Walker Jr makes
for an unlikely but surprisingly affable hero. Fred Clark is good value too as
a nightclub owner-cum-showman who smells $’s-to-be-mined by exploiting the
newly discovered jungle nymphet, whilst Maria Rohm (Harry Alan Towers’ wife for
45 years up until his death in 2009) lip-syncs a smoochy musical number as a
bar-room brawl gets into full swing around her.
Though it’s enjoyable enough for what it is, The Face of Eve is a criminally unremarkable film; one can’t help
feeling that its premise should have birthed something with so much more
pizazz. Case in point, it was shot in Spain and Brazil, exotic enough locales
that regardless of anything else going on should have gifted the production with
a ton of spectacle, yet Manuel Merino's resolutely uninspired cinematography renders
most of the jungle sequences cheap-looking and dull.
In summation: a really wasted opportunity.
The colours on Network’s 1.66:1 ratio DVD transfer (sourced from
the original film elements) are occasionally a little muted, but aside from a slightly
ratty opening titles sequence it's a nice clean print. The only bonus feature
is a gallery of posters, stills and lobby cards from around the globe.
Criterion Collection released Herk Harvey’s 1962 cult film classic, Carnival of Souls, sixteen years ago as
a two-disk DVD set, but that edition has long been out of print. Now, a new
Blu-ray restoration is available from the company, and it is worth upgrading
even if you happen to own the original. Note that Carnival of Souls is a public domain film, so it is available on
DVD from many inferior manufacturers in bad-to-okay quality versions, but the
Criterion’s releases are the ones to grab.
Carnival is indeed an oddity.
Harvey worked at Centron Corporation, a maker of educational and industrial
short films based in Lawrence, Kansas. It was much like Calvin Films in Kansas
City, where Robert Altman cut his teeth making shorts in the 1950s. Needless to
say, Lawrence, Kansas is not Hollywood, and it was not a hotbed of feature
filmmaking in 1961, when Carnival was
had helmed many of Centron’s shorts and got the idea to make a horror feature
when he was driving home from Salt Lake City, Utah. He noticed the ruins of the
great Saltair, an entertainment complex that had been built by the Mormons on
the edge of Salt Lake in 1893 as a family-oriented place for recreation. It was
a sort of Coney Island for Utah residents. Designed in an incongruous Moorish
style, the place looked like a palace for sultans. It was destroyed by fire in
the 1920s and rebuilt, this time including a gigantic pavilion for dancing.
Saltair burned down and was rebuilt again,
but eventually by the 1950s it had become a derelict, spooky place due to the
recession of the lake that left behind a dirty, polluted shore abutting the
resort. After the film had been shot there, another attempt was made to restore
the place, but that failed when the lake rose and demolished the resort for
good. At any rate, in 1961, Herk Harvey thought Saltair would make a good
location for a ghost story, and he was right.
for a final budget of only $33,000, Carnival
of Souls looks and feels like it might
have been a bad Ed Wood production—very cheap, with amateurish acting (all
of the cast except the lead was pulled from local talent) and clumsy editing.
But the black and white cinematography by Maurice Prather is actually quite
striking, especially in Criterion’s new restored 4K digital transfer. The
images are sharp and pristine, as if the movie had been shot yesterday. The
all-organ score by Gene Moore adds another layer of originality to the
proceedings, and it’s unsettling and eerie. Despite the cheesiness of the production,
though, Harvey manages to evoke a genuinely creepy atmosphere throughout the
picture. His multiple appearances as “The Man” (in ghoulish makeup) do provide
story concerns Mary (played well enough by Candace Hilligoss, a newbie stage
actress hired out of New York), who is in an automobile accident at the film’s
beginning. She survives and is shell-shocked, but she manages to go on with her
life as a church organist. However, she keeps seeing visions of “The Man,” a
ghostly stalker who, of course, represents Death. At times she goes through
mysterious fugues in which all sound drops out and no one around her can see or
hear her. What’s going on? Well, it all becomes clear at the end, but most
viewers should be able to figure out the Twilight
Zone plot twist pretty quickly. In fact, the entire thing plays out like an
extra long episode of that classic horror and science fiction television
Carnival of Dreams was not a success on
its first release, but it gained a cult following in the 1980s and beyond,
supposedly influencing the likes of David Lynch and George A. Romero. It is
definitely an entertaining and somewhat scary picture, but personally I’m not
convinced that it is the masterpiece some horror aficionados claim it to be.
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray contains only the theatrical cut at 78
minutes. It has an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, as well as selected-scene
audio commentary with director Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford. The
original Criterion release featured the original director’s cut (84 minutes) as
well, but apparently the elements of the edited scenes weren’t good enough for
the new restoration, so they appear separately as supplements.
of the extras from the first release are ported over—The Movie That Wouldn’t Die, a 1989 documentary about the cast and
crew reunion; The Carnival Tour, a
2000 update on the film’s locations; a history of the Saltair Resort; the
theatrical trailer; and a selection of excerpts from shorts made by the Centron
Corporation. There is also a long selection of silent outtakes, cut to Gene
Moore’s eerie organ score. New supplements include an interview with comedian
and writer Dana Gould on the influence and merits of the film, and an
interesting new video essay by film critic David Cairns. The booklet contains
an essay by writer and programmer Kier-La Janisse.
the absence of the director’s cut is disappointing, the new Criterion Blu-ray
is a welcome release mainly for its superb video quality. Carnival of Souls is worth a late-night viewing for its historical
significance and moments of disturbing imagery, but I doubt it will give you
the hundreds of Italian Westerns
produced, naturally many of them rate as only sub-par. A few of these sub-par
entries have an interesting twist or stand-out sequence but are still only
sub-par at the end of the day. Despite its all-star cast and dynamic poster,
this is what I expected A Town Called
Hell (1971) to be like. To the contrary, not only is the film something of
an offbeat gothic-western similar to Django
Kill! and High Plains Drifter,
but it also has beautiful production values. The opening sequence, wherein a
church is the site of a bloody massacre during the Mexican Revolution, is
almost Hammer-like in some regards. Ten years later the very revolutionary
(Robert Shaw) who killed the priest has now taken his place in the same church.
And then comes to town a mysterious woman in black in a horse and carriage with
a pale mute manservant. In the carriage is a black coffin that she intends to
fill with the body of the man who killed her husband (whom she believes to be
in the town) but until she does she sleeps in the coffin like a vampire (she’s
not btw, it’s not that Gothic).
Unlike many predictable Spaghettis, A
Town Called Hell raises one intriguing question after another as the story
progresses. That being said, the answers to said questions aren’t exactly
mind-blowing and unfortunately overall the film is somewhat hard to follow at
times. However, the direction by Robert Parish is so engrossing one is still
able to be entertained even if they don’t fully understand everything. Parish
had previously directed the sci-fi flick Journey
to the Far Side of the Sun (1969) and portions of the 1967 Casino Royale for some of Peter
Sellers’s scenes. Robert Shaw is riveting in the lead as the revolutionary
turned priest, though fans looking forward to a large dose of Telly Savalas, featured
prominently on the poster, are in for a disappointment as he disappears (his
fate is unclear) relatively early into the movie. The rest of the impressivecast, which includes such stalwarts as Stella Stevens, Martin Landau, Michael Craig, Al Lettieri, Aldo Sambrell and Fernando Rey, put in
good performances as well, and the music score by Waldo de los Rios is
excellent. If one didn’t know better they might think Rios scored westerns
often, but in fact had scored only one other before this. The sets in
particular are a stand-out aspect of the production, most of all the interior
of the church where the massacre takes place, making this one of the more
lavish Spaghetti Westerns.
be accurate, the film isn’t actually a “pure-bred” Italian Western, but was
financed by Benmar Films out of Britain. As to the Blu-ray from Kino Lorber,
the transfer is gorgeous for the most part, but on the downside the spoken
dialogue is difficult to hear in some spots, another reason the film is
occasionally hard to follow. There are no special features aside from a trailer
for another Kino Lorber release, Navajo
Joe. Overall, though the story never quite lives up to the questions it
raises or its intriguing Gothic trappings, A
Town Called Hell is still highly recommended for Spaghetti Western buffs
Director Daniel Birt's
1952 crime drama The Night Won't Talk
arrives on DVD in the UK as an integrant of Network Distributing's impressive,
ongoing 'The British Film' collection.
In the wake of her murder
via strangulation it transpires that artists' model Stella Smith was a serial
gold-digger, the string of discarded and disgruntled dupes left in her
avaricious wake constituting a healthy number of suspects. Stella's
husband-to-be, artist Clayton Hawks (John Bailey), can't be certain that he himself
isn't the murderer; given to outbursts of uncontrolled rage, he was in the
throes of a stress-induced blackout at the time. With Inspector West (Ballard
Berkeley) breathing down his neck, Clayton – assisted by two friends, model
Hazel (Mary Germaine) and fellow artist Theo (Hy Hazell) – sets out to uncover
Daniel Birt lensed a
number of serviceable potboilers throughout the 40s and early 50s, among them Third Party Risk, Three Weird Sisters and The
Interrupted Journey. Running a couple of minutes short of an hour, The Night Won't Talk barely really qualifies
as a feature film but back in the day it constituted solid and efficient
A-feature support; it's a workmanlike and talky, yet never less than engaging serving
of Brit noir whodunnit – even if the identity of the ‘who’ that ‘dunnit’ ultimately
proves no great surprise.
John Bailey plays shifty convincingly
enough (even though there's never any doubt he isn't the killer), whilst
the resident feminine allure, in the shape of Hy Hazell and Hazel Germaine,
proves to be more than just decorous; Hazell is particularly good. Law
enforcement is represented by Ballard Berkeley (an actor for whom B-movie
police inspectors were a stock in trade back in the 50s, even though he’s
probably best remembered now for his latterday turn as the bumbling Major in TV
comedy classic Fawlty Towers) and a
perpetually pipe-nursing Duncan Lamont; the duo weed through the slew of
suspects with such insouciance it's a miracle they actually solve the case at
all, though naturally they come rushing in at the climax just in time to
prevent another fatality.
Most of the characters, both
male and female, speak in the clipped, dreadfully proper English of the "I
say, old man" ilk, there's a memorably imaginative and effectively rendered
moment involving the killer's shadow, and although much of the production is
set-bound there's some atmospheric footage of period River Thames at twilight
(Hazell's character resides on a houseboat).
