Trumbull’s 1972 film Silent Running celebrates its 45th anniversary
with a special screening at Laemmle's Ahrya Fine
Arts Theatre in Los Angeles. Starring Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, and Ron
Rifkin, the G-rated film runs 89 minutes and is being showcased on the big
screen in a rare opportunity.
PLEASE NOTE: Director Douglas Trumbull
and Producer Michael Gruskoff are scheduled to appear in person for a Q & A
following the screening.
the press release:
SILENT RUNNING (1972)
45th Anniversary Screening
Wednesday, December 13, at 7:30pm at the Ahrya Fine Arts
Q&A with Special Guests Director Douglas Trumbull and Producer
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present
a 45th anniversary screening of the groundbreaking sci-fi movie Silent
Running which marked the directorial debut of special effects wizard
Douglas Trumbull. Set 100 years in the future, the prophetic script by Deric
Washburn, Michael Cimino, and Steven Bochco stars two-time Oscar nominee Bruce
Dern as an astronaut sent into space to preserve the last samples of plant life
that are endangered on a dying Earth. His only companions are three drones named
Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
The film’s ecological message was a daring one for the time, and its relevance
has only grown over the decades. Trumbull had made special effects films for
NASA while he was still in his early twenties, and he was hired by Stanley
Kubrick to execute many of the most challenging and innovative visual effects
in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Reviewing Silent Running, Time’s Jay
Cocks compared it to Kubrick’s masterpiece: “Silent Running displays the
same kind of technical virtuosity, the same sense of the still, vast symmetry
of the galaxies.” He added that the movie was “a quite captivating essay on
futuristic ecology.” Life’s Richard Schickel declared that the film
“provides a great, near-solo role for Bruce Dern.”
In addition to his work on 2001, Trumbull played a major role in creating
the special effects for The Andromeda Strain, Close Encounters of the
Third Kind, Star Trek: the Motion Picture, Blade Runner, and Terrence
Malick’s The Tree of Life. He directed Natalie Wood’s last film, Brainstorm.
He is also known as an inventor and technical innovator in many other fields.
He has received numerous awards over the years, including three Oscar
nominations for his visual effects and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for
scientific and technical achievement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences in 2012.
After working as a highly successful agent during the
1960s, Michael Gruskoff produced his first film, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie, in 1971. His other
films include Mel Brooks’ comedy smash Young Frankenstein, Quest
for Fire, and My Favorite
Year, which we featured in a highly successful Anniversary screening
earlier this year.
Fine Arts Theatre is located at 8556 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. The phone number is
(310) (310) 478 – 3836.
American filmmakers have been fascinated by horror and the fantastical since the birth of cinema itself, with one early example cited here being an 1898 New York screening by the Thomas Edison Company of a short film featuring a witch and an appearance from Mephistopheles. Partially inspired by the work of French magician Georges Méliès, it was not long before ghosts, demons, witches and devils would become commonplace in the silent films being produced in New York, and eventually Hollywood itself.
Jonathan Rigby’s American Gothic (Signum publishing) is a fascinating and idiosyncratic exploration of the American horror film, a genre which has inspired filmmakers to create some of the most memorable moments in cinema history. More than a simple encyclopaedia, the book charts the historical development of the genre through not only the classics such as Phantom of the Opera, Dracula and The Cat and the Canary, but also through the hundreds of cheaper independent films and supporting features which are often forgotten but are no less enjoyable. Each chapter, written in his inimitable prose style, covers a specific period and discusses in detail not only the films but the filmmakers, actors and studios involved. Rigby is not afraid to criticise films which many hold sacred, as well as finding positive aspects amongst the failures. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi loom large of course, their enduring appeal spanning at least half of the period covered here. Having slipped almost inevitably from their 1930s heights into B-movie lows, Karloff still managed to maintain some level of dignity despite the cheapness of the material, whereas the same could not be said for Lugosi, who suffered the ultimate indignity of finishing his career in the Z-grade films of Edward D. Wood Jr.
Out of print for more than ten years, American Gothic has now been revised and expanded by Jonathan Rigby, completing his horror trilogy alongside English Gothic and Euro Gothic. What this book confirms is that American cinema has been the world’s leading producer of the horrific and terrifying, in sheer number if not always in quality. Whereas those other two books cover the entire history of film in their respective countries and continents, Rigby has had to curtail American Gothic’s coverage at 1959, arguably when things were about to get really interesting. This was perhaps as much for his own sanity as well as for the length of the book. With dozens of rare and exceptional film stills and publicity materials, American Gothic is an essential read for any serious enthusiast of horror or cinema history. Here’s hoping that Rigby will eventually pluck up the courage to tackle the next sixty years.
Allen’s second feature film as director/writer/actor is ranked #69 on AFI’s 100
greatest comedies list… and it is indeed a very funny, zany picture (arguably
one of Allen’s funniest) that today says more about the early 1970s than
perhaps was intended at the time. But would millennials find Bananas funny in this day and age? Would
they get the jokes? Can an audience that hasn’t “grown up” with Woody Allen
movies get past what has been said about his personal life since the 1990s? I
can’t answer those questions. But I can place
Bananas within the context of when it
was released and attest that it still makes me laugh.
this point in his career, Allen was mostly interested in making low budget movies
with little substance, but with lots of gags. He was still developing his
nebbish bumbling on-screen persona (his character’s name in Bananas is “Fielding Mellish,” and that
in and of itself is funny). And, as he would do so throughout the decades, he
co-stars with either the current or former lady in his life—in this case,
Louise Lasser, to whom Allen was married from 1966-1970 (they remained friends
after the divorce; Bananas was made
immediately afterwards, so go figure). The jokes are plentiful, bang-bang-bang,
all the way through—today some of them fall flat and some are shockingly
inappropriate given the “standards” of 2017, but others are still as classic and
hilarious as they were in 1971.
story concerns a revolution in the fictional Latin American country of San
Marcos. New Yorker Mellish, in trying to impress liberal activist Nancy
(Lasser), goes to San Marcos to get involved. Eventually he becomes a
revolutionary himself, ending up replacing the dictator as the country’s
president (albeit in disguise). On a diplomatic visit back to the U.S., he is
exposed and put on trial for fraud. Nevertheless, Mellish ends up getting
together with Nancy anyway for a happy ending.
asked why the film was entitled Bananas,
Woody Allen replied, “Because there are no bananas in it.”
1971, the film was rated M—for mature audiences. This rating was eventually
replaced by PG. In those early days of the 70s, society was still experiencing
a sexual revolution that had begun in the 60s. Hollywood movies pushed the
envelope in this regard, and sexual humor was commonplace in comedies. Bananas is full of it. While it’s not
quite R-rated material, it is assuredly not for younger kids. If there had been
an equivalent rating back then, it would have been PG-13. (One memorable bit is
the scene in which Mellish peruses the adult magazines in the crowded
convenience store in New York and attempts to buy one mixed in with Time, Newsweek, and others; the
proprietor ringing him up calls loudly out to his colleague, which everyone in
the place hears, “Hey, how much is a copy of Orgasm?” Mellish, is, of course, suitably mortified.)
courtroom scene is perhaps the highlight of the picture. A black woman who is
allegedly “J. Edgar Hoover in disguise” testifies against Mellish; the court
reporter reads back testimony that is the antithesis of what was actually said;
and even Miss America shows up to testify. There are other notable moments—for
example, famed TV sportscaster Howard Cosell has two memorable sequences in the
movie, and a young and unknown Sylvester Stallone pops up (uncredited) as a New
York subway mugger.
with Allen’s first feature, Take the
Money and Run (reviewed <here>), the filmmaking is clumsy and
unsophisticated. The director was still learning the ropes, but that’s not
what’s important here—Bananas is all
about the laughs.
Time’s limited edition (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray looks fine in 1080p High
Definition, taking into account the low budget video quality of the original
film. The 1.0 DTS-HD sound is terrific. The only supplements are an isolated
music track and the theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo provides the essay in the
Bananas is a little time
capsule that captures where we were at in 1971 (there is even a sight gag
involving then U.S. president and VP, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew). Ribald
jokes, political satire, and freedom of expression—if this is your bag, then
check out Bananas… but leave your
political correctness at the door.
As well as being an
accomplished novelist and historian, Kim Newman has written a regular column in
Empire magazine for almost twenty
years covering the video (then DVD and eventually Blu-ray) releases no one else
wanted to watch. Rather than serve as an encyclopaedia, Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The Collected Reviews is organised, in
a somewhat idiosyncratic style, into thematic rather chapters than simply an
alphabetic or chronological presentation. His identification of recurring
genres or styles has allowed for chapters on “Confinements and Dangerous
games,” “Cryptids and Critters,” “Serial Killers and Cops” and “Weird Hippie
Sh*t,” amongst more recognisable genre descriptions such as “Found Footage,”
“Famous Monsters” and “Secret Agent Men (and Women)” and others.
Spanning almost the
entire breadth of film history and encompassing productions from around the
globe, the reader is presented with hundreds of obscure titles alongside the
occasional classic. From silent film to spoofs and pornography, Kim Newman has
sat through over thirty films featuring Frankenstein and a similar amount
featuring Dracula. The trend for sharksploitation films, which still shows no
sign of abating, is particularly noticeable here as Kim Newman patiently
reviews dozens of films such as Sharkenstein
(2016), SharkExorcist (2015) and the infamous Sharknado series (2013-2016 so far). Refusing to fall into the film
historian’s trap of sneering at anything cheap or new, Kim Newman is fair to
each film he reviews, finding positive elements even in some found footage
films, despite having had to sit through so many.
Being a collection of
reviews of home video releases, there is also the occasional vintage gem in
here, such as Curse of Bigfoot (1975),
LasVampiras (1969) and Confessions
of anOpium Eater (1962). Indeed,
most of the films in the “Weird Hippie Sh*t” section, including Drive, He Said (1971), Toomorrow (1970), Wonderwall (1968) and Permissive
(1970) date from the hippie heyday itself.
Kim Newman’s writing
is distinctive and authoritative, with a gleeful sense of humour for the
absurd, which means that even when the films sound terrible, which they
occasionally do, the reviews are still entertaining to read. It is this skill
which has made his Video Dungeon
column in Empire so enjoyable over
the years, with trusted recommendations as to what to seek out, and what to
avoid. Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The
Collected Reviews is highly recommended, particularly for those who think
they have seen a lot of weird films over the years. The chances are high that
Kim Newman has seen more.
(This is the second and final part of Ernie Magnotta's exclusive interview with Kenneth Johnson, creator of the classic 1970s TV series "The Incredible Hulk", which debuted 40 years ago today.)
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
EM: Nice…I’d like to talk
about Jack Colvin for a sec.
EM: I really loved him as
McGee. I thought he was terrific. Did he enjoy playing the role?
KJ: Yeah, he did. But he was frustrated sometimes
and he would say to me, “How many times can I say that I’m looking for a
hulking, green creature?” So, we tried to really write episodes where he had
meaningful stuff to do.
EM: Yeah, that was
actually my next question because the character changed a bit. He was a little
unlikeable in the first season; like a weasel.
