The British Film Institute recently sponsored a major science fiction festival entitled
Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder. Alongside the many film screenings and DVD
releases they have also published several new volumes in their Film Classics
series. These are smaller volumes, around 100 pages in length, with each
focused on one specific film. Included are books on The War of the Worlds
(the 1953 version), Solaris (concentrating mainly on the 1972 Russian
classic, but also touching on Steven Soderbergh's 2002 adaptation), Silent
Running, Alien, Dr. Strangelove, Quatermass and the Pit
Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is seen as the high watermark of Hammer's science fiction
output. A belated follow-up to their two 1950s Quatermass films, themselves
based on a hugely successful BBC TV series penned by Nigel Kneale, the film
works better as a standalone story than as a direct sequel. Unlike those stark
monochrome films, which were shot mostly on location, Quatermass and the Pit
is colourful, studio-bound and uses a completely different cast. Brian Donlevy
had previously played the eponymous Professor Quatermass as a gruff,
no-nonsense American who had stepped straight from the pages of a Raymond
Chandler novel, the total opposite of Andrew Keir's bearded Scotsman. In this
film what appears to be an unexploded WWII bomb is uncovered during tube-tunnel
digging under London. Quatermass soon realises that this "bomb" is
actually a Martian spacecraft, crashed to Earth millions of years ago. These
aliens had come here to interfere with human evolution, meaning, as Barbara
Shelley's character puts it, "We are the Martians now."
Kim Newman is one of Britain's finest genre commentators, and his
writing here is illuminating as he discusses all incarnations of Quatermass,
from the first BBC series in 1953 through to the John Mills-starring The
Quatermass Conclusion in 1979. Even the ill-conceived 2005 remake gets a
mention. He goes into great depth on Pit itself, discussing the production and
the themes of the movie. The book is crammed with footnotes, each of which is
worth reading as they often contain more tidbits of information or humorous
asides. Newman may be a genre fan but he is not above sarcasm where it is
This book demonstrates that although Hammer films must have more
books written about them than any other British studio's output, there is still
room for indepth analysis and commentary on individual significant titles. This
BFI Classics entry is a shrewd and penetrating introduction to Quatermass for
the uninitiated, and a must-have for those who think they already know
everything there is to know about Quatermass and his infernal pit.
You can order from the BFI Classics sci-fi range here:
or rather, infamously, the BBC took a rather cavalier approach to the
preservation of its television output in the 1950s and 1960s. Due to the cost
of videotape, once pre-recorded programmes had been broadcast,the tape was
wiped and used again. For programmes to be kept for repeat use or to be sold to
other territories around the world, the episode would be transferred to film,
and it this process we have to thank that any television from this period has
survived at all.
Out of the Unknown was an attempt to
present serious, adult science fiction on television, adapting well-known and
important authors like John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard and
E.M. Forster. The single play was a tradition by this point, with popular
series such as Armchair Theatre (1956-74) demonstrating the legacy of
television's theatrical origins in live drama. Although largely neglected as a
format today in favour of long-running series, both the BBC and independent
television in the 1950s through to the 1970s ran hundreds of single dramas. Out
of the Unknown presented a different adaptation every week. Commissioned by
Sidney Newman, the man responsible for both Armchair Theatre and Doctor
Who (1963-89; 2005-), the series took the BBCs remit to educate and inform
very seriously. Producer Irene Shubik, quoted in the booklet accompanying this
science fiction is a way of saying something you can't say in straightforward
terms... I tried to get [stories] that had some sort of message."
any anthology, some of the episodes here work brilliantly, others less so, but
they are always interesting and prove the potential that science fiction has to
provide a commentary on the human condition; our fears, concerns and hopes.
From speculations on the potential of robotics to disastrous space missions and
mind-altering technology, Out of the Unknown provided ample food for
thought for its audience on a regular basis and is still fascinating.
series began in 1965 in black and white on the BBC, and ran for four series,
finally ending in colour in 1971. Twenty-eight episodes are completely missing
from the archive. This new box set contains the remaining twenty-four complete
episodes and five incomplete or reconstructed episodes, using a mix of clips,
still images and sound. Fans and amateur archivists have played a major role in
assisting the BFI to gather every remaining element so that this set represents
the entire sum of what has survived. Along with this Herculean effort a wealth
of extra features have been created including audio commentaries with
historians, experts and cast members, filmed interviews and a forty-minute
documentary. The accompanying booklet features in-depth essays and a complete
episode guide with cast and crew listings.
Out of the Unknown is a compelling
glimpse into the television production of the past, when commissioning editors
like Sidney Newman were prepared to take risks and assume a higher level of
intelligence in the audience than one feels is assumed by TV executives today.
of the Unknown is released on 24 November 2014 and can be pre-ordered by clicking here.
Although the term
“Eurocrime” can be applied to films from any European country, it’s most
closely associated with 1970s Italian crime films, aka poliziotteschi, poliziottesco
or poliziesco. The last term is (in
Italian) the grammatically correct moniker for a politically incorrect genre
that was hugely popular in its day, thanks to a sensory overload of stylish
ultra-violence, insane car chases, buckets of sleaze, almost-human bad guys and
renegade cops with big guns, bad attitudes and badder mustaches.
Controversial during its
heyday and critically marginalized in ensuing decades, the Eurocrime flame has
been kept alive by a sizeable and devoted fan base, periodic DVD releases, various
websites and online forums. Another shot in the arm was provided by Roberto
Curti’s invaluable book, Italian Crime
Filmography 1968-1980 (McFarland & Co Inc), an in-depth listing and
analysis of more than 200 films.
Now, poliziesco junkies have even more reason to celebrate with the
recent DVD release of Eurocrime! The
Italian Cop and Gangster Films that Ruled the ’70s, writer/director Mike
Malloy’s documentary homage to the genre that illustrates why these
testosterone-fueled thrillers deserve their place in the cinematic pantheon.
To that end, he rounded up
the appropriate subjects to tell the Eurocrime story—the surviving actors,
writers and directors who created these gonzo films from the ground up. It’s a
cast list that would do any current action film proud: Franco Nero, John Saxon,
Henry Silva, Antonio Sabata, Richard Harrison, Fred Williamson, Luc Merenda,
Tomas Milian, Leonard Mann, Michael Forest, John Steiner, Joe Dallesandro and
Chris Mitchum. Not to mention directors Enzo G. Castellari, Claudio Fragasso
and Mario Caiano.
All of these iconic
figures obviously retain deep-seated affection respect for the Eurocrime genre.
There’s zero condescension and little posturing, and all seem grateful for the
exposure these films brought them. In separate interviews, each relates his
particular history with Eurocrime films; Malloy edits their individual stories
into a collective portrait of the genre that’s as enlightening as it is
Malloy gets them to talk
about Eurocrime’s antecedent genres (peplums, giallos, spaghetti westerns); the
influence of Hollywood’s Dirty Harry
and The French Connection (both from
1971), which introduced a grittier ethos and more conflicted protagonists to
crime cinema; and the social and political turmoil in Italy during the 1970s,
which helped the poliziesco chart its
thematic identity through a critical focus on the country’s political
corruption, pervasive crime (organized and otherwise) and terrorist activity. While Eurocrime films were initially
derivative of the American version, Italian filmmakers quickly stamped them
with a unique identity, one that in turn influenced crime and action films the
In addition to such broad-outline
topics, the Eurocrime veterans expound on what it was like to work in a new
genre that was literally being invented on the fly. Low budgets and short
shooting schedules necessitated a guerilla approach to filmmaking. Directors
often shot without permission on the streets, especially when staging chase
scenes, which sometimes led to policemen pursuing stuntmen on motorcycles in
the belief they were actual criminals. The emphasis on speed and economy led to
an insane number of daily setups. Richard Harrison still laughs at the memory
of doing 120 setups in a day.
Like virtually all Italian
films of that era, the films were shot without direct sound. This allowed for
smaller crews, less equipment and less need for retakes, but initially proved
disconcerting for American actors used to quieter, more-ordered sets. Henry
Silva and John Saxon recall their bemused reactions to the on-set noise and
tumult during takes, countered by the Italian film crews’ bewilderment at their
pleas for quiet.
Live ammunition was sometimes
used during filming (Saxon still seems a little freaked out recalling it
decades later), and most of the leading actors did their own stunts. Leonard
Mann recalls: “We’d do them so fast, you know. We’d be out there just running
around and doing our own stunts. I did almost all of them…The things we did, I’m
surprised we didn’t get killed.”
Speaking of stuntmen, one
of that noble breed is represented in this documentary. Ottaviano Dell’Acqua,
who worked on Enzo G. Castellari’s The
Big Racket (1976) and Heroin Busters
(1977), wryly contrasts the approach of Italian and Hollywood stuntmen: “We
were a little more adventurous. We made things a little more ‘homemade.’” That
DIY ethos contributed to the rough-edged spontaneity that gave the films a
sense of gritty realism, no matter how outlandish the scenarios, action or
Edwards’ 1965 comedy epic, The Great Race,
has been out in various formats for years, but the Warner Archive has finally
given it the royal Blu-ray treatment that’s as immaculate as the dazzling white
car Tony Curtis drives in the film.
The Great Race was loosely based
on the 1908 New York to Paris race and Edwards and screenwriter Arthur Ross
threw everything but the kitchen sink at it. Originally developed at United Artists, the project was picked up by
Warner Bros when UA balked at the rising cost – which eventually hit a
then-unheard of $12 million, making it the most expensive comedy made at that
time. Clocking in at two hours and
forty minutes, it was also one of the longest running. (Unless compared with Stanley Kramer’s
classic It’sA Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which ran over three hours in its
original roadshow presentation.)
story follows two bitter rivals, “The Great Leslie”, suavely played by Tony
Curtis and his evil nemesis, “Professor Fate” (a first-rate, over the top performance
by Jack Lemmon) as they race across three continents from New York to Paris. The Leslie character and his sidekick “Hesekiah”
(Keenan Wynn) take the high road while Fate and his bumbling henchman “Max”
(Peter Falk) use an array of dirty tricks to cheat their way to the finish
line. Achingly beautiful Natalie Wood
plays a reporter gamely trying to cover the race. Comedy set pieces abound, most notably a
saloon brawl that must have used every working stuntman in Hollywood and the
ultimate pie-fight, which cost over $200,000 to film. Beautifully shot by Cinematographer Russell
Harlan (Hatari) in locations like
Austria, Paris, Death Valley and no less than eight WB soundstages, no
expense was spared… and yet the film never received the love it deserved. Critics considered it “overdone”, missing
that the film was Edwards’ homage to outrageous slapstick. Although it earned a respectable $25 million,
it wasn’t a breakout hit. (In contrast,
our beloved Thunderball, which was
released the same year,cost $5.6
million to produce and raked in over $140 million. Talk about a great ROI!)
Natalie Wood in some blissfully skimpy attire.
office math aside, as pure cinematic fun, The
Great Race delivers in spades. Lemmon’s work as the evil villain and a
drunk lookalike prince was brilliant, full of manic energy and a real showcase
for his skill and range as an actor. Tony Curtis gave another strong
performance as the stoic hero who can do no wrong, unfazed by any mishap,
including finding a huge polar bear in his back seat! It’s rumored that co-star Natalie Wood didn’t
want to make the film and had to be persuaded by WB brass, but she seemed to be
having fun and could throw a pie with the best of them. She lit up the screen as an intrepid writer/photographer
trying to break free of early 20th century stereotypes of what a
woman could and could not do. Seeing her
in the various Edith Head-designed costumes reminds one of what a stunning
young woman she was.
to be expected, the image quality is nothing short of pristine in 1080p, with scenes
looking almost three-dimensional in their clarity. The audio was bumped up to DTS-HD 5.1 so all
of Lemmon’s agonized cries of “Maaaaaaax!” sound great, as does Henry Mancini’s
gentle score. The only nitpick is the
lack of any new extras – the disc contains “Behind the Scenes With Blake
Edwards’ The Great Race” - the
vintage studio featurette and a theatrical trailer; both of which were on the 2002
DVD release. They are most welcome, but it would have been even more beneficial if, some years ago, someone had interviewed Edwards, Curtis and Lemmon about the making of this epic comedy. I would have produced those gratis, just to hear more about this
wonderful, if overlooked film. Sigh.
These days, cinema buffs searching high and
low for a lost, early work of a modern filmmaker is almost unheard of , as most
everything is readily available on DVD or Blu-ray. However, back in the day,
this was far from the case. Way back when, many early efforts from then current
directorial masters were extremely hard to find. For example, throughout the 1980s,
I can remember looking everywhere for a copy of George A. Romero’s third film Season of the Witch aka Hungry Wives (1972)as well as Martin Scorsese’s debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967)just to name a few. Another movie I always longed to see was a
strange, little action film called Fast
Company. The reason I use the word strange is because the movie was
directed by the enormously talented, Canadian born David Cronenberg. Although
he is now known for masterpieces such as A
History of Violence (2005) and Eastern
Promises (2007) , Cronenberg once carried the moniker “The King of Canadian
Horror” (due to his unique series of “Body Horror” films such as Shivers aka They Came from Within (1975), Rabid
(1977) and 1979’s The Brood), so,
in the mid-80s, it was quite a surprise for me to learn that not only was there
a lost Cronenberg film out there which was made in between all these
underground genre classics, but also that the movie was a mainstream action
Fast Company tells the story of aging
drag racer Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (Rich
Man, Poor Man’sWilliam Smith)
and his struggles with cutthroat manager Phil Adamson (John Saxon from Enter the Dragon) whose underhanded
actions affect Lonnie’s long distance girlfriend, Sammy (Deathsport’sClaudia
Jennings), Lonnie’s protégé, Billy “The Kid” Brocker (Nicholas Campbell from Da Vinci’s Inquest), Billy’s girl, Candy
(One Night Only’s Judy Foster) and
their chief mechanic, Elder (Don Francks from 1981’s My Bloody Valentine).
Sort of a slick combination of drag racing
docudrama and exploitation action film, Fast
Company, which was co-written by Cronenberg, is an extremely interesting
and entertaining (not to mention accurate) look at life in the fast paced,
blue-collar world of professional drag racing. By mounting his camera on and
inside the race cars, Cronenberg tells a great visual story while, at the same
time, placing the viewer right into the center of the action. There’s also
solid performances from the top notch cast (it’s great to see Saxon in another
villainous role after watching him play countless cops over the years, while
the usually intimidating William Smith shines as good guy Lonnie), and the film
itself, with its fitting, hard rock soundtrack by musician Fred Mollin (Friday’s Curse aka Friday the 13th: The Series), has a light, fun and
enjoyable feel to it.
If you’re like me and you’ve been waiting
years to see this lost film, you’ll be happy to know that the wait was well
worth it as Blue Underground has pulled out all the stops to bring us an
absolutely beautiful transfer presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio.
The Blu-ray is also jam packed with special features (all of which are ported
over from the 2004 Blue Underground DVD with the exceptions of a poster and still
gallery, and bios of both Cronenberg and Claudia Jennings). Along with the
original theatrical trailer, we have a fantastic twelve minute documentary
titled Inside the Character Actor’s
Studio which features interviews with acting heavyweights William Smith and
John Saxon (appearing here together) who not only recall their roles in the
film, but also talk about what it means to be a character actor as opposed to
being a leading man. It’s a real treat to see these two B-movie icons
reminiscing and joking about their amazing careers and my only complaint is
that the documentary isn’t longer, as I could listen to these guys talk for
hours. Next, we have a second documentary about famed cinematographer Mark
Irwin (There’s Something About Mary).
Here, Irwin fills us in on, amongst other fascinating things, how some of the
more complicated night shots were achieved, and he also talks about the five
“Body Horror” classics he went on to shoot for Cronenberg.
For most viewers familiar with the director’s
work, Fast Company may seem out of
place in his filmography, but to David Cronenberg, it’s simply another one of
his many cinematic children. On the audio commentary track of this Blu-ray, the
director tells us how he himself is a huge sports car enthusiast as well as a
former road racer and, therefore, this film fits right in with the rest of his
works as it has to do with just another one of his many interests. He also
affectionately goes into detail about a plethora of subjects such as how Fast Company is really a modern western
(another thing that attracted him to the project), how this is the first time
he ever shot a scene on a film set as opposed to shooting entirely on location,
and the importance of this film due to the fact that he met many members of his
future filmmaking crew (and cast) here. Cronenberg also explains the state of
the Canadian film industry in 1979, recounts a great story about how John Saxon
praised his direction, and talks briefly about the lovely and talented drive-in
movie queen; the late, great Claudia Jennings who, sadly, died in an auto
accident shortly after completing this film. It’s a very interesting and
informative commentary that, just like the film itself, will appeal to Cronenberg
fans, race car aficionados, budding filmmakers and B-movie buffs alike.
As if all this wasn't enough, the disc
also features Cronenberg’s first two, seldom seen features, Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970), making this Blu-ray an absolute must
for Cronenberg completists; highly recommended.
Altman’s 1974 crime drama, Thieves Like
Us,when viewed today, seems to
be a cross between Bonnie and Clyde (which
preceded Thieves)and O Brother, Where Art
Thou? (which appeared twenty-six years later). It’s the Depression-era
story, based on the novel by Edward Anderson, of a trio of escaped convicts who
go on a bank-robbing spree. But it’s also a love story between one of the
thieves, Bowie (played by a young Keith Carradine), and a country girl, Keechie
(portrayed by a young Shelley Duvall), and this is the aspect of Altman’s film
that truly shines. The novel was also the source inspiration for Nicholas Ray’s
1949 film noir, They Live By Night,
starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. As much as I like 1940s and 50s
film noir, for my money, Altman’s is the better version.
who had a decidedly hit-and-miss career over six decades, was on a roll in the
early seventies. Thieves Like Us is
indeed one of his hits—from a critical standpoint—although it didn’t
necessarily do bang-up box office. Filmed on location in Mississippi, Altman
and his production team managed to find authentic 1930s settings, lending a
you-are-there feel to the period piece. More importantly, Altman chose not to
use a traditional musical score but instead relied on vintage radio programs to
fill out the ambiance. That part was a stroke of genius.
director also often utilized a stock company of actors, many of whom appeared
in multiple pictures. In this case, besides Carradine and Duvall—who are
terrific in their roles—there is John Schuck and Bert Remsen as the other two
thieves, and Tom Skerritt as a shady service station owner. Louise Fletcher, in
a pre-Cuckoo’s Nest performance, is
effective as Remsen’s sister-in-law, who aides and abets the criminals until
she has a change of heart.
the picture belongs to Carradine and Duvall, whose love scenes are intimate,
honest, and endearing. Their characters are extremely likable and exude an
innocence that is a counterpoint to the violence depicted in the rest of the
picture. The fact that these two relatively unknown actors (at the time) were
cast as leads attests to the New Hollywood attitude of allowing auteurs do their thing. It’s too bad
that the studios clamped down on risk-taking after the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray has A high-definition transfer of the film—which looks fine—and the theatrical trailer and a commentary by
Altman himself as extras. The location scenery—especially the muddy roads, the
rain, and the back-country hills and shacks, are strikingly beautiful, thanks
to Jean Boffety’s soft cinematography.
of the better “lovers on the run” pictures, Thieves
Like Us is worth grabbing.
long awaited rain couldn’t keep Sony Pictures Home Entertainment from
celebrating the DVD release of Woody Allen’s Magic In The Moonlight with a vintage-themed party at The Crocker
Club in downtown LA on December 2nd.
whimsical 2014 romantic comedy stars Colin Firth as a magician on a mission to
debunk a professional clairvoyant played by Emma Stone. The film was well received during its
theatrical run with reviewers noting the strong performances of Firth and Stone
as well as cinematographer Darius Khondji’s excellent work capturing the French
Riviera of the 1920s. (The two are
already collaborating on Allen’s next film.)
the party, guests could circulate among screen-used costumes from the film as a
tarot card reader and astrologer worked their, um, magic. There was also a hip, young stylist on hand
for guests who wanted a quick touch up. (Unfortunately
she didn’t have the many hours this CR scribe would have needed!)
Allen’s Magic In The Moonlight is
available on digital HD on December 2, with the Blu-ray and DVD release on December
(PHOTOS COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)
Fans of legendary director Brian De Palma
lovingly recall how the auteur’s early thrillers contained at least one sequence
which employed the split-screen technique (a device by which two moving images
are projected simultaneously onto separate parts of the screen). This
technique, when used properly, is capable of generating extreme suspense and
involvement in an already enthralled audience. De Palma masterfully used the
split-screen in his still-underrated, 1973 debut thriller, Sisters (as well as in many of his later cinematic masterpieces
such as Carrie and Dressed to Kill), milking certain scenes
for every bit of tension and suspense possible. Now, if the split-screen was
that effective in just a few sequences, wouldn’t using it throughout an entire
film cause maximum suspense and entertainment? That’s the question the
filmmakers of Wicked, Wicked not only
asked, but bravely attempted to answer.
Writer-director Richard L. Bare came up
with the idea of filming an entire movie in split-screen (here dubbed
Duo-Vision) while simply driving home one day. Bare, who is best known for
directing most episodes of the 1960s sitcom Green
Acres, saw the line that divided the road and realized that he was viewing
one side of the freeway and the other simultaneously. He immediately decided to
shoot an entire movie this way. The idea proved to be quite a Herculean
undertaking as Bare had to first write a script which constantly contained two
separate scenes side by side where, normally, there would be only one. More
than up for the challenge, Bare came up with a story involving a disturbed,
young man (Randolph Roberts from Happy Days)
with a mommy fixation who murders any blonde-haired women that happen to be
staying at the old hotel where he’s currently employed. (The young madman also
lives inside the walls of the hotel where he can easily spy on all the guests,
making the plot a fun combination of The
Phantom of the Opera and Psycho.)
The hotel detective (Another World’sDavid Bailey) races against time while
desperately trying to find and stop the masked lunatic before he can reach his
next target: the beautiful hotel lounge singer (played by the always welcome
Tiffany Bolling from Kingdom of the
Spiders who belts out all of this film’s many tunes herself). The unique
movie also features several highly recognizable faces from 1960s/70s cinema and
television such as Scott Brady (The Night
Strangler), Edd Byrnes (Grease),
Madeleine Sherwood (The Flying Nun),
Diane McBain (Spinout), Roger Bowen (M.A.S.H.,1970) and Arthur O’Connell (Fantastic
Voyage). Due to the split-screen
process, the actual filming took double the time it normally would have and the
film’s budget doubled as well. It also took a whopping 32 weeks to edit Wicked, Wicked which is about five times
the amount it would have taken to edit a standard film.
So, was Duo-Vision worth it? Overall, I
have to say no. I think the film would have worked just fine without it (as
well as saved a lot of time and money) because the split-screen really doesn’t
accomplish all it should in terms of suspense here. Also, seeing two actions
simultaneously may be interesting at first, but, after about ten minutes, you
get used to it and it feels just like any other movie. This process really only
works when it heightens the suspense, a la De Palma, and, unfortunately,
Richard Bare, although more than competent, is not in the same league as the
master filmmaker. That being said, I enjoyed the film itself. Sure, the story
is derivative and a bit (intentionally) silly in spots, but it’s still an
entertaining enough psychofilm with a solid, likeable cast and a fun hotel
setting. I also recommend checking it out in order to see the results of the
time and effort the filmmakers put into this extremely ambitious project.
Wicked, Wicked has been released
as a DVD-R from Warner Archive. The film is presented in its original 2:35:1
aspect ratio and, although the colors seem a bit washed out, the movie is more
than watchable. It’s also the only way you may be able to see this film at the
moment due to the fact that Warner most likely has no plans to release it in a
re-mastered version. (Most titles released in the DVD-R format aren’t really in
high enough demand, so money won’t be spent to re-master them properly.) The
audio is terrific and the disc also contains the original theatrical trailer
(which isn’t in Duo-Vision, but, color-wise, is actually much more vibrant than
the film itself) as well as the eye-catching, original poster artwork which is
featured on the DVD’s sleeve, menu and disc itself.
Dr. Mark Davidson (John Neville) comes back to the Space research lab with a
new wife, his government superiors want to know more about her. And why are
scientists all over the world who are also working on the same equation as his
collegues - the ability to use mental projection to travel to the other side of
the galaxy - dying in the exact same way? Could the fact that his wife appears
impervious to pain and unable to blink be a clue as to her potential
extra-terrestrial origins? These are the questions Unearthly Stranger
raises and then sets out to answer in a fairly breathless fashion. Although a
considerable amount of time is spent on men in suits talking to each other in
offices, the film represents the power of a good idea. As Dr. Davidson
gradually comes to learn the truth about his wife it is truly heartbreaking.
Great performances and excellent black and white cinematography give the film a
power it may have lacked in the hands of a more pedestrian filmmaker.
John Krish was best known for his work on 1960s British television including The
Saint and The Avengers, and he packs a lot of plot into the film's
brief running time. Unearthly Stranger most closely resembles an episode
of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, if it was scripted by
John Wyndham (author of 'The Midwich Cuckoos' and 'Day of the Triffids'). In
actual fact the film was written by Rex Carlton, whose best known credit is the
infamous The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). Where that film fails on
virtually every level, Unearthly Stranger was produced by Albert Fennel
who was also responsible for The Innocents (1961), Night of the Eagle
(1962), and later on Legend of Hell House (1973), all now considered
classics of British horror cinema. His experience, also honed in television,
helped Unearthly Stranger share a similar level of quality.
many other black and white British science fiction films of the period, this
film depicts a 'cosy apocalypse'. The world could potentially come to an end,
but we can be damned civilized about it. As such it would make a good companion
film to The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) or Invasion (1965), the
latter also shortly receiving a DVD release from Network.