Never threatening to reach
the lofty heights of gripping, The Night
Won't Talk still makes for a pretty decent hour's watch, and Network's
1.37:1 ratio DVD presentation delivers a clean and sharp transfer (taken from
the original film elements) which only falters in one of two brief instances of
missing frames. The sole supplement is a gallery of original release
many years Tarzan was a staple of cinema—in fact from its very onset. The first
Tarzan feature, Tarzan of the Apes,
came out in 1918 and was followed by close to 50 other adaptations in the last
century. His star started to fade in the late 1960s and there were no Tarzan
features in the 1970s save for one. The 1980s somewhat provided his last gasp
on the big screen with movies like the Bo Derek vehicle Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and- more impressively- the
well-received Greystoke: The Legend of
Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The 1990s saw only 1998’s Tarzan and the Lost City and
the 1999 Disney animated version. In fact, for all many “youngsters” know
Tarzan may as well have originated with the Disney cartoon. For the first time
in many years, we finally have a new big-budget live-action iteration of one of
the screen’s oldest icons in The Legend
of Tarzan from Warner Bros. Can it strike a balance between lovers of
vintage cinema who grew up on Tarzan and the new “iPhone generation”? Or will
it suffer the fate of that other recent Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation John Carter?
there is a lot of CGI vine swinging which will put some viewers off, but I for
one say it makes for very exciting action (and less risk for the stuntmen). And
secondly, would Tarzan’s journey through cinematic history be complete without
a little CGI? I think not. Though there is a lot of appreciation in watching
well-done stunt work, the CGI enabled Tarzan could well be the “purist”
representation of Burrough’s vision ever put on the screen. In fact, certain
shots of Tarzan swinging through the jungle with the apes look like a Frank
Frazetta painting come to life. A CGI-enable animal stampede unleashed during
the climax is also a scene straight from classic Burroughs, and would have been
impossible to pull off with real animals, as is Tarzan’s fight with a gorilla
midway through the picture.
he’s probably a little too far on the blonde side for Burroughs purists,
Alexander Skarsgard is pretty perfectly cast as Tarzan; and for more than just
his lithe physique. Playing Tarzan was usually a tough act to balance for most
actors. Mike Henry played him as though he were James Bond in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966),
while Miles O’Keefe never even spoke in Tarzan,
the Ape Man opposite Bo Derek. Perhaps this is why the writers chose to set
this film ten years after he has left Africa for England, and Tarzan has become
acclimated to modern society as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton. Naturally in this
civilized period of his life the character is much easier to write and to
portray for Skarsgard. Therefore, this is probably one of the more relatable on
screen Tarzans, though I’d say Johnny Weissmuller is still safe as the all-time
for the rest of the cast, Margot Robbie is a knockout and does great as Jane.
However, it feels as though the production team felt a bit guilty about making
her a damsel in distress for most of the film and it shows in some of her
scenes in captivity. That being said, Jane’s kidnapping was a necessary
plot-device for this film’s story, not to mention something of a Tarzan
tradition, but perhaps in the future she can get a better subplot. As the
heavy, Christoph Waltz is his usual very watchable self. Though the story sets
up Waltz to look like a weakling in his first scene, he quickly proves to be
anything but in a nice twist. He even comes complete with a unique way of
killing his enemies that would be right at home in one of the older Bond
pictures. Samuel L. Jackson portrays Tarzan’s ally from the civilized world who
has to acclimate to the jungle, another Tarzan tradition of sorts. Rounding out
the rest of the big name actors is Djimon Hounsou who plays the leader of a
viscous tribe who has a vendetta with Tarzan, yet another series staple which
makes the film round all the usual bases (and I mean this in a positive
some respects, were I to ignore the CGI, I almost felt as though I was watching
some vintage cinema from a bygone era. Perhaps part of this feeling is due to
the period setting, since there are so few period piece blockbusters these
days. The film is also simply plotted, and is true to the Tarzan formula. An
evil white man is out to get the lost diamonds of Opar, and Jane naturally gets
kidnapped by him. Much like a Burroughs book, the action cuts back in forth
between Tarzan’s trek through the jungle and Jane’s efforts to escape captivity
from the villains. Coupled with this are flashback scenes to Tarzan’s origin
and first meetings with Jane, as this is more of a “sequel” than an origin
story. For purists who dislike CGI, have no fear at least when it comes to the
on-location shots of Africa, which are beautiful up on the big screen. Naturally,
there are of traces of the 21st Century filmmaking trends too. In
the wake of Marvel Studio’s success it seems every action film these days tries
to be a comedian, so to speak. The Legend
of Tarzan doesn’t try too hard, but I found most of its jokes fell flat
enough they should have been left on the cutting room floor.
overall I wouldn’t call it a fantastic film, in this day and age of obligatory
reboots I’d have to say The Legend of
Tarzan has more merit than most. As to how the new generations just being
introduced to Tarzan will react, who can say, but I have a feeling this film
will end up being embraced more so by the older crowd than the younger. But
just so long as it makes enough to produce a sequel, myself and many others
will be happy.
Lee Ermey and Wings Hauser are Marines defending an American outpost in Vietnam
during the Tet Offensive in “The Siege of Firebase Gloria,” directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and recently released
on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber. The 1989 release was an independent production
filmed on location in the Philippines which is a common stand-in for Vietnam. The
movie opens as Marines come across a recent massacre in a South Vietnamese village.
The destruction is horrific with decapitated heads and piles of bloody bodies
killed by the enemy in order to send a message to others not to assist the Americans.
The Marines make their way to helicopter transport after rescuing an American
prisoner and fighting the Vietcong hiding in a fishing camp. The Marines’ destination
is Firebase Gloria, a jungle outpost surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers
a Marine in real life, is very good as the tough Marine Sergeant Major Bill
Haffner. He takes his Marines across hostile Vietnamese territory and leads
them in reinforcing and defending the firebase against a continuous onslaught
by the Vietcong. His second in command, Corporal Joseph L. DiNardo (Hauser), is
younger and a bit more jaded than Haffner, but not about to take any chances
with the enemy. Gloria is surrounded by Vietcong and its defenses offer little
more than a series of buildings on a hill surrounded by barbed wire and
soldiers in trenches. The men assigned to Gloria know the situation is bleak
and spend their time indulging in getting high on drugs.
drug-using commanding officer has gone crazy so Haffner and DiNardo arrange a
fake attack that results in the commander being wounded and airlifted out of
Gloria. Haffner takes command, removes the drugs and strengthens the base
defenses in anticipation of the predictable attacks to come. After being
informed by the First Sergeant of the presence of female medical staff on
Firebase Gloria, Sergeant Major Haffner responds with one of the best of his many
sarcastic lines of dialog, “The shit's gettin' pretty goddamned deep around
here. Is there any nuns or Girl Scouts that I should know about on the
firebase?” Margaret Gerard plays the head nurse, Captain Cathy Flanagan, the
only major female character in the movie. She has a few good scenes mostly playing
off Ermey’s sarcastic comments, but she has very little else to do in the
battle scenes are relentless and bloody with little time for a break. Scenes of
the enemy assessing the situation at Firebase Gloria are dispersed between the series
of attacks, but don’t really add much to the movie. It feels as though the
filmmakers were attempting to humanize the Vietcong in these scenes, but it
doesn’t quite work and only adds unnecessary sub-titled dialog between the
Vietcong commander and his second in command as a sort of counterpoint to
Haffner and DiNardo. There is a scene during the climactic battle where the
Vietcong commander and Haffner are going at each other hand-to-hand just as the
enemy over-runs the base, but the Vietcong commander retreats upon arrival of
several Army Huey helicopters, thus ending their assault.
receives second billing to Wings Hauser, but Hauser is one of the weakest
aspects of this movie. Watch “The Siege of Firebase Gloria” for colorful dialog
by Ermey which adds the right touch of sarcastic counterpoint and humor,elevating
the film away from the typical gung-ho action movie. This rarely seen gem has
been missing in action on home video for years except for used VHS copies. MGM finally
made it available as a burn to order DVD in 2012. I haven’t viewed that disc,
but this Blu-ray looks and sounds pretty good, though there is an acceptable
amount of grain in the picture. The only extra on this Kino Lorber release is
the trailer. This movie is nowhere near the caliber of Vietnam War classics
like “Apocalypse Now,” “The Deer Hunter” and “Full Metal Jacket,” but is
recommended for fans of old fashioned military action B-movies and a memorable
performance by the terrific R. Lee Ermey.
on Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play, “The Children’s Hour,” These Three strays from the source most notably in its cause for public
outrage. While the earlier work took as its inciting gossip a suggestion of
lesbianism between two female teachers, Hollywood’s production code dictates
would not allow such an insinuation in a 1936 film (director William Wyler’s
own 1961 remake, which retains the play’s title, was more effectively able to
get away with it). Nevertheless, the rumor of
unmarried sexuality, on school property no less, is damaging enough for its time
and place, even if the film does lose some of the scandalous bite provoked by the
As These Three starts, best
friends Martha Dobie (Miriam Hopkins) and Karen Wright (Merle Oberon, fresh off
an Oscar-nominated performance in 1935’s The
Dark Angel) rush into their dream of opening a boarding school just minutes
after they graduate from college. “Take a chance with me,” implores Karen, and
with that, the two are off to a rural Massachusetts community. The area is charmingly
rustic, but the actual site of their institution, Karen’s inherited farmhouse,
is more than a little rickety. Though the poor condition of the structure is
played for laughs, it is also the first signal that their goal will not be
Alleviating some of that hesitation is the appearance of Dr.
Joseph Cardin (Joel McCrea, having also worked with Hopkins the year prior on Barbary Coast and Splendor), first presented here by the chunks of wood he comically
heaves through a hole in the building’s bee-infested Swiss cheese roof. Once introduced
to one another, the trio form a promptly congenial group, sitting together and
jointly munching on Joseph’s lunch. There is some stated surprise at their immediate
camaraderie, and there is a tinge of inevitable jealousy regarding whom Joseph
favors most, but all in all, Martha and Karen have found a solid ally.