KJ: Yeah, that’s it. I love those yellow rag
journalists. The tabloid type people are just very colorful folks, so I thought
it would be fun. But Jack was so substantive and such a fine actor and a
brilliant acting teacher that we just realized that we had an asset we needed
to develop more and we needed to write more for him. And there are some
episodes, as you know, where he really takes center stage for a good portion of
EM: Yeah, there’s one
that’s just completely about him. I think Bill Bixby only shows up in
KJ: I think you’re right. I think that was near
the time of the death of Bill’s son, although Bill really just wanted to keep on
working through that.
EM: That’s totally
KJ: It was a terrible time and that was Bill’s
way of dealing with it; just getting on the set and doing it. He was terrific
and I still miss him to this day. He was a force of nature. (Laughs) We had
many, many, many knock-down, drag out arguments, but, Ernie, there was never
one that was about bullshit. There was never one that was about nonsense or
“star” stuff. It was always about character and he would come to me and say,
“Dr. David Banner would never say this line!”
EM: That’s so great and
it answers part of my next question which is about how much input he had and
how much he got into the character.
KJ: I would be in bed at night and he would have
finished a day of shooting and gone to the looping stage late at night because
we had added a wild line or two to help clarify something and he would call me
at home, “Dr. David Banner wouldn’t say this line!” And I’d tell him, “Yes, he
would. I wrote it.”
KJ: And we’d go back and forth and our agreement
was whoever was right got to win. And sometimes it would end up with Bill
saying, “All right. I’ll say it, but I don’t think Dr. David Banner would say
it.” (Laughs) But we had a good working relationship and he was a total pro all
EM: I know that, at the
time of the pilot, Lou Ferrigno didn’t have any acting experience, but I
thought he did a fantastic job; especially his final scene with Susan Sullivan.
KJ: Louie grew into the role very quickly and I
gave him time on the set to get there and to find it. I also helped him by
giving him like acting 101, but he picked up on everything very quickly and it
got so we really enjoyed writing those scenes when the Hulk was coming down
from the anger and was a simplistic child in many ways.
EM: Like when he was
confused by something.
VP: Yeah, exactly. I remember Mickey Jones
teaching him how to open a pop top soda can; that kind of thing. Or he’d be
resting under a tree, petting a deer. And Louie really got into those and began
to enjoy it and he did a really fine job. He just progressed so well and so
far. These days, Lou is an inspirational speaker and he’s working for the
Sheriff’s Department as well, so he’s an asset to the community.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the classic TV series "The Incredible Hulk", Cinema Retro's Ernie Magnotta sat down for an extensive discussion with the show's creator Kenneth Johnson.
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
Banner—physician, scientist…searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans
have. Then, an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry.
And now, when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis
The creature is
driven by rage and is pursued by an investigative reporter. The creature is
wanted for a murder he didn’t commit. David Banner is believed to be dead. And
he must let the world think that he is dead until he can find a way to control
the raging spirit that dwells within him.
Kids who grew up in the 1970s remember that
narration well. Every Friday night at 9pm (until it was later moved to 8pm) we’d
sit in front of our television sets, switch on CBS channel 2 and listen to the
late, great Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The
Addams Family) recite those very words before another exciting, hour-long
episode of The Incredible Hulk TV
series would begin. However, before there was a series, there were two very
successful made-for-TV movies, and before that, a very popular comic book.
The character of the Hulk was created in 1962
by legendary Marvel Comics masterminds Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby
(artist). In the comic book, Dr. Bruce Banner was a nuclear scientist for the
United States Army who, while trying to save a teenager who wandered onto a
test site, was accidently bathed in gamma rays when a bomb he created was
detonated. This forever caused the mild-mannered scientist to change into a
hulking green-skinned creature whenever he became enraged. (The first few
stories had him change whenever the moon was full just like a werewolf. Also,
his skin was originally grey.) Most of the exciting comic book tales revolved
around Army General Thunderbolt Ross’s obsessive need to find and capture the
destructive, but good-hearted Hulk who he felt was a danger to the country he
had sworn to protect.
Flash forward 15 years. After achieving great
success writing and directing episodes of the super-popular cyborg television
series The Six Million Dollar Man as
well as creating and producing its sister show The Bionic Woman, Kenneth Johnson received a call from Universal
Television head Frank Price. Price, who had just acquired the rights to five
Marvel Comics superhero titles, asked Johnson to pick one that he’d like to
develop for TV, but Johnson, who was not a comic book follower, declined.
However, while reading Victor Hugo’s Les
Miserables, Johnson thought about how he could combine the structure of
that book with the characters of Bruce Banner and the Hulk while, at the same
time, going for a more realistic approach than the comic book.
First of all, Johnson knew that he didn’t
want any connection to comic book styles and, so, he immediately eliminated
everything from the comics except for the main character of Banner (which he
renamed David in order to avoid comic book alliteration) and the fact that, due
to radiation poisoning, he metamorphoses into a hulking green creature whenever
he becomes angry or endures great pain. (Johnson originally wanted to change
the Hulk’s skin color to red, but Marvel vetoed the idea due to the already
well-known look of their popular comic book character.) He then eliminated
scientist Banner’s ties to the military and, instead, made him a California
physician who was desperately trying to uncover the secret as to why, while
trying to save another human life, certain people acquired almost superhuman
strength while others did not (like himself when, after a car accident, he
failed to turn over the flaming automobile and save his beloved wife). Also,
Johnson not only eliminated the Hulk’s Tarzan-like
speech and, except for growls, kept the creature mute, but, in order to
maintain as much realism as possible, he made the Hulk less powerful than the
indestructible creature in the comics.
Kenneth Johnson (center) with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.
Banner (played brilliantly by two-time Emmy
Award nominee Bill Bixby who was Johnson’s first and only choice for the role)
soon discovers that the answer is due to having a low Gamma count, so he
immediately takes a higher dose. Unbeknownst to him, the equipment he used was
calibrated incorrectly and he wound up taking a much higher dose than
originally planned. This causes the change into an incredibly powerful, almost
Cro-Magnon-like, green-skinned creature that, although destructive, retains
Banner’s benevolence and does not kill (although, one day, it could
inadvertently kill someone which is Banner’s biggest fear). Johnson added an
Inspector Javert-like character in the form of tabloid reporter Jack McGee
(played by talented character actor and acting teacher Jack Colvin) who becomes
obsessed with learning about and capturing the Hulk (portrayed by legendary
bodybuilding champion Lou Ferrigno). Due to McGee’s zeal as well as Banner’s
burning desire for a cure, the good doctor’s colleague and unrequited love, Dr.
Elaina Marks (played beautifully by Susan Sullivan), is accidentally killed in
a lab explosion. However, McGee believes that Elaina (and Banner) was murdered
by the creature and, after informing the authorities, a warrant for murder is
put out for the Hulk. David Banner (a character with similarities to Jean
Valjean), now believed to be dead, begins to travel the country in search of a
cure while, at the same time, doing his best to avoid transforming into the
green-skinned goliath; for the transformations bring the intrepid Mr. McGee who
is always just one step behind him.
An intriguing, solid and perfect set-up for a
television series (and one that was used several times before in shows like
Quinn Martin’s classic series The
Fugitive starring David Janssen and The
Immortal starring Christopher George; both of which contain the Les Miserables structure of a benevolent
man on the run being pursued by a relentless authority figure). However, before
going to series, there would be a second TV-Movie of the week titled The Return of the Incredible Hulk (aka Death in the Family) which aired on
November 27th, 1977 (just weeks after the amazing (and just discussed)
original pilot, The Incredible Hulk,
which aired on Friday, November 4th, 1977). This entertaining movie
showed exactly how the future series episodes would play out. Banner, under an
assumed surname always beginning with the letter ‘B’, arrives in town looking
for work while simultaneously searching for a cure. He gets involved with other
people’s dilemmas, honestly tries to help them and, before long, is made to
change into his hulking alter ego who ultimately winds up saving the day (and,
many times, Banner’s life). More often than not, Mr. Magee shows up after the
first transformation (in the hour-long episodes, Banner always transforms
twice, but here (in a two-hour movie) he metamorphoses four times) and Banner
has the added headache of staying out of sight while the reporter is around.
After saying his goodbyes to those he’s helped, a usually penniless Banner
takes off alone, hitchhiking his way to a new town where he will continue to
search of a cure, help those in need and avoid contact with McGee and the
“A DASH OF UNUSUAL
BRILLIANCE BEHIND A FACE WITH WHITE GLASSES”
By Raymond Benson
somewhat snobbish critic John Simon has said that the only “great” female film directors are Leni Riefenstahl and Lina
Wertmüller. I’m sure we can all take issue with
such a sexist comment, but he is correct that both women were indeed “great,”
even though the former is known for Nazi propaganda films of the 1930s. Wertmüller,
on the other hand, made different kinds of scandalous pictures—but at least ones
that were, and still are, entertaining. (They also sometimes had whimsically
long titles, such as The End of the World
in Our Usual Bed on a Night Full of Rain.)
the early to mid-1970s, Wertmüller was the face of
a daring new Italian cinema. When her movies were imported to America and the
U.K, she was dubbed the “Female Fellini.” In fact, she was once an assistant
director for the auteur. But Wertmüller’s
work took Fellini’s extravagance and pushed it to an extreme, creating her own
signatory brand of comedy, theatricality, biting satire, political commentary, and
often shocking truths. Four of her films released between 1972-1975, in which
she collaborated with the brilliant actor Giancarlo Giannini, established Wertmüller
as a powerful force of artistic vision. It is no small feat that she was the
first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.
Lorber has recently restored and released several Wertmüller
titles on Blu-ray and DVD, along with an excellent documentary on the woman
herself. Cinema Retro received an
assortment of them, all of which will be discussed here.
jewel in the crown of all of Kino Lorber’s Wertmüller disks is Seven Beauties (1975; released in the
U.S. and U.K. in 1976). It was the picture for which she received the Oscar
nomination (she lost to John G. Avildsen, for Rocky). It also received nods for Best Foreign Film, Best Actor
(Giannini), and Original Screenplay. Beauties
is a tour-de-force that features Giannini at his best as the swaggering
Pasqualino, a minor hood in Naples during World War II. He takes great pains to
protect the honor of his seven sisters, even though he isn’t so honorable
himself. When he is captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp,
Pasqualino audaciously figures he can save himself by “seducing” the female
commandant, a monster of a woman played by Shirley Stoler.
has an uncanny ability to combine the horrors of the Holocaust with the
absurdity of Pasqualino’s Chaplin-esque pathetic bravado. You wince and shudder
at the brutality on display—and then you find yourself laughing. Giannini, who
acts more with his eyes than anyone else I can think of, totally engages the
viewer with pathos and ridiculousness. In the end, Seven Beauties is a powerful statement about what man will do to
survive, and how expendable “honor” really is.
Lorber’s Seven Beauties Blu-ray is a
gorgeous 2K restoration with 2.0 stereo audio, in Italian with optional English
subtitles. Supplements include an interview with filmmaker Amy Heckerling about
the film and Wertmüller, an excerpt from the separately-released
documentary, Behind the White Glasses,
and trailers for other releases by the director. The booklet features essays by
director Allison Anders and film historian Claudia Consolati, PhD. Click here to order from Amazon.