British Film' collection was launched by Network Distributing last year and
they plan to release over 450 vintage films on blu ray or DVD over a five-year
period. From classics such as Victim (1961) and Countess Dracula
(1971) to long-unavailable shockers like Baby Love (1968) and The
Nightcomers (1971), and with plenty of other rarities in-between, it is a
project for retro movie fans to keep a close eye on.
Unearthly Stranger can be ordered from Network Distributing here.
of Menace: The Business of Horror Cinema
by Richard Nowell
229 x 152 mm
REVIEW BY ADRIAN SMITH
Many books have been written about
the horror genre, from almost every conceivable perspective. Here however, is a
somewhat different approach: the horror industry as an economy. Films, after
all, require finance, and whilst artistic decisions are usually at the
forefront of analysis, without the money men in the background cinema as we
know it would not exist today.
Menace, with a
tribute to William Castle on its cover, attempts to give the reader a history
of the horror genre from the 1930s Universal cycle through to the American
remakes of today. A collection of essays on the horror genre, one will also
find an in-depth look at the re-launch of Hammer as a brand and business
entity, the zombies of Poverty Row and many more. It is a fascinating approach
to the subject and causes the reader to ponder issues in a way they were
probably not thought of before, such as the economic power of atmosphere; what
exactly is atmosphere and how is it defined and turned into a commodity by
filmmakers? Using the unsettling British horror City of the Dead (1960,
U.S. title Horror Hotel) as an example, Robert Spadoni discusses how the
film foregrounds atmosphere over narrative and how the two are often in
conflict with each other.
This collection helps redress the
balance between an understanding of the horror film as an entertainment medium
and as a business. This will be of great interest to fans of the genre, but
also points out wider issues that go beyond horror into the film industry as a
whole. It is often said that you will always make money in the film business
from horror and sex. Perhaps this suggests an obvious direction for Nowell's
few weeks ago, I posted a review of The Criterion Collection’s excellent
Blu-ray release of George Sluizer’s 1988 Franco-Danish film, The Vanishing. This excellent thriller
was well-received by critics and the public alike, prompting Hollywood to step
forward and produce an American remake in 1993. The screenplay, based on Tim
Krabbé’s novel Het Gouden Ei (as was the original), was written by
actor/screenwriter Todd Graff. Sluizer returned to direct the remake, which in
many cases is practically a shot-by-shot repetition. However, there are differences.
not sure who at the conference table decided that the American remake of The Vanishing should have a happy
ending, as opposed to the more-terrifying, bleak finale of the original, but it
happened. Perhaps the studio figured that U.S. audiences would not accept the
earlier culmination, in which the villain triumphs and we realize that the
movie was about him all along. This
time around, the bad guy gets his comeuppance and our heroes win the
cat-and-mouse game that was set in motion at the picture’s beginning.
if you’ve seen the original 1988 version, then you’ll most likely be
disappointed with the 1993 edition. However, if you haven’t, then you may very well enjoy the remake for what it is,
and especially for the extremely bizarre performance by Jeff Bridges as the
creep. And creepy he is. Speaking with a strange accent (or is it merely an odd
elocution?—hard to say), Bridges steals the movie (as did Bernard-Pierre
Donnadieu in the original role). A young Kiefer Sutherland is our hero this
time, and his vanishing girlfriend is played by Sandra Bullock (pre-Speed) when she was relatively unknown.
That said, the real heroine of the remake is Nancy Travis, as Sutherland’s new girlfriend, and this is where the
new movie differs the most from its predecessor.
takes charge of the story in the last act and, without providing too much of a
spoiler, brings a more feminist take to the tale. Is the new ending satisfying?
Sure, from a Hollywood by-the-book standpoint. The problem is that the picture
loses what may have been the point of the original story—that evil can lurk
where you least expect it, and it can, more often than not, win.
Time’s limited edition (to 3,000 copies) high definition Blu-ray looks fine and
dandy; the only extra is the theatrical trailer. Fans of the film may want to
pick this up; but in my book, the 1988 original is still the more effective
(Photos copyright Mark Cerulli. All rights reserved.)
By Mark Cerulli
Last Wednesday, the
red carpet was rolled out on Hollywood Boulevard, the paparazzi were out in
force and the Spiderman and Wonder Woman impersonators had been pushed aside,
at least momentarily, for American Film Institute’s annual film festival.
Retro was in da house for writer/director J.C. Chandor’s new crime drama, A Most Violent Year, this year’s opening
night selection. The director introduced
his third film onstage at the Dolby Theater, joined by his distinguished cast
and crew, including Jessica Chastain and DP Bradford Young. Chandor also pointed out where he was sitting
when his screenplay for “Margin Call” (which he also directed) lost out to
Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” in the 2012 Oscar race.
the film’s setting – the cutthroat world of home heating oil doesn’t sound
exciting, it provides the backdrop for Abel Morales, a principled young businessman
(the excellent Oscar Issac) to reach for the American dream – if his
competitors don’t ruin him first! Chandor,
a NJ native, perfectly captured the bone-chilling winter of 1981 as well as the
underbelly of this unglamorous but essential trade. Jessica Chastain was a scene-stealer as Abel’s
beautiful but hard-edged wife, willing to reach into her mob past to protect
their business. Screen veteran Albert
Brooks gives a steady, understated performance as their business partner, totally
unfazed by the industry’s corruption even as the violence starts to spiral out
A bit drawn out at times,
the film’s strong performances and meticulously crafted early 80s look more
than make up for the slow pace. One
stunning shot occurs early on when the main character looks out over a grimy
industrial property he’s desperately trying to acquire and across the East
River is the 1981 New York skyline complete with the Twin Towers; a sight many a
New Yorker took for granted until they were gone.
the credits it was on to the famous Roosevelt Hotel – where Charlie Chaplin and
Mary Pickford used to down cocktails - for an after-party complete with open
bar and unlimited schmoozing but curiously no food. It was a headache-inducing combination that
sent this CR scribe heading off to see another acclaimed Hollywood star, In
& Out Burger!
“If a movie makes you happy, for whatever
reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
If there’s one thing I love, it’s 1970s
made-for-TV horror films. I remember sitting in front of the television as a
kid and watching a plethora of films
such as Gargoyles, Bad Ronald, Satan’s School for Girls, Horror
at 37,000 Feet, Devil Dog: Hound of
Hell, Scream Pretty Peggy, Don’t Be
Afraid of the Dark, Moon of the Wolf
and The Initiation of Sarah just to
name a few. Some of those are better than others, but all were fun.
When I think back, there have been some
legendary names associated with small screen horrors. Genre masters John
Carpenter (Halloween), Steven
Spielberg (Jaws), Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Joseph
Stefano (Psycho) all took shots at
television horror and created the amazing films Someone’s Watching Me!, Duel,
Summer of Fear, Salem’s Lot and Home for the
However, there was one man whose name
became synonymous with 1970s made-for-TV horrors. When it came to scaring the
living daylights out of people in the privacy of their own homes, producer/director
Dan Curtis was king.
Curtis’ first foray into television
horror was as a producer of the 1960s classic, gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran successfully
from 1966-1971. Then, in 1968, he produced his first TV horror movie The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
which starred the late, great Jack Palance (Shane,
Torture Garden, Alone in the Dark, City
Slickers) in the title role.
In 1972, Curtis would team with
legendary author Richard Matheson (I Am
Legend, Twilight Zone, Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel) and, over the next five years,
they would create a series of unforgettable made-for-TV horror films. Their
first collaboration is, arguably, their best. The two genre masters would bring
author Jeff Rice’s original novel The
Kolchak Papers to the small screen. Curtis would produce while Matheson
adapted Rice’s story. The film, now retitled The Night Stalker, was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel) and starred the great
Darren McGavin (Mike Hammer, Airport ’77, A Christmas Story) as intrepid reporter Carl Kolchak hot on the
trail of a nightmarish modern day vampire who’s stalking the back alleys of Las
Released to ABC-TV on January 11th,
1972, The Night Stalker became the
highest rated television film at that time and it would hold that title for
many years. The film’s enormous success led to an immediate sequel titled The Night Strangler. This time, Curtis
would not only produce, but also direct from an original script by Matheson. The
film was another huge hit, so, naturally, ABC wanted a third Kolchak adventure.
Matheson wrote a script entitled The
Night Killers, but unfortunately the movie was never made. The Night Stalker instead became a
weekly television series.
Unconvinced that Kolchak could be done
properly on a weekly basis, Dan Curtis decided to bow out of the series.
Instead, in 1973, he produced and directed another great made-for-TV horror
film titled The Norliss Tapes. This
ABC Movie of the Week was very similar to The
Night Stalker in that it involved a writer investing the occult. The movie,
which was set in California, also served as the pilot to a series that,
unfortunately, was never produced. Written by William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run, Burnt Offerings), the film starred Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) and Angie Dickinson (Rio Bravo, Police Woman, Dressed to Kill).
1973 would see three more TV horrors
from busy producer/director Curtis. The
Invasion of Carol Enders which starred Meredith Baxter (All the President’s Men, Family Ties, Ben), The Picture of Dorian
Gray starring Shane Briant (Frankenstein
and the Monster from Hell, Captain Kronos
– Vampire Hunter, Demons of the Mind)
and Frankenstein starring Robert
Foxworth (Death Moon, Damien: Omen 2, Prophecy, Falcon Crest, Transformers), Bo Svenson (Walking Tall, Snowbeast, Inglorious
Bastards, Night Warning, Heartbreak Ridge, Kill Bill Vol. 2) and Susan Strasberg (Picnic, Scream of Fear, Rollercoaster, The Manitou, Bloody Birthday,
Sweet Sixteen, Delta Force).
In 1974, Curtis and Matheson would
reunite for two more made-for-TV films which Curtis would once again produce
and direct. Scream of the Wolf,
starring Peter Graves (It Conquered the
World, Mission: Impossible, Airplane), Clint Walker (The Dirty Dozen, Killdozer, Snowbeast) and
Jo Ann Pflug (M.A.S.H.,The Night Strangler, The Fall Guy), and the excellent Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Jack
Palance, Simon Ward (Frankenstein Must Be
Destroyed, The Monster Club),
Nigel Davenport (Chariots of Fire, A Man for all Seasons) and Fiona Lewis (Fearless Vampire Killers, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Dead Kids, The Fury). Curtis’ last television horror film of 1974 would be Turn of the Screw. William F. Nolan
adapted the classic Henry James novel which Curtis produced and directed.
In 1975, Curtis scored big once again
by producing and directing an amazing made-for-TV anthology film titled Trilogy of Terror. The movie, again
written by William Nolan from a collection of short stories by Richard
Matheson, starred the always wonderful Karen Black (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces,
Airport 1975, Family Plot, Burnt Offerings,
House of 1000 Corpses) who headlined
all three tales. The final segment, entitled Amelia, is the most remembered due to Black’s horrifying battle
with the now iconic Zuni fetish doll. Curtis would produce and direct another
made-for-TV horror anthology called Dead
of Night. Released in 1977, the film was once again scripted by Richard
Although 1977 would see the last of Dan
Curtis’ 70s horror creations, there was still one more film to go. Curtis’ 1970s
horror swan song would be the ABC made-for-TV chiller Curse of the Black Widow.
(The following pertains to the UK, Region 2 releases)
Walt Disney before him, Gerry Anderson's name became a brand identifier in
itself, a mark of quality. It is impossible to hear his name without automatically
thinking of puppets on strings, whizzing spaceships and secret island hideouts.
In tribute to Anderson, who sadly passed away two years ago before the
completion of this documentary, Filmed in Supermarionation presents a
brilliantly detailed history of his working life. The film is full of archival
material detailing just how difficult it was bringing life to those puppets,
along with interviews with many of those who worked alongside Anderson, most
notably his wife and long-standing collaborator Sylvia who also provided the
voice of Lady Penelope.
documentary revisits some of the original studios that Anderson and his crew
used and new footage is shot in Supermarionation (Gerry Anderson's term to
describe his use of marionettes) to demonstrate the filmmaking process. Some of
it is surprisingly low-tech but always ingenious. Alongside Gerry Anderson's
son Jamie, Lady Penelope and her chauffeur Parker themselves act as presenters
for the film, and whole sets are rebuilt and then blown up in slow motion. The
documentary also reveals some of the tensions between Gerry Anderson and Lew
Grade, the ITC producer who first bought their shows and then the whole company
itself. It was under Grade that they made the move into colour and produced
their most popular and well-loved show, Thunderbirds. Following the
relative failure of the Thunderbirds Are GO movie in 1966 Anderson went
slightly darker with his follow-up TV show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Even another Thunderbirds movie two years later did not do well, perhaps
because potential audiences felt they had seen it already on television.
continued to improve the process and develop technology that made his shows of
such a high quality, including early use of video assist, which meant that his
puppeteers could view the action live on monitors instead of just looking down
at the puppets heads. Thankfully, unlike a lot of television production at the
time which was shot on primitive video tape, Anderson's shows were shot on
film, meaning they have been preserved and all look great today.
often claiming to hate the puppets (he reveals that early on he hoped to become
a director like Steven Spielberg) Gerry Anderson nevertheless worked with them
throughout the 1960s before finally having the opportunity to work with real
actors; first producing the theatrical film Journey to the Far Side of the
Sun, and then the successful TV series' UFO and Space: 1999.
Staying within science fiction, all of these shows still made extensive use of
miniatures and the effects that he had developed in his earlier puppet shows.
Distributing have produced this documentary and are releasing it in both DVD
and Blu-ray formats. For
real fans and collectors there is a limited edition box set featuring books,
comics and bonus original Gerry Anderson episodes of early shows like Four
Feathers Fall, Fireball XL5 and Supercar, all restored and in
HD. (This can be ordered by clicking here.)
Steven Awalt –
author interviewed by Todd Garbarini
it’s about time, Charlie!”
Weaver utters these words in my favorite Steven Spielberg film, Duel, a production that was originally
commissioned by Universal Pictures as an MOW, industry shorthand for “movie of
the week”, which aired on Saturday, November 13, 1971. The reviews were glowing; the film’s admirers
greatly outweighed its detractors and it put Mr. Spielberg, arguably the most
phenomenally successful director in the history of the medium, on a path to a
career that would make any contemporary director green with envy. Followed by a spate of contractually obligated
television outings, Duel would prove
to be the springboard that would catapult Mr. Spielberg into the realm that he
was shooting for since his youth: that of feature film directing. Duel would also land him in the court of
Hollywood producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck and get him his first
theatrical film under his belt, 1974’s The
Sugarland Express. It would be the
1975 blockbuster smash success of his second film, Jaws, similar in theme to Duel
in that a seemingly unstoppable monster is eventually put down following an
inexorable chase of cat-and-mouse, which would make him a household name. Yes, Charlie, it is about time that this phenomenal film got its own book, one that
is dedicated to the story’s origin and creation. Painstakingly researched by
Spielberg scholar Steven Awalt,
the aptly-titled Steven Spielberg and DUEL: The Making of a Film Careeris an excellent book now
available in hardcover, paperback and for the Kindle from Rowman &
volume starts at the beginning with Duel’s
author, the late Richard Matheson, the man responsible for some of the most
interesting, frightening, and best short stories of the genre and some of the
most memorable episodes of television’s The
Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964) such as Third
from the Sun, Nick of Time, The
Invaders, Little Girl Lost, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, and Night Call. Author Awalt expertly describes
the terrifying, dangerous and death-defying real-life incident that compelled
Mr. Matheson to pen the story, and the fascinating journey it took until it was
published in the April 1971 issue of Playboy Magazine which made its way into
the hands of Steven Spielberg’s secretary. Through interviews with the remaining crew members who worked on Duel, Mr. Awalt covers every aspect of
the film’s inception, creation (actual filming and subsequent editing into
answer print form) and ultimate presentation. What is interesting to note is that although Duel originated as a TV-movie, the film’s success in the form of
excellent critical reception and high Nielsen ratings resulted in the director
being given additional capital to increase it from its standard 74-minute
running time to the more acceptable 90-minute length it required for release in
movie theaters, and it played briefly in select markets in the spring of
1983. It is this 90-minute version of
the film that is known the world over.
with publicity shots and storyboards created by the director, Steven Spielberg and DUEL is the last word on this terrific thriller that the director originally
wanted to make without any dialogue (interestingly, the Twilight Zone episode The
Invaders was originally conceived this way). Everything you ever wanted to know about how
the film came about is covered in this exhaustively researched book. Best of all, Universal is releasing the Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection
on Blu-ray, and one of the titles included in this collection is Duel.
I recently spoke with Mr. Awalt about his
book and genuine love for all things Spielberg.
Garbarini: Based on what I have read about you, it is my understanding that you
became a fan of Steven Spielberg after your first viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Please tell me about that, as that is exactly
the same way that I became familiar with his work.
Awalt: Yes, that is correct. My family
and I saw it in the early winter of 1978. I was five years-old at the time, and
my parents had earlier taken me to see Star
Wars in a drive-in during the summer before. So between those two films, they really had a
huge impact on me. I was also familiar with the Walt Disney films, as well as
Jim Henson's work, but Steven Spielberg was the first director who I saw as a real
filmmaker. The story of the making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is
the one book that I really, really want to write.
I had the exact same reaction you did. I saw Star Wars in the summer of 1977, not at a drive-in but at a
two-screen movie theater. Five months
later for my birthday my parents took me to see it again and this time the
trailer for Close Encounters was
presented before the film. I remember being frightened and finding certain
images from the film to be very intense, like the interrogation scene between
Richard Dreyfus, Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban. Like you, I had been used to seeing the Walt
Disney cartoons. In a way, this was my
introduction to more mature, adult filmmaking. I knew about Jaws in the summer of 1975 and knew some
kids who had seen it. When it came to Close Encounters, I was just blown away
by that film. It's one of the great cinematic experiences of my childhood. I almost feel that after having seen Star Wars and Close Encounters, I was kind of spoiled because I was expecting to
see all the other directors making movies just as great as those films,
especially when you consider that on the heels of that you had The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. is actually my personal favorite
Spielberg film. I have a really deep personal connection to the film.
I can certainly understand that. He captures children in a way that I've never
seen from anyone else, except maybe for Truffaut.
Yes, I can't think of any other filmmakers who are as real and as honest with
children. I think that Steven has always been that way, even if you look at Hook you see the way the children relate
to each other.
Garbarini: I first heard of Duel when
Steven Spielberg appeared on The Dick
Cavett Show in June 1981 while doing publicity for Raiders of the Lost Ark. He
talked about Duel and a man being
chased down by a large truck, and I wondered how I never heard of the film, not
knowing that it was a TV-movie. About a
year later, I was in my 7th grade English class and we were required
to read short story collections and write compositions on them. A collection caught my eye, and Duel was one of the stories. I read it and was hooked on Richard
Matheson’s writing. In 1983 I begged my
father to take me to New York to see Duel
during a brief theatrical exhibition following the worldwide success of E.T. but it didn’t last long enough for
us to get to see it. I finally saw it on
VHS in 1988 and loved it. How did you
come to see Duel and what was your
reaction to it?
I saw it on television with my dad, but I don't remember it to the extent that
I remembered seeing Close Encounters in
the theater. I saw Raiders of the Lost
Ark, of course, and Poltergeist was
also a big film for me. However, I don't recall what it was like seeing it for
the first time. My father and I watched Raiders
of the Lost Ark many times together. He introduced me to a lot of great
movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Jaws was also a movie that I saw on
television, I think that was first on in 1980 on ABC, or was it NBC?
It was on ABC, it premiered in November 1979. That took a full four years to come to network television.
Oh, wow. Yeah, that was how our generation saw movies in the days before VHS.
I know, remember that? When a big movie was premiering on television, it was an
event that my friends and I really looked forward to. It didn't matter that it
had commercials, because none of my friends, except for one, had cable
television. Now, forget about it. You don't even have to own the movie; you can simply go to YouTube and watch almost
anything that you want. I found Amblin (1968) on there. When The Warriors was released in 1979, there
was a lot of controversy surrounding it, stories of gangs fighting in movie
theaters. When it came to ABC in 1981, that is how I first saw it. I didn't see
it on cable or on home video, I saw it on network television. I think that’s
how a lot of us saw movies from the 1970s. The networks would sometimes air movies with alternate titles. That’s how I saw Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970), which aired as War Games and Escape to Athena (1979), which aired as The Golden Raiders, and Ffolkes
(1979) which aired as Assault Force.
Yeah, that's how I first saw 1941
(1979). I have a soft spot in my heart for that film. It's a bit of a mess, but
it has really great work in it. The miniatures are really beautiful in that
movie. Yeah, it was a whole different era. Young audiences today almost don't
know what it's like to go see a movie like Star
Wars in the drive-in. For people like you and I, you'd see a movie in the
theaters, and that it would come to network television and would really be
something to look forward to. Then there was the dawn of home video in the form
of VHS in the late 70s and early 80s. I think that the first movie I saw on VHS
was The Muppet Movie, that might've
been in 1981. Then in 1982 I saw Time Bandits.
What a different era it was back then, having time to watch those movies over
and over again!
I saw both of those films in the theater, but the first home video format that
my family owned was the RCA Select-A-Vision Capacitance Electronic Disc
CED for short, which necessitated purchasing movies. The Muppet Movie and Time
Bandits were two titles that I owned. Star
Wars and Poltergeist with the
first two movies I ever purchased and they were in that format. I just watched
them over and over and over again, on a 13” color TV, no less. Most people don't even remember that system,
they tend to confuse it with Pioneer’s laserdisc format. It's interesting, Jaws was the first movie released on laserdisc;
it was through MCA's DiscoVision line. The movie was spread out the five sides!
Can you imagine?
Yeah, I actually have the letterboxed laserdisc special edition of Jaws, that thing cost $150.
My favorite action film is The Road
Warrior. The stunts and camerawork
are groundbreaking, but there are a few shots where it almost looks like a Mack
Sennett comedy in that the cameras were undercranked and the action moves too
quickly. I never noticed that in Duel.
To your knowledge, was Duel shot
without any undercranking?
There was one shot where that happens, but it actually helps. The frame rate
was actually increased and the camera was overcranked. It's a long shot where
the vantage point is that of Dennis Weaver's character, David Mann, and the
truck is just plowing around the corner coming towards him.
Was there any behind-the-scenes footage shot on this movie, or was it done on
such a low-budget that that wasn't even a consideration?
Yeah, it was very low-budget, even the amount of stills that were taken is very
small. They didn't really have a dedicated on-the-set photographer.
What is the biggest difference between the theatrical cut and the television
The biggest and most obvious difference between the two is the opening. The
first few minutes where the camera begins in the garage, pulls back and drives
through downtown traffic was all added later so that it could be released
Yes, I remember when first saw it I thought, You mean to tell me that they let him do this for a television movie?
I was astonished. But I was completely
Yeah, exactly. The television cut begins with Dennis Weaver's car driving from
left to right in the frame as he is on his way to his business appointment. Of course, the scenes with him on the phone talking
to his wife and his run-in with the school bus were also added later.
Most of those streets look the same today. The last time I was in Los Angeles
was November 2008 and I drove along most of those same roads. I made it a point
to go to Milky Way, the restaurant owned and run by Leah Adler (Steven
Spielberg's mother). She was there that day, and I sat and talked with her for a
while about how much her son’s movies changed my life. It was great walking to
the bathroom as the hallway is flanked with movie posters of his films. When
did you first meet Mr. Spielberg?
In 2006. I originally ran a website dedicated to his movies from 2001 until
2009. So, I had been writing for the website for a while. In February 2006, I
received a FedEx package from DreamWorks. I figured it was stills from his films
or something to that effect, because I had never even broached the subject of
interviewing him. It turned out to be a letter from Steven Spielberg, and he told
me how much he enjoyed my writing and really like the website. Eight months
later he was being given a lifetime achievement award at the Chicago Film
Festival and I met him on the red carpet and we talked for a while. I did a
sort of mini-interview with him. The highlight of the evening, in addition to
meeting him of course, was when he introduced me to Roy Scheider.
I am experiencing major jealousy
pangs right now! (laughs)
God, Roy Scheider. I would've loved to have met and spoken with both of them. The French Connection is my favorite
Oh, my God, I loveThe French Connection.
I was fortunate enough to meet most of the cast members of the film, such as
Gene Hackman, Tony LoBianco, and even Sonny Grosso. The icing on the cake was
meeting William Friedkin. I also met Chris Newman, who recorded the sound on the
film. One of my biggest regrets, however, has not being able to meet Roy
Yeah, All That Jazz is a great film.
Yes, in fact the Criterion Collection released that on Blu-ray. He was great in
Marathon Man, Sorcerer, and The Seven-Ups
from 1973, which is a film that a lot of people don't even know about.