With the bucolic setting comes a cloistered small-town mentality
and carefully arranged social structure. The two young women are instant outsiders,
apparently despite Karen’s roots in the region, and in their naiveté, they also
open themselves up to humiliation. Their first misstep is to procure the ire of
the precocious Mary Tilford (Bonita Granville), who is set up to be their first
pupil and the cause of their downfall. Furthermore, Joseph’s playfulness is regarded
by some as impudence, and Karen and Martha are generally greeted with cautious
skepticism. Before long, rumors and assumptions fly, deriving from Martha’s
annoyingly obtrusive aunt Lily (Catherine Doucet) and Mary, who is a conniving
troublemaker. When the girl is punished for lying, she retaliates by telling
her grandmother (Alma Kruger), a wealthy town benefactor, about the supposed
tryst between Joseph and Martha. A steady anxiety grows from the planted
suspicions, and, more than that, there is genuine shock when Mary reveals a
terrifyingly cruel violent streak. Confronted by accusations of illicit and
harmful activity at the school, Karen, Martha, and Joseph are thus embroiled in
a town-wide conspiracy. While they remain an unwavering team in the face of the
fabricated outrage, going so far as to make their case in court, the entire scheme
has been devastating enough to dismantle their idyllic institution and their
Even if the lesbianism in any overt sense has been left on the
stage, there is still a notably familiar friendship between Karen and Martha.
They frequently speak in the plural possessive and for much of the early
portion of These Three, the two are
framed closely together, stressing their physical proximity and their initial
shared expressions and thoughts. This type of composition is gradually less frequent
as Joseph comes between the women, but what seems to impede a full commitment
to the neighborly doctor, as much as the townsfolk distrust, is the sincere,
respectful bond between the two friends. Perhaps to limit the perceived possibility
of just where the jealousy may actually be directed—Martha’s jealousness at
Joseph choosing her friend instead of her rather than her being jealous of
Karen finding another love—the women bear no great hostility toward one another
as their work and lives are put to the test.
Produced by the prolific Samuel Goldwyn,
who was working with Wyler on the first of what would be their eight films
together, These Three moves along at
a decent pace. Even at just 93 minutes, though, there are times when the
developing drama is stretched a little thin in order to prolong the film’s
third act, only to then have the conclusion itself somewhat hurried. The performances
are generally good across the board, and Granville at just 14 would be
nominated for an Academy Award. A major drawback concerning nearly all involved,
however, is when the actors lose a considerable degree of empathy and
effectiveness by breaking into shrieking emotional outbursts, which happens a
lot. This type of fluctuating behavior is mirrored in the film’s tonal
oscillation as well; what starts innocent enough grows simply sinister as
hysterics set in amidst the close confines of the school. Adhering to the bound
constraints of the stage play, Wyler and cinematographer Gregg Toland seldom
venture outdoors, adding to the combustible claustrophobia (the restrictiveness
is literally evident when McCrea has to duck through one particular doorway). Neither
Wyler nor Toland were at their legendary status by this point, so though they
do contribute to clean, clear, and precise visuals, the imagery is so
restrained and unembellished that it scarcely suggests the pictorial brilliance
both men would soon exhibit.
These Three is
available now on a single-disc DVD from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
is a band that has never taken itself seriously. In the 33 years I have followed The Boys, I
have come to regard them as musicians who have no trouble making fun of
themselves and this is an aspect of their personalities that endears them to so
many of us. The band’s use of the Three
Stooges theme to open many of their concerts since the 1980’s and their amusing
videos that open and close their later tours are proof that they don’t take
keeping in the spirit of such silliness, David Calcano’s 2015 book Rushtoons by Fantoons Vol. 2112 is a
tongue-in-cheek tribute to our favorite band by some world-class artists who
have created some beautiful cartoons that ape and good-naturedly poke fun at
Rush’s famous album covers, making visual puns and humorous references to
imagery that is as synonymous with Rush’s sound as hair is to Donald
Trump. The 23 talented artists showcased
are Mike Kazaleh, Chris Brubaker, Cristian Garcia, Raciel Avila Silva, Jose
Rodriguez Mota, Samanta Erdini, Angie Pik, Armin Roshdi, Drew Krevi, Juan
Riera, Tone Rodriguez, Camila Velarde, Min Jeong, Benny Jackson, Manuel
Sarmiento, Igor Teran, Gina Rivas, Rene Cordova, Paul Badilla, Rafael Luna,
Carlos Behrens, David Calcano, and Maryam Mahmodi Modhadam. Begun in April 2015 as a Kickstarter project,
Rushtoons by Fantoons Vol. 2112
quickly raised enough capital in 24 hours to become a reality. The final result is well worth the wait.
book is separated into seven chapters, beginning with a foreword by RIAB’s Ed
Stenger. Chapter 1 (Roll the Ads) features one of my favorite mash-ups of Corporate
America and Rush: Bill Gates sitting in a chair, pointing a remote control at a
window for MicrosoftPower Windows – clever! Chapter 2 (The Torontonian Cartoons) features
artwork that is most closely related to newspaper comics as they are black and
white with no color. The standout – Alex
sitting on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office, upset because “Geddy started
using keyboards!” Chapter 3 (Le Studio
D’Art) brings us back to color with visual puns on the motifs from the albums,
such as the Dalmatian running to a less-than-happy fire hydrant, and the same
dog chasing Neil who is driving a Red Barchetta. My favorite is the “Live Long and Prosper”
variant on Grace Under Pressure’s
amazing cover. Chapter 4 (Rushtoons)
features The Boys in comical variations on the Peanuts, Popeye, and even Eddie
Trunk is featured. My favorite explains
Alex’s closed eye on the cover of his 1994 solo album, Victor. Chapter 5 (In the
Mood Pin-Ups) features a cute send-up of the Presto cover with a buxom beauty; “Permanent Weathergirls”; and a humorous
parody of the Hold Your Fire cover as
a nude woman attempts to cover herself (use your imaginations on fire). Chapter 6 (Moving Pictures) encompasses
several nice Star Wars parodies, one
with Paula Turnbull’s turn as Leia in full slave girl garb. TheTwilight Zone, TheThree Stooges (how
can you not?), Raiders of the Lost Ark
(Indy trying to outrace the Vapor Trails fireball),
Miami Vice and The Terminator are all given the Rush treatment. Chapter 7 (Sugar Rush, The Cereals), the last
section, incorporates cereal box covers: Caress of Milk, Toasted to the Heart,
Permanent Flakes, Milk Under Pressure, Flakes for Echo…you get the idea!
I highly recommend this 170-page book to all dedicated
Rush fans. You can order a copy of Rushtoons by Fantoons Vol. 2112 online here at the Rush Backstage Club.
(The following reviews pertain to the UK Region 2 releases)
I'm in the right mood I adore bit of film noir. I admire the diversity of its
storytelling, I love every facet, from the hardboiled private eyes, duplicitous
dames and characters that seldom turn out to be what they first appear, to the
alleyways bathed in inky shadows, ramshackle apartments and half-lit street
corners they inhabit. How can you not get drawn in by the sheer delight of Edward
G Robinson playing a second rate psychic trying to convince the authorities he
can see the future in The Night Has a
Thousand Eyes? Or amnesiac John Hodiak on a mission to discover his own
identity, in the process getting embroiled in a 3-year-old murder case and the
search for a missing $2 million in Somewhere
in the Night? Yes, indeed, there's nothing quite like a hearty serving of film
noir on a Sunday afternoon to soothe those end-of-the-weekend blues.
released to dual format Blu-ray and DVD in the UK – carefully restored by UCLA
Film and Television Archive following several years of sleuthing by the Film
Noir Foundation – are a couple real crackers. I'd seen neither before but both have
quickly found a spot among my favourites.
up is 1949 United Artists picture Too
Late for Tears (also known under the re-release moniker Killer Bait), directed by Byron Haskin
from a Roy Huggins
story (first serialised in the 'Saturday Evening Post'). The plot hinges on a
bag packed with an ill-gotten $60,000 worth of banknotes. Husband and wife Alan
and Jane Palmer (Arthur Kennedy and Lizabeth Scott) are drawn into a deadly
game when someone in a passing car hurls a briefcase full of cash into the back
of their open top saloon – cash so hot it's "a bag o' dynamite", as
Alan sagely recognises it. He’s insistent that they hand it over to the cops,
but Jane is having none of it; their ship has come in and she intends to hop aboard.
Initially she swings Alan round to her way of thinking but it's not long before
the intended recipient of the money (Dan Duryea) shows up to claim it back.
Jane, tougher than she at first seemed, is determined to keep it even if doing
so means resorting to murder.
striking support from the slinky Kristine Miller and an urbane Don DeFore, this
is 100% Lizabeth Scott's parade. She's breathtaking as the ice cold blonde schemestress
with a loaded shooter in one hand and a clutch bag full of seductive ploys in
the other; as femme fatales go they don't come much wilier. Huggins' script is
awash with mistrust and the razor sharp repartee born thereof: "Looking
for something?"/"My lipstick"/"Colt or Smith &
Wesson?". The twists come thick and fast as Jane's scruples, if ever she
had any, are casually discarded as she calculatingly works to finagle the cash.
With a sucker punch of a final twist that doles out the roughest of justice, Too Late for Tears is a little gem.
Next up, a Universal Pictures release: Norman Foster's San Francisco based Woman on the Run, a tad lighter in tone
but equally gripping. Out walking his dog one night, artist Frank Johnson (Ross
Elliott) witnesses a murder – but the killer sees him too. With little faith in
police witness protection, Johnson does a runner. Believing that he's really trying
to escape their failing marriage, Frank's wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) sets out
to find him. Assisted by intrepid reporter Dan Legget (Dennis O'Keefe), eager
to scoop a front page exclusive, Eleanor follows a trail of clues that reveal
things about Frank she never knew, all the while dodging the police (who believe
she'll lead them to her husband, the only person who can identify the killer), and
blindly unaware she’s being watched by the killer himself, intent on eliminating
the sole witness to his crime.
from a screenplay he co-wrote with Alan Campbell, Foster (who went on to direct
episodes of Batman and The Green Hornet for television) keeps
the action moving along at a fair old lick, never afraid to punctuate the mood
with a splash of comic relief; the Johnson's dog is called Rembrandt, because
"It's the nearest we’ll come to owning one". Although it initially
feels like folly when the story’s ace twist is played midway point, it’s in
fact a very shrewd move; arming the audience with such vital knowledge serves
to ratchet up the suspense thereafter to almost unbearable levels. Boasting
some fantastic San Francisco location work and climaxing amidst the after-dark
amusement park thrills of Santa Monica's Ocean Park Pier (a finale which
delivers squalling tension to rival the theme park located climax to Hitchcock
classic Strangers on a Train,
released the following year), if you dip into only one noir thriller this year,
be sure that it's 24-carat keeper Woman
on the Run.