Summer Night (or: Summer Night with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes
and Scent of Basil) (1986) stars Mariangela Melato (who co-starred with Giannini
in three of the 70s pictures) and Michele Placido in an obvious attempt to
recreate the magic that was Wertmüller’s crowd-pleaser,
Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the
Blue Sea of August (1974). Summer
Night, like the earlier film, is a bawdy romance between two characters with
fiery dispositions and opposite political stances. While this sexy romp is
somewhat entertaining, and the cinematography of the locales—set around
Sardinia—is breathtaking, the film doesn’t work. Both leads are too unlikable
to fully grasp onto. The Blu-ray, however, is an excellent presentation, also
with a 2K restoration and 2.0 stereo audio. The only supplements are trailers,
and the booklet features an essay by critic John Simon. Click here to order from Amazon
Julie Wardh (Edwige
Fenech) is a woman who needs some time off men: she attempts to escape her
sado-masochistic relationship with Jean (Ivan Rassimov) by marrying Neil Wardh
(Alberto de Mendoza), an ambassador at the Italian embassy in Austria. But
things are not that simple. Julie suffers from erotic nightmares, wherein she
makes love to Jean whilst being showered in broken glass, but continues to
proclaim her hatred for him to anyone that will listen, including jean himself.
At a friend’s party, where women tear paper dresses from each other and wrestle
naked, Julie meets the cool George (George Hilton) a man determined to seduce
Mrs Wardh, regardless of her husband or complicated romantic history. He seems
kind and he rides a motorbike, so it does not take Mrs Wardh long to fall for
Of course, this being
a giallo, in the middle of this menage au quattro there is a psychosexual
killer stalking Vienna, murdering prostitutes and other beautiful women at
random. Could the murderer be the vicious Jean, who seems determined to destroy
Julie’s marriage, if not her life? Or is her sanity in question?
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is an interesting blend of Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) and Clouzot’s LesDiaboliques
(1955), with more red herrings and plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film.
Things become even more confusing if you watch this back to back with All the Colours of the Dark (1972, Sergio
Martino), a film made the following year with Fenech, Hilton and Rassimov whose
plot is similarly constructed, right down to the intense dream sequences with
Ivan Rassimov making violent love to Edwige Fenech. Following the rough
template laid out in Mario Bava’s Blood
and Black Lace (1964), where a faceless black-gloved killer murders his way
through a swath of beautiful young women, this film works hard to keep the
audience guessing as to the identity of the sex maniac. Any sense of logic in
the plot is however secondary to the amount of time spent looking at a naked
Edwige Fenech. When she is not baring all for the various men in her life she
is running around looking scared or confused, seemingly to pad out the running
time, the thin script probably only filling fifteen pages.
This is an
entertaining thriller which continues to enthral and fascinate fans. It’s
importance to Italian cinema was confirmed in 2015 when a three-day academic
conference was held at the Austrian Institute in Rome to celebrate the film,
with director Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, composer Nora
Orlandi star George Hilton and this CinemaRetro contributor in attendance.
Although dismissed by serious film critics in the 1970s, the giallo is now seen
as a vital element of Italian film, its influence seen in the slasher films
that Hollywood produced in earnest in the 1980s.
This new Shameless Blu-ray
is an excellent upgrade from their earlier DVD release, and is a great addition
to their burgeoning range of cult Italian film releases. Bonus features
include interviews with both Sergio Martino and Edwige Fenech as well as a fact
track from genre expert Justin Harris.
UK READERS: Click here to order a
copy of The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh
on Blu-ray, and check out their other giallo releases whilst you are there.
Fassbender plays a Norwegian detective with the high school bully magnet name
of “Harry Hole” on the icy trail of a serial killer who always leaves a snowman
at his crime scenes. Based on the, um,
Hole literary series by Norwegian writer Jo NesbØ, the thriller also stars
Rebecca Ferguson as a damaged policewoman trying to solve the crimes, Oscar-winner
J.K. Simmons as a creepy industrialist and, curiously, Val Kilmer as an
alcoholic detective who first opens up the case. (Kilmer’s rumored bout with cancer has sadly
taken a toll as the actor looks nothing like the blonde Adonis he was in Top Gun and Batman Forever. It also sounded like he was dubbed throughout.) Although the Nordic scenery looks bleakly majestic
due to Dion Beebe’s stunning cinematography and soaring helicopter shots, the
plot twists and turns into a slushy mess.
by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier, Spy), The Snowman
careens along several avenues of investigation in an effort to add layers of
complexity… but promising leads fizzle out and a sex trafficking subplot seems
to die on the vine. (There’s also an
intruder scene in the detective’s shabby apartment that makes no sense.) All
that said, The Snowman is not a total
loss as it has some gripping moments and Fassbender is, as always, a powerful screen
presence.For the gore fans, the shadowy
killer employs a unique and gruesome mechanical device to dispatch his victims.Fassbender must have sacrificed half a lung to
play the heavy-smoking Harry Hole (!), but if that character were the Stage 4
lush portrayed on the screen, how could he function so effectively, noticing
subtle clues and putting the pieces together?That also didn’t quite wash. The Snowman is a big budget, well-made
film with an impressive scope and feel, but somehow it left me a bit… cold.
The world of horror films lost two of its
most important and influential figures recently with the passing of filmmaking
geniuses George Romero and Tobe Hooper. Although the careers of these two great
artists can fill (and have filled) entire books, I’d like to briefly mention
their most important works and pay my respects to them both.
When I was around ten or eleven-years-old, I
had snuck out of bed late one night to watch some old movie on TV; a Tarzan
flick I think it was. In order to avoid waking my parents, I had to keep the
volume on the television set very low, but sit close to the set so that I could
hear. As I sat alone in my parents’ dark living room waiting patiently for the
commercials to end, a bunch of zombies appeared on the screen and quickly
lurched forward with their arms outstretched! I jumped back while
simultaneously screaming which, of course, woke my mom. Needless to say, I
never got to finish the Tarzan movie, but I made up for it by having my first
taste of the cinema of writer/director (and sometimes editor and actor) George
A. Romero; even if it was only a TV spot for his 1979 zombie masterpiece Dawn of the Dead.
Romero’s feature film debut, 1968’s immortal Night of the Living Dead, which was made
independently for the paltry sum of $114, 000, not only began his immensely
popular zombie series (six films which
lasted until 2009), but also singlehandedly created the entire zombie mythology
which is still being used today. As a matter of fact, anyone who has made a
zombie film after 1968 not only owes a debt to Romero, but a royalty check as
well. Night, which deals with the
dead returning to life as flesh-eating ghouls and surrounding an old farmhouse
filled with seven frightened and bickering humans who cannot get along, was
filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where Romero lived for much of his adult
life) and combines scares/graphic violence with social commentary; a formula
the master filmmaker would return to many times. The creepy, atmospheric and
nihilistic film reflects the turbulent time in which it was made and its
graphic tone was mainly inspired by the Vietnam War.
If I had to pick one film in the Romero canon
that I feel is an underrated masterwork, it would have to be his amazing, 1976,
modern-day vampire film Martin. This
enthralling piece of cinema, which Romero himself has said to be his favorite
of all the films he’s directed, concerns a shy and confused young man (excellently
portrayed by John Amplas) who may or may not be a vampire. Romero leaves this
up to the audience to decide. The master filmmaker also touches upon subjects
such as religious beliefs (both too strict and too casual), mental illness
(perhaps caused by a strict, religious upbringing), the healing/saving power of
love and understanding, disbelief in things that have yet to be proven, and how
such disbelief can allow someone/something dangerous to move about freely in
the world, just to name a few.
Although he is known for a plethora of
thoughtful and entertaining films (The
Crazies (1973), Creepshow,
Knightriders, Two Evil Eyes, The Dark Half, Bruiser, etc.), many of which
he made alongside special makeup effects master and longtime friend Tom Savini,
the pioneering Romero will forever be remembered for his series of scary,
gore-filled and thought-provoking zombie films.
If the word zombie has become synonymous with
George Romero, then there’s only one phrase that springs to mind whenever
someone mentions writer/director Tobe Hooper: “chain saw”. A native of Austin
Texas and a former college professor, Hooper’s name was put on the horror map
after the 1974 release of his now legendary, low-budget, living hell of a horror
movie The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; a
film about a crazed family who hunt, kill and eat humans (in this film, it’s a
group of hippie friends) in order to survive after “progress” has made them
obsolete. Chain Saw’s savagery was
inspired by violent Vietnam War news reports which Hooper would view nightly on
television. Few who saw this indie masterwork back in the day have ever
forgotten the absolutely shocking first appearance of the film’s central
villain, Leatherface (the late Gunnar Hansen); a cannibalistic, chain saw-wielding
killer who wore a mask made of human flesh. The terrifying film, which shows very
little onscreen gore, not only became an enormous hit which, to date, has
spawned four sequels, a remake and two prequels, but its influence on horror
cinema is immeasurable. A true artistic work, Chain Saw, which also stars the late Marilyn Burns and features
narration from John Larroquette, now has a permanent place at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York.
Dr. David Ruben’s sex manual Everything
You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask) was published
in 1969, it became a best-seller and quickly entered the mainstream. Everyone
talked about it. It was even office water-cooler fare. It wasn’t meant to be
funny—just informal, straight, and to the point. The book was organized as a
series of questions, such as “Why do some women have trouble reaching an orgasm?”
and the author would answer.
1972, Woody Allen freely adapted it as a comedy, taking a handful of the questions
from the book and creating a series of seven vignettes that are, well,
ridiculous. It became one of Allen’s biggest hits of his entire career—right
now BuzzFeed ranks it as his fourth highest box office earner when adjusted for
was only Allen’s third picture (not counting Play It Again, Sam, which he didn’t direct and was released earlier
in ’72), so the auteur was still
finding his way. He was still all about making zany, but smart, movies that
were all about the gags. But because of the episodic nature of its structure,
some sketches work better than others. Of the seven “questions” that are
illustrated, I would say two are 5-star brilliant, two are 4-star good, and the
rest just okay. In 1972, some of the material was R-rated shocking in a
dirty-joke, nudge-nudge way. Today, Everything
comes off a bit tawdry and dated in places. However, it’s still a
worthwhile picture with some major laughs in key sequences.
two highlights are “What is sodomy?”—in which Gene Wilder delivers a brilliantly
subtle performance as a doctor who gets it on with a sheep; and “What happens
during ejaculation?”—which is presented like a NASA-mission with a “control
room” inside a man’s brain manned by Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, and others,
and featuring Allen as a bespectacled sperm who is afraid to leap out, paratrooper-style.
funny moments are “Do aphrodisiacs work?”—with Allen as a court jester in
Shakespearean times, trying to seduce the queen (Lynn Redgrave), and “Are the findings
of doctors and clinics who do sexual research and experiments accurate?”—in
which Allen and a journalist (Heather MacRae) visit a mad doctor (John
Carradine), whose lab work produces a giant-monster-breast that terrorizes the
game show What’s My Line?-parody
(retitled What’s My Perversion?) is
clever, as it’s presented in old television black and white kinescope style
with the original host (Jack Barry) and contestants. Other actors appearing in
the film are Louise Lasser, Anthony Quayle, Geoffrey Holder, Lou Jacobi, and
Twilight Time Blu-ray looks fine in its 1080p High Definition; but frankly, the
old 1970s film stock just doesn’t lend itself well to HD. Does it look better
than standard DVD? A little. The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is an improvement,
however; the pictures sounds terrific.
usual with Allen’s Blu-ray releases, the only supplements are an isolated music
and effects track, and the original theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo provides
the knowledgeable essay in the booklet.
this sex comedy worth buying on Blu-ray?” The Answer—yes, especially since this
release is limited to only 3000 units. And while it doesn’t rank as one of
Woody Allen’s best movies, it will
make you laugh, especially while having sex.