Yes, meeting Roy Scheider was a great life moment for me. And then I guess
around 2011 I pitched the idea of the Duel
book to Steven Spielberg's people and he said yes right away, he thought it was
a great idea. He even invited me out to interview him before I even had a
chance to ask him if I could interview him. I cannot say enough about him, he's
just such a nice man and is so genuine. You hear the story all the time that
when you're in conversation with him, and you think about all the things that
he has going on in his life, he's just right there and he's 100% completely
focused on what you're talking about as he's talking to you. Even in conversations, he's a really great storyteller, which really
isn’t surprising! When I was out in L.A. interviewing him, he showed me a photo
of himself standing next to Federico Fellini and he was talking about this
memory that he had of meeting him in 1973 and there was such excitement in his
voice about this memory that was nearly 40 years-old. He's got such a deep
appreciation of film history and such excitement about it, and he's also one of
the pinnacles of it!
Well, he's just like us. He is first and foremost a movie fanatic. I could
literally spend hours talking to him about not only his experiences on the sets
of his own movies, and I would love to hear some stories that he has to tell
about what went on behind the scenes of his films and so forth, but also his
impressions of other directors and other movies that he has seen growing up and
even the new films that are out now and what's still inspires him. He isn't
just some hack who is out there trying to make money, he honestly and truly
loves this stuff. Were you able to see his early work? I know that he's not a
fan of Amblin, a film that I really
like very much, especially the main theme song. Did you get to see Firelightor any of the short films that he did
as a teenager?
I've seen everything he's done with the exception of his episode of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, nor
could I find his two episodes of The
Psychiatrist. I spoke to Sid
Sheinberg about it, and he remarked that one of the episodes, called Par for the Course, was one of the most
moving pieces of work he had ever seen. Spielberg was in his early twenties when he did it. The episode is about
death, friendship, and losing a friend. But, like I said, that's one that I
haven't been able to locate and I'm really interested in seeing it. You look at
the The Sugarland Express, for
example, and it's frustrating for me to look back now on even some of the good
critical notices the film got. For
example, Pauline Kael said that Spielberg was very good at moving the cars
around. But, when you look at the movies, whether they involve cars, sharks,
spaceships or whatever, even though those are brilliant and exciting cinematic
creations, and even going back to his early television work pre-Duel, he was always about the
characters. Their personalities and the situations that they get caught up in are
always first and foremost the most important aspects of the story. I've always
felt that he's been an incredibly humanistic director and I think that
unfortunately that aspect of his career has been totally lost on a lot of
critics. Getting back to Sugarland, I don't believe that the cars
are the main focus or the main aspect of that story. The characters are really
special, and the fact that a lot of the leading critics didn't see that at the
time is almost mind-boggling. Still to this day he carries that reputation with
him. It's really amazing to me that when people talk about his work, and I
don't know if this is attributed to jealousy or snobbery or whatever, they just
don't give him the credit that he deserves. I also think that a lot of the
times the critics were comparing him to highly established directors who were
in their fifties and sixties at the time. You have to look at it in
perspective. Spielberg was a guy in his twenties. How many people have that
kind of perspective into the human condition in their twenties? But for him to
have that human angle even in a film like Duel
is amazing. The intercutting between the car and truck - the film is ultimately
about a man and his paranoia. So he has enormous insight into the psychology of
the Dennis Weaver character. What an amazing young filmmaker to be able pull
off something like that at his age.
Would you say that his experience on Duel
prepared him for the desert truck chase sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
SA: No, I wouldn't say that because the truck
chase was done during principal photography and was shot by Mickey Moore. Steven
conceived and storyboarded it, but Mickey Moore shot it with the second unit
crew. I remember when I read that and thought,
I really thought that Steven had been out
there shooting that whole thing. But,
despite the fact that he didn't, it works brilliantly in the film and actually
got a lot of subsequent work for Mickey Moore. This is always a tough thing
because I do believe…I don’t want to say auteur
theory necessarily, as I think that's become a denigrated term now, but to deny
authorship I think is ludicrous. Everything
in a film is funneled through either a director’s filter or a very strong producer’s
filter, so obviously when you look at a filmography like Steven’s or any other
dominant and very personal director obviously authorship is something that
should definitely be considered. I still think his fingerprints are all over
it. Don't get me started on Poltergeist,
by the way!
(laughs) I saw that movie the weekend
that it opened. My friend and I sat through it twice. It played next door to Kill Squad.
Oh, I love Poltergeist, even to this
day. The first time that I saw it was when I was playing with some friends and
neighbors. The adults were inside
watching it on television and I basically saw it through the screen door. I
couldn’t hear it well at all, but I was so excited to see it.
I have seen Poltergeist many, many
times. It's one of my favorite movies ever. Thinking along those lines, and
this kind of thing started for me with Star
Wars, it was only in 1977 that I would go back to see a favorite movie
multiple times. Prior seeing to seeing Star
Wars, I don't ever remember doing that. There weren't any films that I had
seen that made me want to go see them more than once, although I did sit
through two screenings of Peter Pan
during a 1976 rerelease in the summertime. Superman
the Movie was another pivotal film for me. For one thing, these movies
stayed in theaters for a very long time, and if friends of mine and I loved it,
which we invariably did, we would always go see them on our birthdays. Our
parents would wonder why in the world we would want to see the same movies over
and over again instead of new movies. John Williams’ music, without taking
anything away from the writers, producers, directors, and actors, the overall
cast and crew of all of these films, I really believe is what makes those films
what they are.
SA: I completely agree and I don't think that the
filmmakers would disagree with that statement at all. I think that they would
be right there with you.
I've read that Mr. Spielberg even cuts to Mr. Williams’ music. The two of them
have gone on to such an amazing collaboration, far more so than the one between
Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann which, as you well know, was
argumentative and often combative. However, Herrmann clearly enhanced
Hitchcock's movies immeasurably. Imagine Psycho
without those strings?
SA: I know!
Billy Goldenberg wrote excellent music for Duel,
in addition to several other shows directed by Mr. Spielberg. I have always felt that his music has been
woefully underrepresented on soundtrack albums. Do you know if there are any plans to release his music from these
Spielberg projects on CD?
Not to my knowledge, no. He is very
underrepresented on disc, it’s a real shame. A lot of the soundtrack album companies are doing a really terrific job
in getting a lot of the scores out there in terms of getting them out of the
vault. However, there really is still so much work to do for scores from that
era. I really think that Billy’s scores need a release. And even John Williams’s
score to Sugarland, this is the only
score from his collaboration with Spielberg that has never been released. Now
this is like the missing link. I have heard from soundtrack producers at
Universal, at least previously anyway, they were very tight with what they
allowed to come out of their vaults. I would love to see a score for Sugarland released, and also for Duel obviously.
Well, with your excellent book on Duel
and the new Blu-ray release of the film in the Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection, let’s hope that this leads
to a soundtrack release.
Sounds good to me!
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "STEVEN SPIELBERG AND DUEL: THE MAKING OF A FILM CAREER" FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "STEVEN SPIELBERG: THE DIRECTOR'S COLLECTION" ON BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "DUEL" DVD COLLECTOR'S EDITION FROM AMAZON
by the late 1970s Richard Burton's reputation was based more on his
hard-drinking and turbulent marriages, he was still capable of demonstrating
his powers as a dangerous and magnetic performer. Arguably by this time he had
lost some of his former box-office draw and was taking roles in horror films
like Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and The Medusa Touchto pay the bills, yet he was still a
mesmerising screen presence and in this film can even command the attention of
the audience whilst lying on a hospital bed in a coma.
The Medusa Touch is set in London
and begins with a murder. In the opening scene we see renowned author John
Morlar (Richard Burton) watching news of a space shuttle disaster on TV. Within
seconds he is being bludgeoned to death by a blunt instrument. It is something
of a shock to see the lead actor of a movie being killed before the credits
have even rolled, however, all is not lost. When the police arrive, led by
Inspector Brunel (Lino Ventura), a French detective on some kind of exchange
visit to Scotland Yard, they realise that he is still alive. Just. He is
whisked to hospital where he is put under the charge of Dr. Johnson (Gordon
Jackson) and wired up to several monitors and machines in an effort to keep him
alive. It is then up to Brunel to find out who tried to kill him and why.
despite initially appearing that Burton is merely in this film as a cameo role,
he does actually show up in several lengthy flashbacks as Brunel tries to track
down anyone who knew him. One person who may be able to help is his
psychiatrist, played by Lee Remick. She discloses that Morlar believed he had
the power to cause disasters by willing them in his mind; the so-called
"Medusa Touch". Initially believing this to be a curse, he gradually
comes to the realisation that he can use this power to change the world.
The Medusa Touch features some
spectacular special effects as Morlar's disasters grow and grow in scale and
magnitude, from a horrific plane crash into a large apartment building to an a
royal assassination attempt by demolishing a major London landmark. It does not
take Brunel long to turn from being sceptical of these powers to being in a
race against time to stop Morlar in his diabolical quest.
directed by Jack Gold, The Medusa Touch is pure entertainment throughout
and plays like a cross between The Omen (1976) and an episode of Columbo.
This new Blu-ray features an excellent transfer and some fascinating behind the
scenes footage of the film's climax in Westminster Abbey. Jack Gold is
accompanied on a commentary track by genre authorities Kim Newman (who has also
written a booklet for this release) and Stephen Jones, where Gold is enthusiastic
and full of praise for all those who worked on the film.
Click here to order and view original trailer. (This is for the UK, region 2 release.)
(This review pertains to the British Blu-ray release by Network)
BY ADRIAN SMITH
A mysterious Englishman with mystical
powers, a sexy wife, a game of cricket and an insane asylum. In different hands
these elements could have been combined to make an Amicus portmanteau film in
the style of Tales From the Crypt or Asylum. In the hands of I,
Claudius author Robert Graves and Palme d'Or-winning Polish director Jerzy
Skolimowski it becomes a strange, hypnotic and fragmented tale that unsettles
and confuses in equal measure.
Alan Bates, who could give Richard Burton a
run for his money in the "brooding intensity" stakes, plays Crossley,
a disheveled yet charismatic wanderer who bursts uninvited into the lives of
Anthony and Rachel with devastating consequences. Anthony (John Hurt) is a
Radiophonic Workshop-style musician who spends most of his time recording
unusual noises and manipulating tape decks. Despite his apparent affair with
the wife of the village cobbler, he is happily married, if somewhat distracted
from her needs by his own sound obsessions. Rachel (Susannah York) is initially
upset by the presence of Crossley, who invited himself in for Sunday lunch
whilst Anthony was too polite to say no. Crossley claims to have spent the last
eighteen years in the Australian outback married to an aboriginal woman, where
he legally killed his children. He explains to Anthony that he also learned
shamanic abilities, including a form of shout that when uttered can kill anyone
and anything within earshot. Anthony is sceptical, yet with his interests in
sound, he cannot resist a demonstration.
This plot setup could lead to a
conventional thriller or horror film, but Skolimowski has created something
entirely unconventional. Crossley is relating this tale to a young Tim Curry at
a novelty cricket match being played between inmates and local villagers, which
in itself seems a highly unlikely scenario. The Shout uses collage-style
editing and an increasingly schizophrenic narrative until we are not entirely
sure what is going on or whose version of events to believe.
The soundtrack is particularly inventive
and unusual, making the most of the opportunity it was given in 1978 of being
one of the first films distributed in Dolby Stereo. When Alan Bates does shout
the audience must have all felt close to death. The cinematography is also
spectacular, making the Devon landscape look both beautiful and dangerous. The
Shout features a terrific cast who really embrace the concept without
hamming it up, something which could easily have happened if a "killer
shout" movie was being directed by anyone else. And if you have ever
wanted to see Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent strip almost naked and smear himself
in excrement then look no further.
This new Blu-ray features a new HD transfer
from the original film elements, an interview with the film's producer Jeremy
Thomas, an audio commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman and a booklet
featuring new writing from Newman and Karen Oughton.
you’re too young to remember it, you’ll recall that Twin Peaks was a short-lived phenomenon on television in the year
1990. The frenzy lasted into 1991 but sadly fizzled out quickly due to the
network’s (ABC) futzing around with time slots, days-of-the-week for airing,
and unexplained hiatuses. What began as the number one show on television for
several months somehow derailed during its underrated second season and lost
its viewership. The program was cancelled, leaving the fans of the series with
an unresolved cliffhanger that haunts us to this day.
Lynch and Mark Frost were the men behind Twin
Peaks. At the time, in the late 80s, Lynch was just coming off the success
of his 1986 feature film, Blue Velvet,
when he teamed up with TV veteran Frost to create a PG-rated show that explored
many of the same themes as Velvet—only
for a television audience. The fictional town of Twin Peaks, in Washington
state, is gorgeous (those beautiful Douglas firs!), has a diner that serves the
best pies in the world, and a seemingly “normal” population of families and
mill workers. However, like in Blue
Velvet, a dark underbelly exists beneath the safe exterior, one that is
supernatural and evil.
thrust of the show’s first season and half of the second season was solving
the mystery of “who killed Laura Palmer?” Once that storyline was resolved, it
was clear that the writers and creators weren’t sure where to go from there.
The episodes did falter a bit mid-second-season,
but for my money, they found their footing in the last quarter with the new
storyline involving master criminal Windom Earle. The show was just building to
a new dramatic peak (no pun intended) when the axe fell.
bounced back quickly, though, and made a feature film, released in 1992,
entitled Twin Peaks—Fire Walk With Me.
Not many people liked it, including the die-hard fans of the show (who had, in Star Trek fashion, begun letter-writing
campaigns to the network with pleas to renew the show). What was wrong with the
feature film? It lacked the quirky humor and most of the eccentric characters
from the TV show and instead focused on the very sordid and tragic story of
Laura Palmer’s final week of life before her murder. It also didn’t address the
cliffhanger ending of the series—or did it? At any rate, the movie failed, and the Twin Peaks phenomenon was over.
the aforementioned die-hard fans formed fan clubs, an annual pilgrimage to the
show’s locations in Washington state, and the cult grew over the last twenty-four
years. It is now generally recognized that Twin
Peaks was way ahead of its time and that it was the catalyst for the
“episodic” television dramas that came after it—Northern Exposure, The
X-Files, and pretty much everything else we watch today on cable channels. Twin Peaks showed the networks that
audiences would stick with a storyline that developed over many episodes. It
was a new way of doing things on television. The show was also groundbreaking
in that it dared to take viewers into surrealistic territory—something that
hadn’t been done since, say, 1968’s mini-series of The Prisoner. Twin Peaks also
began the cult of water-cooler discussions the next day at work. “What did that
mean?” “Who was that dancing dwarf?” “I think so-and-so killed Laura.” “No, I
think whozit did.” And so on.
the years went by, several releases of the show on VHS and later DVD exacerbated
the confusion because the two-hour pilot episode (1:34 without commercials) was
owned by a different company and was never issued in America. People were
buying the two seasons without seeing the all-important, foundation-laying
pilot (and still the best “episode” of the entire story). This was rectified in
2007 with the “Definitive Gold Box” DVD release that contained both complete
seasons, remastered with bonus material (but not Fire Walk With Me). Additionally, over the years, it was learned
that Lynch’s initial cut of Fire Walk
With Me was nearly four hours long and it did contain scenes with the other characters from the town. The
director had been forced to cut the movie down to a manageable 2:15 by
contract, so he decided to just focus on Laura’s story. Fans have been howling
for these “missing pieces” to be released, but the rights were tied up in legal
and financial complexities.
we now have it all. These “missing pieces” have been assembled, remastered, and
edited by Lynch himself to create a somewhat “new” Twin Peaks movie (called, of course, “The Missing Pieces”). This
Holy Grail for Peaks fans, along with
the gorgeously restored and digitally remastered Fire Walk With Me (first Blu-ray release in the USA) and the two
television seasons with pilot, now comprise Twin
Peaks—The Entire Mystery, a lavish box set that begs to be devoured with
several slices of pie and some of that “damned good coffee.”
“The Missing Pieces” emphasizes how much better Fire Walk With Me would have been had Lynch been allowed to release
the longer version. It would have felt more like the television series. There
are sequences that help explain a lot about the ending of the show, too. While
Lynch elected to remain vague about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s fate in the
Black Lodge and his earthly body’s possession by BOB the Killer, there are
clues in the “Missing Pieces” that at the very least address the situation.
theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me needs
to be critically reassessed as well, now that we’ve seen many more David Lynch
films of its ilk (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire). It works best if you think of the picture as a
horror film—which it is—and a very disturbing one at that. Sheryl Lee delivers
a courageous and brilliant performance as Laura, far surpassing anything she
did on the television series.
for the two seasons of the show, Kyle MacLachlan is a revelation as Agent
Cooper—this was the role the actor was born to play. Other standouts in the
cast are Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn
Fenn, James Marshall, Dana Ashbrook, Madchen Amick, Eric Da Re, Everett McGill,
and Jack Nance.
extras in the box set include new video interviews between Lynch and the Palmer
family (Leland, Sarah, and Laura), and then the actors who portrayed them
(Wise, Zabriskie, and Lee). Very effective stuff. There is a new Fire Walk With Me making-of documentary,
a couple of documentaries ported over from the 2007 Gold box, the Blu-ray
version of the “international” pilot, and some new collages of “atmospheres”
from the show that combine imagery and music into short, themed vignettes.
twenty-five years later, Twin Peaks—The
Entire Mystery serves as a reminder that Lynch and Frost’s show was even
more brilliant than it was first suggested, and that it needs to be
rediscovered and re-evaluated. There is much to savor.
you ever wondered what M*A*S*H would have been like if, instead of
rebelling in a Korean field hospital and taking a satirical swipe at the
Vietnam war, Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland had actually been CIA
operatives in contemporary Paris? Probably not, but somebody in 1974 did and commissioned
a film that would be marketed solely on the chemistry of its two leads. Sadly
no one else involved with movie seemed to think it worthwhile to write a decent
script or throw any money into the project. This film looks so cheap that,
during a scene where Sutherland is washing up, you suspect that he was doing
this between takes as well.
and Sutherland play agents Griff and Bruland, who are both working separately
in Paris until an accidental assassination attempt by their own agency brings them
together. Incidentally this bombing takes place in a pissoire (urinal), which
gives an early indication of how grubby this film will get. Martinson, played
by British actor Joss Ackland, is the Chief of the Paris branch of the CIA, and
to make amends for nearly killing them, he puts them together on a new case.
Their task is to smuggle a defector from the Russian Olympic team back to New
York. However, when rival British agents get involved, it all goes horribly
wrong, and once again Griff and Bruland narrowly escape a CIA bomb. So now they
are rogue ex-agents out to survive attempts on their lives whilst earning money
through shady deals involving French revolutionaries, the Russian ambassador
and the Chinese secret service. Much farce ensues.
film, shot in the UK and on location in Paris, plays more like a Bob Hope and
Bing Crosby Road to... movie, or, with the heavy British influence, the
Morecambe and Wise film The Magnificent Two. Ackland is like a poor
man's Herbert Lom from the Pink Panther films, and Sutherland and Gould
play the film like they used to have fun together a few years ago, but not so
much any more. A lot of the film feels like the director is time filling. A
return trip from Paris to London serves no other purpose than to allow for
stock travel footage. This is perhaps a surprise when you learn that the
director is none other than Irvin Kershner, who started out in film noir but is
best known for saving the Star Wars
franchise with The Empire Strikes Back. S*P*Y*S represents
something of a low in his CV.
reasons most likely forgotten, the film had a score by Jerry Goldsmith on its
US release, but in Europe a new score was recorded by John Scott, a jazz
musician whose career now spans more than fifty years, covering everything from
horror and sexploitation to TV themes and epics. His score for S*P*Y*S,
found on this new DVD release, is fairly conventional, and in all likelihood
the audience will be too busy straining to hear anything funny from the cast to
point of interest here is that the film offers an appearance of Zouzou, who
plays a sexy revolutionary. In the 1960s, through her involvement with Brian
Jones of The Rolling Stones, she became a celebrity and French icon before
trying singing and acting. Addicted to heroin she dropped out of acting shortly
after S*P*Y*S, presumably because she watched it.
of Elliott Gould or Donald Sutherland will no doubt want to pick this up, but
for everyone else it is a less than essential release. With a plot that can be
found in countless Euro-spy and Bond rip-offs, and unable to compensate for
this with sparkling wit or charm, S*P*Y*S has little to offer. Watch M*A*S*H
new DVD release from Network Releasing features a decent print. The colours are
rather drab, but one suspects that is how the film has always looked. As
mentioned, the soundtrack features the European rather than the original Jerry
Goldsmith score. The only extras are a rather brief stills gallery and the
original theatrical trailer, which really hammers home just how great it will
be to see Gould and Sutherland do their thing again. If only it proved to be true...
1982, Meryl Streep had already made a big splash in the motion picture
industry, having won a Supporting Actress Oscar for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, and securing a Supporting Actress nomination
prior to that for 1978’s The Deer Hunter and
a Best Actress nomination for 1981’s The
French Lieutenant’s Woman. With Sophie’s
Choice, the actress snapped up the Best Actress Oscar pretty much without a
contest—everyone knew that if she didn’t win, then a terrible crime had been
committed by the Academy. In short, in this reviewer’s opinion, Streep’s
performance in Sophie’s Choice is one
of the greatest pieces of acting ever presented on the silver screen. Period. Since
then, Streep has gone on to prove, over and over, that she is arguably the most
talented actress in the history of cinema, but Sophie remains her masterpiece.
a damned good movie, too, and it should have at the very least secured
nominations that year for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s faithfully
adapted from William Styron’s best-selling novel and it’s beautifully made. And
while Streep dominates the film with her bravura characterization of a tortured
Polish Holocaust survivor, her two co-stars, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol,
are also very good (in fact it was Kline’s film debut as Nathan, Sophie’s
bi-polar lover). Pakula’s direction is sensitive and intimate, although it’s a big story that encompasses three
distinct personalities amidst a backdrop of post-war ennui.
you’ve never seen it, you’re probably thinking, Oh, a Holocaust movie, what a downer, who wants to see that? Well,
there are Holocaust films and then there is Sophie’s
Choice (actually only a small portion of the film reveals Holocaust scenes
in flashback). Primarily it’s a love story, albeit a tragic one. It will move
you and shake you, and you will come away from the experience a different
person. Seriously. This is Alan J. Pakula’s best motion picture, All the President’s Men notwithstanding.
best thing about the new Shout Factory Blu-ray release of the film is the fact
that it’s anamorphic widescreen—which the only other U.S. DVD edition wasn’t.
The disc is worth buying for that alone; however, the 1080p high-definition
presentation looks very good. The soft focus used throughout the picture by DP
Nestor Almendros is perhaps a detriment to the overall appearance of the image,
but still—it’s much better than what we had before. The audio commentary is by
the late director himself.
only extra is a long, recent roundtable discussion between Streep, Kline,
Pakula’s widow, William Styron’s widow, and two of Pakula’s colleagues. The
group goes through the film’s casting and production, revealing many
interesting gems about the business.
Choice is one of the best films of
the 80s. Experience it on Blu-ray today
Author and Cinema Retro columnist Raymond Benson has collaborated with bestselling author Jeffery Deaver on "Ice Cold: Tales of Mystery and Intrigue From the Cold War", a new book that presents a topic both men know well: espionage. In addition to stories by Benson and Deaver, there are contributions from many other talented writers who specialize in thrillers. The book is winning rave advance reviews (click here). Both Deaver and Benson have won acclaim for writing original James Bond novels.
Benson and Deaver, along with other noted authors, will be in New York City for a book launch event at the famed Mysterious Bookshop on April 29 at 6:00 PM. The store is located at 58 Warren Street in Tribeca.
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer, who will be at the event, said, "We're very excited by Raymond's new project. He's been with Cinema Retro since our first issue ten years ago and his regular column in which he discusses the "Ten Best Films" of a specific year has become an integral part of our magazine. Additionally, his insightful, on-line DVD reviews have helped www.cinemaretro.com enjoy significant growth in readership over the years. Like all of his other admirers, I'm looking forward to delving into "Ice Cold" and I encourage all of our readers in the New York City area to attend the event, which should make for a fun-filled evening."
"Ice Cold" is available in many different formats from Amazon. Click below to order paperback and Kindle editions.
in the west knows the name – Gaddafi.For over 40 years he was an international
riddle, visiting world capitals yet sleeping in a bulletproof tent; a statesman
who surrounded himself with female bodyguards and, of course, a pariah scorned
by the west for acts of international terror…
Mad Dog: Inside The Secret World of
Muammar Gaddafi , a remarkable Showtime documentary premiering April 11th,
director Christopher Olgiati and his team went deep inside the late despot’s
hidden world. The resulting portrait is
chilling, horrifying and impossible not to watch.
film’s Executive Producer, Roy Ackerman spoke with Cinema Retro about putting together
this daunting and dangerous project. “Chris (Olgiati) and I had worked together before… and he came to me
about doing a film on the Lockerbie Crash and we spent a lot of time developing
that but for various reasons we came to focus on Gaddafi.”
film took three years to research and shoot in ten countries around the globe –
from the United States to the Marshall Islands. (Try even finding them on a
map!) Along the way the dictator’s
finely honed image as a Nationalist Statesman completely unravels, revealing a
desperate and perverse man who preyed on his own people.
any movie is all about challenges, but shooting inside Libya was in a whole
other league – “It was very, very dangerous.” Roy remembers, “we went in three times and there were bombs going off
and car bombs, one time we had to just leave because it was too unstable.”