By the early 1970s there had been a revival of interest in the format of anthology suspense/horror stories. This genre had been all the rage in the late 1950s and early 1960s with shows like "The Twilight Zone", "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "Thriller!" (hosted by Boris Karloff) attracting loyal audiences. "Twilight Zone" creator and host Rod Serling had two bites at the apple when he introduced "Night Gallery" as a TV movie in 1969 (giving young Steven Spielberg his first major directing gig) and then spun it off into a moderately successful weekly TV series. The early to mid-1970s also saw a major resurgence in horror-themed anthology feature films. The concept was hardly a new one for the big screen as the first major film of this type was "Dead of Night", released in 1945. Roger Corman oversaw some similarly-themed big screen anthologies in the early to mid-1960s, many of which were inspired by classic horror stories based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Not to be outdone, Amicus Films, a rival of Hammer Studios, debuted their anthology concept with the 1965 release of "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors". By the early 1970s we had "Tales From the Crypt", "Vault of Horror", "The House That Dripped Blood" and many others. All of the short stories were based on the same theme: a bunch of disparate characters encounter some supernatural occurrences with the less savory people ending up getting their just desserts through ironic circumstances. In 1983 producer Andrew Mirisch decided to give the anthology concept a try by teaming with producer/screenwriter Christopher Crowe and pitching the concept to Universal. Mirisch had found success in recent years with two popular TV series: "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries" and "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century". Universal gave the green light for McCarthy's proposed series "Nightmares". The concept was to feature a self-contained horror tale within a half-hour format. For various reasons, including the possible demise of a similarly-themed show titled "Darkroom", the idea for a weekly series was nixed. However, Universal liked what they had seen and decided to morph the concept into a feature film, retaining the title "Nightmares". It consisted of four individual tales and the film was directed by the esteemed Joseph Sargent, who had some high profile TV series and feature films to his credit. The result was an unremarkable but consistently entertaining film that is not as sharp or memorable as some of the best anthology films but superior to some of the weaker ones.
"Nightmares" dispenses with a gimmick used in many anthology films: having a creepy host reveal each of the stories. These just open "cold" without any attempt to link the plots or characters. First up is "Terror in Topanga" which finds Cristina Raines as a young mother who is hopelessly addicted to smoking. One evening she discovers she is out of cigarettes and decides to make a drive into town from her rural home in order to get a pack. Her husband admonishes her and insists that she stays home. Seems there is a manhunt on for a homicidal maniac who has butchered a police officer and who has been terrorizing other residents. Naturally, Raines ignores the advice and sneaks out of the house. The ride to town proves to be ominous with a few red herrings thrown in to mislead the audience, including her encounter with a hitchhiker on a lonely road. When she does make it to the store, it's manned by a wacko clerk (played the inimitable Anthony James) who is somehow more frightening than the maniac. By this point, Raines regrets her decision and is eager to race home. Despite the fact that there is a murderer on the loose, she refuses to lock the doors to her car, even when she leaves it to enter the store. This leads to a predictable development that comes about when she (in true horror movie crisis cliche mode) discovers she is coincidentally almost out of gas. Every major gas station is closed but she eventually finds a lone station on a foreboding mountain road. She has a tense encounter with the sole employee on duty who looks at her menacingly even as he pretends to pump gas. The payoff is based on one of the oldest urban horror legends but the tale is briskly paced and highly entertaining with Raines giving a fine performance as the increasingly nervous victim-to-be.
"Bishop of Battle" goes in an entirely different direction. It eschews dark, foreboding places in favor of a bright suburban home and a crowded game center at a shopping mall. Emilo Estevez is J.J. , an obnoxious high school kid with a mad passion for playing the titular game. He becomes so obsessed with reaching the "13th level" (something few have supposedly ever been able to do) that he begins to withdraw from his parents and friends. His attempts to reach his goal become the stuff of local legend and big crowds gather to watch his attempts- but he always falls a bit short of his ultimate victory. Goaded on by the graphic of the Bishop of Battle, who constantly tempts him to keep trying, J.J. ends up defying his parents, who have ordered him to cease and desist from game-playing. One night he breaks into the arcade and begins his final battle with the Bishop. It leads to a disastrous but predictable conclusion. This segment is well-acted by Estevez and, despite the fact that we can predict the "shock" ending, it plays out well enough. Most of the enjoyment, however, comes from seeing how positively archaic "state-of-the-art" gaming was back in the early 1980s.
"The Benediction" features Lance Henriksen as a priest serving in a tiny desert parish who undergoes a crisis of faith. Having witnessed so many terrible things happen to good people, he decides to hang up his frock and leave the priesthood. His fellow priest tries to talk him out of it, but he is determined to go his own way and start a new life. A big clue as to what awaits him comes with the rather awkward plot device of his being given a gift of holy water to keep him safe on his travels. This promising concept of a priest at odds with his faith is soon abandoned for a ludicrous scenario in which he becomes menaced by a black truck with an unseen driver that keeps appearing out of nowhere and smashing into his car, rendering it inoperable. The demonic vehicle then attempts to kill the priest in a series of spectacular attacks. One of the more ridiculous aspects of a tale that borrows shamelessly from the classic TV movie "Duel", the God-awful Universal cheese fest "The Car" and Stephen King's novel "Christina", is the fact that throughout this entire ordeal not a single other vehicle is anywhere to be seen. We know we are in a horror flick but there still has to be some semblance of reality. Henriksen gives a good performance but "The Benediction" is the weakest of the four stories in "Nightmare".
"Night of the Rat" is the best-remembered segment of the film because of its outrageous premise. Veronica Cartwright and Richard Masur are a young couple with a cute little girl (Bridgette Andersen) who live a normal life in a suburban neighborhood. Mysterious sounds begin to occur and lead them to believe that rats are in the house. The headstrong husband insists he can handle the problem and indeed he does catch and kill the critter. However, this only leads to an escalation of terrors as inexplicable destruction begins to take place all over the house. Absurdly, the husband still insists he can solve everything but when cabinets start falling and dishes crashing, the wife calls in an exterminator who tells her that it appears the house is possessed by something of old German horror legend: a seemingly indestructible giant rat who is out to get revenge for the killing of her baby. The crazy premise actually works better than you might think thanks to the superior performances of the three leads who manage to keep straight faces even when confronted with a five foot rodent who invades their daughter's bed. The special effects of the rat itself look a bit laughable by today's standards but are admirable if one considers the technology of the era and the limited budget. The segment is the most enjoyable of the four and does contain some genuine chills before it's over-the-top finale. As with "The Benediction", there is a gnawing lack in credibility in that, despite the virtual wholesale destruction of this neighborhood home in the dead of night, apparently not one neighbor is aware of the situation.
Shout! Factory's horror label Scream! Factory has released "Nightmares" as a Blu-ray special edition. The main bonus feature is a highly enjoyable commentary track with Andrew Mirisch and Cristina Raines, who appears throughout the track even though she is only in the first segment. Seems she and Mirisch are old chums and had worked together on other projects. Their memories of this particular film get very spotty occasionally but the commentary rolls smoothly thanks to the moderator, film historian Shaun K. Chang, who runs the highly addictive retro film blog Hill Place (click here to access). Chang keeps the conversation light in tone and, not unusually for film historians, seems to have more facts about the making of the film than the people who actually made it. There is plenty of interesting discussion about the background of the movie as a TV project and some very amusing conversations with Mirisch about how "Nightmares" looks a lot richer in terms of production values than the notoriously cheap Universal productions of the era. (Mirisch notes that he was determined to avoid using the same staircase that appeared in seemingly every Universal TV show.) Chang also brings up a more disturbing and poignant fact: that actress Bridgette Andersen, one of the most prolific child actors of the time, died in 1997. Although he doesn't discuss the cause of her death of out respect for her memory, research shows she died at age 17 due to a heroin overdose. In terms of other aspects of the commentary, none of the three participants engage in pretentious analysis of the film and all seem content to regard it as a fun, if not overly significant entry in the horror film canon of the 1980s, though Mirisch concedes at the end of the commentary track that, having seen the film for the first time since 1983, it has aged better than he had expected. The special edition also contains a well-made original trailer and two ominous radio spots. (Remember when they advertised movies on the radio?) In all, a highly impressive Blu-ray release- but with one caveat. The packaging notes that there is a commentary track with Andrew Mirisch and Cristina Raines but doesn't even mention Shaun K. Chang, who does most of the heavy lifting in terms of setting the relaxed tone and getting Mirisch and Raines to reflect on long-forgotten aspects of the film. C'mon, Scream! Factory- how about giving credit where it is due?
“Do you like being filmed and talking about yourself,” director
Agnès Varda asks star and subject Jane Birkin in the 1987 film Jane B. for Agnès V. “Yes and no,” comes
the fittingly ambiguous answer. This fascinating film, recently released on a
Cinelicious Pics Blu-ray alongside Kung-Fu
Master! (1987), the purely fictional feature born from the
quasidocumentary’s unique study of Birkin as an actress and the art of
performance in general, is a movie made of memories, fantasies, and the hazy
area where the two coalesce. Essentially derived from Birkin’s stated fear of
turning 40, Jane B. for Agnès V. is a
ruminative examination of Birkin’s life and work, but it is just as much a
revealing look at Varda as an inventive filmmaker. “I'm filming your
self-portrait,” Varda says to Birkin, setting up the blurring of authorial
lines and not for the first time calling attention to the film’s self-conscious
formation. Constructed from a series of explicitly stylized situations, direct
to camera addresses, rigidly arranged tableaus, and further formal variations, Jane B. for Agnès V. is a cleverly
affected film on the part of both Varda and Birkin. Complicating matters even
more, when Birkin expresses trepidation about being chronicled, saying
specifically she is reluctant to look at the camera, Varda tries to alleviate
the discomfort by telling Birkin to think of the lens as if it were her (Varda)
that she (Birkin) was looking at instead. Of course, by doing so, she is
actually looking at us (the viewer), developing an additional layer of composed
artificiality. Jane B. for Agnès V.
is this kind of film.