Cinema Retro's Raymond
Benson’s new stand-alone novel, THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE, will be published
October 10, 2017, by Skyhorse Publishing, but it is trickling into stores now.
The book is also listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Links to retailers can
be found here.
Raymond has signing
events scheduled for October 4 and
October 8 in the Chicago area, and signed books can be pre-ordered from these
outlets as well prior to the appearance date:
From the New York Times
bestselling author comes a new novel of suspense involving a small town
neighborhood street where first love, a child abduction, and abuse collide.
Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a best-selling
romance novelist, receives a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who
is on Death Row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for
As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving
reunion, she steps into the memories of her past, recalling her stormy
five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the
beautiful and talented—but troubled—boy who lived across the street to become a
Shelby fears that her flashbacks, whether they
occurred in the nearby public park, in their respective houses, or in their
“secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father, might be
shocking . Most significant was the tragedy of one summer that set in motion a
lifelong struggle against an Evil—with a capital “E”—that corrupted their
With only a few days left for Eddie to live, Shelby
braces herself for a reunion that promises to shed light on the traumatic
events that transpired on her street, changing everything Shelby thought she
knew about the boy on Chicory Lane.
Raymond Benson with Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.
true American innovator and icon has left us.
I would never claim to be one of this brilliant man’s inner circle of close longtime
friends or family, I was privileged to know him for nearly three decades. I was
a guest at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles on numerous occasions, many times
along with my wife and even my son, who first visited when he was eight years
old! Hef was always a generous host—kind, warm-hearted, and full of
conversation. He also had integrity. His championing of civil rights and First
Amendment freedoms is legendary. He gave us the permission to embrace the
sexual revolution—and, believe it or not, he was a strong advocate of women’s
rights. The women who truly knew him loved
first “met” through correspondence after the publication of my 1980s book, The James Bond Bedside Companion. I had
been a Playboy reader and subscriber
since I was old enough to be one (and was sneaking it into the house before
that!), so I knew the magazine well, its philosophy, and its impact on popular
culture. I also was well aware that Hef was a James Bond fan. Playboy was the first American
periodical to publish fiction by Ian Fleming. Beginning with the March 1960
issue, Playboy published several of
Fleming’s short stories and excerpts from his novels during that decade. The
magazine also featured pictorials from the films that lasted into the 80s.
sent Hef a copy of the Bedside Companion and
I was surprised and pleased that he wrote me back, thanking me for the book and
relating a little of how he first screened Dr.
No at the Chicago Playboy Mansion in 1962, months before its official ’63 release
in the U.S. Additional occasional correspondence between us ensued over the
next few years, and then, in 1994, I was invited to visit Playboy Mansion West
on “movie night” while I was attending a James Bond convention being held in
Los Angeles. A year later, I landed the gig to become the first American author
to pen official 007 novels. I suggested to the Ian Fleming people that we
approach Hef to do an exclusive short story for the magazine and re-establish
the Playboy/Bond connection. The
result was the publication of my Bond fiction in six issues of Playboy between 1997 and 2000.
Raymond took this snap from the sidelines in 1999 as the 45th Anniversary photo is taken of Hef and hundreds of Playmates. (Photo copyright by Raymond Benson. All rights reserved.)
of the more memorable weekends I spent in Hef’s company was during the “Playboy
Expo,” held in L.A. in 1999 for the 45th Anniversary of the
magazine. I was invited to be a guest speaker at the expo, which ran for two
days and featured the appearances of around 300 Playmates, past and present. I
was on the sidelines when the iconic photograph was taken at the Mansion of Hef
and all the women present who had graced the centerfold since the 1950s. That
was surely a “pinch me” moment.
normally visited the Mansion on “movie nights.” These were held on Sundays,
when up to fifty guests were invited for a buffet dinner and the screening of a
current film. When no other events were happening, Hef had “classic” movie
nights of old movies on Fridays and/or Saturdays. Hef was a serious movie buff!
fact, Hef made many contributions to the world of cinema. He was one of the
movers and shakers (and financiers) for the restoration of the famous “Hollywood”
sign that had come into disrepair by the 70s. Playboy Enterprises had a working
film production company during that decade and made a few memorable pictures.
For example, the first Monty Python film, And
Now for Something Completely Different (1971), was a Playboy production.
Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (also 1971)
was executive produced by Hefner.
work in television was also pioneering. His Playboy’s
Penthouse, that aired for two seasons in 1959-1961, was the first variety
show to break the “color barrier” by ensuring black performers mingled with
impact that Hef’s magazine had on the world cannot be capsulized in this short
tribute. I will leave that task to others. Just know that a young Hugh Hefner
created Playboy on his kitchen table
in a modest Chicago apartment with very little money. Now the rabbit logo is
one of the most widely recognized symbols around the world. Hef is a perfect
example of someone who pursued the American Dream and achieved it.
in Peace, Hef, and thank you.
Cinema Retro extends its deepest
condolences to Hugh Hefner’s family—Crystal, Cooper, Marston, Christie, and
(For Raymond Benson's exclusive interview with Hugh Hefner about the films he produced, see Cinema Retro issue #5)
Allen came off an incredible run of five superior films released between 1983
and 1987 (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The
Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her
Sisters, and Radio Days) and then
delivered one of his occasional “serious” pictures (without his presence as an
actor) in late ’87 that was so dire that it only grossed approximately $500,000
in its initial run.
a six-character “play” that takes many cues from the works of Anton Chekhov, September is set in a Vermont country
house where depressed Lane (Mia Farrow) is recovering from a suicide attempt.
Her best friend Stephanie (Dianne Wiest) is there for moral support. Lane is in
love with tenant/writer Peter (Sam Waterston), and neighbor/teacher Howard
(Denholm Elliott) is in love with Lane. She doesn’t share Howard’s affections,
but Peter, however, is in love with Stephanie. Coming to visit into this
quartet of woe is Lane’s extroverted mother, a former actress named Diane
(Elaine Stritch) and her second husband Lloyd (Jack Warden). Diane and Lane
have a complicated relationship. When Lane was young, she found her mother
being abused by a man and she killed him (shades of the infamous real-life case
involving Lana Turner, her daughter, and a mobster).
sound like one of Woody Allen’s laugh-fests, does it?
September was a problem project
for the writer/director from the beginning. He had originally cast Christopher
Walken as Peter, started shooting, and then decided that wasn’t working. He
recast the role with Sam Shepard. Maureen O’Sullivan was playing Diane, and
Charles Durning had the part of Howard. Allen shot the entire movie and edited
it. He was unhappy with it for some reason, so he decided to recast the
roles of Peter, Diane, and Howard, and remake
the entire movie. I’m sure the studio, Orion Pictures, loved that
prospect—but at that time Allen’s stock was uncommonly high and he had the
clout to do it.
acting is good enough, I suppose. Elaine Stritch, in particular, shines in the
showy role of the crazy show biz mom. The problem is that these are people we
can’t really care about. The love and angst on display quickly becomes
no one has ever seen the first version of September
that Allen shot, I can’t imagine that the picture we saw in the cinema in
December ’87 was any better. For the record, I will state that Woody Allen,
with nearly fifty titles under his belt, is one our national treasures as a
filmmaker…but September ranks as one
of the worst five movies he ever made. Luckily, he followed the picture with
one of his best “serious” titles—Another
Woman (also available from Twilight Time).
looks gorgeous, though! The cinematography
by the late, great Carlo Di Palma emphasizes the autumn colors of Vermont with
a pastel palette that is very pleasing to the eye. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray
1080p High Definition transfer is admirable, accompanied by a fine 1.0 DTS-HD
Master Audio. The only supplements, however, are an isolated music and effects
track (the music consists of Allen’s typical Great American Songbook jazz
standards), and the theatrical trailer.
September—a nice product of
only 3,000 (limited edition) units—will appeal to Woody Allen completists.
Allen’s very first directorial effort (not counting What’s Up, Tiger Lily? from1966, which was, in actuality, a
Japanese spy movie that Allen rewrote, dubbed, and re-edited into a comedy) was
the low budget, no frills Take the Money
and Run, released in the summer of 1969 to an unsuspecting audience. While
Allen was already somewhat familiar to the public via his numerous television
talk show and stand-up appearances, as well as his small roles in three late-60s
motion pictures, no one was quite prepared for the zany, nebbish onscreen
persona that Allen debuted in Take the
Money. It was a cinematic guise he would keep to the present day.
intellectual Jewish nerd that Allen presented (here his character’s name is
Virgil Starkwell) quickly became the guy whom we all thought Woody Allen really
is. Some folks might have said, “Oh, he’s just playing himself.” Perhaps
certain characteristics of the real Woody Allen may have been a part of Virgil
Starkwell, or Fielding Mellish, or even Alvy Singer, but like Groucho Marx and his onscreen persona, we now know that Woody
Allen is not that guy. In truth, he tends to be surprisingly shy, quiet, and
introverted. This revelation makes the performances in his movies that much
Take the Money and
also a milestone because of its “mockumentary” format, a comedy sub-genre that
had been rarely explored up to that point. Something like A Hard Day’s Night might be called a mockumentary, but it wasn’t
until Allen’s landmark unveiling of his first feature that we saw the comedic
possibilities of presenting a story as if it were real news—complete with
documentary-style narration (provided in this case by veteran Jackson Beck).
movie is the tale of a common serial thief, and how his love life and eventual
marriage (to Louise, played by Janet Margolin) affects his “career.” The
hilarious biographical narrative includes wacky robberies, failed attempts to
go straight, and numerous stints in the pen. One cannot easily forget the
classic bank holdup scene in which Allen passes a note to the teller, who can’t
read the handwriting. Before long, the entire staff of the bank is attempting
to decipher whether Starkwell wrote “gub” or “gun.” “Is this a holdup?” one guy
for roughly $1.5 million, the picture looks, well, cheap, and it has that 1960s
shot-on-newsreel-cameras feel, which of course is entirely appropriate. The
direction is competent; Allen has long acknowledged the contribution of editor
Ralph Rosenblum to his early comedies. It’s not unfair to say that Rosenblum
may have taught Allen essential lessons in directing. That said, it’s also no
small feat to act in, direct, and co-write (with Mickey Rose) a movie. Despite
the low rent vibe of the picture, the jokes really do come every few seconds,
and this is worth the price of admission. It is a very funny movie.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray transfer looks fine, although the video quality of the
original picture wasn’t particularly great to begin with. Unfortunately, like
with most Allen Blu-ray releases, there are no supplements other than trailers
for other Kino Lorber releases.