Libyan footage they did get is apocalyptic and stunning – a Mad Max moonscape
of ruined buildings and burnt out interiors. They also interviewed several people who did business with the regime, including
international fugitive Frank Terpil who supplied Gaddafi’s military with
weapons. Another notable interview was
former CIA officer Valerie Plame who provides perspective on Gaddafi’s dramatic
hunt for nuclear weapons. The producers
left no biographical stone unturned, even interviewing Gaddafi’s plastic
surgeon who told a surreal tale of late night operations in an underground
bunker, the dictator refusing general anesthesia for fear of assassination.
rare archival footage, we see a dashing young Gaddafi as an army officer with a
killer smile, eager to bring his country out of its Colonial past. Gradually he becomes corrupted by his immense
power and oil wealth (one billion dollars PER WEEK), which stripped away everything
but a desire to stay in power at any cost. Outwardly a “family man”, in reality he
indulged an array of dark and repulsive desires that the documentary illustrates
in haunting detail.
final chapter of Gaddafi’s tale is ironic and tragic – Western powers were
willing to turn the page on Gaddafi’s notorious past due to the great equalizer
- oil. Only the Arab Spring, which
ripped through many countries, including Libya prevented reengagement and
ultimately cost him his life. But the
film’s Roy Ackerman felt that if there’s any lesson to be learned from Gaddafi,
it’s proceed with caution – “You do deals with these people, they’re not
stupid, they’ll get a price for it.”
Mad Dog: Inside The
Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi premieres Friday, April 11 on Showtime.
Hustle, one of the
best Martin Scorsese films not directed by Martin Scorsese (James Toback’s Fingers (1978) is another film that
falls into this camp), opens with an amusing sequence in a hotel room wherein
con artist Irving Rosenfeld (a nearly unrecognizable Christian Bale) is
attempting to hide his male pattern baldness. It is April 1978 and confederates Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who is
presenting herself as an English aristocrat named Lady Edith Greensly and Richard
DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) are in the midst of trying to sting Carmen Polito
(Jeremy Renner), the Mayor of Camden, NJ. Irving has to get it together and be
convincing (what we don’t know at this point of the film is how conflicted he
is about what he is doing regarding the mayor). He comes to blows with Richard, who eggs him on and ruffles his hair in
a hilarious moment of awkwardness and discomfort, and we wonder if Irving will
blow a gasket and go Joe Pesci on Richard or if he will simply attend to his
ridiculous comb-over. The question of
why they want to sting the mayor is eventually revealed as the story flashes
back to when Irving and Sydney first meet and bond over their love and
admiration of Duke Ellington. They
realize they are kindred souls and their attraction to one another intensifies. As we come to learn, however, nothing is
quite as it seems because as David Mamet showed us in both House of Games (1987) and The
Spanish Prisoner (1997), everyone is potentially a mark and each mark is
played for someone else’s gain. Irving is
married and has a son but like professional thief Neil Mccauley (Robert De Niro)
in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) he is
good at what he does, and in this case he knows how to not only conduct loan
scams but forge fake paintings even when hiding behind a legitimate business of
being a dry cleaner for tax purposes. Unfortunately, he and Sydney attempt to con Richard,
who turns out to be an FBI agent who cuts them a deal: he forces them into aiding
him entrap some other targets and promises that if their help results in four
good arrests, they will both end up with tabula
rasas, effectively avoiding jail time.
Hustle, which opened
theatrically in December 2013, is set within the framework of the Abscam scandal
of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, which also provided the backdrop for the
Al Pacino/Johnny Depp vehicle Donnie
Brasco (1997). It was the first time
in history that undercover FBI agents videotaped the taking of bribes by
politicians. This factors into the film, which was directed by David O. Russell
who also directed Flirting with Disaster
(1996), I Heart Huckabees (2004), and
Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Mr. Russell has meticulously recreated the
1970s to such a degree that you cannot help but marvel at all of the details,
looking carefully to try and spot any obvious anachronisms. Amy Adams stars opposite Mr. Bale (who
followed in Mr. De Niro’s thespian footsteps and gained some 40 pounds to play
the role) and she gives a multi-layered performance as Sydney, impersonating a
refined British woman. It becomes a game
between Irving and Richard trying to tell which person they are talking to, Sydney
or Lady Greensly. Jennifer Lawrence
portrays Irving’s wife, Rosalyn, and proves why she is one of the best
actresses working today. Rosalyn is a
loose cannon. Like Sharon Stone’s impetuous
Ginger McKenna in Casino, she has a
big mouth and messes with dangerous people when she isn’t starting fires by microwaving
metal or vacuuming her house while belting out the famous songs of the day. She hates Sydney and lets her know it, and
underneath the hardened and tough veneer is a woman who is hurt by her
Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) are obvious stylistic influences here, ranging from
effective use of period music to the inclusion of an uncredited Robert De Niro
as a mobster, Victor Tellegio, who actually speaks Arabic! The scene where he attempt to communicate
with a supposedly wealthy Arab sheikh (in reality a fraud who speaks Spanish
and English) is both tense and funny. Jeremy
Renner is his usual brilliant self as the Mayor of Camden, based upon Angelo J.
Errichetti who in reality served three years in prison for his role in the
Abscam scandal (in the film, which is highly fictionalized, he serves 18
months). Mr. Errichetti passed away
seven months prior to the release of American
Hustle at the age of 84.
The use of voiceover is also effective,
a device that Mr. Scorsese also employed to great effect in his aforementioned
gangster epics. The film runs a quick 138
minutes, but I have seen 90-minute movies much longer than this.
The Blu-ray is the way to go for this
release as it comes with a DVD and digital copy. The extras are slim, which is unfortunate
considering the high number of Oscar nominations and accolades the film
received. They consist of a behind-the-scenes
look at the making of the film which runs 16 minutes, and an extended deleted
scenes section that runs 22 minutes. The
requisite theatrical trailer is also included. I would have loved a running commentary from the director as the film
was obviously a labor of love. That
being said, its exclusion should not detract from your enjoyment of watching
this highly watchable recreation of a specific moment in time in New York and
New Jersey’s history.
of the term "cult film" has been around for some time now, but it
still seems difficult to ascertain a true definition. Cult, it would seem, is
in the eye of the beholder; it is not easily described, but you know a cult
film when you see it. This series of slim volumes (around 100 pages each) from
Wallflower Press sees a variety of writers and academics wrestle their own
personal cult film demons as they give analysis, behind-the-scenes tidbits and
biographical details of all the major players concerned.
of their latest books are on Frankenstein (1931) and Faster,
Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Robert Horton successfully argues that
although the original Frankenstein was such a mainstream hit that one
may not consider that it qualifies as part of a cult series, it has become a
cult in the manner of a religion, through its hundreds of sequels and the
iconography that has arisen. The face of Frankenstein's monster, as played by
Boris Karloff, is one of the most recognisable images of the twentieth century.
From model kits to sweets dispensers, thanks to endless sequels and the repeats
of Universal horrors on TV throughout the fifties and sixties, Frankenstein
provided the monster that kids most empathised with. Boris Karloff became an
elder statesman of horror and was hugely loved and respected in the sixties,
because despite his many other roles over the years, it was the monster
stitched from reclaimed corpses that people remembered with the most fondness.
manages to avoid this book simply being a rehash of the same old material we
have read elsewhere, and he points out in great detail Frankenstein's
ability to still shock today, thanks not only to Karloff's performance but also
to James Whale's inventive and mischievous direction. The film may be over
eighty years old but this does not mean it cannot still be frightening.
Horton is tackling a series of films, and as he argues, a "cult" in
itself, Dean De Fino is taking on what could initially seem an easier task: one
single film by noted smut-peddler Russ Meyer. However Faster Pussycat! Kill!
Kill! is no ordinary film. Made relatively early in Meyer's career, it
marks his move away from "nudie-cuties" and "roughies" into
something new. Although the film borrows freely from other genres (beach party,
biker flick, drag race, juvenile delinquent), he seems to create something
entirely different. From the jazz-infused opening sequence to the improbably
large bosoms of his female cast, Meyer's film is a fever dream that grind-house
fans and art-house enthusiasts can both appreciate.
book is again a mixture of biographical information, behind-the-scenes gossip
and analysis, and each element is equally fascinating to read. Using such
sources as Russ Meyer's own autobiography and other reminiscences the story
behind the making of the scene makes for as entertaining a tale as what ended
up on the screen. He allegedly allowed for no fraternisation between cast and
crew members in order to ensure that all the sexual tension was up on screen (this
was later used as a plot device in Meyer-fan John Waters' Cecil B. DeMented
(2000)). Russ Meyer allegedly allowed this rule to be broken only once in his
entire career, and that was to allow Tura Satana secret trysts with a crew
member. Even he could not say no to her. Satana plays Varla, the leader of a
vicious gang of go-go dancers, and her performance is terrifying. Men are not
safe when she is around. Tura Satana's own history is incredible, and sadly her
recent death has left her memoirs so far unpublished. According to De Fino she
was gang-raped and sent to reform school at 10 and married off to a 17-year old
at 13. She ran away and was posing nude for Harold Lloyd and working as a
stripper by the age of 15, and by 25 she was teaching Shirley MacLaine
burlesque and had slept with Elvis. And then she met Russ Meyer. If ever two
people were destined to work together and form a life-long friendship, it was
Fino makes connections from the film to the cultural and political unrest in
1965. He posits that Meyer was playing out issues from the civil rights and
sexual revolution right there in the dust Mojave Desert. This interpretation
backs up the argument that Meyer infused his films with political relevance,
and explains why his films have survived to be hailed as worthy of serious
attention whilst many of his erotic contemporaries have been forgotten.
books on other cult titles such as This is Spinal Tap (1984), Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Quadraphenia (1979), the
Cultographies series is an excellent way to become conversant in the cult film
of your choice.
Gail Gerber passed away on
March 2, 2014 due to complications from lung cancer. Gerber was born on October
4, 1937 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and began studying ballet at age seven. Extremely
talented, at fifteen she became the youngest member of Les Grandes Ballets
Canadiennes in Montreal. Quitting the ballet troupe in the late 1950s and
abandoning a husband who was a jazz musician, she moved to Toronto to work as
an actress. She appeared on stage and in many live CBC television dramas. As
part of the act of legendary vaudeville entertainers Smith and Dale (who were
the basis for The Sunshine Boys), she
appeared on The Wayne and Schuster Show
and The Ed Sullivan Show. Moving to
Hollywood in 1963, the talented blonde with a flair for comedy quickly snagged
the lead role in the play Under the Yum
Yum Tree and appeared on such popular TV series as My Three Sons, Perry Mason,
and Wagon Train. She made her film
debut in The Girls on the Beach
(1965) co-starring The Beach Boys before her agent suggested she change her
name and, as Gail Gilmore, she went on to appear opposite Elvis Presley in Girl Happy (1965) and Harum Scarum (1965). She then returned
to the sands of Malibu to co-star with Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in Beach Ball (1965) before growing to
gigantic proportions along with five other delinquent teenagers, including Beau
Bridges and Tisha Sterling, who terrorize a town in Village of the Giants (1965). Gerber had a minor role as a cosmetician
in The Loved One, directed by Academy
Award winner Tony Richardson, and that is where she met its screenwriter Terry
Southern who was riding high due to the success of his satirical
novels Candy and The Magic Christian and the movie Dr. Strangelove for which he co-wrote the script. The two hit it
off immediately and, despite their marriages to others, became inseparable. Gail
even abandoned her acting career in 1966 to live with him in New York then
Connecticut where she remained his longtime companion until his death thirty
years later. During that time she taught
ballet for over twenty five years.
Gail Gerber and Cinema Retro columnist Tom Lisanti at the Independent Publishers Book Award ceremonies in 2011.
After Southern’s death in
1995, Gail spent most of her time living in New York City. During the last
twenty years of her life, she was the secretary of the Terry Southern Trust and
returned to acting playing a dotty old woman in the independent film Lucky Days (2008) directed, written, and
starring her friend Angelica Page Torn; and played a Wake Guest in avant-garde
filmmaker Matthew Barney’s just completed film River of Fundament (2014). She also, with myself, wrote her memoir,
Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I
Think I Remember (from publisher McFarland and Company, Inc.) where she
detailed what life was like with “the hippest guy on the planet,” as they
traveled from LA to New York to Europe and back again. Gerber revealed
what went on behind the scenes of her movies and Southern’s including The Cincinnati Kid, End of the Road,
and, most infamously, Easy Rider. And
she relived the “highs” hanging out with The Rolling Stones, Peter Sellers,
Lenny Bruce, Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, William Burroughs, Rip Torn and
Geraldine Page, George Segal, Ringo Starr to the lows barely scraping by on a
Berkshires farm during the 1970s & 1980s. The book received a Independent
Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Autobiography/Memoir of 2011.
Scream Factory continues their winning
streak of releasing horror film favorites with their double feature Blu-ray release
of 1988’s Bad Dreams and 1982’s Visiting Hours. They originally released these films together
on DVD in September 2011.
Dreams opened on
Friday, April 8, 1988 and is, in hindsight, eerily prescient of David Koresh,
the leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect who met a horrific end when
the FBI closed in on him and his compound ignited into a conflagration on April
19, 1993 in Waco, TX. Jim Jones and the Jonestown
deaths in 1978 also come to mind. In
this film, the late Richard Lynch plays a cult leader named Harris who
convinces a group of people that love and unity are the only ways to live, and
he shows that love by dousing them all in gasoline and lighting them on
fire. Jennifer Rubin plays Cynthia, a
confused and reluctant holdout who knows that what he is doing is wrong and
attempts to escape, barely getting out with her life. This presumably takes place in 1975 as she
spends thirteen years in a coma and when she comes out of it, those around her try
to get her up to speed on all things that are the Eighties. One of the women who attempts to befriend her
is played by E.G. Daily whom genre fans will recall as the short, plump
sorority sister from Tom McLoughlin’s One
Dark Night (1982). I almost feel as
though her role was cut short as she seems to be a much better drawn character
than others around her who have more screen time. Naturally, Harris keeps appearing to Cynthia,
both as the person she remembers and also in a horribly burned state. Genre fans will be able to figure out the
plot fairly early on, and one cannot help but see more than a passing resemblance
to Wes Craven’s masterful A Nightmare on
Elm Street (1984) and its protagonist, Fred Krueger, and his history of
being burned and invading people’s dreams. Mr. Lynch is a familiar villain to audiences. He was the bad guy opposite Bill Hickman in The Seven-Ups (1973); he tried to rape
Al Pacino in Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow
(1973); and he was part of the team headed by Peter Fonda that hunted people in
Peter Collinson’s Open Season
(1974). Here he is creepy as he terrorizes
Ms. Rubin who, interestingly, made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors (1987), playing a
similar role as a woman terrorized and forced to sit with others in a group
therapy session trying to come to grips with her situation. The references to the aforementioned Elm Street films cannot be overlooked given
the inclusion of actor Charles Fleischer, who also appeared in Mr. Craven’s
While the film elicits a creepy plot,
the mood and texture fail to arouse the type of suspense that is needed for
this type of story. This is an admirable
attempt, but the film cannot help feel derivative as though it has borrowed
from other similar movies in the hopes of riding the more successful outings’
coattails. Another film that dealt with
the subject of a religious cult, albeit in a strictly dramatic way, is Ted
Kotcheff’s 1982 film Split Image,
which featured Peter Fonda as the man who shows everyone the way to
The extras include a feature-length
commentary by the director; a featurette called Dream Cast; a look at the make-up effects; behind the scenes shots;
the original ending; a promo; a trailer; and a photo gallery.
The second feature, Visiting Hours, was released on Friday,
May 28, 1982. I recall the television
spot for the film which was very effective and clever: it depicted a hospital
building at night wherein all the lights in the rooms begin to go out until the
only remaining illuminated rooms form the image of a skull. Unfortunately, the film itself is nowhere
near as clever, as it resorts to textbook horror film clichés which may have
seemed original and frightening 32 years ago, but to today’s jaded horror
viewer eyes they are simply tired, despite a few truly jolting jumps.
Lee Grant, who won an Oscar for her
portrayal of Felicia in Hal Ashby’s 1975 comedy Shampoo, turns up here as Deborah Ballin, an activist who is also
an opinionated feminist who speaks her mind on a television talk show. She unwittingly arouses the rage of Colt
Hawker (Michael Ironside) who sees her on TV; he is just a few sandwiches short
of a picnic and has his own set of baggage that rears its head with flashbacks of
a violent past. Hawker stalks and
eventually attacks Ballin, who is rushed to the hospital and is tended to by a
nurse, Shelia (Linda Purl), who is on the same page as Ballin when it comes to
women’s rights. Hawker makes his way to
the hospital and murders an older patient and a nurse. While eavesdropping on Shelia, Hawker decides
to stalk her and her children, following her home and making his way
inside. On his off-hours, he finds time
to hit up a young blonde named Lisa (Lenore Zann) who is into him until he
becomes rough and angry, eventually taunting her with a knife and raping
her. He then spends the rest of the film
trying to get to Deborah through a series of creepy episodes.
Hours is a missed
opportunity and that is part of what makes it so frustrating to watch. Beset by an almost complete lack of cinematic
style and suspense, the film is obviously following in the footsteps of previous
trend-setting films like Halloween
(1978) and Friday the 13th
Hours is not the only slasher film to utilize sexual politics and women’s
rights as a backdrop for misogyny and mayhem. Dario Argento’s Tenebre
(1982), which was being filmed at the time that Visiting Hours was released, does a much better job of exploring
the troubled landscape of male-female relationships, sexual desire, and revenge.
It’s also highly cinematic, which should
come as no surprise as its style was inspired by Andrzej Zulawski’s emotional
rollercoaster ride Possession (1981),
one of Mr. Argento’s favorite films. The
film also sports character actor Michael Ironside in the role of a brutal
killer who is after Ms. Grant. Mr.
Ironside is excellent, as usual, and really deserves a better showcase. William
Shatner of all people plays Ms. Grant’s boss – the film was released a week before
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan!
Even though I am not a fan of the film,
I would have appreciated the inclusion of a commentary track with the director. However, the extras that are here are fairly
in-depth and enlightening. First up is
an interview with writer Brian Taggert who speaks quite eloquently about his
past and how he came to write the film. Next
is an interview with Pierre David who has worked with fellow producer Victor
Solnicki on David Cronenberg’s best work, including The Brood (1979), Scanners
(1981), and Videodrome (1983). The last interview consists of a visit with actress
Lenore Zann who is unrecognizable today. The blonde perm she wore in the film is now straight, dark brown and
short. The rest of the extras contain
the radio spots, the TV spots, a photo gallery and trailers for other Scream
If you are a fan of these films,
Blu-ray is the way to go.
Who The F**K Is Arthur Fogel? I had no f**kin’ idea, but being a longtime music fan,
I was happy to accept the invitation for Cinema Retro to cover the LA premiere of the new EPIX documentary about rock’s
enigmatic mystery man.
Arthur Fogel (currently Live Nation's Chairman of Global Music
and CEO of Global Touring) is one
of the most powerful people in entertainment today. He’s responsible for the mega concert tours
that now sweep the globe, Hoovering up hundreds of millions of dollars in
ticket and merchandise sales and revolutionizing the way people view live music. If you’ve ever ponied up to see The Rolling
Stones, The Police, Madonna, U2, David Bowie or Lady Gaga in the last decade, then
you’ve seen Fogel’s work.
Deftly written and directed
by Ron Chapman, the film takes the viewer where fans never go, deep inside the
concert industry. What could have been a
dry exposition – after all, music is a business so it’s all about money – is in
fact a highly visual and entertaining experience. Chapman and his crew spent several years
roaming the world, interviewing the top of music’s pyramid - U2’s Bono, The
Edge and Adam Clayton, plus their legendary manager, Paul McGuinness. Fogel was a guiding hand behind the tour
everyone said could never happen – The Police’s long awaited 2007 reunion, so
Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist Andy Summers were also on camera. In fact two thirds of the iconic band showed
up for the premiere. (More on that later…)
Since Fogel is Canadian, the
documentary also interviews Geddy Lee, the seemingly ageless frontman of that
country’s most enduring musical export, RUSH. But the real star of the show is, undeniably, Fogel. In a series of interviews, the low key,
spotlight-avoiding mogul talks about his background, starting out as a rock
drummer then working his way up in a true dog-eat-dog business. Fogel did it
the hard way – by paying his dues and learning, one act at a time. Other talent managers like Guy Oseary
(Madonna) and Ray Daniels (Rush) along with other insiders weigh in on Fogel’s
long string of industry hits and his rare misses like Guns & Roses aborted
2002 tour when the first show was cancelled before the doors even opened,
sparking a riot.
Helping the narrative is
stunning concert footage, mainly from U2’s ground-breaking 360 Tour (Fogel
helped the band achieve their vision of performing in the round), but also of
The Stones, Rush, the Police and lesser know groups like Canadian New Wave pioneers
Martha And the Muffins. Never been backstage? No worries, interspersed throughout is footage of bands going on stage,
heading off stage, rehearsing – even bowing their heads for pre-show
prayers! As if to cement Fogel’s insider
status, none other than Madonna asks him to lead them in their prayer right
before she goes on.
The movie also covers the
tricky issue of digital downloading – how what could have been a huge new
revenue stream became a juggernaut that crippled the entire industry. Again, this could have been another tired retelling
of a story we’ve all heard, but here it’s given a fresh spin by snappy editing
and illuminating interviews with executives who were there. The main takeaway from this very interesting
documentary is that even though the concert field – and the entire music
industry - has changed radically, there are more exciting times ahead. The film closed with a wonderful sequence
showing Fogel returning to his drumming roots by walking onto U2’s massive
stage and playing Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums in an empty stadium. Now, nobody but him could have pulled THAT
After the screening, Epix
laid down a slick party at LA’s storied Chateau Marmont. As expected, LA’s music scene turned out in
force to toast the man himself, and Fogel held court in the VIP section. Concert phenomenon Lady Gaga attended both
the screening and the after party. Used
to seeing her in lavish, often bizarre stage costumes (Remember her jaw
dropping meat dress?), tonight she wore an elegant gown and looked gorgeous –
even if her bodyguards kept most people at arms length. The evening’s only sour note occurred when I
dared approach Police drummer Stewart Copeland for a comment on the movie he
had just been featured in. I had barely
posed a question when he mumbled “Sure, sure…” and made a beeline for the door.
Unfortunately it was Don’t Stand So Close To Me, for real.
Life imitating art?
Ron Chapman is expanding his original documentary “Who The F**K Is Arthur Fogel?”
to include new concert footage and an exclusive, never-before-seen interview
with Lady Gaga.It’s a perfect fit
because Fogel helped elevate her onto the global concert stage where she sells
out consistently. The documentary’s new premiere date is Wednesday, March 19th
have to admit I was not familiar with Lust in the Dust, but as soon as I
saw the names Paul Bartel and Divine on the box, I knew I was in safe hands.
film begins with Rosie Velez (Divine) struggling through the desert on the
world's smallest donkey. About to die from thirst and exhaustion, she is saved
by the timely appearance of a waterhole. The audience is then treated to a
glimpse of his/ her naked behind whilst she bathes, which appears to have a
very unusual birthmark. Also taking in this unsavoury view is Tab Hunter as
Abel Wood, a cowboy of very few words. He is headed for Chili Verde and
reluctantly agrees for Rosie to tag along. When he arrives at this tiny, clichéd
western town he discovers that they don't take too kindly to strangers. Rosie
gets manages to get a job in the bar, which is also a brothel, and Abel learns
that there is a legend regarding hidden gold somewhere in the town. Being the
strong silent type he soon attracts the affections of Marguerita (Lainie
Kazan), bar owner and chief whore, and soon a jealous rivalry erupts between
her and Rosie. Throw into the mix Cesar Romero as the local priest and Geoffrey
Lewis and Henry Silva as bad guys and you have all the makings of a fast-paced,
mischievous comedy western. The plot is nothing new, but it is the
juxtaposition of Divine's constant chatter against Hunter's quiet, thoughtful
delivery that makes this so enjoyable. This is not the first film to use the
"secret clues tattooed on women's behinds" gag, but who cares when it
is this funny? Many of the jokes are borderline offensive, and certainly
tasteless. One would expect nothing less from the director of Eating Raoul
(1982), a dark comedy about cannibalism, and let's not forget that in Pink
Flamingoes (1972), Divine eats real dog faeces on camera.
Hunter had plenty of previous experience in westerns, and had also starred with
Divine before in Polyester (1981) and was able to use his influence in
Hollywood to get Lust in the Dust made, acting as one of the film's
producers. His character is part Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and part
Franco Nero's Django and as such he has terrific screen presence. All of the
cast are excellent and Paul Bartel manages to hold together what could have
been a mess in the wrong hands.
new DVD release is on Arrow's Arrowdrome label, which presents cult film titles
at low prices but with a minimum of extras. It does feature the original
trailer, a reversible DVD sleeve and a booklet with more information on the
film. Lust in the Dust is hugely entertaining and deserves to become a
new favourite film for anyone who likes their entertainment a little
Poppins (1964) was a
first for me in two ways: one of the earliest movies I can remember seeing in a
theater (I was five years old when it was reissued in 1973 and the Rialto
Cinema in Westfield, New Jersey, the theater where I saw it, is actually one of
the few remaining theaters from that era that is still in business) and one of
the first movies I saw played back on a VCR (in 1980). I could hardly believe my eyes at age 5 and
wondered just how in the world Mary Poppins (she is never, ever to be called
just “Mary”), the chimney sweeper, and her two young charges managed to make
their way into the sidewalk paintings with all of the colorful characters. 40 years later, I could pretty much figure it
out for myself having seen many behind-the-scenes documentaries. And yet even
though the man behind the curtain has been exposed, it still does not detract
from the sheer magic that is this now 50-year-old film, and certainly one of
the longest Disney outings at two hours and nineteen minutes. The songs are pure magic and there is not a
dull one in the entire film, another rarity.