There is sometimes purely sincere behavior from Birkin and those
captured by Varda’s probing camera; other times, the action is clearly staged
and simulated, to make and thematic point or strictly for aesthetic purposes.
To Birkin’s credit, her capacity for naturalism is evident—she is a great
actress—but just as the comfort of credibility begins to settle, Varda switches
gears and creates painterly reproductions and stunningly synthetic set-pieces.
There are about a dozen distinct segments through the course of Jane B. for Agnès V., and these brief
skits span a variety of genres and stories, each enabling Birkin to approach an
array of emotions and characterizations. The scene-by-scene randomness does
eventually shape into a larger portrait of an actress and her art, though there
is often no immediate connection between the scenarios—one may suggest a
correlation to a prior scene or a comment Birkin makes, others arbitrarily
Both Jane B. for Agnès V.
and Kung-Fu Master! are visually
heightened by the fabulous transfer for this Cinelicious Pics release (Varda
herself supervised the restoration), but these enhancements are most evident with
the former title. The film’s imagery is a layering of textures, colors,
production design, and camera angles. Its patchwork portrait covers diverse
narrative territory as well, from slapstick to historical drama. The string of
fictitious scenes give Varda and Birkin the opportunity to realize a variety of
genres, as a showcase for their complimentary directorial and acting skills. In
an interview on the Jane B. for Agnès V.
disc, Varda says as much, noting the film allowed Birkin to explore different
aspects of her talent (though Varda also says, in the actual film, that the
actress is the “queen of paradox,” with her desire to be a “famous nobody”).
One is inclined to take the various documentary-type situations as
truth, with no reason to assume they are otherwise. But therein lies another
element of this byzantine film: the obfuscation of the line between fiction and
reality. While some sections appear to be candidly caught on the fly, other
sections are created by Varda explicitly egging them on. Deconstructing the
illusion of filmmaking itself, Jane B.
for Agnès V. is a behind-the-scenes reflection and literal depiction of the
creative process. Near the end of the film, Birkin asks, “What now? Where do we
go?” “We agreed the film would wander, we’d set off someplace and stop along
the way,” replies Varda. “What if we lose our way?” questions the actress. “I
like mazes,” says Varda. “I like finding out where I've been at the exit.” This
awareness of the film’s development is followed by about 30 minutes of a
fictional film being made with Birkin, one in which Varda’s son, Mathieu Demy,
plays a part in the proposed story, which we see simultaneously realized before
Jane B. for Agnès V. then veers off down
This is the initial genesis that shaped Kung-Fu Master! Birkin gets story credit for the second film in
this Blu-ray set, as it was from her suggestions during the making of Jane B. for Agnès V. that Kung-fu Master! was created. Just as the
earlier film dealt with themes such as family, life, loss, and sexuality, so
too is this complementary picture informed by these concerns.
With a cast consisting partially of members from both Varda and
Birkin’s family—to the young Demy as Julien add Birkin’s daughters Charlotte
Gainsbourg, as Lucy, and Lou Doillon, as Lou—Kung-Fu Master! gets off to an upbeat start, with a stuttering
video game introduction to Julien. At a party for Lucy, where she and others of
her age are drinking and smoking and generally acting older and wiser than they
perhaps should, Birkin, as Lucy’s mother, Mary-Jane, first encounters Julien…as
he drunkenly vomits into a toilet. Mary-Jane finds the boy “pathetic” yet
“superb,” and wants to see him again, which she does when she literally runs
into him in her car. To make amends, she treats Julien to a coke and a video
game, the eponymous “Kung-Fu Master.” “Boys are curious and vulnerable,” says
Mary-Jane. “I find it touching.”
This is the start of a fleeting romance that was taboo enough in
1987 to greatly limit the film’s international release. As the courtship
progresses, Julien shows up with flowers and food for his friend’s mother,
while Mary-Jane picks up the boy’s homework when he is home sick from school,
just so she has an excuse to see him. Before long, they are setting dates for
just the two of them alone, where she tries to connect to his youth by playing
the video game and he tries to match her maturity by slipping his hand under
her shirt. The uneasy physicality of the relationship, to say nothing of the
moral quandary (Mary-Jane justifies it to Lucy by noting she herself was with a
man 15-20 years older when she was her daughter’s age), produces an
The Warner Archive has released director Lewis Gilbert's excellent WWII espionage thriller Operation Daybreak.The 1975 film is largely unknown despite the fact that it's one of Gilbert's most ambitious and artistically successful movies. The story is based on fact. Allied Intelligence convinced three Czechs serving in the British army to parachute into their occupied homeland to assassinate Reinhold Heydrich, one of Hitler's most trusted commanders and the man he cynically appointed "protector" of the conquered nations of Europe. Heydrich was considered even more brutal than Hitler and the Allies feared the worst if a scenario came about in which he would have been appointed fuerhrer. As Reinhold was heavily guarded at all times, the commandos were left to their own devices to concoct the assassination plan. After an initial attempt went awry, they opted to boldly approach his car in the middle of the street and spray it with machine gun fire. It will not spoil the film to relate the historical fact that the plan ultimately succeeded, but Operation Daybreak is as much about the aftermath of the incident as it is about the mission itself.
Incredibly, the principal assassins and their network of partisans survived, at least initially. However, on the verge of rescue, elements of betrayal and carelessness led to tragedy. In reprisal for the assassinatin, Hitler ordered that the entire village of Lidice be razed to the ground and every citizen murdered or sent to concentration camps. Gilbert shot the film on location in (then) communist Czechoslovakia. The locales add immeasurably to the sense of authenticity. The film also boasts a sizable budget and there are impressive sequences featuring large numbers of German soldiers parading in the streets - a sight that must have been chilling for residences who lived through the actual occupation. Ronald Harwood's screenplay, based on the novel Seven Men at Daybreak by Alan Burgess, is consistently gripping- and the final battle between the conspirators and a large force of German troops takes place inside a magnificent church. Gilbert ensures this sequence is superbly staged on every level.
If there is a weak link in the film it is the casting of Timothy Bottoms in the lead role. Bottoms is competent enough, but makes for a bland and colorless hero. He is out-shown by fellow cast members Anthony Andrews, Martin Shaw, Joss Ackland and Anton Diffring, who makes a coldly majestic Heydrich. Curiously, the film contains many extended sequences involving Heydrich in which German is spoken without the benefit of sub-titles. Whether this was the case in the original film, I can't say, but it does make for some irritation on the DVD version. Also, the Czech characters all speak English, but as they are portrayed by American and British actors without any attempt to form a common accent, it gives the film's dialogue a Tower of Babel effect. Nevertheless, Operation Daybreak is a memorable movie about real-life heroes that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Hopefully, the Warner Archive release will achieve just that.
(Lewis Gilbert discusses Operation Daybreak and his other war movies in an exclusive interview with Matthew Field in issue #18 of Cinema Retro)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Cinema Retro has received the following press release
regarding the book “Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey” by Harlan Lebo (Thomas
“This book is a gold mine for fans.”―Kirkus
It is the story of a film masterpiece―how it was created and how it was almost
It is the celebration of brilliant
achievement and a sinister tale of conspiracy, extortion, and Communist witch
It is the chronicle of a plot
orchestrated in boardrooms and a mountaintop palace, as a media company that
claimed to stand for “genuine democracy” defied the First Amendment and schemed
to burn Hollywood’s greatest creation.
Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journeyis
the extraordinary story of the production of Orson Welles’ classic film, using
previously unpublished material from studio files and the Hearst organization,
exclusive interviews with the last surviving members of the cast and crew, and
what may be the only surviving copies of the “lost” final script.
Harlan Lebo charts the meteoric rise to stardom of the
twenty-three-year-old Orson Welles, his defiance of the Hollywood system, and
the unprecedented contract that gave him near-total creative control of his
first film. Lebo recounts the clashes between Welles and studio executives
eager to see him fail, the high-pressure production schedule, and the
groundbreaking results. Lebo reveals the plot by the organization of publisher
William Randolph Hearst to attack Hollywood, discredit Welles, and incinerate
the film. And, at last, he follows the rise ofCitizen Kaneto its status as the greatest film
up with the film music of Lalo Schifrin in the 1970s made these two albums somewhat
compulsory listening. Black Widow (1976) marked Schifrin’s debut album for the
legendary CTI (Creed Taylor Incorporated) label with Towering Toccata (1977) proving
to be a perfect follow up. Both of these albums (recorded in 1976) feature some
of the greatest Jazz musicians of the period including Eric Gale, Steve Gadd,
Hubert Laws, Jon Faddis, Anthony Jackson and Joe Farrell, to name just a few.
provides a Jazz funk vibe to some classic movie themes including Steven
Spielberg’s monster smash Jaws. The track (which still sounds incredible) was
released from Black Widow as a single and charted at number 14 in the UK
singles chart, becoming something of an established disco anthem. The Black
Widow album also did well, reaching number 22 in the US list of jazz
bestsellers and appeared in the R&B chart. Encouraged by good sales and positive
public reaction, Schifrin returned to CTI for Towering Toccata, another great
blend of smooth, disco funk grooves and a good selection of themes that had
been reworked in order to fit in with the overall album concept. The disco-laced
version of John Barry's theme from King Kong is fondly remembered and arguably
one of the album’s most enduring tracks.
of these albums are today rightly considered as classics. Yes, of course they
are dated; they’re a product of their time and of a certain generation. If you
can’t kick back and embrace the period sound without feeling a sense of
embarrassment, then these albums are not for you. If, however, you can look
back with great fondness and soak up the enormous sense of nostalgia that these
two wonderful albums can offer, don’t hesitate for a minute. Like me, you’ll probably find yourself hitting
the repeat button on a regular basis. Both Black Widow and Towering Toccata
complement each other seamlessly. For the virgin ear, there is no distinct
separation point from one album to the next; it flows sweetly and with a lush
sense of historic sophistication.
audio quality on this Robinsongs / Cherry Red Records release is remarkably
clean and clear with no evidence of distortion. Brass sections are sharp,
basses are deep and the overall dynamics are nicely balanced and sounding
perfectly natural, given their 40 year history. It is also worth pointing out
that both albums are presented here in their original release format with each
album containing its original eight tracks. Black Widow is not the extended
version which contained four bonus tracks. It’s a perfectly practical measure
of course, which enables the two full albums (at 39.24 and 35.34 respectively)
to be contained on just the single CD (thus keeping production costs down). The
packaging consists of a very nicely produced full colour 12 page booklet with
liner notes provided by Charles Waring of MOJO and Record Collector magazine. My
only criticism: smartening up the choice of font for the cover would only
enhance this release and be more reflective of the quality contained on the CD.