Take the Money and Run is a
worthwhile examination of a genius artist’s baby steps. There’s no question
that Allen’s career began with an impressive laugh riot—and things would only
“Only one thing counts: either you have money and
you’re someone, or you don’t have any and you’re a doormat.” So states Giulio
Sacchi (Tomas Milian), as he plans to kidnap the beautiful young daughter of a wealthy
business-owner. Together with two small-time hoods, who are more accustomed to
snatching purses than snatching rich girls, Sacchi hopes to take 500 million
lira, enough never to have to work again. Having grown up on the streets with
no parents or opportunity, Sacchi constantly rails against the system. He
believes he is a genius and can commit crime because the world owes him a
living; in reality he is short-tempered, dangerous and cowardly, as he proves
when he guns down a traffic officer whilst acting as getaway driver for a bank
robbery. This hasty murder brings swift police attention and the gang are
nearly caught, leading them to beat Sacchi and reject him from their organised
crime ring. This spurs him on to plan his perfect big score, but his short
temper causes him to leave a string of dead bodies in his wake, which soon
brings tough cop Walter Grandi (Henry Silva) hot on his trail.
Human fits what the Italians called the poliziotteschi, a genre which depicted
corrupt or inept cops and violent criminality. The 1970s was an incredibly
violent period in Italy’s history, often referred to as Anni di piombo, or the Years of Lead, when both left- and
right-wing extremists engaged in acts of terrorism including bombings and
political assassinations. The authorities seemed unable to bring any form of
control to this unstable and terrifying situation and the Italian films of the
period charted this chaos and mistrust through explicit depictions of crime and
horror. Although Milan is now a popular tourist destination for its important
art and architecture, Almost Human
depicts it as a city which looks more like the mean streets of 1970s New York,
filled with crumbling buildings, ugly apartment blocks, abandoned quaysides and
patches of rubbish-strewn wasteland. This comparison is surely no coincidence,
as the poliziotteschi, as well as
addressing issues of contemporary Italy, borrows heavily from the tough
American crime thrillers of the period like The
French Connection (1971) and Dirty
Harry (1971). The film’s original Italian title, Milano odia: la polizia non puo’ sparare, translates as “Milan
hates: the police can’t shoot”, which sounds as if it is criticising the
targeting abilities of the local constabulary. What is actually implied by this
is that the bureaucracy means that the police are powerless to stop the
criminals. Even if they are caught and arrested, as Grandi complains, they are
released again twenty-four hours later to go out and steal and kill again.
Sacchi is so blasé about killing people because he believes no one will notice
another body in Milan.
Human may be derivative of the American cop thriller,
but it is also an exciting and shocking political critique of Italian society,
where women and children can be gunned down in cold blood and the police are
powerless to stop it unless they step outside the law they are sworn to
Director Umberto Lenzi is a legend of Italian
cinema. Like many who worked outside the arthouse or neo-realist traditions of
Visconti or Fellini, Lenzi made films within every popular genre from
sword-and-sandal to giallo, from sex comedies to cannibal horror. Like his
contemporaries he made whatever was popular, whether for the local or
international audiences, so his name can even be found on spy films like 008: Operation Exterminate (1965),
spaghetti westerns such as Pistol for a
Hundred Coffins (1968) and zombie splatterthons like the deliriously
ridiculous Nightmare City (1980). Shameless sat him down for an exclusive
interview for this new Blu-ray, which features an HD restoration from the
original negative. He is a fascinating figure whose career spans over fifty
years and he has plenty of stories to tell about his time in the film industry.
Also included are some archival interviews with Lenzi, co-star Ray Lovelock and
writer Ernesto Gastaldi, himself legendary in the Italy with over 100 film
credits. Tomas Milian, a Cuban-American who had a tremendous career both in
Europe and in the U.S, and who passed away earlier in 2017, is also interviewed
and proved himself to be equally entertaining as he was in his movies.
The Blu-ray comes in the traditional Shameless
yellow case with both original and alternative artwork. With a terrific
heavy-rock score from none other than Ennio Morricone, Almost Human is an exciting film from the golden period of Italian
exploitation cinema and is not to be missed.
I’m a sucker for car chases. Not the
perfunctory, last-minute “Hey, this movie needs a car chase!” variety, but the
kind that comes as a result of a particular plot point wherein someone or some group has to get away from some other
group. While most new car chases such as TheFast and the Furious sort are usually
accomplished through CGI, I find that this sleight-of-hand fakery virtually
abolishes all tension. The best ones that I have seen all did it for real
through innovative and unprecedented filming techniques and excellent editing: Grand Prix (1966), Vanishing Point (1967), Bullitt
(1968), The Seven-Ups (1973), The Blues Brothers (1980), The Road Warrior (1981), The Terminator (1984), F/X (1986), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), and The Town (2010) all have action sequences that put the full wonder
of film editing on display.
There are two major car chases in the
late John Frankenheimer’s Ronin, which opened on Friday, September 25, 1998, and
it’s the second and longer one that ranks up there in the pantheon of The Greatest
Car Chases Ever Filmed. The French
Connection (1971) and To Live and Die
in L.A. (1985) are the granddaddies of car chases in my humble opinion and Ronin’s is certainly in the top ten,
with a stupendous wrong-way-driving-against-incoming-traffic sequence through a
tunnel in France to composer Elia
Cmiral’s exciting score.
The title of “Ronin” is originally a
reference to the feudal period of Japan relating to a samurai who has become
masterless following his master’s death as a result of the samurai’s failure to
protect him. To earn a living, the samurai wanders from place to place
attempting to gain work from others. For the uninitiated, title cards prior to
the film’s opening credits inform us of this. This name relates to the film as
several mercenaries meet for the purpose of stealing an important silver case.
Sam (Robert DeNiro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), and Spence
(Sean Bean) and several others are the persons for hire. Deirdre (Natascha
McElhorne) is the one who called them all together but she offers little in the
way of an explanation as to what the contents are. Like in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), they don’t know
one another and work under the assumption that all involved are trustworthy
which eventually will be their undoing. Now ya see, if they has listened to the
James Poe episode “Blood Bath” on the old time radio show Escape!, none of this would have ever happened! Yeah…
Sam used to work for the CIA, Vincent
is a “fixer”, Spence is a former Special Air Service expert in weaponry, Gregor
is an expert in electronics, and Larry (Skipp
Sudduth) is one of the drivers. Sam is the most inquisitive and probably has
the most to lose. They don’t discuss their past and are eager to get paid. Sam almost
acts like the ringleader, but he has some serious competition after they secure
their objective and are double-crossed. It then becomes a game of who can trust
who (naturally, the answer is no one). There are some really good supporting
performances by Michael Lonsdale (I hadn’t seen him in a theater since Moonraker!) and Jonathan Pryce and the
action always keeps moving forward but unlike today’s films, the action
sequences are well-staged and edited and have depth to them. A terrific
addition to Mr. Frankenheimer’s filmography.
plot of Dario Argento’s 1985 thriller Phenomena
has long been the subject of ridicule and derision by critics and fans alike
since its initial release. The inevitable complaints about the film range from
the bad dubbing and stiff performances to the ludicrous notion that insects can
be employed as detectives in a homicide investigation (this is true and has
actually been done, providing the inspiration for the film). If the film does
not sound familiar, that could be attributed to the fact that Phenomena was severely cut by 33 minutes
and retitled Creepers when it opened
in the States on Friday, August 30, 1985.
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) is a fourteen year-old student attending an
all-girls school in Switzerland while her movie star father is away for the
better part of a year shooting a film. Her mother, who left the family when
Jennifer was a child, is merely mentioned but never seen. Unfortunately, her
roommate Sophie (Federica
Mastroianni) has just informed her that the school is
beset by a killer who stalks girls their age and kills them. Well, that’s unfortunate! You would think that
someone would order the school closed and the girls sent away. As you can
imagine, this doesn’t sit too well with Jennifer who suffers from a bad case of
sleepwalking and manages to find herself embroiled in the very murders she was
hoping to avoid. She meets entomologist John McGregor (Donald Pleasence), a
wheelchair-bound Scot who lacks a Scottish accent but possesses an avuncular
disposition that endears Jennifer to him and his chimpanzee Inga who doubles as
his nurse. Fortunately for Jennifer, he is aiding the police in their
investigation into the murder of a Danish tourist (Fiore Argento, the
director’s eldest daughter) and the disappearance of McGregor’s former aid.
Together with the help of McGregor, Inga (yes, the chimp!) and a very large
fly, Jennifer sets off to locate the murderer. When she does, she nearly
Connelly was chosen by Mr. Argento to play the lead as he had seen her in
Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in
America (1984). His decision to set the film in the Swiss Alps is
unorthodox but provides the perfect backdrop to the story as the scenery is
utterly breathtaking. He also makes terrific use of the Steadi-cam and it never
Phenomena has been released on home video more times than I can
count, but the new Blu-ray from Synapse Films is gorgeous and has completely
different extras than the 2011 Arrow Video release which had the more
well-known 110-minute cut and an array of then-newly-produced extras. Phenomena has more detractors than
admirers if you believe what you read, and even staunch proponents of Mr.
Argento’s vision (Maitland McDonagh and Alan Jones) have written off the film
as silly. However, the amount of love and dedication that has been lavished
upon this film restoring it to its former glory on Blu-ray says volumes about
those who cherish it. This set is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth the
price of an upgrade as it sports the following:
set comes with two Blu-rays which consist of three (3) different cuts of the
film, all available in high-definition for the first time ever in one
collector's edition package:
the 83-minute United States Creepers cut in HD
the 110-minute International Phenomena cut in HD
the 116-minute English/Italian hybrid
audio Phenomena cut in HD
Kneale, who passed away in 2006 at the age of eighty-four, was responsible for
some of early British television’s seminal moments, and is best remembered by
popular audiences for scaring the population half to death in 1953 with The Quatermass Experiment, followed over
the next few years by Quatermass II (1955)
and Quatermass and the Pit (1958). In
1954 he was responsible for adapting George Orwell’s 1984 into a television play starring Peter Cushing and Donald
Pleasence, a production that was considered so shocking that questions were
asked in Parliament. The repeat performance the following week was only allowed
to go ahead once word came through that the Queen had liked it.