Julie Andrews is positively radiant as
the titular heroine who comes to save the day when Jane and Michael Banks (Karen
Dotrice and Matthew Garber respectively, of course), the young children of the
too-busy-for-children parents George Banks (David Tomlinson) and Winifred Banks
(Glynis Johns), want a new nanny after they drive off their last one (Elsa
Lanchester) in a fit of aggravation. Their
ripped-up-by-their-father classified ad makes its way to Mary Poppins who appears
to be just what the children ordered. She
takes them on several adventures, the most colorful of which involves the
aforementioned jaunt into the colorful sidewalk chalk drawings. Animation and live action match in this
sequence to produce some truly remarkable sequences. The music is infectious and you cannot help
but find yourself humming along with the characters.
Alas, all good things must come to an
end, and the long and short of it is that Mary Poppins, who successfully brings
the children together with their parents, must leave after a job
well-done. While it becomes apparent
that the children now no longer need Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins indeed has
needed the children…and it shows as she flies off.
The film is a great showcase for the
considerable talents of Julie Andrews who was 28 when she made the film and
also won an Oscar for Best Actress. Dick
Van Dyke is a complete joy, bouncing around with reckless abandon. Karen Dotrice and the late Matthew Garber are
very good as the children.
The sesquipedalian jawbreaker Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is
perhaps the film’s most well-known song simply because of its ability to
challenge even the most seasoned logophile. A Spoonful of Sugar and the Oscar-winning Chim Chim Cher-ee are additional delights.
Pamela Lyndon Travers, the author of
the original Mary Poppins stories upon which this film is based, reportedly
gave Walt Disney a hard time as he attempted to buy the book rights from her – he
spent over roughly 20 years courting her. This story has come to light and is featured in the new Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks, and it is receiving a
lot of publicity as it stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary
Poppins has been
released on DVD for its 40th and its 45th anniversaries. The new release features a combination
DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy and ports over all the previous extras (which are
considerable, though they are only presented in standard definition) and adds
two new ones in high definition: a 14-minute piece called Becoming
Mr. Sherman which features Richard Sherman, one of the writers of
the film’s music, speaking with actor Jason
Schwartzman (who actually portrays Richard Sherman in the
aforementioned Saving Mr.
Banks)talking about the making of the film. The other extra is a Karaoke supplement.
The film looks gorgeous and sounds
terrific on Blu-ray and is a must for Disney aficionados.
Over the years, Friday the 13thhas been called many things. Upon its
release in May of 1980, critics who reviewed the low budget, independent wonder
called it everything from a blatant Halloween
clone (which director Sean Cunningham never denied it was) to an overly
violent dead teenager movie made with no apparent talent or intelligence.
Gene Siskel was so outraged by the film
that he called Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest
the movie business.” Siskel even went so far as to publish the home address of
actress Betsy Palmer (who gives a magnificent performance in the film) and he
encouraged fans to write to her and express their disappointment in her taking
a role in such a ghastly film.
Why did this creepy little horror film
strike such a negative chord in critics all over the country? To answer that
question, we must go back to 1978. The Alfred Hitchcock/Italian giallo-inspired
Halloween was released that year and
was not only loved by the movie-going public, but the near perfect film was
universally praised by critics including Roger Ebert, who rightfully called it “A
film so terrifying that I would compare it to Psycho.”
Critics and audiences alike were in awe of
the way director John Carpenter masterfully built suspense and the amazing film
became an instant classic as well as a box office phenomenon.
Fast forward to 1980; Director Sean
Cunningham decides to make a horror film and very wisely comes up with the idea
to combine two of the most current and successful scary movies: Halloween and George A. Romero’s classic
1979 zombie epic, Dawn of the Dead.
Cunningham would use Halloween’s structure (he would also borrow from Mario Bava’s
groundbreaking 1971 giallo film, A Bay of
Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve)
while adding Dawn’s amazingly graphic
and realistic gore effects. He would even engage the talents of the man
responsible for Dawn’s innovative gore,
special FX maestro Tom Savini.
This is primarily what outraged critics of
the time. In their eyes, Cunningham could not match Carpenter in masterfully
building terror and suspense (and there is much truth to that), so, instead,
the filmmaker would rely solely on realistic and bloody effects in order to
scare his target audience. The film was also accused of equating
sex/drugs/alcohol with death as well as being both misogynistic and illogical.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that when it
comes to the art of filmmaking, Friday
the 13thcannot hold a candle to Halloween, but I refuse to agree with anyone who calls Friday worthless, misogynistic and
illogical junk whose only talent can be found in its gore content.
Yes, the blood flows and Savini’s effects
are still as astonishing now as they were 33 years ago, but the entertaining
film works for many other reasons which I’ll list right now.
First of all, just like Halloween, the film has a
documentary-like feel to it. Cunningham simply shows us a likeable group of teenage
counselors (one of whom is a young Kevin Bacon) who are hard at work fixing up
Camp Crystal Lake a few weeks before the noisy children are due to arrive. The
characters have no Hollywood-esque dramatic motivations or conflicts. They are
just a very normal, happy and realistic group going about their daily business.
As viewers, we almost feel as if we’re eavesdropping on their lives.
This technique is greatly aided by the more
than competent writing of Victor Miller who wisely avoids stereotypes such as “the
jock” or “the bitch” and creates a pleasant group of normal and realistic kids.
The wonderfully natural acting of the kids themselves also helps. We like this
group and when the killer’s POV shots interrupt these normal, quiet scenes, it
really has an impact.
Next up is Sean Cunningham’s directorial
style. (For those who have said this film is little more than a gore-fest,
listen up.) Cunningham uses tried and true techniques such as showing us early
on the horror that the killer is capable of, then showing us exactly where the
killer is and, finally, having his likeable characters enter the killer’s space
one at a time. Naturally, this technique produces a fair amount of tension,
suspense and scares.
I won’t reveal the killer’s identity, but I
will say that it’s not our hockey masked pal, Jason. (Jason’s reign of terror
begins in part 2 and he doesn’t don his iconic mask until part 3.) However, once
you know who the killer is and learn the motivation behind the murders, you
will be petrified by the killer’s terrifying personality. Not only that, but upon
repeat viewings of the quieter, early scenes, knowledge of the killer’s
personality creates even more eerie, goose bump-like scares.
Cunningham also creates a nice moody
atmosphere by having half of the film take place during a nighttime thunderstorm.
Combine that with the quiet, isolated camp location and a moving POV camera
which suggests a creepy, violent and vengeful presence always lurking nearby
and you have not only a very scary little film, but a real feeling of almost
I can’t go on about the film’s scare factor
without mentioning the frightening musical score by the great Harry Manfredini.
His instantly recognizable “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” has become a part of horror
music history and now stands tall alongside other immortal horror themes such
as Bernard Hermann’s magnificent score for Psycho,
John Williams’ often imitated, but never duplicated score for Jaws and John Carpenter’s iconic and
terrifying Halloween theme.
Last, but certainly not least, is the final
scare of the film. Without giving away too much, I have to say that it is one
of the most shocking and unexpected scares in horror movie history and second
only to the brilliant ending of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976). It’s a magnificently crafted scene that can be
credited to Sean Cunningham’s solid direction, Victor Miller’s imaginative
writing, Adrienne King’s subtle and naturalistic acting, Tom Savini’s
magnificent makeup work and Harry Manfredini’s frightening music all working as
one to give audiences the fright of their lives.
Australian release poster.
And that’s just the final scene. All those
elements work together throughout the entire film and help to create a fun,
scary rollercoaster ride. The gore effects work more as a punctuation mark at
the end of a sentence. It usually caps off a tense and frightening scene. It is
not the only technique at work here. As a matter of fact, take the very minimal
amount of gore out of the film and you still have an extremely eerie,
claustrophobic and terrifying film.
As far as being misogynistic, equating
sex/alcohol/drugs with death and being illogical goes, critics couldn’t have
been more off base.
Let’s start with misogyny. First of all,
there is an equal amount of male and female deaths, and Kevin Bacon’s death is
probably the best and most graphic death scene in the film. Second of all, and
don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film, the killer is female. So, if the
filmmakers hated women, the killer would’ve been a man. Saying that this film hates
women is ridiculous.
Next up is the idea that the kids were
punished by death for engaging in sex, drinking and smoking pot. Well, if that
were the case, then why does the final girl survive? Midway through the film she
indulges in both beer and marijuana. It is also revealed that she was in a
relationship with the head of the camp and, although it isn’t shown that they
had sex, the dialogue strongly suggests it. Much like Halloween (the female survivor of that film also smokes pot and
clearly wants to be in a relationship with a boy), this idea of
sex/drugs/alcohol being punishable by violent death is not a part of Friday the 13th, but would be
misinterpreted by future slasher filmmakers thereby beginning that slasher
Lastly is the ridiculous idea that all of
the characters in this film do completely illogical things before getting
killed. This never happens. First of all, the characters are silently killed
off one by one in a Ten Little Indians manner.
The remaining characters have no idea that there is a killer among them, so it
makes sense that they would go about their business as if everything is normal.
Also, once the last two characters sense that something is wrong, they both do
completely logical things. Unfortunately, they are thwarted by the intelligent
killer who is always one step ahead of them.
For example, when they can’t find anyone,
they try to call for help, but, unbeknownst to them, the line has been cut.
(They believe that it’s just out of order due to the storm.) Next, they find a
bloody axe in one of the cabins and immediately decide to leave, but their car
has been sabotaged. Their last idea is to just hike the ten miles to
civilization and get help, but it’s pitch black outside and a thunderstorm is
With the exception of the heroine knocking
out the killer a few times and then either not continuing to pummel her or
throwing the weapon aside, the characters all act logically/intelligently in
every situation, but still get killed which is one of the reasons why the film
is so scary.
So, is it a masterful piece of cinema like Halloween or Psycho? Certainly not. However, it’s far from worthless junk and it
totally works without the effects which, by the way, take up less than sixty seconds
of the film’s 95 minute running time. At the time, those amazing gore effects
were the only things that were new in this type of film, so that’s what critics
mainly became fixated on. Unfortunately, they missed much of the wonderful
craftsmanship that went into the rest of the film.
Friday the 13th may be a dead
teenager movie, but it’s one of the best of its type. While not in the same
league as its predecessors, it’s a much better film than it’s been given credit
for. It’s also an important film in that, along with Halloween, it created a very successful subgenre/formula of the
horror film and, due to being released by Paramount Pictures and becoming a
huge financial success, it gave up and coming filmmakers a chance to break into
the Hollywood system by producing their own low budget slasher films which
utilized the same structure and similar techniques.
To date, the film has spawned ten sequels,
one remake, countless imitations and the character of Jason has become an icon
of fright. Entire books have been written about the series and at least one
book was wholly devoted to the groundbreaking first film. There have also been Friday the 13thcomic books,
novelizations, video games, action figures and conventions. Not bad for a little
movie that has been wrongfully dismissed as an illogical, misogynistic, incompetent
spectacle of gore.
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) is one of the greatest American films ever made.
It is also one of the most disturbing,
and it is astonishing to look back and see that a major studio (Columbia
Pictures) released it as is. Although nominated
for Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), Best Supporting Actress (Jodie
Foster), and Best Original Score (Bernard Herrmann, who also was nominated in
the same year for his impressive score to Brian DePalma’s Obsession, albeit posthumously) by the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, it won none. The top
honor instead went to John Avildsen’s Rocky,
the story of a streetwise debt collector in Philadelphia who gets the chance to
become a boxing world superstar. Mr.
Alvidsen also walked away with the statue for Best Director, and the fact that
Mr. Scorsese was not even nominated in this category has long been considered
to be one of the most, if not the
most, egregious Oscar snub(s) in the Academy’s history, something the organization
appears to have attempted to smooth over with what is generally considered to
be his consolation prize - his Oscar for The
Departed (2006), a good film but not in the same league as his greatest work
(he lost out on directing Oscars for Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), and The
Aviator (2004). )
Robert De Niro gives one of his
greatest screen performances as Travis Bickle, a lonely cabdriver who deliberately
works long hours because he cannot sleep. He befriends Iris (Jodie Foster), a
12-year-old prostitute whose pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) raffles off a menu of
shocking sex acts (even by today’s barely-there standards) not heard outside of
a porno film or a sound bite by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that she and Travis can engage
in for a price. Instead of taking up the
offer, Travis uses his time with Iris to try and convince her to leave the
profession that she is a part of. When
she refuses, he arms himself to the teeth and kills her pimp, her John, and the
lowlife who stands in the hall and collects the money in what was at that point
in American cinema one of the most shocking and bloody sequences ever
filmed. Today, you could probably show
it on network television with few cuts, if any.
What makes Taxi Driver so memorable is the way that it captures New York City
in the summer of 1975 when it was filmed. The city was a terribly depressing and dangerous place to be at that
time, and cinematographer Michael Chapman manages to capture the Big Apple in a
way that few cameramen have - Owen Roizman’s work on The French Connection (1971) and The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) being two obvious exceptions. In the midst of all of this, photographer Steve
Schapiro took innumerable publicity shots on the set of the film and captured
the cast in their moments during camera set-ups, prior to and after shooting,
and while taking a break. The images are
a fascinating look at the ideas that both Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul
Schrader had about the city and the central character, the aforementioned
Bickle, and how they wanted to get those ideas across to the audience. The city itself is also a character in Taxi Driver and this fact comes out quite
strikingly in Mr. Schapiro’s on-set photographs which are now available for aficionados
of this great film in the form of a new book by Taschen, the glorious publisher of such mammoth
tomes on cinema greats like Kubrick, Fellini, Truffaut, Bergman, and
Simply titled Taxi Driver, this stunning, oversized book is a collection of
beautiful photographs taken by Mr. Shapiro that depict much of the action of
the film and candid, behind-the-scenes shots. It begins with a foreward by director Scorsese, written in 2010 while he
was shooting Hugo (2011) in London,
and it follows with an introduction which is a reprinting of Richard Thompson’s
interview with Mr. Schrader from the March/April 1976 issue of cinema
cognoscenti magazine fave Film Comment;
Paul Garner’s “It’s Dilemma, It’s Delimit, It’s De Niro” essay from New York magazine from May 16, 1977;
Norma McLain Stoop’s essay “In the Middle of the Street in the Middle of the
Night” from After Dark, May 1976; Judy
Klemesrud’s essay “Jodie Foster’s Rise From Disney to Depravity” from the New
York Times on March 7, 1976; Lawrence Grobel’s Playboy Interview with Robert De
Niro from Playboy in January 1989; Richard
Goldstein and Mark Jacobson’s interview “Martin Scorsese Tells All: Blood and
Guts Turn Me On!” from The Village Voice,
April 5, 1976; and Mr. Schrader’s interview with Mr. Scorsese from January 29,
1982, published in Cahiers du Cinema,
during the editing of the eerily prescient The
King of Comedy, its relation to Taxi
Driver as a companion piece included for obvious reasons. The rest of the text is German and French
translations of the aforementioned essays.
The most unsettling images are not of
the film’s bloodshed at the end, though they are quite graphic and colorful and
which friend Father Francis Principe told the director was a little too much “Good
Friday” and not enough “Easter Sunday” when he viewed it at a private screening
in 1976, but of the slow dancing sequence between Sport and Iris, depicted in
the this book. Here is a twelve year-old
girl being told by a man who uses her nascent sexuality for his own method of
making money, that she’s his woman. It’s
really quite revolting, and probably goes on today with all the multiple cases
of sex trafficking in the world. Taxi Driver doubles as a cautionary
tale, its religious themes also present.
When Taxi Driver was released to theaters in 1976, the ending was so
bloody that in order to avoid receiving an X rating from the MPAA, the director
was faced with cutting down the scenes, something he did not want to do. He opted instead to de-saturate, or lessen
the amount of color, in the sequence so it would not look as graphic. This action was incorporated into the film artistically
to represent what the murder scene might have looked like in the tabloids. On the
film’s 35th anniversary in 2011, the film was released on
Blu-ray. Since times have changed, there
was an effort afoot to re-saturate the film and make it look the way that it
was intended to look prior to the color reduction process. Unfortunately, that color negative could not
be located, and there is talk that it might not have survived. Mr. Shapiro’s photographs of this brutally
violent sequence, replicated in this book, might be all that visually remains of
this controversial sequence.
Driver is a stunning
achievement from Tashen, and I personally want to thank Mr. Schapiro for having
taken such amazing photographs of this incredible film. A must for any serious fan of American
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Heard was nineteen when she played the title character in Jonathan Levine's
slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane;
she can at least get away with playing a seventeen year-old. Mandy
Lane, which debuts this month on Blu-ray, is better known for its
reputation of having been shelved for seven years following its debut at the
2006 Toronto Film Festival for reasons best served by another article. Up to this point, Ms. Heard was already a
veteran of four films and several television appearances; this is her first
real starring role, as the film rests on her shoulders. She gives quite a remarkably natural
performance and having seen her work since this 2005-lensed outing, I would
attribute her onscreen “nervousness” as the object of affection by
testosterone-driven wolves in her midst to her skill as a serious dramatic
actress than to an inability to relax and just “be”.
Lane represents the epitome of the adolescent female sexual ideal, The Perfect High
School Girl - the girl all the boys vie for; the girl all the girls want to be
or want to destroy. The tone is set in
the film’s opening shot as the camera focuses on Mandy Lane’s breasts,
revealing the dumbfounded stares of the average-looking boys and girls in the
hallway, and conveys their longing cinematically without being
exploitative. She is friends with Emmett
(Michael Welch), a nerdish boy whose desire for Mandy is as strong as all the
other guys, but he tries to hide it. He
just knows that she is out of his league. In some ways, the film seems like it plays like a modern day “horny
teenager” flick, but that would be a cursory dismissal. While the 1980s will probably be remembered
as the birth of the horny teenager horror film, which started in 1978 when
Michael Myers bludgeoned his sister to death after “the sex act” in John
Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the
films of the 2000s will no doubt be looked upon as the remake era, or most
certainly the “influenced by” era. Sean
Cunningham made Friday the 13th
a superstitious day to be reckoned with, and premarital sex was forever labeled
as a crime punishable by death by deranged killers. Still, young men with
sex on their minds did all they could to get the girls of their dreams into
bed. He Knows You’re Alone
(1980), My Bloody Valentine (1981), The Burning (1981), The Boogens (1981), Halloween
II (1981), and countless other stalk-and-slash films repeated this formula
with much less panache and cinematic style than Mr. Carpenter did in his
watershed film, even prompting a send-up of horror films in the form of Student Bodies (1981), a comedy that
ridiculed death as the inevitable outcome to teenage sex.
Wes Craven's Scream (1996) reignited
interest in horror in 1996 and proved that it was once again viable box office,
so has there been resurgence in the teenage sex and death flick. Unlike
the gawky and under-confident teenagers of a quarter century ago who had to
borrow their parents’ oversized cars to get some action, today's teens are
muscular and sexy model types who seem to have stepped off of the pages of GQ
and Playboy magazines. Most of them appear to have money and their own
set of wheels. In Mandy Lane,
director Jonathan Levine manages to take a very overdone and tired horror
subgenre and make it different and interesting. The obnoxious jock Dylan
(Adam Powell) and his posse of over-stimulated friends, all expertly portrayed
by Whitney Able (Chloe), Luke Grimes (Jake), Melissa Price (Marlin), Edwin
Hodge (Bird), and Aaron Himelstein (Red), invite Mandy Lane to a party at his
house. Mandy agrees, and elects to bring her awkward friend Emmet along,
much to Dylan's chagrin. Once there, Dylan puts the moves on Mandy who nervously
brushes off his advances. This disgusts Emmet who tricks Dylan into a
maneuver designed to impress Mandy but that effectively takes Dylan out of the
game completely. Nine months after Dylan's untimely demise, Red
rounds up Chloe, Jake, Marlin, and Bird for a weekend at his father's mansion
in Bastrop, TX. The locales should look
familiar to Tobe Hooper fans.
caretaker in the form of a much older Garth (Anson Mount) who lives in a shed
in the back is there to oversee the teens and protect them, complete with a
firearm at his side. Mandy, whose parents died when she was young and is
now being raised by her aunt, is invited and decides to go along. Once
there, the guys all descend upon The Perfect Blonde, making no bones about how
much they want to jump hers. Jake is especially aggressive and looks a
bit like Robert Pattinson from the Twilight
films. Mandy is made the most uncomfortable by him, which makes one ponder
why she would agree to spend the weekend with a group of people who all want
the one thing from her that she is not willing to surrender. That
question is answered near the end in an interesting twist.
begin to go wrong rather quickly and it does not take the high schoolers long
to learn that there is a murderer in their midst. Director Levine reveals
the killer’s identity early on and yet despite that, the film remains
interesting enough for the audience to want to see it through to the end.
He directs the film with a restrained hand, which is refreshing when most films
like this tend to hit the audience over the head with quick cuts, loud music
and sound effects in a desperate effort to be suspenseful. The middle of
the film drags a bit but not by too much, and perhaps Mandy Lane would benefit by some tighter editing.
females in the film are snotty and bitchy but not in an overly hateful
fashion. Unlike the shallow vamps in the Black Christmas remake in 2006 and many others of its ilk, Chloe
and Marlin, just like the guys who are all pining after Mandy, are all real
people. Credit must go to the performers in this film. They all
talk and sound like real teenagers who are looking to find their place in the world,
and are concerned with how others perceive them and are the types to surrender
to peer pressure. The script by Jacob Forman is, no pun intended, a cut
above standard fare, providing archetypes that are familiar yet different.
film also possesses a good use of existing music - try to watch the racetrack
scene set to the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” without smirking at the subtle
irony. The score by Mark Schultz is also
The Anchor Bay Blu-ray, which provides a terrific visual and aural transfer, has a
feature-length commentary with director Levine and judging from his comments it
was recorded this year. Mr. Levine
provides an interesting, engaging and very funny commentary seen from the
standpoint of a director who made his first film some eight years ago (he has
since directed three films since Mandy
Lane). At times he complains that he
wishes he had done a certain shot differently, but that is inevitable through
the benefit of time and hindsight. The
standard DVD also contains this commentary.
in all, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
is an above-average slasher film.
NOTE: If you have a region-free DVD or Blu-ray
player, the French DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film both have a 28-minute
interview with Ms. Heard, shot circa 2006, wherein she talks about the
film. A 14-minute interview with the
director can also be found on this edition. However, there is no running commentary on these versions, which also
possess English-language soundtracks.
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William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), based upon the novel of the same name by
William Peter Blatty, is one of the greatest and most powerful American motion
pictures ever made. With an impressive
cast that includes Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb,
Jack MacGowran and newcomer Linda Blair, The
Exorcist had its origins in a 1949 case involving the purported demonic
possession of a young Evangelical Lutheran boy in Cottage City, MD who is still
alive to this day, is retired from NASA, and claims to have no memory of the
events that he experienced. Mr. Blatty, who
read about the events at the time, thought about the story for years until he
wrote the book circa 1969, some 20 years later, in the house of his ex-wife in
Coming on the heels of my all-time
favorite film, 1971’s Oscar-winning The French
Connection, Mr. Friedkin never thought of The Exorcist as a horror film but rather as the serious exploration
of the nature of faith and desperately wanted to direct the film. While watching The Exorcist, what is most striking about it is its unique ability
to present the material as something that seemingly could absolutely
happen. The idea of demonic possession
has arguably never been so deftly handled and depicted as it is in this film. Other attempts by filmmakers to create
convincing film explorations of the subject, mostly in the wake of this
enormously successful venture, have largely been ineffective. With the release of the film on Blu-ray in
2010, the film was given a much-needed high definition upgrade and you can read
Lee Pfeiffer’s review of that Blu-ray here. The new 40th anniversary release is identical to the 2010
release in that all the material from discs one and two of the 2010 Blu-ray
appears to be ported over on to one disc for the new release. A second Blu-ray includes a new documentary called
Beyond Comprehension: William Peter
Blatty’s The Exorcist (27:49) wherein Mr. Blatty revisits the Encino, CA house
that he wrote the book in for the first time in over 40 years (now it a guest house
that belongs to actress Angela Lansbury - do you think she knows that?). Mr. Blatty discusses his two aborted attempts
to write the novel and that he was originally a comedy writer(!). Father Karras (the Jason Miller character in
the film) is Mr. Blatty’s alter-ego, and like Karras, Blatty’s mother lived in
a nursing home and passed away there. Perhaps
the saddest revelation is the fact that he lost a son six years ago at the age
of 19 due to heart inflammation.
The second documentary on the second
Blu-ray is an interview with Father Eugene Gallagher (19:47) who was part of
the Philodemic Debating Team and had a professional relationship with Mr.
Blatty and discusses his experiences while Mr. Blatty was writing the novel.
Also included with this 40th
anniversary package is a small hardcover excerpt of the excellent autobiography
by William Friedkin called The Friedkin
Connection and it contains his passages about the making of The Exorcist which is truly a
If you already have the original
Blu-ray from 2010, there is probably little reason to upgrade; get yourself The Friedkin Connection if you have not
(This book was recently reviewed by Lee Pfeiffer. Here is columnist Adrian Smith's take on this volume.)
Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses - Roger Corman: King of the B
Chris Nashawaty Introduction by John Landis
part of the Gothic season at the British Film Institute recently, Roger Corman
sat and signed autographs for well over an hour as the line of fans and
admirers snaked its way around the building. At least 50% of those fans were
clutching copies of this new coffee-table book, a visual delight from Chris
Nashawaty, writer for Entertainment Weekly.
books have been published on the Corman phenomenon, most notably his own
autobiography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a
Dime. Since that was published in 1990 he has made at least a hundred more.
Until he gets around to updating that volume, which given his continuing
workload in film production seems unlikely, we are lucky that so many other
writers and filmmakers are constantly willing dive into his career.
not as revealing or personal as Bevery Gray's excellent Roger Corman: An
Unauthorised Life, Nashawaty's book is a real joy. He has selected over 150
images, many of which are previously unpublished. Artwork, photos and movie
stills are presented in full colour alongside an oral history of the life and
career of Roger Corman, from his childhood right up to the present day.
Corman's contribution to the movie business is immense, and, as covered in the
book, his honorary Academy Award in 2009 was well deserved. Those lined up to
congratulate him on that night included Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Jack
Nicholson and Peter Bogdanovich. The list of those filmmakers who have
graduated from the "Corman School" is almost endless, and the fact
that he is still making films today means that yet another generation are
learning from the master.
evidenced by a photograph of him on the Hawaiian set of Piranhaconda
(2012), Corman is very much a hands-on producer. He has an almost preternatural
sense of what is going to become the next big thing in the business; providing
teenage movies for the drive-ins in the 1950s, using VHS before the major
studios in the late 1970s or bringing monster mash-up movies to the Syfy
channel (as well as Piranhaconda, Corman has been responsible for Sharktopus
(2010), Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010) and Dinoshark (2010), the
latter as both producer and star).
well as dozens of new interviews, the book also critically examines some of the
key titles from Corman's back-catalogue, either as director or producer. Attack
of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The
Intruder (1962), The Big Doll House (1971), Boxcar Bertha
(1972, an early film from Martin Scorsese) and even The Slumber Party
Massacre (1982) are all touched on, amongst many more. One can use Nashawaty's
selections as a list for beginners keen to gain an understanding of Corman as a
Christmas just around the corner, this book is well worth considering sending
to the movie lover in your life. It makes the perfect introduction to Roger
Corman and his work, and contains new stories and anecdotes as well as a few
that will be familiar to aficionados. And as he is showing no sign of slowing
down, the Corman story is not over yet.
Note: This review pertains to the Region 2 (PAL) format UK release.
Cinema Retro writer would love to be able to explain to you in detail what just
what The Final Programme is
about, but I have absolutely no idea. The plot revolves around Jerry
Cornelius (Jon Finch), a swaggering millionaire scientist who seems to think he
is the second coming in this futuristic, possibly post-WWIII Britain. His
father, also a scientist, died when he was on the brink of some kind of amazing
discovery, and it is up to Cornelius to find out what it was. Along the way he
meets a variety of bizarre characters who drift in and out of the plot with
nothing particular to contribute. Amongst these are many familiar faces from
film and TV, such as George Coulouris, Sterling Hayden, Patrick Magee and
Graham Crowden, the latter seemingly channelling Quentin Crisp. The film has
flashes of visual inspiration spread throughout its running time, including
colourful filters and multiple layers, but these alone do not make up for a
story that makes no sense whatsoever. At one point Cornelius finds himself in a
nightclub which is built like a giant pinball machine, complete with
scantily-clad go-go dancers in giant hamster balls. It's colourful and exciting,
and you can almost imagine this film taking place in the same Britain as A
Clockwork Orange (1971).
Fuest is probably best known for directing the Vincent Price camp comedy-horror
classics The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again
(1972), films with plenty of visual style to compensate for the slightly flimsy
plots, themselves a derivation from the much-imitated Agatha Christie story And
Then There Were None (also known as Ten Little Indians). The film is
based on a much-respected science fiction novel by prolific author Michael
Moorcock. He has not been particularly complimentary about the film in the
past, and neither have ardent fans of the book, who have complained that too
much was removed from the story. This may help explain why the film makes no
sense, with Jerry moving from unusual experience to unusual experience for no
reason. It is a movie that is less than the sum of its parts, which is a pity
as individual parts are intriguing and entertaining, and suggest that there could
have been something very special here. Instead it is like trying to watch a
film through the fog of a room full of stoners. Originally an X certificate in
the UK, the film is now rated 15 for the occasional swearing, drug-taking and
nudity, all very much of its time.
is a film which has been greatly anticipated on UK DVD, and it is a pity that
Network did not take the opportunity to create materials that may help the
audience to put the film in some sort of context. Sadly both Robert Fuest and
Jon Finch died last year, too late to have their final reflections on the film
recorded. Michael Moorcock is still around but would not necessarily want to
contribute, but some kind of short documentary or commentary track from a
historian would definitely help if you are new to the film. As it is you get a
couple of trailers and the choice to watch the opening titles in Italian. Not
exactly mind-blowing extras, which are precisely what this DVD release needs.
Martine Beswick (One Million Years B.C., Slave Girls and Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde), Caroline Munro (Captain Kronos and Dracula A.D.72), Kate O'Mara (Horror of Frankenstein and The Vampire Lovers) and Maddie Smith (Vampire Lovers and Frankenstein and the and Monster from Hell). (Photo: copyright Mark Mawston, all rights reserved.)
9th November 2013
by Adrian Smith
Saturday in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, amidst the power-hungry elite of
Whitehall and Downing Street, gathered an even more sinister and corrupting
influence. Darth Vader rubbed shoulders with evil twins, corrupted children,
vampires, zombies and even Jack the Ripper. Overseeing this evil conclave were
directors whose films were so depraved that sometimes sick bags were supplied
to the audience.
film buffs were of course overjoyed at the fantastic selection of stars at this
Hammer and Horror Film event. Representing the Bond girls were Caroline Munro,
Caron Gardner, Martine Beswick and Madeline Smith. They were alongside horror
queens Barbara Shelley, Kate O'Mara, Judy Matheson, Janina Faye and Emily
Booth. Barbara Shelley sat with some of the alien children from her classic
British sci-fi Village of the Damned, Teri and Lesley Scoble and Martin
Stephens (also star of The Innocents). David Warner (Tron), Dave Prowse (Star Wars) and John Carson (Plague
of the Zombies) were all very friendly and accommodating of the multitude
of demanding fans, and writer-directors Michael Armstong (Mark of the Devil),
Norman J. Warren (Satan's Slave) and Brian Clemens (The Avengers)
were also there discussing their work and meeting old friends.
Kate O'Mara, Dave Prowse (Horror of Frankenstein) and Madeline Smith. (Photo: copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.)
focus of the day was the recent restoration of Hammer's Twins of Evil. To
celebrate the director John Hough met up with Damien Thomas, who played Count
Karnstein, Judy Matheson, burnt at the stake by Peter Cushing, and good twin
Mary Collinson, who had travelled to the event from Milan. Sir Christopher
Frayling, one of the UK’s leading authorities on vampire fiction, lead the
onstage discussion. He provided a fascinating history of the Karnstein story
from its origins in the work of Sheridan Le Fanu to Hammer’s lesbian vampire
trilogy. They all clearly enjoyed the reunion, and Hough did his best to
convince the audience that the Collinson girls' voices were not dubbed, despite
what all the film history books say. Mary explained that they both received
elocution lessons, as neither of them were trained actors. Twins of Evil was
to be their last film, released when they were only nineteen, and they returned
guests were also interviewed throughout the day. Brian Clemens, Caroline Munro
and John Carson got together to discuss the magnificent Captain Kronos:
Vampire Hunter, agreed by one and all to be the last good film Hammer made
in the 1970s. Norman J. Warren described the difficulties of making Satan's
Slave with money raised by your producer re-mortgaging his house. They had
such small funds that star Michael Gough had to supply his own wardrobe and
sleep on a friend's sofa for three weeks, all for the grand sum of £300.
Warner was especially mischievous during his interview, reacting with horror
every time a clip was shown from his extensive back-catalogue (including Tom
Jones, The Omen, Time
After Time and Star Trek). He had the room in gales of
laughter and explained that as an actor without any ambition he is very happy
to have never been a star, something that many in the room disagreed with.
Cinema Retro columnist Adrian Smith with Mary Collinson (Twins of Evil).
(Photo: copyright Mark Mawston. All rights reserved).
makes one of these conventions so enjoyable is that alongside the guests are
dozens of stalls weighed down with rare DVDs, obscure film posters, original
James Bond toys, vinyl, novelisations; virtually every kind of film memorabilia
and ephemera that you can think of (and many you can't) from all over the
world. From Thai Evil Dead posters to original Hammer Quads it was a
collectors dream, even though you may also need to re-mortgage your home
yourself in order to pay for everything you want. Cinema Retro came home laden with
press books, lobby cards, old magazines, books and rare Spanish 1960s superhero
movies, and could easily have gone around the hall several more times.
Lesleh Donaldson with Cinema Retro columnist Todd Garbarini.
By Todd Garbarini
Richard Ciupka’s unfairly maligned 1983
horror film Curtains was screened
recently as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies 7 exhibition that also included screenings of Lucky
McKee’s new film All Cheerleaders Die,
Michele Soavi’s highly regarded Cemetery
Man (1994), Eli Roth’s new film The
Green Inferno, John D. Hancock’s ultra creepy Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), the New York premiere of Clive
Barker’s 1990 film Nightbreed - the Cabal
Cut, and Peter Carter’s brilliant Rituals
(1977), better known as The Creeper,
which stars Hal Holbrook and Lawrence Dane in a film that is clearly influenced
by John Boorman’s Deliverance (1971) but
easily stands on its own as a strong piece of independent filmmaking.
Appearing in person at the Curtains screening was actress Lesleh
Donaldson who played Christie Burns, the ice skater in the film. Ms. Donaldson, who made her film debut as
Michael Douglas’ teenage daughter in Steven H. Stern’s 1979 film Running, introduced the film and spoke
at length following the screening with a question-and-answer session. Also at the screening were longtime Curtains aficionados Bryan Norton (he
teaches filmmaking at the New York Film Academy and is the director of Penny Dreadful with Betsy Palmer and Jack Attack with Helen Rogers), actor
Joe Zaso, film directors Bart Mastronardi, Alan Rowe Kelly, Howard Simon, and
yours truly representing Cinema Retro.
Exhibited from a rare 35mm print, Curtains is one of the most under-appreciated
thrillers of the early 1980s. The Canadian production went before the cameras
in November of 1980 and was beset by a multitude of problems which stretched
over several years and included but were not limited to: creative differences
between director Ciupka and the film’s producer, the late Peter R. Simpson, who
directed much of the film; a last-minute change in casting of one of the
supporting characters; and issues of money for the budget. This
tale of director Jonathan Stryker (played by the late John Vernon) and his
desire to bring the story of a woman, Audra, to the screen also features
veteran actress Samantha Eggar as actress Samantha Sherwood having herself
committed to a sanitarium to study mentally disturbed individuals only to find
that Stryker, for reasons never explained, has secretly decided to leave her
there and recast the film by auditioning other actresses at his house. Once she gets out, all hell breaks loose…
“Richard and Peter did not get along
and they both had their own views of what this movie was going to be about,” Ms.
Donaldson said after the screening. “Richard
(Ciupka) was a cinematographer who had a very artistic view of what the film
should look like. On the other hand, Peter Simpson, having done Prom Night prior to this, knew what
worked. He just wanted your typical slasher movie. So, they were constantly
battling and eventually Richard just left the project. They cast Celine Lomez in the Linda Thorson
role (of Brooke Parsons) originally. I
am not sure what happened, if she got another role or whatever, but she left.” When asked if she still has her fake head
that appears in a toilet during a gruesome discovery, she admits that it was an
artificial makeshift toilet and they used her real head for the scene. “The dinner scene and the bedroom scenes were
all done by Richard,” Ms. Donaldson continued. “The ice skating rink scene and the chase through the prop house, that
was all Peter. The other actresses and
myself, we all got along fine. There were no fights of any sort. I liked all of the women, they were all really
great. I didn't get to know Samantha Eggar very much but to be honest I think
she kept herself away from everybody because that’s what the character called
for. I became really good friends with
Lynne Griffin (who played Patti O’Connor and also starred in Bob Clark’s Black Christmas) and she was very
excited that they were screening the movie tonight. She couldn’t be here, unfortunately, but she
really wanted to. Anne Ditchburn was
also a very good friend as well. I did
actually practice a skating routine and she helped me. I didn’t actually get to
do my routine because I had practiced
skating in an arena. When it came time to shoot my ice-skating scene in the
movie, I literally took one glide out on to the icy pond and hit a bump. I fell face-first on to the ice. Looking at it on the big screen I can see the
cut on my chin. Of course, I did it
right behind Peter and Gerry Arbeid (production manager)! Gerry turned to Peter and said, ‘Didn’t we
pay for her training?’ So, they had to
use a double for my ice skating.”
Ms. Donaldson was nominated for a Genie
Award for her performance in the 1980 horror film Funeral Home but lost out to Margot Kidder in Donald Shebib’s Heartaches (1981). Her other horror film outings include Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and Deadly Eyes (1982).
Released on VHS in 1983 and on DVD in
2007, Curtains is currently
undergoing a long overdue digital film restoration from an interpositive under
the auspices of Don May, Jr.’s company Synapse Films with a Blu-ray scheduled
for release in 2014.
Does the world really need another documentary
about George A. Romero’s watershed 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead? After
having watched a new documentary directed by Rob Kuhns called Birth of the Living Dead, the answer is
a resounding “Yes!” Horror films have
arguably never been more popular than they are now. The Internet and compact
digital devices such as iPads and cell phones have permitted people who
normally would not be able to afford the type of equipment necessary to make a
film the ability to do so. Consequently,
“found footage” films and zombie epics like 28
Days Later (2002) prosper. Digital
video and the explosion of computers and digital editing capability have become
a filmmaker's best friend. This is a far cry from the conditions under which
Mr. Romero and company made Night.
What Birth of the Living Dead does so well is pinpoint that exact moment
in history, in this case October 1968, when Mr. Romero’s seminal film was
unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Prior to this, Mr. Romero, who was born
in the Bronx prior to moving to Pittsburgh, cut his teeth five years earlier by
creating a company called the Latent Image and produced hundreds, if not
thousands, of commercials. Sir Ridley
Scott similarly produced some 3000 commercials prior to his film debut, 1977’s The
Duelists. Mr. Romero comically
mentions having shot footage for Mister
Rogers’ Neighborhood and maintains even that wound up being frightening!
There are many ways in which film can
be ruined and when shooting on celluloid, invariably footage can end up over or
under exposed. In the case of some of
the commercials that Mr. Romero worked on, a lot of blood, sweat and tears went
into shooting footage that would end up plagued by mistakes made in the lab.
This is simply a fact of life and similar problems of shooting digitally are
rife with issues that plague filmmakers even today. USB devices get lost, hard
drives crash, digital videotape is accidentally erased, etc. Mr. Romero has seen it all.
The average filmgoer probably believes
that Night was Mr. Romero’s very
first film. While this is true in terms of having a film released, he actually
attempted to make an Ingmar Bergman-like drama prior to it. With money obtained
and saved through making commercials, he purchased a 35mm Arriflex film camera
and began work on a film entitled Whine
of the Fawn, sort of a variation on Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (which, ironically enough, influenced Wes Craven’s
notorious Last House on the Left in
1972). The film proved to be difficult to make and seemed pretentious and was
mercifully abandoned. While reading the novel I Am Legend by famed author Richard Matheson, Mr. Romero wrote his
own story and screenplay about a zombie outbreak. It went before the cameras
under the title of Night of the Flesh
Eaters. This was 1967, the era of
Vietnam, racism, civil rights movements, anger, and rioting. The country was
exploding as a result of class differences and racial injustice. Mr. Romero’s film was seminal
in that there was a new revolution at hand: the dead were coming back to life en masse. Rechristening the Latent Image as Image Ten, Night of the Flesh Eaters became Night of the Living Dead - without a
copyright trademark which was left off due to an oversight, resulting in
unknown amounts of money lost as the film became public domain. Mr. Romero shot and edited the film himself. The budget was so small that the cast and crew of Night pulled double duty behind and in front of the camera. This
film is really the very definition of a team effort and at this time
independent cinema was fairly new. In New York Martin Scorsese was just starting out; in Toronto,
David Cronenberg was shooting his short films Transfer and From the Drain;
John Carpenter was in film school at the University of Southern California; Wes
Craven was teaching and trying to get his film career off the ground; Dario
Argento was writing film criticism for a newspaper in Rome and preparing to shoot
his first movie. It was an exciting era.
It is hard for contemporary audiences
to imagine what it must have been like to see a film like Night in 1968. Birth gives us a graphic insight to
those troubled times. Mr. Romero admits
in Birth that most people on the crew
didn’t even believe that the film would get finished. Birth offers the opinions of a whole host of people in the industry
about their experiences having seen Night.
One of them is Gale Anne Hurd, the
producer of The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss, and who is now an executive producer on AMC’s extremely
popular and successful series The Walking
Dead. It is amazing to see that 45
years after the release of Night, it
is obvious that Mr. Romero is responsible for the zombie genre.
Birth also very carefully examines the
casting of the late African American actor Duane Jones as Ben, the hero of the
film. Most people thought that Mr.
Romero was making a statement about white and black relations by casting Mr.
Jones. The truth is, he was the best person to audition for the role. Just
as simple as that. There is no mention in Night
nor is there any sort of reference to Ben’s color. It's basically a non-issue.
It is also interesting to point out
that film criticism at the time wholeheartedly embraced Night. Many well-regarded
publications such as Positif analyzed
the film under a microscope and interpreted it from the standpoint of serious
film theory. This gave the movie an air of prestige never imagined.
Overall, this is an excellent and
insightful look at the effect that this low-budget American film had on the motion picture industry. Even if you are not a fan
of horror or of Night, I would
recommend that you see it to appreciate and be familiar with Night’s cultural significance. An excellent companion piece to this film is
Ben Harvey’s BFI Film Classics book on Night
which can be purchased here from Amazon.com.
of the Living Dead
begins its theatrical engagement at New York’s Independent Film Center (IFC) at
323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street on November 6, 2013. Fitting, as the IFC is the former Waverly
Theater where Night premiered in 1968.
the 1980s and 1990s I became disillusioned with television shows in general. Most of the series airing at the time seemed
derivative and predictable with little regard for the audience and more for the
commercial breaks. All of that changed
in 2001 when I began watching HBO’s The
Sopranos on a free HBO weekend, the first show that I can confess to binge-viewing
(the act of watching numerous episodes back to back with no break) and easily
the best television series that I have seen thus far. What was remarkable about it was the ability
of the writers to take their time and develop not only characters but
significant plot points, all without the annoying constraints of network
television and the need to get to the next conflict. This is not to infer that network television
is completely without merit as that
would be a gross and unfair oversimplification. Fox Network's 24, a show that
I initially was at first reluctant to watch, sucked me in when its first season
debuted on DVD. I have never been so
addicted to a storyline before and could not wait for the next episode and then
the next season. I have watched all eight
seasons at least three times.
Fox network has a sister network, Fox Extended or FX for short, and like most
other cable networks it has its fair share of exclusive programming (and
commercials, sigh), a maneuver that
appears to be the norm for networks if they are to survive. Even Netflix has learned this with their highly
acclaimed series House of Cards. FX’s most successful show, Sons of Anarchy, is now airing its
penultimate and sixth season. The series
has been heavily criticized for its use of brutality and profane language, though
I’m not sure that a motorcycle gang would speak any other way (as of this
writing you cannot drop “F” bombs, at least not yet, on this network). Despite
these complaints, however, SOA, as it
is known to its most zealous adherents, remains a rich dissection of the human
condition and how people deal with problems and try to solve them. They aren’t necessarily people you would want
to live next door to, but nefarious characters are infinitely more interesting than
real life. For one thing, they make us
think about how we would act if we found ourselves in their circumstances. In Breaking
Bad, Vince Gilligan's brilliant AMC series about high school science
teacher Walter White (played stupendously by Bryan Cranston) who becomes a manufacturer
of methamphetamine after he is diagnosed with lung cancer, people who normally
otherwise would not resort to violence or murder end up making those choices
when pushed to the brink and see no other options. In SOA,
murder seems to be a way of life and there is the Shakespearean element at work,
though it is covert; critics have cited Hamlet
as an obvious influence. Each season of
the show consists of 13 episodes, and season five is now newly available on DVD
the fictional town of Charming, CA, the Teller-Morrow family heads up the
original and founding chapter of the Sons of Anarchy Motorycle Club, Redwood
Original (aka SAMCRO for short). At the
end of season four, Jackson Teller (Charlie Hunnam) has become the president of
the club, with his future wife Tara (Maggie Siff) at his side. Season five opens with the introduction of
the father of a young woman accidentally killed by the recklessness of Tig (Kim
Coates), one of the Sons’s members. Unfortunately for Tig, his victim’s father is a drug lord and the most
dangerous gangster in Oakland, CA, who catches up with Tig and enacts the old “an
eye for an eye” principle against one of Tig’s two daughters in one of the most
harrowing and upsetting sequences in the show’s history. This action propels forward a plotline that
ends up with Clay (former president of SAMCRO, played by Ron Perlman) in jail
for a murder he didn’t commit in the final episode. Along the way, a major character dies in a
brutal way, and the show follows the axiom that no one is safe when it comes to
violent storylines. Jackson constantly
has to make difficult choices for the sake of his family and the club he
presides over while trying to placate his vice president Bobby (Mark Boone
Junior). In some ways, he is like 24’s Jack Bauer as he is sucked into
danger and has to use his wits to extricate himself and his club members. More often than not he is trying to convince his
mother and Tara that things are going to be different and that everything will
be all right; though noble, it doesn’t appear to be realistic.
and executive producer Kurt Sutter, who pulls double duty playing “Big Otto”
Delaney, has amassed a phenomenal cast. The performances are universally
excellent. My personal favorite is Mr.
Sutter’s real-life wife, Katey Sagal, who won a well-deserved Golden Globe Award
in 2011 for her brilliant portrayal of Gemma, Jackson’s mom. I always liked Mrs. Sagal as Peg on Married…with Children, and her banter
with Ed O'Neill, her slovenly husband Al. I never would have thought of her as a choice to play a character like
Gemma, however she has blown me away with the depth of her characterization of
this woman who will stop at nothing to keep her family intact.
Blu-ray looks absolutely gorgeous in high definition and the sound is crystal
clear. If you pump it through a stereo,
be prepared to mistake some of the sound effects for real-life sounds: several
times I thought my phone was ringing–
and my phone vibrates, I don’t even use a ringtone!
are also some nice extras to go around. Some of the episodes have some extended
scenes. There are also deleted scenes
and a few commentaries on select episodes. The best feature, in my humble opinion, is the ability to run the
episodes continuously without having to go to the main menu and select the next
one if you decide to watch more than one in a row. It actually encourages binge viewing!
winning release for fans of this terrific show.
Julian Richards’s Shiver opens at a Cadillac Jack’s diner in Sunland, CA (in reality,
location is part
of a movie set that includes an adjacent Pink Motel situated at 9457
San Fernando Road in Sun Valley, CA) amid electrical towers and pylons. A nerdish middle-aged man named Franklin Rood,
played expertly by Aussie John Jarratt whom genre fans will remember from 2005’s
stomach-turning Wolf Creek and its
forthcoming sequel, stumbles nervously to the counter and cannot help but
notice the waitress, Kathy (Nikita Sesco), who is clearly half his age. He fantasizes about having his way with her
and shortly storms out after she quickly declines his offer to take her to a
movie. His adolescent-minded feelings
are shattered, and he doles out a head bashing in the parking lot after she
locks up the diner for the night, leaving her dead.
Twelve years later in Portland, Oregon,
the city is on edge due to a serial killer being on the loose. Wendy Alden (scream
queen Danielle Harris) is pestered by her mother (Valerie Harper) to ask her
boss for a raise since she can no longer help support her daughter. He friend Jeffrey (Shane Applegate) has more
than a platonic interest in her and she doesn’t exactly push him away, either. It would be foolish of her to, considering someone
is out there murdering young women. When
Jeffrey takes the initially reluctant Wendy out to dinner and offers that she
stay with him that night, she attempts to assure him that she will be fine. Any
seasoned horror film fan will know right away that she is about to receive a visit
from lunatic Franklin. When Franklin
arrives in her home and surprises her, he reconsiders killing Wendy as she
begins to behave in a way that he is not used to. She evinces a disposition
that is different from all of the young women he has killed up to this point.
Like most serial killers, Franklin suffered bullying and humiliation during his
childhood and blames others for his failures. But Wendy seems different to him, and through
his own delusional method of thinking, he believes that he can persuade her to
love him. The rest of the film consists
of the police and their failure to adequately protect Wendy (it features two of
the dumbest police officers in recent movie memory, who are both mercifully offed
by Franklin within a minute of each other; Casper Van Diem (from Starship Troopers) is the lead detective
and Rae Dawn Chong appears as his partner, though she is given very little to
do). In the midst of Wendy’s attempts to
escape Franklin’s clutches he hatches a hair-brained scheme to get her to play
house with him.