The current choice of font does appear to ‘cheapen’ its look, and Schifrin’s
music is much more worthy of something a little classier.
For Schifrin collectors and
fans alike, this excellent twofer release is very nice indeed and offers an
extremely inexpensive way of adding two of his classic 70s albums to your
collection. At £9.95 it’s really quite hard to go wrong.
I’ve always viewed “Cocoon” as the type of film that
Steven Spielberg would have been very happy to have made. It has all the
hallmarks of a Spielberg movie: a light hearted, warm, science fiction fantasy
that is also extremely enjoyable and a perfect piece of innocent entertainment.
It was, of course, Ron Howard who picked up the project, a relative newcomer in
directorial terms. However, his stock was rising based on the very popular
romantic comedy/fantasy “Splash” (1984) with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. It was
certainly enough to attract the attention of producers Richard Zanuck and David
Brown at 20th Century Fox who were happy to take on the ambitious Howard and
his vision for the film.
Given that the film was targeted at teenage audiences amid
the mid-80s trend for special effects-
laden spectacles, “Cocoon” managed to capture the imagination of a much wider
audience. At the centre of “Cocoon” was a senior cast, set in a retirement home
- elements of which may not at first appear to be particularly appealing to
teenage audiences. However, at its core there is a genuine heart, a story that
raises questions about life, death, existence and destiny. It is a
heart-warming tale that successfully blends a touching story of life with
fantasy, and as a result, managed to capture the hearts of audiences young and
Approximately 10,000 years ago, a peaceful alien species
from the planet Antarea set up an outpost on Earth, an island later to be known
as Atlantis. When Atlantis was submerged by the ocean, a number of aliens were
left behind and kept in hibernation within cocoons at the bottom of the
Atlantic Ocean. The story begins as a group of Antareans returns to Earth to
collect them. Disguising themselves as humans, their leader Walter (Brian
Dennehy) rents a house with a swimming pool, and charges the water with a life
force to give the cocooned Antareans enough energy to survive the trip home.
They charter a boat from a local named Jack (Steve Guttenberg) who helps them
retrieve the cocoons. After the aliens reveal themselves to him and explain what's
going on, he decides to help them.
Next door to the house the Antareans are renting is Sunny
Shores, a retirement home. Three of its residents, Ben (Wilford Brimley),
Arthur (Don Ameche) and Joe (Hume Cronyn), often trespass to swim in the pool
next door, thinking the house to be unoccupied. They absorb some of the life
force, making them feel younger and stronger and with their youth seemingly revitalised.
“Cocoon” boasts a wonderful cast lead by the three senior
citizens residing at the Sunny Shores retirement home: Brimley, Ameche and
Cronyn. Maureen Stapleton, Gwen Verdon
and the beautiful Jessica Tandy are also wonderful as their wives and partners
respectively, each of whom delivers a measured and memorable performance. Brian
Dennehy as Walter is a perfect piece of casting, a subtle and touching
performance which proves that underplaying a role can also be very effective. Guttenberg
also puts in a nice little turn as Jack, who again delivers a nicely balanced, humorous
performance without ever allowing his delivery to run wild.
Eureka’s Special 30th Anniversary Blu-ray is presented in
a new high definition transfer and looks very nice indeed. Framed in its
original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the film has never looked better. Previous
editions have often appeared a little soft and grainy, but Eureka’s
presentation (whilst preserving a fine amount of natural grain) is smooth,
clean and nicely detailed. Night scenes in particular, almost all of which were
shot on location, are not drenched in deep blacks, but nevertheless look vastly
better. The colour grading procedure has certainly enhanced its look and the
film benefits hugely from the process and the time afforded it. The picture
does (perhaps naturally) spring to life in far more vivid detail during the
sunny Florida daylight scenes and the ocean bound journeys aboard Jack’s boat.
their heart firmly set in the retro cinema sound of yesteryear, Cineploit’s
releases are always greeted with a great sense of anticipation. Finding artists
or even a label that are so devoted to the genre is a rare thing, and a reason
why I continue to applaud the Austrian label. “Themes International” (Cine 15) is
the fourth LP release by Orgasmo Sonore, a group that continue to evolve and
perfect their sound with every subsequent album. Orgasmo Sonore’s latest album
again consists of brand new original material all composed, recorded and
produced during 2015. As the title suggests, each of the 12 tracks are based
largely on a theme, and there’s certainly a diverse range to be enjoyed. With titles such as ‘Giallo’, ‘KPM Library’, (the
exquisite and funky) ‘Turkish Psych’, ‘Spaghetti Western’, ‘Erotic’ and ‘Exotic’,
“Themes” International is an album that covers all the bases. There are also two
wonderful homage tracks devoted to the styles of legendary European composers,
‘Morricone’ and the late great French composer ‘François de Roubaix’. The whole album is warm, smooth and stylishly
groovy. It’s the type of album that you just don’t hear anymore, unless of
course it’s a re-issue of some cult 60s Italian underground soundtrack. Sonore
have reached that comfortable position where they play like seasoned musicians,
delivering a finely-tuned, pin sharp cinematic sound, all of which is
handsomely produced by Frank Rideau. With 21 tracks created from the ‘Themes’
recording sessions and selected down to a final 12 for the finished album, I
would again plead with Cineploit to make good use of this additional material,
especially in reference to the CD. At a little over 42 minutes, I’m sure fans
and admirers of the music would love to hear a handful of those unused gems
included as bonus tracks. Nevertheless, “Themes International” delicately
unfolds with a silky richness and a slick sophistication. So step on board set the
chair to recline and prepare for a wonderful flight.
audio and packaging is as usual, beautifully presented and of a very high
standard. “Themes International” is
released in a variety of limited forms. The First 250 copies of the 180g vinyl LP
are also supplied with the album on CD (the first 125 of these on solid
purple/black mixed colour vinyl) with a further 125 on solid black vinyl.
Another 250 copies of the vinyl only version are again available (125 coloured,
125 black). The CD only version is also limited to just 500 copies in a stylish
mini LP style wallet sleeve.
Noel Neill with George Reeves in "The Adventures of Superman".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Yet another pop culture legend of the Baby Boomer era has left us. Actress Noel Neill, who played Superman's love interest Lois Lane, has died at age 95. Neill began her career in Hollywood with bit roles in mainstream films. She was chosen to play Lois Lane, the intrepid female reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper of the fictional city Metropolis that Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent called home. As colleagues on the newspaper, Lois and Clark were friends but it was always Superman that stole her heart. One of the more amusing aspects of the Superman legend is that Lois Lane, a top reporter, could never affirm her suspicions that Clark actually was Superman simply because his "disguise" consisted of a pair of eyeglasses. Nevertheless, the Lois Lane character was unusual for the era because she represented an emancipated woman who displayed just as much courage as the men around her. Neill first appeared opposite Kirk Allyn in two series of "Superman" serials that were shown in movie theaters in the late 1940s and early 1950s. When "The Adventures of Superman" TV series debuted a few years later it became an instant hit. However, Neill wasn't the producer's first choice to play Lois Lane in the show. Actress Phyllis Coates had the role and when she left the series Neill was brought on board to take over the part. Coates had played the part of Lois for only one season while Neill had the part for five years (1953-1958) until the show finally left the air. On the TV series, Neill starred opposite George Reeves in the role of Clark Kent/Superman and their chemistry became the stuff of TV legend. Inevitably Lois and fellow reporter Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) would get themselves in a bind and Superman would have to rescue them. Despite the predictability of the formula, the show's popularity has only increased over the decades. When the series ended, Neill decided to retire to become a self-described "beach bum". However, she often participated in fan events and autograph shows over the decades. She also continued her relationship with Superman by making cameo appearances in the 1978 feature film that introduced Christopher Reeve in the role and the 2006 film "Superman Returns". She had also appeared in a 1991 episode of the "Superboy" TV series. Perhaps the most meaningful tribute to her role in "The Adventures of Superman" came when the real-life city of Metropolis, Illinois, unveiled a statue commemorating Lois Lane in 2010. Appropriately, the image was based on Noel Neill, who was proudly in attendance.
Over the last year the entertainment industry has suffered incalculable losses of talented people. Some of them hit home personally, as is the case with producer Euan Lloyd, who passed away this weekend in London. I first met Euan in 1978 when I was attending college in New Jersey. I had the enviable gig of being the film critic for the campus newspaper, which afforded me the opportunity to routinely attend press screenings of forthcoming films in New York, which was a stone's throw across the river from my native Jersey City. I had read about the upcoming release of "The Wild Geese" which seemed to promise a "too-good-to-be-true" cast composed of some of my favorite actors (Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris above all) in the kind of gritty, macho British war flick that I had become addicted to ever since seeing "Zulu" at age 8. To say the film lived up to expectations would be an understatement. I thought it was a superbly crafted blend of rugged action, social commentary and splendid performances under the capable direction of Andrew V. McLaglen. The film was inspired by the exploits of a real life mercenary named Col. Michael Hoare (not so affectionately known as "Mad Mike"). He was a technical adviser on the film and was speaking at the post-screening press conference along with the film's producer Euan Llloyd. I had seen some of Lloyd's earlier films and liked them. The two men gave a riveting account of the making of "The Wild Geese", after which I approached Mr. Lloyd and introduced myself. I told him that I was greatly impressed with the film and would be writing an excellent review of it. I had hoped to just get a handshake and a few nice words since I wasn't exactly representing the New York Times. To my surprise, Mr. Lloyd spoke to me at length about my experience writing film reviews. He hung on every word. Whether he was just being polite or had a genuine interest, I can't say to this day. However, he astonished me by inviting me to breakfast at the Plaza the next morning. As a college kid, the Plaza on Central Park was a place you only saw in the kidnapping scene of "North By Northwest", as few people from my blue collar background had the kind of bankroll that would afford a trip to the bar or restaurant. The next morning I dined with Mr. Lloyd, who insisted that I call him Euan. After breakfast we took a long walk around the city and he related fascinating stories about the film trade. He even gave me an inside scoop on the next James Bond movie. He said he had recently screened "The Wild Geese" for Cubby Broccoli, who was so impressed by the sequence in which the mercenaries sky dive into Africa that he decided to plan a major aerial scene to start "Moonraker" off with - and indeed he did. Euan had asked me to bring him copies of some of my reviews, which he read in my presence (a nerve-wracking experience for me, as I recall.) He was highly complimentary and encouraged me to take up writing as a career. I had never heard such words of encouragement from anyone. He also told me that if my schedule permitted it, he could get me a bottom-rung job on the set of his forthcoming film "The Sea Wolves". It was an offer I wasn't able to take because of factors in my personal life at the time, not these least of which were that I needed a steady job and was about to get married. Still, the offer was an extremely kind gesture. I parted with Euan that day and was destined not to see him for many years. In the pre-E mail era, these types of casualties happened to people's relationships.
Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger in "The Wild Geese".
In 2002, my old friend and future Cinema Retro publishing partner Dave Worrall happened to meet Euan Lloyd and Andrew V. McLaglen at an event at Pinewood Studios. He asked Euan if he might have remembered a guy named Pfeiffer he had met many years ago. To his surprise, Euan recalled the day I had spent with him and relayed the message that we should visit him when next I was in London. A few months later we did just that and I was delighted to renew my friendship with this remarkable man. In 2006, he was our guest of honor for a black tie dinner we held at the Reform Club in London. His anecdotes were captivating but he never seemed pretentious or full of himself. He was always an example of humility and class. When we started Cinema Retro magazine a few years later, Euan was front and center and we ran an extensive interview with him over the first three issues that was conducted by writers Mac MacSharry and Terry Hine. Euan would always be there when you needed him. It should be said that Euan was one of the first very successful producers to eschew studio financing in favor of raising money for his films on his own, then selling distribution rights to the major studios. In his early days in the industry he worked for future James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli and his (then) partner Irving Allen. Lloyd always credited Cubby for giving him a him this opportunity, which was actually arranged by Alan Ladd, who Euan had befriended. Euan helped oversee production on many successful movies for Cubby and Irving's Warwick Productions. When Cubby later teamed with Harry Saltzman to form Eon Productions, Euan continued to work with Irving Allen and co-produced the second Matt Helm film, "Murderer's Row" starring Dean Martin. From that point on, he would produce his own films. They included Sean Connery's first post-Bond film, "Shalako" in 1968. He struck pay dirt with the 1978 release of "The Wild Geese", which was a major hit internationally and spawned a loyal cult following that seems to be growing to this day. Some of his movies including "The Sea Wolves" and "Who Dares Wins" did not do well at the boxoffice in America but reaped large profits from the European markets. "Who Dares Wins", which was based on a real life incident in which the SAS fought terrorists to free the Iranian embassy in London, counted among its admirers Stanley Kubrick, who wrote Euan Lloyd a letter praising the film. Another admirer of the 1982 movie was President Ronald Reagan, who requested that it be screened at the White House. Euan was also a man who seemed to have no enemies. I once received an unexpected phone call from Sean Connery and in the process of speaking to him, I told him that I was a friend of Euan Lloyd's. Connery recounted his experiences making "Shalako" and said that although he had battled with producers many times over the course of his career, Euan was one of the most honorable men he had ever worked with. Similarly, Roger Moore, who starred in "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves" for Euan, counted him among the most trustworthy producers in the industry.
Lee Pfeiffer introduces Euan Lloyd at a dinner in his honor at the Reform Club in London.
Over the years, Dave and I would try to see Euan whenever we were in London. He would occasionally join us at the royal premieres of James Bond films. On my last visit in October 2015, I knew he had been seriously ill. We planned to meet briefly at his apartment but his illness prevented this from happening. I think Euan was looking out for me even then, as I don't believe he wanted me to see him in a weakened state. Perhaps he was right. My only memories of him are of a vibrant, elegant man who was always "dressed to the nines" and the epitome of class, style and kindness. He was old school in the best sense of the term. Small wonder that producer Jonathan Sothcott titled his excellent 2004 documentary tribute to Euan "The Last of the Gentleman Producers". I realize now more than ever how that title perfectly encapsulates the man. Upon learning of Euan's passing, Sir Roger Moore referred to him as "a legend". Somehow, that word seems equally appropriate.
(Click below to watch "The Last of the Gentlemen Producers")
The name James A. Fitzpatrick might be meaningless to all but film scholars today but decades ago his popular travelogues provided movie-goers valuable glimpses of exotic sights around the globe. Fitzpatrick broke into the movie business in the silent era and occasionally produced feature films but he's primarily known for his hundreds of travel shorts that were screened in movie theaters prior to the main feature. In the era before television, Fitzpatrick's productions represented a rare opportunity for the general public to see actual footage of historic places and different cultures. Best of all, Fitzpatrick had the foresight to film these excursions in Technicolor, a process that ensured that the film stock never faded. Thus, the shorts look as impressive today as they did decades ago. It should be noted that some of these shorts were filmed by cinematographers who would become legendary including Winton C. Hoch and Jack Cardiff. The Warner Archive has released thirty of Fitzpatrick's "Traveltalks" shorts as a three DVD set. The years covered range from 1935 through the mid 1940s. Fitzpatrick himself provided the narration for each film, immodestly billing himself as "The Voice of the Globe". He also employed a full orchestra to enhance the films with lush musical scores and occasionally laughably corny vocal renditions of old standards. Nevertheless, there is a timeless quality to the facts and sights unveiled in the shorts and modern audiences can still learn much from them. However, there is a far more poignant value to them. Fitzpatrick shot these films when the world was gearing up for the unthinkable: a second world war. Although Fitzpatrick deftly tiptoes between the international tensions (who wants to see a depressing travelogue?), the back story to what he had to ignore is rather fascinating. A 1935 short dedicated to modern Tokyo presents the city as a booming metropolis filled with serene scenes and an innocent population. However, the film was shot when the militaristic government of Japan had already invaded China and was committing genocide and other horrendous atrocities. Other shorts present peaceful scenes of great countires in days prior to the coming war. We see Czechoslovakia and Austria immediately prior to their takeover by Hitler's hordes. The World's Fair Exhibition in Paris is shown as a symbol of international brotherhood and cooperation even as war clouds were building over Europe. Within a year of this film being shot, France and England would be at war with Germany and shortly thereafter, "The City of Light" itself would be occupied by German troops. There is a poignancy in watching the innocent people depicted in these films today and one can't help but wonder just how many of them didn't survive the coming conflict. France alone would lose 250,000 military personnel in the battle against Nazism. Japan would lose hundreds of thousands of civilians before the war ended. On a more cheerful level, the set presents many travelogues of areas not affected by war: the mainland USA and South America, primarily. (Once the war broke out, Fitzpatrick seemed to restrict his films these geographic areas.) A 1935 short about Los Angeles is striking if only because of the lack of congestion and traffic. A short dedicated to southern Florida decades before Disney's influence emphasizes Miami Beach and such quaint sites as the Everglades and Silver Springs. Those films shot in the USA during the war years only reinforce that America largely escaped the horrors inflicted on other parts of the globe. Although 400,000 American servicemen would die in the conflict, the mainland remained isolated from invasion and day-to-day life largely carried on as normal, as illustrated in these shorts.
The DVD set is a remarkable time capsule that will appeal to anyone with an interest in history and travel. Well done, Mr. Fitzpatrick.
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Cimino and star Kris Kristofferson on the set of the ill-fated production of "Heaven's Gate".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Michael Cimino, whose fast rise to royalty in Hollywood was matched only by the sudden demise of his career, has died at age 77. He was born in Long Island and entered the film business with his first success as the co-writer of the 1973 Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry sequel "Magnum Force". (He had previously written the screenplay for the sci-fi cult film "Silent Running" starring Bruce Dern.) Eastwood was suitably impressed and gave Cimino the opportunity to make his directorial debut with the buddy crime caper "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot". Released in 1974, the film was a hit and helped launch Jeff Bridges to stardom with the Oscar nomination he received. In 1978 Cimino released his ambitious Vietnam War epic "The Deer Hunter" starring Robert De Niro and newcomer Meryl Streep. The politics of the big budget film are still being debated, with some arguing Cimino was an apologist for either the pro-war hawks or the anti-war peaceniks. Either way, the film packed a powerful punch and spoke to a generation that had suffered through the war. Cimino received Oscars for producing and directing the film and a promising future seemed to be in store. However, his 1980 mega-budget Western "Heaven's Gate" would derail his career forever. Accused of having a giant ego and being fast and loose with other people's money, Cimino oversaw the filming of the bloated production that lasted eleven months and ended up costing $35 million on a budget that was not to exceed $11 million. The three -and-a-half hour film was also the victim of bad timing. It had a pro-Marxist story but was released within weeks of Ronald Reagan's election to the White House. The nation was veering to the political right and Cimino's film was an homage to socialists. The film was roundly panned by critics and lost virtually all of its production cost in a sea of red ink. United Artists, which had failed to reign in Cimino's excesses, paid the dearest cost. The fabled studio, which had recently come under new management, almost went into bankruptcy and diminished over the ensuing years to being little more than a trademark instead of a thriving studio. In desperation, UA ordered Cimino to create a much shorter version of the film for wide release, but the results were still terrible. The debacle resulted in UA executive Steven Bach writing his well-received book "Final Cut", which documented the disaster on celluloid. Bach took his share of the blame for giving Cimino carte blanche on the ever-soaring budget but put the bulk of the responsibility on Cimino himself, whose hubris was such that he refused to even show UA executives his final cut until its first public screening in New York. By the time the reviews came out, the damage was done. (Rex Reed claimed the audience of sophisticates actually threw popcorn at the screen.) Cimino dismissed Bach's allegations but rarely spoke of the film ever again (although he did provide a commentary track for Criterion's Blu-ray special edition of the film in which he extolled its virtues while skirting the controversies.)
Cimino's looks changed radically over the years, leading some to speculate his was undergoing a sex change operation.