Kneale’s success at the BBC he had a difficult relationship with the
corporation and eventually became an independent writer, spending most of the
next few decades writing television dramas and film scripts, as well adapting
novels for films. Some of this work was relatively pedestrian, but when he
wrote scripts like The Stone Tape (1972),
depicting the scientific exploration of a haunted house, or the dystopian
nightmare The Year of the Sex Olympics
(1968), a world in which television serves up a constant diet of violence and
pornography, his legacy as one of the most important writers of horror and
science fiction was assured.
he hated being associated with science fiction and horror, constantly rejecting
requests to write for shows like Doctor
Who, (1963 – 1989, 2005 –), which he thought was too frightening for
children, and in the 1990s he rudely turned down an invitation to contribute to
The X-Files (1993 – 2002, 2016 –), stating
“This is the worst kind of science fiction,” before going on to denigrate the
main cast. This no doubt disappointed the show’s creator Chris Carter who was a
big fan. His influence on a new generation of filmmakers and TV producers from
the late 1970s onwards meant that Kneale was constantly being offered work,
including from Hollywood, where he worked with John Landis on an unrealised
remake of The Creature From the Black
Lagoon (1954) before scripting Halloween
III: Season of the Witch (1982) for John Carpenter. Upon seeing the
finished film and how, in his opinion, it had veered drastically from his
script, Nigel Kneale was so furious he had his name removed from the credits.
published in 2006, this vastly updated and expanded edition of Andy Murray’s
excellent biography of Kneale is a fascinating insight into one of television’s
most influential, important and occasionally belligerent writers. From his
childhood on the Isle of Man to his final moments, no aspect of his life has
been neglected. The book is built around a series of interviews with the Kneale
and his wife, successful children’s author Judith Kerr, as well as with dozens
of people who have either worked with Kneale or are fans, including John
Carpenter, Russell T. Davies and Mark Gatiss. Andy Murray has also identified
many of the references and homages to Kneale’s work in film and television,
including, ironically, Doctor Who,
the show which Kneale despised so vehemently. Most notably the 1970s stories
featuring Jon Pertwee battling alien invasions of Earth alongside UNIT were
effectively Quatermass stories under a different name.
Into the Unknown: The
Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale is a thorough and well-researched read
for anyone interested in television history, science fiction, or who might have
spent Saturday nights as a child hiding behind the sofa during Quatermass and the Pit, and is highly
a film is as uninspired and as amateurishly made as Lance Lindsay’s Star Crystal (1986) is and ends with the
words “Filmed entirely in SPACE” following the end credits, you know that you’re
going to wish that you had those 93 minutes of your life back. Unfortunately, science
has not gotten us to the point where that is possible just yet. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) was the
first low-budget Star Wars rip-off
that I saw theatrically and I was astonished at how unexciting it was. However,
it did give us James Cameron, Bill
Paxton, and James Horner so it wasn’t all
bad. Crystal, also a product of Roger
Corman’s low-budget production company, goes much further than Battle did in terms of “borrowing” from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dark Star (1974), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Alien
(1979), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982),
The Thing (1982), Xtro (1983), and Lifeforce (1985). Released on VHS in April 1986, Crystal outright steals from these classic films. Crystal lives up to none of the exceptional movie artwork that was
used to promote it, which is a shame as the poster is probably the best thing
about it (though it hawks the action as taking place in 2035, not 2032 – is
there really a difference?), although it does have a fairly decent score by
the future, remember this is 2032 and not
2035!, two men on Mars extricate a rock from the planet’s surface and,
brilliantly, bring it on board the spacecraft. To think that these guys never
saw Ridley Scott’s Alien is a little
too much to believe. They have it analyzed by a scientist who determines that
it’s…a…rock. Yes, it’s a rock that leaks a mysterious white goo (no, I’m not going there…) which a crew member
sticks nearly their entire hand into out of curiosity. Apparently, they didn’t
see Larry Cohen’s The Stuff (1985)
either. It then begins to turn into a pitiful-looking alien. The rock turns
into some sort of crystal, and looks not unlike the titular Dark Crystal from
that superior film. These events cause the crew to die suddenly. Too bad it
didn’t have the same effect on the viewer. All the computers and onboard
spaceship equipment look like they were made by Radio Shack. The action (that’s
being kind) then flashes forward two months later when Colonel William Hamilton
is assigned to find out why the crew died. Maybe they watched the dailies and
committed suicide? An attractive blonde flirts with him in typical 80’s
fashion. Everyone on the ship has big 80’s hair, a true anachronism in 2032. Onboard
the ship (in reality a poorly-disguised shopping mall) is Roger Campbell (C.
Juston Campbell) and his right hand man who cracks unfunny jokes like “I’d
rather eat my shoe” when referring to the ship’s food. The ship begins shaking when
the cinematographer starts shaking it back and forth and crew members run
around frivolously. The shopping mall’s escalators are a hilarious prop.
could go on and on about this film, but I don’t want to ruin the special
awfulness of it for the viewer. I will say that the ending is particularly
silly and comes out of left field that features an anthropomorphized blob that
breathes deeply. The plot is picked out of many sci-fi films and the director
does what he can with the ludicrous material. It makes you wonder, however, if
the movie was originally written to be tongue-in-cheek or meant to be serious. Coca-Cola
appears in a product-placement moment, and the women on the ship are dressed in
outfits that make one half expect them all to break into calisthenics. It’s always
nice to have a blonde running around screaming, “We’re all gonna die!!” at the
first sight of outer space trouble. The gratuitous sex that was a mainstay of
such 80’s fare is completely missing from Star
Crystal and it makes one wonder who was the intended audience. Exactly ten
minutes into the film, a shot from within the mothership reveals a replica of
the Millennium Falcon flanking each side of the entrance. Really? Lucasfilm
signed off on this? May the Farce Be With You.
there is anything this film needs, it’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000
treatment. There is even the dreaded End Credits Song. Why do people think that we want a song at the end of movies like
you’re a fan of this film (no judgment; to each his own), you’ll be happy to
know that Kino Lorber has provided a top-notch transfer of the film on Blu-ray.
This is the one to get!
school friends Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch) and Rebecca Doppelmeyer (Scarlett
Johansson) absolutely cannot wait to be free of the prison of school, defiantly
flipping the bird and squashing their mortarboards following their graduation.
Enid isn’t off the hook just yet: her “diploma” is instead a note informing her
that she must “take some stupid art class” (her words) if she hopes to graduate.
Their fellow classmates are caricatures of everyone we all knew during our
adolescence. Melora (Debra Azar) is inhumanly happy all the time and oblivious
to Enid and Rebecca’s sense of ennui and contempt. Todd (T.J. Thyne) is
ultra-nervous to talk with the insouciant Rebecca at the punchbowl. Another bespectacled
student sits off by himself. Enid and Rebecca are at both an intellectual and
emotional crossroads. They want to share an apartment; however, they seem unaware
of the amount of money they will have to come up with for such a
venture. Instead of finding jobs, their post-graduation afternoons are spent
meandering through life while frowning upon society, following strange people
home, bothering their mutual friend Josh (Brad Renfro) and admiring the Weird
Al wannabe waiter at the new 50’s-themed diner which plays contemporary music.
Seemingly without a care in the world, the women have no plans to attend
college, preferring instead to prank an unsuspecting nebbish named Seymour (Steve
Buscemi) who has placed a personal ad in an attempt to communicate with a
striking blonde he noticed, with Enid feigning said blonde on Seymour’s
answering machine. Rebecca is a dour and solemn counterpoint to Enid’s aloof
yet occasionally jovial demeanor. If
Holden Caulfield had a girlfriend, she might be someone just like Enid,
sneering at the losers and phonies in her midst. Searching out Seymour, they
approach him and his roommate at a garage sale where he is unloading old
records for next to nothing. His affection for collecting 78 rpms begins to
endear him to Enid, who confides in Rebecca that she likes him despite their
25-year age difference. They have some truly funny moments together such as
attending a “party” for guys who talk techno mumbo-jumbo, riding in the car
together as Seymour screams at people walking through an intersection, and a
humorous romp through an adult video and novelty store.
Rebecca grows tired of hearing about Seymour,
and presses Enid to get a job but she only succeeds in getting fired repeatedly,
even from her position at the concession stand at a Pacific Theatre cinema when
she ribs the customers over their choice of movie and their willingness to eat
popcorn with “chemical sludge” poured on it. The tone of the film shifts from
one of comedic commentary on the world to one of disillusionment as Enid begins
to feel her world slowly begin to crumble around her. Her friendship with
Rebecca, an anchor in her life for years, is ending and like so many of us at
that age, she has no idea where her life is going or what she needs to be doing
when she isn’t changing her hair color or her now-famous blue Raptor t-shirt or
donning punk rock garb as a sartorial statement. Her summer art teacher
(Illeana Douglas) shows her students her personal thesis film Mirror, Father, Mirror which itself is a
parody of the pretentious student films submitted to professors. She pushes
Enid to create interesting and powerful art when Enid is only interested in
drawing the people she knows and Don Knotts. In short, nothing seems to be
going well for her. The only person she can rely on is Norman, the well-dressed
man who sits on a bench at a bus stop that stopped service a long time ago and
holds the key to the film’s long-debated denouement. Enid is almost like an
older version of Jane Burnham, the character portrayed by Ms. Birch in American Beauty (1999). In that film,
she barely reacted to her father (Kevin Spacey) and here her contempt for her
father (Bob Balaban) and his girlfriend Maxine (Teri Garr) is even more
Director Terry Zwigoff takes the source
material created by artist and writer Daniel Clowes and fashions one of the
most brilliantly entertaining and poignant ruminations on adolescence the
silver screen has ever seen. Ghost World
also boasts excellent use of music, much of it pre-existing, although the main
theme by David Kitay is an elegiac
piano theme that recalls David Shire’s theme to The Conversation (1974). The film starts with a bang to the
seemingly non-diegetic tune of the Mohammed Rafi hit “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” from
the 1965 Hindi film Gumnaam, the
scenes of which are intercut with images of the apartment complex’s
inhabitants. As the camera tracks from the exterior windows of these
grotesqueries, it settles upon Enid’s bedroom where the night before graduation
she dances to the aforementioned tune which we now see is being played back on a
bootleg VHS tape. The beat is frenetic and infectious. Enid, for the first of
only a handful of times in the entire film, appears to be in a state of joy as
she mimics the moves of the dancers. If only she could always feel this way! With this singular sequence, Mr. Zwigoff
achieves something reserved for only the greatest and rarest of filmmakers – re-identifying
a popular musical piece with his movie. I can’t hear “The Blue Danube” without
thinking of spaceships spinning throughout the galaxy.
Ghost World opened on Friday, July 20, 2001 in
limited release in New York and Los Angeles and garnered immediate critical
acclaim. Filmed in 2000, the film is a product of a simpler and more innocent
time. Before the brutal wake-up call of the September 11th attacks, there is a
complete lack of cell phone usage in the film. It makes a great companion to
2001’s other minor masterpiece of adolescent angst, the cult favorite Donnie Darko.
ANGELS ON WHEELS LA Screening with Richard Rush and Sabrina Scharf in Person
By Todd Garbarini
Rush’s 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels
celebrates its 50th anniversary with a special screening at the Noho
7 Theatre in Los Angeles. Starring Adam Roarke, Jack Nicholson, Sabrina Scharf,
Jana Taylor and Jack Starrett, the film runs 95 minutes and is one of several
films that Mr. Rush directed Mr. Nicholson in, the others being Too Soon to Love (1960) and Psycho-Out (1968). This is a rare
opportunity to see this film on the big screen.