While I would not consider the film to
be anywhere near as suspenseful as the ads would lead you to believe, it is always
interesting, though were it not for the central performance by Mr. Jarratt as
Franklin, it would have been no different than the recent horror outings such
as Choose (2010) and ATM (2012). Shiver is a step above these films and keeps you focused until the
final frame. There are moments that make
you want to scream and reach through the screen to choke the characters in
frustration over their actions, but for the most part the film succeeds in its
quest to entertain. It does require a
suspension of disbelief to succeed. Mr.
Jarratt has a unique ability to play unrepentant psychopaths. His turn as Mick Taylor in Greg McClean’s
aforementioned Wolf Creek brought to
life one of the most frightening and vicious psychos that the cinema has seen
in quite some time. Here he is also
mean, but for different reasons. In Wolf Creek, he seemed bent on inflicting
pain on others for his own pleasure. Here, his Franklin is a rejected and unhappy soul trying to connect with
someone and goes about it in a terrible and bizarre fashion. Valerie Harper gives a feisty performance as Wendy’s
mother, although she only appears in two scenes. I almost see her as a divorced Karen Hollis
from Blame It on Rio (1984) some 30
years later, nagging her daughter. Danielle
Harris is also quite good and proves a great nemesis for Franklin. The score is by Richard Band, brother of
Charles Band and veteran of over 80 films. At times, the music is oddly reminiscent of Philip Glass’s score to Errol
Morris’s The Thin Blue Line (1989),
but it is effective for the most part. The
location filming in Portland, Oregon is a nice change of pace and showcases Southeast
Milwaukee Avenue, home to Franklin’s day job as a jeweler and the common denominator
between all of his victims that the detectives notice and set them on his trail. The Moreland Theatre several doors down reads
simply Harry Potter, as though they
didn’t receive permission from Warner Brothers to put a full title on it.
The DVD itself is bare-bones and
contains trailers for Aberration and The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh.
I would have liked some interviews and a commentary with Ms. Harris who
is always so fun and bubbly when talking about her career and the onscreen
action. All in all, definitely worth
seeing for Mr. Jarratt and Ms. Harris completists.
"A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT: A LOST CASSAVETES CLASSIC"
Cinema Retro columnist Dean Brierly examines a buried treasure from the early career of John Cassavetes
Too Late Blues (1962) Directed by: John Cassavetes Written by: Richard Carr, John Cassavetes Starring: Bobby Darin, Stella Stevens, Everett Chambers
Fade In There are lost films and then there are films so far gone it’s as if they never existed. At best, they make stealth appearances on late-night TV about as often as sightings of Halley’s Comet. Too Late Blues is such a film. This celluloid bastard child was born from the unlikely coupling of Paramount Pictures (i.e., the Hollywood establishment) and the anti-Hollywood actor/writer/director John Cassavetes. Yet while both parents swiftly disowned their jointly produced offspring, the film has tenaciously clung to a marginal life in the shadows of film history.
Nearly without exception, critics savaged Too Late Blues upon its release, labeling it mawkish, overwrought and ridiculous. At times, it is all of these things, yet its stylistic daring and the emotional depth charges set off by its lead actors transcend the film’s limitations. Indeed, its very awkwardness serves to underscore the instability of its ambitious yet emotionally stunted characters. The few souls lucky enough to have witnessed the minor miracle that is Too Late Blues find that it lodges in the memory with the persistence of a jilted lover.
(The following review pertains to the UK-Region 2 DVD release)
This film is a true oddity, and one
that will most likely escaped the attention of even the most avid Orson Welles
fans. Three Cases of Murder is an anthology film featuring three short
stories, each by a different director, linked by British television personality
Eamon Andrews, who appears to have just got home from a night at the theatre.
The only loose connection is that each is about, well, murder, and each segment
also features Alan Badel. a British character actor who was better known at the
time for his theatre work, but is superb here.
"The Picture" is set in an
art gallery, where the glass over a painting has been mysteriously smashed, and
several items have been stolen. Despite these nefarious goings on no culprit
has ever been caught. The museum tour guide meets an oddly dressed gentleman
(Badel) who engages him in conversation about this painting, a large portrait
of a gothic, fog-enshrouded manor house. Before he knows quite what has
happened to him, our tour guide finds himself actually inside the house itself.
This strange man reveals himself to have been the artist who painted the
picture. He had died before it was completed. It transpires that all the
pictures in the gallery act as a form of afterlife limbo, where the dead are
forced to live inside the paintings, stealing whatever they can from the
gallery. Also living in the house are a sinister, attractive young woman and a
truculent old taxidermist, obsessed with collecting butterflies.
This first story is by far the best of
the bunch, and plays out like a missing Twilight Zone episode, with its
stark lighting, fantastical story, weird camera angles and sickening twist
ending. Of particular interest is that
this segment was directed by Wendy Toye, who was that most rarest of people: a
female director in the 1950s British film industry. She had begun her career as
a dancer and actress, before moving into theatre and then film direction. At that
time there was only one other female director in the country, Muriel Box,
showing just what a difficult industry it was for women to rise beyond the
traditional production jobs on offer; script girl, wardrobe or makeup. The fact
that "The Picture" is the best, most inventive part of Three Cases
of Murder is testament to what a great talent she had, a talent that was
greatly underused in British cinema.
The second story, "You Killed
Elizabeth", is a mini-Hitchcock thriller regarding two best friends who
fall out over a girl. Murder and drink-fuelled amnesia lead to another surprise
twist where we learn the true cost of betrayal. Compared to the inventiveness
of the first segment, this story comes across a little flat. It was directed by
David Eady, his first contribution to a feature film. He went on to have a
minor directing career in British television and B pictures.
The final story is "Lord
Mountdrago", and casts Orson Welles as a pompous foreign secretary in the
old boys network of British politics. Although the story was directed by George
More O'Ferrall, who had a long career in television, it is claimed Welles
himself took over most of the directing. This is only a rumour, but it is not
hard to believe given his reputation.
Welles plays the titular Lord
Mountdrago, who after publicly humiliating a rival politician (Alan Badel
again) begins to suffer from nightmares, where he is himself repeatedly
humiliated by this same politician. After receiving psychiatric counselling he
refuses to acknowledge that a simple apology to the man he had wronged would
solve the problem. Instead he begins to believe that murder is the only way to
restore his sanity.
This story shares a similar Twilight
Zone feel to "The Picture", but is largely played for laughs. Welles,
who was appearing here whilst working in theatre, throws himself into the role
with gusto, unafraid of making Lord Mountdrago look increasingly ridiculous,
including an appearance at a party where he has forgotten to put on his
Three Cases of Murder is an odd little film, but is
certainly worth revisiting in this new release. It deserves to be given some
attention, and serves a reminder of just how creative even low budget B films
could be. This DVD from Odeon Entertainment includes a booklet which mostly
focuses on Orson Welles. The most significant extra is the inclusion of the
short film Return to Glennascaul, an Irish ghost story also featuring
Welles which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953. It is a creepy warning
on the perils of picking up hitchhikers, and is worth the purchase of this DVD
You can order Three Cases of Muder from Odeon
Entertainment by clicking here
Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) is a shy,
introverted teenager who is transferred to Indian Hills High School in Calabasas,
CA because he played hooky too many times at his previous school and needs to
be set on the straight and narrow. After
shuffling awkwardly from class to class, he becomes friends with Rebecca Ahn
(Katie Chang), a peer who dresses well, pays him attention, and is obsessed
with celebrities and who loves to party. When they aren't in school, Marc accompanies
Rebecca as she looks through unlocked vehicles for cash and anything valuable that
she can resell. Mark later happens to mention in passing that a friend of his
is currently out of town; naturally, he and Rebecca gain entrance to the friend’s
house and search through the belongings. Mark is visibly nervous and wants to leave.
Rebecca pilfers the keys to a Porsche and they go joyriding.Her attitude towards this behavior is
troubling in the carefree and apathetic way that she conducts herself.She seems to have absolutely no problem
taking other people’s property, even in broad daylight, and using it for how
own amusement and gain.Rebecca begins
to get restless and more daring, and while she and her friends are out
socializing at a famous club also attended by Paris Hilton and Kirsten Dunst, she
gets the idea to rob Ms. Hilton's home. Using all social media and mapping
websites to her advantage, she locates the real home addresses of her favorite
celebrities and, with Marc and several friends in tow (one of whom is Nicki,
played by Emma Watson), goes on a massive five-finger discount that includes
purses, expensive shoes, jewelry, Rolex watches, and thousands of dollars in
cash.What is all the more amazing is
that despite Marc’s hesitance and obvious reluctance, no one even thinks for a
minute that they are being watched by closed-circuit security cameras.
If this story sounds familiar, it
should. Based upon Nancy Jo Sales’s article The
Suspects Wore Louboutins
that was published in the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, The
Bling Ring (2013) is director Sophia Coppola’s fifth feature film (a made-for-Lifetime movie of the same name and about the same subject aired in 2011). Loosely based upon the true story of a pack
of young celebrity gawkers who go to extreme lengths to emulate the style and
fashion sense of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Miranda Kerr and anybody else
they deem worthy of adulation and emulation was highly publicized some years
back. As depicted in the film, these
young adults don't appear to be inherently bad
people. They are simply caught up in the
excitement of the 24-hour a day, seven-day-a-week celebrity reporting that is
constantly aflutter on the Internet; they give in to their temptation to break
the law. Why they do what they do is not so apparent. They seem to want to be famous, just like the
people they look up to. Several of them foolishly take photos of themselves at
the scenes of the crimes and post them on their walls on their Facebook pages. It never occurs to them that what they are
doing is wrong. They all seem to have the idea that the people’s houses they are
burglarizing are so rich that they won’t even notice that most of these lavish
items are missing. By the end film,
however, the house of cards comes crashing down when the police get involved and
they are all arrested and given prison sentences.
ways, The Bling Ring is the flip side
of Mrs. Coppola’s previous film, 2010’s Somewhere,
which was an introspective look at the life of a very famous actor miserable in
his existence of fame and fortune. Somewhere, and 2003’s Lost in Translation, both were eloquent studies
in loneliness (the former in one’s own surroundings and the latter in a foreign
environment) and a case can be made for Marc in The Bling Ring. He’s a
teenager who feels like an outcast; he’s a nobody
desperately trying to be a somebody.
Coppola imbues the film with humor, too. The character of Nicki and her home life is not a fabrication. She is based upon Alexis Neiers, a young
model and actress wannabe who was the subject of the “reality” series Pretty Wild, which lasted nine episodes
and depicted her home life and relationship with her sisters and mother. Alexis’s
mom, one-time Playboy model Andrea Arlington, does her best under the
circumstances trying to raise these young women, however she seems to rely on
Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret a little
too much in scenes that induce interior smiles. Her mom During the course
of filming the show, Alexis was arrested for her participation in the
Coppola continues to bifurcate audiences into the love it or hate it
camps. Unlike Somewhere (my vote for her best film so far), which illustrates the
director’s love of Michelangelo Antonioni’s work, The Bling Ring is a far more audience-friendly film.
The extras, all in high definition, on
the disc contain:
The Bling Ring: On Set with Sofia, the Cast and Crew featurette (22:51) is exactly what the
title entails. The filmmakers talk about
how the project came about (Mrs. Coppola read the Vanity Fair article on a plane and assumed that it was already
optioned for a film), how the film was cast (the ringleader was the most
difficult to cast), and some of the actors weigh in with their views of the
the Real Bling Ring (23:46)
is a very interesting featurette that discusses the actual case and the real
names of those involved in the 2008/2009 events.
of the Crime with Paris Hilton
(10:37) Ms. Hilton gives us a tour of her house where the film was shot and
bemoans the fact that most of her stolen jewelry consisted of irreplaceable pieces
handed down throughout the years in her family. A humorous bit includes a mini tour of her mini doghouse for her seven
The theatrical trailer is also included
and runs just shy of two minutes.
My only complaint is the lack of an
audio commentary, something that Mrs. Coppola perhaps does not have an interest
in doing, a trend that I hope she reverses.
Not too long after The Little Mermaid was released on Friday, November 14, 1989,
I saw it at the Guild Theater (aka the Guild 50th) next door to
Radio City Music Hall in New York.It
was a decent-sized theater that showed films from 1938 until 1999 when it was
gutted and replaced with a Nautica store (The
Little Mermaid’s Ariel would have felt at home here), and it is now an Anthropologie
branch for women.Thinking about the
Guild Theater made me miss the single screen showcases of New York such as the
Biograph, the Festival, the Carnegie Hall Cinema, the 8th Street
Playhouse, The Beekman, the Cinema I and Cinema II, and the 68th
Street Playhouse to name a few (the Paris on 57th Street is one of
the few remaining such theaters).They
were decent-size auditoriums and you had a very good chance of seeing something
special there in limited release.
The Little Mermaid is
one such film. It had been years since I
had seen a Disney film exhibited theatrically and, like most of us, had very little
inkling that the studio would be releasing a whole new slate of inspired and financially
successful animated features in the years to come (especially The Lion King, which I originally saw in
the form of an unfinished workprint at the Walter Reade Theater in New York in
early 1994). Originally published as Den lille havfrue (The Little Sea Lady) by Hans Christian Anderson on April 7, 1837 in
Fairy Tales Told for Children, The Little Mermaid tells the story of
Ariel, a sixteen year-old mermaid who, like human females of that age, becomes
restless living under the watchful eye of her father, King Triton, who only has
her best interests at heart. Ariel is cautioned
about humans and sternly told not to mingle with them. Of course, this only compels her to seek them
out. Along with her friends Flounder and Scuttle the Seagull, she surfaces and
sees a handsome man named Prince Eric on a ship that enters a dangerous storm. She is instantly smitten, and saves Eric’s
life, singing to him and disappearing just before he awakens. Having heard her voice, Eric wants to find
Ariel who, in turn, wants to be a part of the human world.
King Triton is suspicious of Ariel and
he drills Sebastian (the most memorable character in the film, though it is up
for debate if he is a crab or a lobster) for information about his daughter’s
sudden change in behavior. When it comes
out that she is in love with a human, her father reacts in rage and loses his
mind. At the urging of two eels (Flotsam
and Jetsam), Ariel goes to see a sea witch named Ursula to find out how she can
be with Eric. Ursula is not out to help
Ariel out of kindness, mind you. She
wants Ariel’s voice, and convinces Ariel to allow her to make her human for
three days in exchange for her voice. The
plan is to get Eric to kiss Ariel before the designated time runs out, or else
she will become a mermaid again and have to answer to Ursula (notions of
Cinderella spring to mind!).
All of this action is set to some truly
enjoyable songs, the most recognizable and popular of which are arguably “Part
of Your World”, “Under the Sea”, and “Kiss the Girl”. It’s hardly a surprise that “Under the Sea”
won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, while the film also won
both awards for Best Original Score. These
are the kinds of songs that are very memorable, even to people who have just
heard them and have not seen the film. Twenty-five
years later, The Little Mermaid is
one of the most well-known of the Walt Disney cartoons, gaining in popularity
among young children thanks in no small part to its availability on home video. New generations of fans who were born years
after the release of the film have sprung up and still dress up as the
characters for Halloween, with Ariel and Sebastian being top favorites.
The new Blu-ray is comprised of an
all-new, digitally restored picture. The
image is a marked improvement over previous versions and just pops off the
screen at you; this is clearly the best the film has looked on home video (I
remember seeing it on VHS and most of the image’s detail was completely lost). While The
Little Mermaid has been available on DVD in 1999 in a movie-only edition
and in 2006 in a 2-disc Platinum Edition with a wealth of extras, those extras
have been ported over to the Blu-ray in a special section called Classic DVD Bonus Features. In addition, the Blu-ray contains brand-new,
exclusive extras shot in high definition and they are comprised of:
Part of Your World
music video featuring Carly Rae Jepsen (3:39)
(10:45), a nice look at some of the many faces who have been working for years
at Disney, such as John Musker and Ron Clements, in addition to more recently
employed animators who were inspired by The
Little Mermaid to follow animation as their career path. This is one featurette I would have liked to
have seen last at least half an hour or more as I love hearing about what
motivates these artists.
Deleted Character - Harold Merman (2:05) is a quick look at a character that was cut from the
film. This segment is presented in sketch
Under the Scene - The Art of Live Action Reference (13:13) is a look at how the animators use real-life
stand-ins who go through the motions of the main characters in the film, and
then draw the movements of the performers to get the nuances of the animated characters. Animators John Musker and Ron Clements spoke
to actress Kathryn Beaumont about her experiences acting out Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Wendy in Peter Pan to get an idea of how to draw
the characters in The Little Mermaid. Ruben Aquino, the directing animator, talks
about the challenges of making moving images into living and breathing
characters that exude emotion. They also
interview the real-life performers who acted out the lead animated roles for
Eric and Ariel in footage shot in 1988.
Howard’s Lecture (16:27)
is a look at the late Howard Ashman and his contribution to the film.
Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland (4:45) smacks a little of self-promotion, but it offers up
an exuberant Jodi Benson taking us through Disney’s New Fantasyland which
showcases many of the later Disney characters.
Crab-e-oke Sing-Along is
a cleverly-titled section that allows you to sing along with a handful of the
film’s best-known songs.
The aforementioned Classic DVD Bonus Features (in standard definition) is here, too
and it includes: deleted scenes; backstage Disney; music and more; an audio
commentary with John Musker, Ron Clements, and composer Alan Menken; Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea; Behind the Ride That Almost Wasn’t; and Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride
Inspired by Disney Imagineers.
This 2-disc diamond edition contains a
standard DVD of the film and a digital copy. The bonus features included are: Part
of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland, classic deleted
scenes, an alternate version of “Fathoms Below,” and a Fight with Ursula/alternate
All in all, this is a great package of
a now classic film, making the upgrade to Blu-ray well worth it. A great idea for Christmas!
film fans tend to have very memorable impressions of when they saw a thriller
that impacted them strongly. On Friday,
May 9, 1980, I watched the John Guillermin
version of King Kong on a rerun on
NBC-TV and eagerly discussed it the following day with my Boy Scout troupe on
our way into New York to visit the United Nations building. Walking through the New York streets was
quite an education in many ways, not the least of which was our journey through
the theater district along 42nd Street. On
the way, we saw movie marquee displays for pornographic movies (yikes!!) and
comedies such as Don Adams’ The Nude Bomb.
the 13th had just opened up the previous day, and a theater displayed lobby
cards depicting images from the film. One of them contained an image of a woman
screaming at a man who had been impaled on a wall with arrows. This was the first time I had seen such a graphic
image and it really made me wonder what the rest of the movie consisted of. I remember being really disturbed by it. It would be another seven years before I
would see Friday the 13th
on a local television station airing and I must admit that I found the film to
be mediocre at best. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), which I had seen five
years earlier, was more my cup of tea. I
found that film to be truly gripping
and tense. Years later I caught up with
the DVD release of Friday the 13th, however,
my reaction was still the same. I
suppose if I had seen the film when I was considerably younger it quite
possibly would have terrified me. One person it did terrify was author David Grove, one of the world’s foremost
authorities on this watershed horror film. He was just nine years-old when he caught a local television airing of
the film. He hasn't been the same since!
On Location in
Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th is the excellent new
book by Mr. Grove which should delight fans of the first in this now (in)famous
horror film franchise. Illustrated with nearly
300 black and white photos and written with the cooperation of people both in
front of and behind the camera, the book is an in-depth look at the making of a
film that made horror fans out of young kids. What is remarkable is that they (like Yours Truly) are still horror film fans to this day. It appears to be a life-long love that
doesn’t waver. If you have read the
excellent behind-the-scenes look at Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) in JAWS: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, this book is the
product of the same labor of love.
well researched, the book takes the reader through the film's humble beginnings
in 1979, from getting the cast and crew together, the script revisions to the
final draft, to the start of filming the day after Labor Day in September. The author draws parallels between the film
and the aforementioned predecessor, Halloween,
and also points out the differences between the two.
bulk of the book takes the reader to the actual physical locations where the
film was shot. As a traveler who loves
to go to the locations where my favorite horror movies were made, I only
discovered roughly five years ago that this film had been shot in my home state
of New Jersey! Yes, the Internet is a
wonderful tool. Armed with screenshots from
the film and directions from Google Maps, a friend of mine and I sought out as
many of the locations that are covered in this book, with the exception of Camp
NoBeBoSco, better known in the film as Camp Crystal Lake. Camp NoBeBoSco, where the bulk of the story
takes place, is actually a Boy Scout camp, and I only got as far as the
entrance. I have read about and heard
from friends that the inhabitants of this camp do not appreciate outsiders
trying to sneak in and have a look around, despite the film’s popularity. You
would think that they would set it up so that people could pay to stay there; I
would think that they would make a killing (pun most definitely intended). Then again, the camp would require an
enormous amount of upkeep as a result of the inevitable visitors who would try
to dismantle and take pieces of the remaining cabins as souvenirs!
makeup effects artist Tom Savini created what remains of Jason Voorhees, the
poor soul who drowned at the hands of distracted camp sitters. He speaks at length of his experiences on the
film. The book also nicely discusses where the cast ended up following the
film’s wrap and subsequent release.
may not be a fan of Friday the 13th,
but I have to acknowledge its place in the history of the horror genre and give
kudos to Mr. Grove for having written such an interesting, in-depth look at the
making of this film. As a result of his
tremendous efforts, I am going to revisit the film with a different point of
view. My appreciation for Friday the 13th and director
Sean Cunningham’s inexorable quest to get it made has grown as a result of this
must-have for Friday the 13th
completists and horror film fans alike.
George A. Romero's Day of the Dead
premiered on Friday, July 19, 1985, it was released in the same fashion that
his Dawn of the Dead was distributed seven
years earlier, which is to say without an MPAA rating.The poster sported the caveat (or allure,
depending on your point of view): “Due to scenes of violence, which may be
considered shocking, no one under 17 admitted.”Widely considered as an independent maverick in the film industry, Mr.
Romero once again decided not to submit his film to the ratings board knowing
full well that they would demand extensive cuts, leaving most of Tom Savini and
Greg Nicotero’s best work on the cutting room floor.One of the major problems with releasing a
film unrated is that the perception is that it is, in fact, a self-imposed
X-rating. An “X” generally means death
at the box office, unless you’re Marlon Brando doing the tango in Paris. Also, most major newspapers refuse to carry
ads for such fare.In addition, the film
opened two weeks after Robert Zemeckis’s wildly successful Back to the Future, which was still doing incredibly well at the
box office.As a horror fan four months
shy of my 17th birthday, I was unable to see it theatrically. Like most of my contemporaries, I caught up
with it on home video some years later. Having already seen Night of the Living Dead (1968) and it’s
(in)famous sequel which takes place in a shopping mall, the aforementioned Dawn, I didn’t know what to expect from Day.
some ways, it’s difficult to accept the fact that Dawn is sandwiched between Night
and Day. Night, which was shot in black and white and tells the story from
the lead character’s point of view by giving the characters information slowly
just as the audience is taking in all of the dreadful occurrences that are
happening to them, can also be viewed as a much more macabre version of an
episode of The Twilight Zone. However, there is a grimness to Night that makes it one of the scariest
movies ever made. Dawn, on the other hand, takes this same scenario of the zombies
out for human flesh and adds a very humorous stance to it. There is even a sequence where a motorcycle
gang throws pies in the faces of the slowly stumbling zombies. Day,
on the other hand, is much more serious in tone and is clearly the most depressing
of the three films. I must admit that at
the time that I saw this film, I never would have guessed that over 20 years
later The Walking Dead, a television
series based upon a graphic novel wherein a select group of strangers band
together against an unnamed contagion outbreak and are forced to fend for
themselves, would go on to become one of television’s most gripping, entertaining,
violent and popular shows. Audiences’s
appetite for this type of horrific material only seems to be on the
loved Day when I first saw it, and it
is my second favorite after the classic Night. Most people choose Dawn as their favorite, however, probably because they saw it when
they weren’t supposed to! Day introduces us to a completely
different set of characters and actors. It begins with a brilliant sequence that jolts the audience out of
complacency and puts them on edge for the rest of the film. Sarah (Lori Cardille), John (Terry
Alexander), McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), and Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.) are part
of an underground army compound in the Florida Everglades trying desperately to
understand how to cure the contagion outbreak. They have limited resources and are being watched by Captain Henry
Rhodes (Joe Pilato, in a performace that Siskel and Ebert labeled as shameless
overacting, but he’s actually really terrific and has some of the most quotable
dialogue in the film) and his lackeys Steele (Gary Howard Klar) and Rickels (Ralph
Marrero). Meanwhile, Dr. Logan (the late
Richard Liberty) is experimenting with live and dead zombies in an effort to understand
them and control them so that they can become obedient. Dr. Fisher (John Amplas) is a scientist who also
attempts to mediate between Dr. Logan and Capt. Rhodes, however communication
between these parties begins to break down and supplies start to slowly run out. Mistakes are made, and Miguel is bitten by a
zombie, leaving Sarah to amputate his arm and burn the wound to inhibit the
spread of infection.
Logan continues his experiments, this time on a restrained zombie named “Bub” whose
child-like behavior suggests that his memory works, at least partially. Sarah is disgusted to find that he is using
body parts as food to reward Bub for correctly performing tasks; she plans to
escape with her loyal confederates but is stopped by Capt. Rhodes who freaks
out and kills Dr. Logan. All hell breaks
loose and chaos ensues, resulting in some truly amazing makeup work by Tom
Savini and Greg Nicotero.