Cimino went on to direct a scattering of minor films, the most successful being the crime drama "Year of the Dragon". His last film was the little-seen "Sunchaser", released in 1996. He did have the satisfaction of seeing the uncut version of "Heaven's Gate" re-evaluated and gain respect in many quarters of the film industry. Nevertheless, he kept a low profile and his always eccentric personal behavior became bizarre. He underwent radical plastic surgery which so altered his appearance that many speculated he was undergoing a sex change operation. Cimino issued a non-denial denial that was more cryptic than illuminating. He also told conflicting stories about his early life and even once stated that he had served in Vietnam (he hadn't). In more recent years, he wrote occasional novels and would come out of seclusion to attend a film festival or event every now and then. He rarely gave interviews and disdained appearing on television. Whatever one thinks of his reed-thin filmography, Cimino thought in grandiose terms and went to extremes to fulfill his artistic visions. Whether he was indeed a visionary, a psychologically disturbed artist or both, will be factors relating to his legacy that will be debated for many years to come.
It may seem hard to believe in an era in which every personality on screen seems to be wearing a cape and tights but there are some intelligent films still being made for discriminating, mature viewers. The problem is that you often have to search to find them. Case in point: "The Lady in the Van", a 2015 British comedy/drama that found its intended audience but was relegated largely to the art house circuits in big cities. The movie is about as off-beat as you can imagine in terms of the central premise but we are told that it is mostly based on fact. Alex Jennings plays the film's real-life British playwright Alan Bennett, on whose experience the screenplay is based. Jennings was an aspiring playwright in 1974 when he moved to a relatively upscale neighborhood in London's Camden Town section. Bennett was enjoying some success with a show on the West End and was leading a fairly comfortable existence, though - at least in the film- he was frustrated by the fact that he no significant other. As a gay man, his unease was understandable- until 1969 homosexuality was a felony crime in Britain. Coming out of the closet was not something most gay people felt comfortable doing. The film presents Bennett creating his own live-in companion- an imaginary alter-ego with whom he trades barbs and discusses problems ranging from writers block to everyday household chores. His life takes an unexpected turn when a homeless woman arrives on his street driving a barely operable old van. She identifies herself as Mary Shepherd and is about as lovable as a tarantula. Mary becomes the talk of the posh neighborhood, moving her van occasionally to park in front of various houses. Some of the locals are kindly to her while others clearly disdain her, but all of them tolerate her presence and gets used to her. Mary keeps her "alternate side of the street" lifestyle going for several years. The van is her abode and she defends it with pride. She accepts handouts from neighbors but her prickly nature never results in her uttering the words "Thank you". Alan, like most of the locals, regards her with a bit of frustration as well as fascination. When a parking ordinance forces her van off the street, Alan offers his driveway as a place she can park "temporarily". You know how these things go. Before long, Mary has not only established the driveway as a permanent residence but is also making various demands on Alan to allow more privileges. Slowly, the months turn into years and both become accustomed to the bizarre living arrangements.(Mary never enters his home and the resulting effect on her hygiene is played for laughs). The two have a sometimes uneasy relationship but the gentle, meek Alan begins to care about her more than he will even admit to his alter-ego. He is wracked by guilt because his own aging mother is slowly deteriorating both mentally and physically and he feels guilty about having to have her committed to a nursing home. He uses Mary has her proxy so that an act of kindness towards her might help Alan alleviate some of his guilt about his mother.
Ultimately Alan's relationship turns to caregiver. Some of Mary's demands are reasonable (jury-rigging wires from his house so she can watch TV in her van) while others are too extravagant to comply with (constructing a tent so she can indulge in more hoarding of useless objects.) He also learns what the viewer has known from the opening, shocking frames: that Mary is hiding a terrible secret and lives in constant fear of being arrested. She, too, is wracked by guilt because she once killed a motorcyclist in an accident and fled the scene. We also learn that she is being blackmailed by an eyewitness (Jim Broadbent) to the event. Gradually, Alan sees her as a source of material for a writing project. He tracks down her only living relative, a brother who is somewhat estranged from her. He relates some remarkable details about her once-promising life and how it all went wrong when she sacrificed a musical career in order to join a convent. (The Catholic Church and religion play key roles in her life.) Nothing overly dramatic takes place in the leisurely-paced story but there is something remarkable the fact that Alan Bennett allowed this eccentric woman to spend a full 15 years residing in his driveway until her death in 1989.
Bennett published a journal about the experience titled "The Lady in the Van". In 1999, he adapted it into a play starring Maggie Smith. It was a major hit, running over 900 performances on the West End. The play's director, Nicholas Hynter, is a frequent collaborator of Bennett's, having worked with him on adapting Bennett's plays "The History Boys" and "The Madness of King George" for the screen. In 2015 they finally brought "The Lady in the Van" to the screen as well with Maggie Smith reprising the title role. Smith was now of an age where she could be even more convincing as the elderly eccentric and Bennett ensured that the movie was shot in the very house in Camden Town where the actual events took place. For all its charming aspects and the fact that the production presents two extraordinary performances by Smith and Alex Jennings, the end result is a mixed bag that you expect to move you in a more emotional way than it actually does. This is largely because Smith's character remains crusty, self-centered and pretty much an ingrate throughout. In the film's final moments, which details her death, Bennett and Hytner do manage to convey a softening of her persona in the final moments of her life but they then attempt to make her more lovable with an ill-advised funeral sequence in which we see the ghost of Miss Shepherd assuring us that she has found happiness in Eternity. The scene smacks of being a well-intentioned gimmick and seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the film. Jennings, known primarily as a stage actor, gives a marvelous performance as Bennett and manages the considerable achievement of not being overshadowed by the great Dame Maggie. The film starts off rather weakly but becomes more engrossing and satisfying if you stick with it. This is largely due to Bennett slowly unveiling key details about Miss Shepherd's challenges in life and the fact that she missed out on a promising musical career. Although Smith is very amusing in the comedic sequences, she is even more impressive in these dark, dramatic scenes. The end result is a mixed bag. The film is to be commended for presenting that rarest of screen experiences nowadays: an intelligent story aimed at adult audiences who seek fine performances and dialogue rather than mindless explosions. There are uneven and unsatisfying patches throughout but the performances alone merit it for recommended viewing.
Sony has released an impressive special edition Blu-ray of "The Lady in the Van". There are numerous featurettes including extensive interviews with Maggie Smith, Alan Bennett, Alex Jennings and Nicholas Hytner that give some interesting perspectives on the long history of the real life events that inspired the play and film. There is also a director's commentary with Hytner and some deleted scenes, some of which clearly show that Miss Shepherd is actually nt only extremely eccentric but is also suffering from dementia, as evidenced by her belief that she can be elected Prime Minister.
"Lost in Space", the sci-fi cult favorite that fell squarely into the "so bad, it's good" category, will get a relaunch from Netflix, which will develop a ten-episode trial series. The original series debuted in 1965 and ran for three seasons but is arguably more popular today among sci-fi buffs who look back fondly on the show's over-the-top humor and cheesy special effects. The series was the brainchild of producer Irwin Allen, who was associated with other popular sci-fi series of the era and who would go on to produce disaster movie blockbusters like "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno". The premise of the show was a space age tale of survival inspired by the classic adventure novel "Swiss Family Robinson". The modern Robinsons were a family on a U.S. space mission who found themselves stranded and destined to travel between planets, encountering various exotic life forms. Accompanying the family were a handsome navigator and a weasley, back-stabbing stowaway, Dr. Smith, played by Jonathan Harris, who went on to steal the show and become a pop culture icon. The series also featured the Robinson's personal robot (actually Robbie the Robot, recycled from the 50s feature film "Forbidden Planet"), whose mechanical warning "Danger, Will Robinson!" became a national catch-phrase.
The series inspired a poorly received 1998 feature film version. The Netflix series has elicited the usual promises from its creators that it will bring the format into a new era while remaining reverent to the original show's roots. Uh-huh. Sometimes you simply can't go home again. Given some of the poor remakes of older TV series, maybe this project should indeed remain lost in space, but we'll reserve our judgment until we see the end result.
We've extended kudos to Impulse Pictures for their dedication to rescuing obscure adult films from bygone eras and giving them first-rate DVD presentations. As we've said many times previously, whether you love or hate these productions, they did play an important role in American pop culture from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, when adult filmmaking largely switched to made-for-video mode to accommodate the overwhelming desire for porn in the era when VCRs became standard household fixtures. While many of the Impulse releases offer some surprising signs of talent and even occasionally impressive production values, the 1972 biker flick "Bad, Bad Gang" is about as erotic as one of those high school "health" films we were all forced to watch in days of old. There's plenty of sex, to be sure, but there is virtually no other reason for the movie to exist. Much of it appears to have been shot in a hurry perhaps because the use of outdoor locations might have resulted in passersby reporting the goings-on to the police. The problem begins with the bizarre, childlike title. "Bad, Bad" might be acceptable if you're referring to ol' Leroy Brown, but for the title of a movie, it's downright bizarre. The film starts off with its one impressive aspect: well-filmed sequences of a sleazy biker gang racing down desert highways, with some effective shots due to cameras being mounted on cycles. Things deteriorate rapidly as the bruisers in the gang stop to pick up two teenage girls who are hitchhiking. They are no shrinking violets and seem downright enthused about being whisked away to parts unknown for activities that almost certainly won't involve lessons in decoupage. The bikers end up going to a remote location only to stumble upon a small camper with two young married couples who are enjoying a picnic. The bikers beat up the guys and kidnap the girls, who they subject to all sorts of sexual deprivations. The men rally and attempt to rescue them but are quickly overcome and are held captive and sexually abused by the biker women. Absurdly, two of the women take the two male captives off to another location by threatening them with tomahawks. However, the weapons soon disappear but the "captives" seem unaware of this, as they engage in sexual activities with their two tormentors- all the while neglecting the fact that they could easily overcome the two girls and rescue their wives, who are still being subjected to the whims of the sleazy male bikers.
"Bad, Bad Gang" is crudely shot and features editing that appears to have been achieved in a blender. Apparently, the film had been available previously in a badly cut version and this is the most complete its been seen on video. However, it seems likely that at least a couple of key scenes might still be missing. The Impulse transfer is appropriately gritty and grimy and the sex scenes (which include the requisite lesbian encounters) are badly shot and notably non-erotic despite being hard-core. The only "name" in the cast is Rene Bond, who built a following in adult movies. The DVD package includes some liner notes about the film that extol its alleged virtues in print so microscopic you'll need a telescope to read them. There are also excerpted sequences from the company's latest "42nd Street Forever" collection of silent grindhouse shorts from the 1970s.