PLEASE NOTE: Director Richard Rush and
actress Sabrina Scharf are scheduled to appear in person for a Q & A
following the screening.
the press release:
HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967)
Thursday, August 3, 2017 at 7:30 PM
A bunch of hairy guys on Harleys are causing trouble again in this, one of the
best-remembered examples of the biker flicks of the 1960's. Poet (Jack
Nicholson) is a moody gas station attendant who is looking for more excitement
in his life. When a gang of bikers roars through town, Poet is intrigued, and
after he pitches in to help the Hell's Angels in a bar fight (and pulls a
well-timed stick up), one of the gang's higher-ups, Buddy (Adam Roarke) asks
Poet to join. Soon Poet is riding with the Angels and living their lifestyle of
violent debauchery, but Poet begins to tire of their rootless decadence, and
Buddy is none too happy with Poet when he learns they're both in love with the
same woman. Hell's Angels On Wheels won a cult following for its agressive but
languid atmosphere and the fluid camerawork of cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs
(at this point still billed as "Leslie Kovacs"). Richard Rush
directed, and legendary Hell's Angels leader Sonny Barger appears as himself.
The Noho 7 Theatre is located at 5240
Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601.
The phone number is (310) (310) 478 – 3836.
Mark Robson’s 1957 film Peyton Place celebrates its 60th
anniversary with a special screening at the Royal Theatre in Los Angeles. The
film, which runs 157 minutes, stars Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan,
Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn, Terry More, and Hope Lange.
NOTE: Actress Terry Moore is currently scheduled to appear at the screening as
part of a Q & A regarding the film and her career.
From the press release:
of our Anniversary Classics series. For details, visit: laemmle.com/ac.
PEYTON PLACE (1957)
60th Anniversary Screening
Wednesday, July 12, at 7:00 PM at the Royal Theatre
Q & A with Co-Star Terry Moore
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 60th anniversary
screening of 'Peyton Place,' the smash hit movie version of Grace Metalious’s
best-selling novel. The film earned nine top Academy Award nominations,
including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also
tied the all-time record of five acting nominations from a single film: Lana
Turner as Best Actress and four supporting nods, for newcomers Diane Varsi and
Hope Lange, along with Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn.
Metalious’s novel exposed the steamy shenanigans in a small New England town,
and even in a slightly toned-down version, the film tackled such once-forbidden
topics as rape, incest, sexual hypocrisy and repression. It opened in December
of 1957 and became the second highest grossing film of 1958 after going into
wide release and then spawned a sequel and a popular TV series in the 1960s.
Leonard Maltin summed up the critical consensus when he wrote, “Grace Metalious’s
once-notorious novel receives Grade A filming.” Producer Jerry Wald (whose
credits included 'Mildred Pierce,' 'Key Largo,' 'Johnny Belinda,' 'An Affair to
Remember,' 'The Long Hot Summer,' and 'Sons and Lovers') bought the rights to
the novel for $250,000 and hired a first-rate team to bring it to the screen.
Screenwriter John Michael Hayes wrote many of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies
of the 1950s, including 'Rear Window,' 'The Trouble with Harry,' and 'The Man
Who Knew Too Much.' Director Mark Robson started as an assistant editor on
Orson Welles’ 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Magnificent Ambersons,' then directed
such successful films as 'Champion,' 'The Bridges at Toko-Ri,' and 'Inn of the
Sixth Happiness.' Oscar winning composer Franz Waxman provided the memorable
The Hollywood Reporter praised
all the performances but singled out co-star Terry Moore, who “shows what a
forceful and moving actress she can be.” Moore made a vivid impression in
1949’s 'Mighty Joe Young,' then earned an Oscar nomination for 'Come Back,
Little Sheba' in 1952. Her other films include 'Man on a Tightrope' with
Fredric March, 'King of the Khyber Rifles' with Tyrone Power, 'Beneath the
12-Mile Reef' with Robert Wagner, and 'Daddy Long Legs' with Fred Astaire and
Leslie Caron. She made 77 feature films over the course of her career and also
appeared in many TV series and movies.
Royal Theatre is located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd. 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los
Angeles, CA 90025. The phone number is (310) 478 – 0401.
is a tough one. On the one hand, Bring Me
the Head of Alfredo Garcia a picture that has gained a cult status and a
reputation among some cinema enthusiasts and certainly Sam Peckinpah fans as a
retro classic. On the other hand, this is one nasty piece of work.
remember immensely disliking the picture in 1974 (as did most audiences and
critics) when it was first released. I appreciated its dark humor and Warren
Oates’ superb study in futility and frustration—it was nice to see the longtime
supporting actor be a lead—but the overall nihilism of the movie left a sour
taste. I was eager to view to new DVD release by Kino Lorber on the chance that
perhaps my opinion would have changed over the last forty-three years, given
the title’s cult acceptance.
afraid my views have not changed.
Sam Peckinpah always had a confrontational relationship with Hollywood studios.
He was a rebel who liked to do things his way. By the time of Alfredo Garcia, he had pretty much given
up on Hollywood and was forging his own path. Luckily for him, United
Artists—known for indulging auteur filmmakers
in those days—gave him enough money to make the picture in Mexico with an
all-Mexican crew, save for a few key personnel. The film is perceived as one of
the director’s most personal statements.
story, by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, and adapted to screenplay by Peckinpah
and Gordon Dawson, follows an American ex-pat in Mexico, Bennie (Oates), as he
attempts to locate the body of deceased Alfredo Garcia, remove the head, and
return it to Mexican crime boss El Jefe.
Apparently, poor Alfredo impregnated El
Jefe’s daughter and ran off, so the boss has placed a million-dollar bounty
for her lover’s head. Bennie and his reluctant Mexican girlfriend, Elita (Isela
Vega), are in competition with various hit men and fortune hunters. Lives are
lost, women are tortured, shootouts occur, and violence (done in trademark
Peckinpah slow-motion) follows Bennie wherever he goes. Once he’s in possession
of the head, which Bennie carries around in a rucksack, flies are his only constant
don’t need Smell-O-Vision for this picture—you can swear the odors of sweat,
death, and blood penetrate the screen.
my biggest objection to the picture is Peckinpah’s treatment of women. Yes,
we’re talking about Mexico here, and we’re focusing on bad guys and prostitutes
and bar girls. But the misogyny and cruelty inflicted on the female characters
is cringe-worthy, especially today, when we’re supposed to be a little more
sensitive to this stuff. The sequence in which bikers (one is played by Kris
Kristofferson) attempt to assault Elita, and her “here we go again, let’s get
it over with” attitude toward it, is disturbing—and not because it’s supposed to be disturbing. I get that.
The problem is that the entire scene is unnecessary.
action bits/shootouts are well-done, and the latter half hour with Bennie
lugging around that head with the flies buzzing around it is grossly comical.
Hit men played by Robert Webber and Gig Young are fun to watch, and Oates’
performance elevates the picture to something that is, granted, watchable… the
same way you might slow down and rubberneck on the highway to gawk at an
Lorber’s transfer looks very good, but there seems to be something wrong in the
mastering with regard to subtitles. A lot of the movie’s dialogue is in Spanish
(for example, the first five minutes, which takes place at El Jefe’s home). There is no default for English subtitles here.
You must go to the main menu and manually turn on the subtitles. That solves
the problem for the Spanish dialogue—but then, the subtitles continue
throughout the picture even when English is spoken. Very annoying.
only supplement is an interesting and insightful audio commentary moderated by
Nick Redman and featuring film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and
David Weddle, all who have written separate books about Sam Peckinpah. There’s
the theatrical trailer, and several more trailers for Kino Lorber releases.
Bring Me the Head of
Alfredo Garcia just
might be your cup of tea—it’s probably beloved by the “Tarantino crowd”—so if
it is, then this DVD is for you.
Walt Disney’s Bambi, which opened on Friday, August 21, 1942 at Radio City Music
accompanied by a live stage show, is an indisputable animated masterpiece based
upon Felix Salten’s 1923 novel of the same name. The story of a young fawn
growing up in the woods with his mother and cute animals in his midst, ty Bambi is not the sort of film that one
would normally associate with the Walt Disney name. As children, we are
introduced to the requisite characters who are synonymous with Disney and
labeled as “family entertainment” such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, either
through television viewings, theatrical rereleases or VHS/laserdisc/DVD/Blu-ray
viewings. The overall general attitude of a Disney film is one of fun and joy,
although there are exceptions as some movies, such as Pinocchio (1940) and The
Rescuers (1977), have moments that are emotionally dark. Bambi is no traditional Disney movie,
and dare I say it’s a film that parents of very young and impressionable
children should honestly think twice about before permitting them to view it,
as introducing the notion of death to a youngster through a cartoon may prove
to be a life-changing event (to say nothing of the constant images of violence
that children are subjected to on television and on the Internet each day).
Bambi experiences the many things in
life that children experience: meeting and taking a liking to new friends
(Thumper the rabbit proves a good companion and teacher and a fellow fawn named
Faline proves to be a fun female friend) and making honest mistakes (labeling a
skunk “Flower” of all things). He is very close to his mother, but does not
realize that the Great Prince of the Forest, who protects the animals from Man,
specifically hunters, and is both revered and feared by the animals, is his real
father. His fortitude is tested when his mother is killed by the hunters and
his father reveals his identity to him. Bambi realizes that to survive one must
As the years go by, Bambi matures,
grows up and adapts to the environment. He now views the equally older Faline
as a potential romantic mate, and wards off a fellow buck, Ronno, who competes
for her affections. His childhood friends also find their own romantic mates,
and Bambi and Faline are blessed with twins as Bambi becomes the new Great
Prince of the Forest. As they said in 1994’s The Lion King, the circle of life.
and Chong’s Next Movie, which opened on Friday, July 18,
1980, had stiff competition at the box office: Airplane!, The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Friday the 13th,
The Blue Lagoon, The Big Red One, Dressed to Kill, Fame, and The Blues Brothers were all in major
release at the time. While Next Movie
and did respectable business, it went on to gross even more moola when
Universal released is on a double bill with John Landis’s beloved Blues Brothers later. The film picks up
sometime after Cheech and Chong’s maiden cinematic outing, Up in Smoke, left off two years earlier. Written by the slapdash
and seemingly always high dynamic duo and directed by the latter of the two, Next Movie plays out like their comedy
album routines (“Dave” from their self-titled 1971 debut album is one of their
best-known and funniest bits) which is exactly how Abbott and Costello’s early
film appearances were scripted (in their case they were based on their radio
routines). Next Movie was shot in
1979 as evinced by the appearance of North
Dallas Forty and Being There on
Los Angeles movie marquees in the distance and concerns two struggling potheads
who go through a series of (mis)adventures while attempting to start a rock
band. They siphon gas out of a truck into a refuse-filled garbage can with
explosive results. They have an ongoing feud with their neighbor who is fed up
with their antics. Their house has been condemned and they find themselves at a
welfare office. Cheech’s girlfriend Donna (Evelyn Guerrero), one of the welfare
workers, has an off-screen tryst with him while Chong sits next to a very young
Michael Winslow who makes some truly funny sound effects that would make him so
popular later in seven Police Academy
movies. The scene goes on a bit too long, but it’s a great showcase for Mr.