Day of the Dead has been released in
many different formats. The latest is a Blu-ray release this month from the fine
folks at Scream Factory who never cease to amaze me with their tireless efforts
on countless new Blu-rays of old horror favorites. Their transfer of the film in high definition
is the best that Day has ever looked
on home video. If you own the 2003
Divimax two-disc set from Anchor Bay, hold on to it because two of the extras
from that fine set have not been carried over to the Blu-ray: the audio interview
with Richard Liberty and the 39-minute original documentary The Many Days of Day of the Dead.
exclusive and new cover art by artist Nathan Thomas Wilner and a flip-over
cover which has the original one-sheet poster art.
World’s End: The
Legacy of Day of the Dead (85:26), a brand-new high definition documentary that
discusses the making of the film in Pennsylvania. Many of the people involved in the film’s
production are interviewed here.
commentary with George Romero, Tom Savini, Cletus Anderson (production
designer) and Lori Cardille
is ported over from the Anchor Bay disc)
commentary with film director Roger Avary, an admitted fan of the film (this is
ported over from the Anchor Bay disc)
Day of the Dead:
Behind the Scenes
(30:42) – This is Tom Savini’s production footage that details his extensive
makeup effects used during filming in late 1984 (this is ported over from the
Anchor Bay disc, however the beginning is a little different). Shot in standard definition on either VHS,
VHS-C or 8mm video.
(08:12) is ported over from the Anchor Bay disc and was called Gateway Commerce
Center Promo on that edition. It takes
viewers on a tour of the underground location where Day was filmed. Presented in
Underground: The Day
of the Dead Mines
(07:37) – Hosted by Ed Demko of Cult Magazine, this new, high definition look
into the mines where Day was filmed
makes one wonder how the cast and crew fared while shooting. Skip Docchio, a facility tech who worked in
the mines for 32 years, was on hand during shooting and recounts his
memories. Mr. Demko humorously recites
some of the film’s dialogue.
trailers (05:55) – There are four trailers provided here, and several of them
seem like promotional items at film festivals.
Spots (01:35) – There are three spots here, all making a point to emphasize
that the film has not been rated.
Gallery – this consists of behind the scenes shots, locations where the film
was shot, posters/lobby cards (remember when they made those?), and a
miscellaneous section that includes images of past video releases.
disc is highly recommended. It would be
wonderful if Scream Factory could get their hands on Mr. Romero’s Creepshow. I have the Region 2 two-disc special edition DVD
and the documentary is almost as long as the film itself. Creepshow
needs a Blu-ray release and Scream Factory is the company to do it!
Horror:Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen
Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott
can easily be dismissed as being an unsuitable medium for the horror genre,
having to please the moral majority and unable to be as red in tooth and claw
as those horrific offerings on the silver screen. Jowett and Abbott's new book
does its best to prove this argument wrong, demonstrating that in many ways
television has been able to explore the darker recesses of horror in far more
depth than can be done in a single two hour movie. Shows such as The
Twilight Zone and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have embraced the
limitations of the small screen to present some truly chilling, unsettling moments.
Long-running shows like The X-Files were able to have story arcs that
lasted several seasons, building complex characters and even more complicated
and Abbott draw on examples from both American and British television, looking
at the grotesque excesses of comedy shows like The League of Gentlemen
and Psychoville, both of which draw heavily on a tradition of film
horror. We seem to be in something of a golden age of television horror right
now, from the gothic influences evident in Doctor Who to the extreme
violence and gore of Dexter or Hemlock Grove. The authors are
able to identify a recent shift in production practise which has to some extent
fragmented audiences, such as the advent of cable television production in the
States, or internet streaming services like Netflix who now produce original
programming. This means that more shows can be available, but are perhaps seen
by smaller numbers of people.
the tone is a little dry, the book is a fascinating and indepth look at TV horror,
a genre often considered inferior to it's cinematic older sibling in most
writing, and it has been fairly neglected in academic evaluation until now.
Some of the examples here will bring joy to fans of television as well as
chilling reminders of some of the more difficult and nostalgic shows, with Dark
Shadows, Twin Peaks, Stephen King's It, Kingdom Hospital,
The Outer Limits, Boris Karloff's Thriller, Night Gallery,
The Quatermass Experiment and Blood Ties all getting a thorough
books such as this offer the reader two things: an insight into the minds of
the authors, and an attempt to tell us something about the audiences who
consume all this material. Unless it is an encyclopedia, a single investigation
into TV horror is not going to cover everything. As such TV Horror:
Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen could potentially leave
some readers disappointed that their favourite show does not get a mention, but
Jowett and Abbott have covered considerable ground here, proving that the genre
is ready for reassessment. The small screen has offered up some seriously scary
programmes over the last sixty years, putting the forbidden and the frightening
right in your living room as an assault on all that we hold dear. This book
will help to explain why we need it there.
are certain movies that you see on substandard formats such as VHS and you
enjoy the film and think nothing of the technical prowess that went into making
it.When you see that same film given
the proper respect of being telecined, color-corrected from the original camera
negative, properly framed in the original aspect ratio and displayed on a 1080P
monitor/television, the difference is mind-boggling and literally makes you
wonder how you managed to suffer through such mediocre viewings in years past.James Munro’s Street Trash (1987) is a colorful, vile, over-the-top contraption
featuring dirty and reprehensible characters in Brooklyn, NY who dwell in an automobile
graveyard and have fashioned stacks of tires, empty vehicles, and just about
anything else that they can get their hands on into shelter and a way of life.They commit petty crimes, steal from one
another, and in short do anything to ensure their own survival. To what end, it
remains a mystery, however judging from their behavior their miserable
existences are probably more preferable to them than the unknown of what lies
in the great beyond.As the film opens,
a bespectacled local liquor store owner, who looks a lot like the bespectacled
bad guy chasing Louis DeFunes through much of Gerard Oury’s The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob
(1973), finds a case of “Tenafly Viper” (presumably whiskey or bourbon) in his
basement long after the concoction’s expiration date has passed and elects to sell
it in his store for a dollar a bottle.The
results are disastrous for those who consume the poisonous drink as they begin
to slowly turn into defragmented, messy, colorful blobs that would make Rob
Bottin, the effects master on John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), cringe.Fred
(Mick Lackey, who also did special make-up effects on the film) owes money here
and there and will steal from anyone to get it.Bronson (Vic Noto) is an imposing individual who appears to hold sway
over everyone who lives in the junkyard and demands money (probably rent) from
them.Shot in the Greenpoint section of
Brooklyn, NY in 1986 long before gentrification of the neighborhood, the
opening of the film sports a schizophrenic sequence of fast-moving Steadicam
shots of Fred out-witting other bums for money.Names like Vandervoort Avenue, Meserole Avenue, Moultrie Street, Norman
Avenue, and Humbolt Street populate the screen.Fred takes to the steps of the abandoned and graffiti-covered Greenpoint
Hospital Outpatient Department on Maspeth Avenue (now the fully functioning
Greenpoint Renaissance Center), and another bum, Paulie, bemoans the fact that
his son is wasting his life on computers!If only he had a crystal ball…
David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), Street Trash virtually defies
description. That is part of the film’s charm,
if a film like this can possess charm! There
are some wildly hilarious moments, particularly in the opening scenes involving
Fred and flatulence. Another scene
involves a group of squeegee men (people who wash car windshields at red lights
and demand payment under the threat of vandalism). Bronson takes this bit of
intimidation to the extreme by extricating a stereotypically-dressed nerd, with
glasses and bowtie, from his car and throwing him headfirst into the windshield
as his girlfriend screams in horror. Bronson
is unhinged from the get-go and it comes to light that he once fought in
Vietnam. This point is driven home in a sequence
wherein he has a flashback and is attacked by the Vietcong. Bronson no doubt inspired the character of Wynyard,
the drug-addicted frog in Peter Jackson’s hilarious 1989 Muppets send-up Meet the Feebles (years ago, Anchor Bay
promised a deluxe DVD of the Feebles,
however it soon disappeared from their “future” list. It has been no doubt delayed due to Mr.
Jackson’s involvement in getting his Tolkien fantasies shot, but this would be a perfect film for Synapse
to release). Another funny sequence
takes place in a supermarket wherein a panhandler stuffs nearly a quarter of
the store’s inventory down his pants and is offended when the store manager
calls him out on it. The film's
craziest sequence, however, involves the removal of a bum’s private part as
others use it to play a game of catch, tossing it amongst themselves. It looks like it’s paying homage to the
tossed bone in the air in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:
A Space Odyssey (1968). It’s
humorous but it goes on a little too long. One fellow reviewer referred to this film as “the greatest movie Troma never made,” and he’s absolutely right. In fact, Troma has been making so many crazy, off-the-wall parodies of other
movies for nearly four decades that I initially thought that films like Street Trash and Peter Jackson’s wildly
entertaining Bad Taste (1986) were
made by them. The pacing of the film is
a bit off, and it might have worked better as an 80-minute film rather than its
full 101 feature-length running time. The timing of the
film’s release following Larry Cohen’s The
Stuff (1985), about a company that packages industrial waste into the form
of a snack, is either deliberate or entirely coincidental, as that film
concerns people who, after ingesting The Stuff, have awful things happen to
you are a fan of Street Trash, this
new Blu-ray from Don May, Jr.’s excellent Synapse Films is a no-brainer. The
transfer is absolutely gorgeous.
film has been released many times before on VHS and laserdisc (both here and in
Japan). Synapse Films released it in the
US in 2005 as a single DVD disc, then in 2006 as a special edition two-disc set
the following year. It is that set that
is replicated on the single Blu-ray with the following extras:
The Meltdown Memoirs (2:04:00) I love when
DVDs and Blu-rays offer documentaries that are occasionally longer than the feature film that they
are discussing. Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary
on Steve Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is a
case in point. The documentary on Peter
Jackson’s The Frighteners (1995) runs
roughly four hours long, as does the one on the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, Never Sleep Again. The same
is true of the documentary on Rob Zombie's Halloween
(2007) on Blu-ray. While some people may
find this excessive, true diehard fans, including yours truly, love these added
values. The Meltdown Memoirs is no exception. It runs just over two hours
in length and is everything that a film documentary should be: entertaining, informative,
and comprehensive. Just about everybody
who appears in the film can be seen here as well. There is plenty of
behind-the-scenes footage, discussions about the cast and financing the film,
discussions about special effects, illustrations of conceptual art, the
gloriously colorful cinematography and production design, etc. In short, this is just about everything that
you need to know about this movie. The original cut of Street Trash ran nearly three hours (gulp!).
number one with writer/producer Roy Frumkes. It is a real pleasure to listen to Roy as he
discusses many facets about the making of the film. Usually, special editions
offer commentaries as well as interviews which tend to contain the exact same
information just packaged differently. The idea behind this, I assume, is to
give fans who like watching short interviews but do not like to listen to
full-length commentaries the same information, however in truncated form. There is very little repetition in the way of
what is mentioned in the audio commentary on this disc, as opposed to the
documentary. This is really designed with the hardcore fan in mind, the person
who’s going to watch and listen to every extra that the disc boasts.
Audio commentary number two with director James Munro. Director Munro
speaks about this film from a technical standpoint which is helpful to people
who work behind the camera. If you have already watched the two-hour documentary
and listen to Mr. Frumkes, you can probably skip this track and not miss out
too much. However, if you’re a completist, there are interesting anecdotes to
The original Street Trash
16mm short that inspired the feature-length film. This short runs
approximately fifteen minutes in length and is interesting to see in contrast
to the feature-length film.
The original Street Trash
Deleted scenes and outtakes. Seven minutes of short
scenes are featured here in a sequence that is exclusive to the Blu-ray.
Jane Arakawa interview. A nine-minute interview with one of the
actresses from the film that is also exclusive to this Blu-ray.
the plot of Walt Disney’s animated film Oliver
and Company (1988) feels or sounds familiar, it should. It is loosely based upon Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist but this titular character
is not a beggar sent to London. This
time around, he’s a cute little kitten set about the busy streets of New York
City and tries his best to fit in and survive.
He is “befriended” by Dodger, an older dog who is streetwise and gets
Oliver to aid him in scoring food while keeping the goods for himself. Oliver is understandably miffed by this, but
these are the mean streets of New York, after all. He learns a valuable lesson about trusting
others who appear to want to help him. Dodger
is owned by Fagin and is part of a gang comprised of Tito (a Chihuahua), Francis (a Bulldog), Einstein (a Great
Dane), and Rita (a Saluki). Fagin owes
money to Sykes, a loan shark who intimidates him with two Doberman Pinschers to
keep him in line, and is given three days to pay back the money he borrowed (which
he certainly didn’t spend on accoutrements).
In an effort to score some quick cash to help Fagin, Oliver and Tito
attempt to burglarize a limousine, only to be caught by a very young girl,
Jenny Foxworth, and Winston her Butler. Jenny
epitomizes the Disney “lonely child” (think of Penny from “The Rescuers”) and
takes Oliver home. Jenny is the victim
of rich parents who simply don’t have time for, as they are too busy
gallivanting the world. She also has a poodle, Georgette, who truly is a
stuck-up bitch and becomes extremely jealous of Oliver. She wants him out of the house, and is only
too happy to oblige when Dodger and his friends come to “rescue” Oliver who
confesses that he was actually happy living with Penny and the comforts her
home afforded him. Shocked and disappointed at this revelation, Dodger shrugs
off Oliver and tells him to leave. This,
of course, leaves us with Fagin who gets wind of the fact that Oliver was with
a rich family. His wheels begin to turn and he schemes to put out a ransom for
Oliver in an effort to reimburse Sykes. This
sets up a series of misadventures and misunderstandings that culminate in the
usual Disney happy ending.
on Friday, November 18, 1988, Oliver and Company
was met with a lukewarm response. I must
admit to being taken aback by some of the lackluster critical notices towards
this film. A lot have carped of the
predictable nature of the story and that the songs don't measure up to previous
Disney outings. While I will admit that
the style of animation is much different than the Disney masterpieces (the
reputable Nine Old Men who were responsible for the most well-known Disney
cartoons of all-time were by this time retired), this is the first Disney
cartoon to utilize computers for the background animation designs. If the movie seems predictable, it is due to
the fact that it's based upon a well-known piece of literature that has been
read and studied for decades. Besides,
the film is geared towards children who are probably are at an age where they
are completely unfamiliar with the story’s literary origins. It cannot help but feel familiar to adults
and it should not be cast aside due to this fact. Most of the animals are appealing, and there
is a humorous shot early on in the film where familiar dogs from past Disney
cartoons, specifically Lady and the Tramp
(1955), are seen on the streets of New York. Disney enthusiasts will pick this up right
of the characters are nicely drawn. Children will love the interaction between
animals. Georgia is an interesting creation, and her disposition mirrors that
of the female dog in Friz Freleng’s 1942 cartoon Ding Dog Daddy who sarcastically shrugs off a goofy dog who asks
her out, turning her nose up at him and walking off.
film also sports a handful of musical numbers by Billy Joel, Bette Midler, and
Oliver and Company is now available in
a DVD and Blu-ray combo. Needless to say, it looks splendid in high definition. The discs include trailers for the upcoming
DVD and Blu-ray combo of The Little
Mermaid which will be released in October 2013 in addition to an admonition
against the smoking effects of secondhand smoke.
discs are very light on the bonus features and they include:
The Making of Oliver
a vintage featurette that runs 5:31 and is presented in standard definition. It
spends much of its time discussing not only the cast involved in the creation
of the characters and songs (such as Cheech Marin, Billy Joel and Bette Midler),
but also takes a very interesting look at what was then state-of-the-art
computerized animation. This is not animation in the original sense of the
word, but rather using a computer to make changes in perspective within the
confines of animation cells in the film frame. The hardware was very big and
bulky at the time and the software looks extremely archaic to our eyes 25 years
hence, but it got the job done.
Disney's Animated Animals runs 89 seconds in
length and is a quick overview of the anthropomorphized animals that are
featured in the film.
Lend a Paw is an animated short
produced by Disney released theatrically by RKO Radio Pictures on October 3,
1941. It runs 8:08 and is included due to the fact that it is thematically
similar to Oliver and Company.
Puss Café is a Disney cartoon
that was released theatrically on June 9, 1950 and runs 7:11. It concerns similar themes in that Pluto is
up against a group of cats who are attempting to steal food.
discs also include both the television and theatrical trailers.
Cinema Retro welcomes our latest columnist, Ernie Magnotta, who will turn his attention to under-rated cinematic gems and guilty pleasures!
By Ernie Magnotta
“If a movie makes you happy, for whatever
reason, then it’s a good movie.”
There are good
movies and there are bad movies. There are also movies that some people say are
so bad that they're good. I hear that all the time. I've heard it since I was a
kid. I think what they actually mean is that they're not good in the way most
people might normally watch and judge a film; Excellent writing, incredible
acting, masterful direction, etc.
The way I see it,
there's more than one way to enjoy a film. Every movie doesn't have to be a
five-star masterpiece like Gone with the Wind. You do not have to judge a film
the way you would judge a mainstream Hollywood movie and every movie that doesn't
follow the Hollywood style of moviemaking isn't necessarily a bad film.
There are plenty of
films that follow all the rules of proper writing, directing, etc. and are just
awful. And there are just as many inept, low budget B-films that are excruciating
Like I said, there
are many different ways to enjoy a film. You can love a film just for the
nostalgia alone. It can take you back to a simpler, happier time in your life.
You can enjoy it for a certain actor or actors, wacky dialogue, quirky
characters, fun setting, wild plot and, although inept in many ways, the film
could have a certain charm and, most of all, be fun.
With my ongoing
reviews, I’d like to explain why I love these films so much, why they’ve gotten
such a bed rep over the years and, also, to prove my statement that there’s
more than one way to watch a movie.
*******WARNING: REVIEWS CONTAIN
“Put your weight on it! Put your weight on
it! PUT YOUR WEIGHT ON IT!”
These words are instantly recognizable to
anyone who has seen the insanely fun and quite unique1979 Blaxploitation
classic, Disco Godfather. The
entertaining film stars Dolemite himself; legendary comedian/musician Rudy Ray
Moore in the title role of former cop turned super cool DJ, Tucker Williams aka
the Disco Godfather. While happily spinning records at local disco Club
Blueberry Hill, Tucker’s world is turned upside down when he finds out that his
nephew Bucky (Julius J. Carry III), a promising athlete, has almost OD’d on angel
dust aka “The Wack”. Tucker also learns that Bucky isn’t the first person from
the neighborhood to suffer from the evil drug. When Dr. Mathis (Jerry Jones)
takes him on a horrific tour of a local rehab center, Tucker witnesses firsthand
what The Wack can do. It turns out that drug dealer Stinger Ray (James H.
Hawthorne) is pushing the stuff all over town and Tucker ain’t havin’ it.
With the help of the courageous Noel (Carol
Speed), the Godfather sets out to “attack the wack.” Of course, this won’t be
easy because once Stinger Ray finds out, he sends his army of goons out after
Tucker and, before you can say Carl Douglas, everybody starts kung fu fighting.
When the smoke clears, The Godfather not only emerges victorious, but manages
to locate the
angel dust factory as well. Once there, however, he is overpowered and forced
to take the dreaded drug himself. High beyond belief, the completely out of
control Tucker grabs hold of Stinger Ray and begins choking the life out of
him. In an ironic twist, the now rehabilitated Bucky arrives on the scene just in
time to see his beloved godfather, who is having horrifying drug induced visions,
completely freak out.
Prior to becoming a major star in Blaxploitation films, Rudy Ray Moore was a popular comedian known for his hit risque adult humor albums.
The eclectic film, co-written (with Cliff
Roquemore) and directed by J. Robert Wagoner, and produced by Rudy Ray and
Theodore Toney, is a strangely mesmerizing combination of comedy, drama, action
and horror, peppered with disco music and a few dance numbers. (I told you it
was unique.) And it’s not hard to figure out how the title was created. The
disco craze was in full force at the time and Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent
The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II were two of the
most popular films of the 70s. I first saw this movie in the late 80s
under the title Avenging Disco Godfather and
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. I always smile whenever anyone mentions
it or recites one of the many quotable lines (which I’ll be listing shortly);
especially the aforementioned “Put your weight on it.” The film definitely capitalizes on many popular
exploitation elements of the time such as drug use, violence and martial arts,
but it distinguishes itself from other run of the mill exploitation films by
carrying a very positive and important message.
This is a film with an anti-drug message
and you can clearly see that Rudy Ray Moore and the rest of the cast and crew
were genuinely concerned about the junk that was polluting their neighborhoods.
I believe that, amidst all the off-the-wall insanity in this movie, the
filmmakers intentionally included this heartfelt message in the hopes of
inspiring change. In that way, it more meaningful than many of the soulless, multi-million
dollar Hollywood blockbusters we’ve been subjected to over the years. This
movie has heart. Now, having said that, is it a good movie in the classic
filmmaking tradition? Hell no! Many viewers will find it difficult to watch and
that’s totally understandable. Nevertheless, it manages to be thoroughly entertaining.
Most of the credit for this must go to the charismatic Rudy Ray Moore, who had
to use creativity to overcome a shortfall of production funds. In many interviews, Rudy Ray explained how he
had very little to no money to work with and, instead, used his imagination.
The movie is definitely imaginative. In
fact, it’s downright original in spots; especially in the frightening scenes
where we see the goings-on through the eyes of an angel dust user. Even the
more ineptly done aspects of the film (including some unintentionally hilarious
scenes) add to its appeal.
A company called Fast Custom Shirts has immortalized the film on a T shirt. Click here to order.
always say that there’s more than one way to watch and enjoy a movie and that
definitely applies to this film. Here are just some funkalicious reasons to
check out Disco Godfather:
1.A cool and fun
2.Decent disco and
roller disco scenes.
electrifying first appearance is a sight to behold. Rudy Ray shows up shaking his groove thing on the dance floor
in a skin tight, silver studded, turquoise jumpsuit with matching choker
necklace and platform shoes. I went blind for a full two minutes.
girlfriend frantically tells Tucker that his nephew is on drugs, Rudy Ray
delivers the immortal line “Where is Bucky, and what has he had?”
pronounced “am-ba-lance.” Can you dig it?
6.When Bucky gets
high in the disco, he thinks he’s in the middle of a basketball game.
7.Abby herself, the always welcome Carol Speed,
is spunky and cute in her brief role as Noel. She looks good in a showgirl
8.Under the influence
of angel dust, Bucky has terrifying hallucinations that include a severed hand, demons, witches with machetes
and Rudy Ray turning into a skeleton.
9.There’s a character
10.One of the addicts
at the rehab center thinks he’s an unborn caterpillar.
11.E.C.T. stands for
Electro Shock Treatment. (?)
12.At the angel dust
rally, one woman’s afro is freakin’ ginormous!
13.With its funky
fashions, automobiles, slang and décor, the movie is like a 1970s time capsule.
14.35 minutes in: The
dancing Godfather jiggles and gyrates as only he can.
15.37 minutes in: I
can’t even describe this outfit, but it shows off the Godfather’s man-boobs
16.The Godfather has
more amazing lines such as “I want you to put a little slide in your glide!”,
“She don't weigh but 90 pounds, baby, but she's got her weight on it!" and
the classic “I’m the Godfather and my name is Tucker. Everybody knows that I’m
a bad mutha…”
17.Tucker is able to
read a crooked cop’s badge number from across the darkened dance floor.
18.Lady Reed, Queen
Bee from the Dolemite series, is
great as a sorrowful mother who keeps her faith in God and never leaves her
drug addicted daughter’s side.
19.Keith David (John Carpenter’s The Thing, There’s
Something About Mary) is uncredited as a club patron. See if you can spot
him. I couldn’t.
20.At Sweetmeat’s party,
people snort cocaine off of a Saturday
Night Fever album cover.
21.Some dude in karate
pants and a Fu Manchu moustache acts like Bruce Lee.
22.At one point,
Tucker is attacked in an urban alley by a bullwhip wielding cowboy. For a
second, I thought I was the one who was on angel dust.
23.Tucker fights a
24.During his trip, Tucker
hallucinates and has visions of his dead mother and another woman who I’m assuming is his aunt
Betty. The reason I came to this conclusion is because five seconds after he
sees her, Tucker screams at the top of his lungs “I hate you, Aunt Betty!”
25.Mama becomes a
cartoon while a giant snake head bursts out of her stomach and Aunt Betty just
laughs at Tucker while boozing it up.
Tucker, whacked out of his skull from the angel dust he’d been forced to take,
mistakes Stinger Ray for a demon and strangles the drug dealer to death.
27.The movie ends with
Tucker still trippin’ balls and screaming in terror.
immediately cuts to the inappropriately upbeat end credits music.
Tell me you don’t wanna see this movie now.
I dare ya.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a wild,
different and hysterical time, then this is the movie for you. But don’t take
my word for it. After all, who am I to tell you what to watch? Here’s what The
Godfather himself had to say:
“I am your tower of power; the man of the
hour; too sweet to be sour. I’m fine, divine and guaranteed to blow your mind.
It’s now Godfather time.”
How can you resist that? You can’t, so just
grab yourself a copy of Disco Godfather,
relax and have a fun, crazy time.
Do it for Rudy Ray, and while you’re doing
it, don’t you ever forget to put your weight on it.
I’d like to dedicate this review to the
memory of Mr. Rudy Ray Moore. Rest in peace, Dolemite.