Winslow’s considerable talents. Donna’s boss reprimands her for her momentary
lapse of reason under Cheech’s spell and they make a run for it. Later,
Cheech’s cousin Red (also played by Mr. Marin) blows into town and, while also
financially impecunious, fights with a hotel receptionist (Paul Reubens) who is
carted off by the cops while shouting Al Pacino’s famous “Attica! Attica!” mantra
and ends up jailed after assaulting the men.
The boys are then invited
to a party by a roller-skater (when was the last time you saw one of those
onscreen?) which takes place in a whorehouse in a sequence that elicits
laughter as Cheech watches and reacts to some action outside of one of the
rooms. They scare off the clients by playing back audio on a boombox that they
recorded earlier of the hotel altercation. This is a cute tactic that has
worked to comedic effect in everything from the aforementioned Abbott and
Costello to Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on
Elm Street (1984). The clients spill out onto Sunset Boulevard in a frenzy
and end up at the house of one of the girl’s parents, who are in a constant
state of hilarity, and the action moves to a comedy club wherein a fight breaks
out. Paul Reubens reappears here in a very early appearance as Pee-Wee Herman.
The film eventually ends with a strange bit of “far-out” silliness involving
pot, flying saucers and animation. The message of the film, if there is one, is
that “life’s a party”. If you’re a fan of the titular doofuses who are funny
and amiable, you’ll enjoy the film. Some of the episodes go on a little too
long and it makes one wonder if the filmmakers simply expected the audience to
be stoned while watching the film!
Like Shout! Factory’s
recent release of Universal’s Car Wash
(1976), Next Movie is a film that was
drastically altered for its television airing which included different scenes
and music. While it would have been nice to have had this alternate version on
the new Blu-ray, Cheech and Chong fans will appreciate the new and colorful
transfer which is much clearer than previous home video transfers. Shout!
Factory has done another bang-up job with the image looking very bright and the
colors vivid. Los Angeles, like New York at the time, had a look and feel and
character all its own which is now gone thanks to corporate America. The
brothel that they leave is on a street that has lost its integrity much like
the most memorable and colorful establishments that appear in Martin Scorsese’s
New York in Taxi Driver (1976).
The Blu-ray contains
these extras: a theatrical trailer, radio sports, and a roughly 20-minute
onscreen interview with Cheech Marin,who discusses the making of the film..
There’s nothing I like better than getting
hold of a movie that I’ve been searching over three decades for and adding it
to my collection. At my age, there aren’t many vintage films left that I don’t
own in one format or another, so when I heard that the 1976 cult classic Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw was getting a
Blu-ray release, I was quite enthused. This movie has somehow always managed to
elude me. It never seemed to play on any of my cable stations in the early 80s,
we never had a copy of it at the video store I worked at in the mid-80s and I
was still never able to find a copy of it anywhere throughout the 90s. To be
honest, by the time the 21st century hit, I completely forgotten
about this movie, so I was pretty surprised and even more excited to find out
that it was not only being released on Blu-ray, but also with quite a few
special features. Why? To begin with, I’m a tremendous fan of the director; not
to mention the entire cast and, last, but not least, I just love fun,
action/crime/drama exploitation films from the 1970s.
Produced and directed by Mark Lester (Truck Stop Women, Roller Boogie, Class of
1984), written by Vernon Zimmerman (Unholy
Rollers, Fade to Black) and released by American International Pictures,
modern western Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw
tells the tale of quick-draw expert and Billy the Kid enthusiast Lyle Wheeler
(Marjoe Gortner, Earthquake, Food of the
Gods, Viva Knievel!, Starcrash) who, together with waitress and aspiring
country singer Bobbi Jo Baker (TV’s one and only Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter) experiences a dangerous cross country
adventure filled with love, robbery and murder.
So, was the movie worth the wait? I certainly
think so. It may not be in the same league as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but it’s still an extremely enjoyable,
well-directed, written and acted low-budget feature that definitely deserves to
be seen. To begin with, Mark Lester’s direction is not only solid, but he is
just at home directing the quiet, more character-driven and dramatic/romantic
scenes as he is directing a sequence involving heavy action and stunts. Next
up, Vernon Zimmerman’s wonderful writing not only creates an engaging story,
but interesting and likeable three-dimensional characters as well. Lyle Wheeler
aka the Outlaw, seems to live by his own code and has definite ideas of good
and evil; right and wrong. Marjoe Gortner effortlessly and believably gets all
this across and makes his character quite likeable. (This may be my favorite
Gortner performance.) The stunning Lynda Carter gets to show a bit more range
then she did as Wonder Woman and is extremely convincing as the hopeful and
somewhat naïve Bobbi Jo. The rest of the outrageously talented cast not only
add immensely to the film, but clearly came to play. Jesse Vint (Chinatown, Forbidden World) perfectly
plays Slick Callahan; a wild, not too bright cocaine fiend and boyfriend of
Bobbi Jo’s sister, Pearl. Gorgeous Merrie Lynn Ross (Class of 1984, TVs General
Hospital), who also co-produced the film, brings a hardened heart quality
to slightly ditzy stripper Pearl, and the always welcome Belinda Balaski (Piranha, The Howling) shines as hippie
waitress Essie Beaumont. Rounding out the top-notch cast is Gene Drew (Truck Stop Women) as a no-nonsense
sheriff, B-movie legend Gerrit Graham (Beware!
The Blob, Phantom of the Paradise, The Annihilators, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the
C.H.U.D.) as a helpful hippie, Virgil Frye (Graduation Day), who replaced Dennis Hopper, as a macho gas station
attendant with something to prove, Peggy Stewart (Alias Billy the Kid, Beyond Evil) as Bobbi Jo’s alcoholic mom, and
James Gammon (Major League) as a fast
Tim Sarnoff Technicolor's President of Production, addresses attendees.
energy was building, the drones were flying and the mood was celebratory as
Technicolor officially opened its brand-new Culver City TEC Center dedicated to
the brave new worlds of VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and other immersive
official name is “Technicolor Experience Center”, and it’s been having a “soft”
opening for almost a year, but now the doors are really open... The facility
is a collaborative lab and incubator to develop future content and delivery
platforms in the Immersive media space. “The TEC is really a work in progress,”
explains Marcie Jastrow, Technicolor’s SVP Immersive Media and the executive in
charge of the Center. “It’s a safe place for people to come and learn. It’s part education, part production and part
post-production.” Although Technicolor is the parent company of hot VFX shops
The Mill, MPC and Mr. X, which combined work on fully 80% of Hollywood
blockbusters and 50% of Super Bowl spots, the TEC is agnostic – meaning they
welcome all producers and projects.
“Technicolor” and most people think old time movie color, but as Tim Sarnoff,
Technicolor’s President of Production points out, “We processed our last foot
of film in 2015, we’ve been growing in the digital space for years.” Technicolor owns over 40,000 patents and is
ubiquitous today. “Everyone touches something that involves Technicolor,” says
Sarnoff, “… from your smartphone, TV, set-top boxes, blockbuster movies to
Super Bowl commercials.”
cool item on display was “The Blackbird” a VR vehicle designed by The Mill that
has been transforming auto advertising because it can mimic almost any type of
car and its unique 3D camera rig can capture a virtual version of any
environment. Along with making auto ad
shoots easier, The Blackbird (named because it was built in the very same
hangar where the legendary spy plane, SR-71, was constructed) can also help automotive
designers envision a new vehicle much earlier in the design process.
400 people crowded Technicolor’s new space – designers, directors, executives
from gaming, TV, film studios and technologists, all curious about the night’s other
big announcement: Technicolor and HP’s new collaboration: MARS Home Planet, an
ambitious project to use VR to design a life-sustaining environment for 1
million humans on the Martian surface. Hopefully we don’t have to flee Mother
Earth just yet (!) but this will be a vast experiment where students and
members of the public worldwide are invited to participate.
Blackbird VR vehicle.
wanted to tap into the collective human imagination and inspiration to reinvent
life on another planet…” enthuses Sean Young, HP’s Worldwide Segment Manager,
Product Development. He also pointed out
that while HP is known for its printers, they’ve been working in the film and
media space for 75 years, starting with building a color grader for Walt
Home Planet uses NASA’s research and footage of the Martian surface to create a
realistic backdrop for engineers, creatives, scientists and others to reimagine
what human life on another planet could be. Wanna be an astronaut? Go to hp.com/go/mars. The first 10,000 explorers get a download
code for the Fusion Mars 2030 VR Experience.
For a film director with
such an iconic resume, there’s a surprising scarcity of scholarly books devoted
to Robert Wise, the man who directed such classics as "West Side Story" (1961), "The Haunting" (1963), “The Sound of Music” (1965), “The Curse of the Cat People”
(1944), “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “The Sand Pebbles” (1966) and
many other critical and commercial successes. To say nothing of his stature as
the man who edited “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)
before taking up decades-long residence in the director’s chair.
Wise brought a self-effacing
approach to directing, one that never drew attention to itself. He may have had
the most “invisible” style of all the major directors from Hollywood’s Golden
Era, which no doubt helps explain why he never had the auteur imprimatur conferred
upon him by French critics who swooned over Welles’ baroque visuals, Douglas
Sirk’s melodramatic excess, and Howard Hawks’ male-bonding thematic.
characteristics of a Wise film were subtler, if no less crucial: the ability to
advance the narrative through visuals, seamless editing, an unfailing command
of pace, the ability to draw consistent performances from his casts. His
adaptability and mastery of all aspects of filmmaking helped him excel across every
genre. Noir, sci-fi, horror, westerns, musicals, romances—Wise made outstanding
films in each of these categories.
In what is surely good news
for fans of Robert Wise and classic films in general, Joe Jordan, film historian
and author of “Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle,” has filled an
important gap in film scholarship with his new book, “Robert Wise: The Motion
Pictures.” As the title implies, this is not a biography, but an in-depth study
of Wise’s films. The book’s length, 500 pages, testifies to the prodigious
research Jordan conducted on his subject.
Jordan’s approach is rather
unique. He provides an extended synopsis and assessment of each film, bookended
by contextual information relating to pre- and post-production issues and interspersed
with relevant dialog exchanges and copious film stills. These analytical
synopses, for want of a better term, are so lengthy and detailed that readers
are likely to find themselves running the films through their heads as Jordan
provides his own running commentary on how Wise achieved certain effects
through camera setups, staging of action, direction of actors, attention to
sound, and so on. Even if one has an intimate familiarity with Wise’s films,
Jordan continually surprises with his insight and observations, and makes one
want to watch them all over again.
Another highlight of the
book are the personal recollections from many of the actors and actresses who
performed in Wise’s films. These oral histories, some of which run to several
pages, are also deftly woven into the overall narrative. The contributors are
an interesting bunch. None of them are superstars per se (not all are actors,
either), and while some names are more familiar than others, all are extremely
talented professionals who made significant contributions to Wise’s films. It’s
refreshing to read fresh perspectives from personalities not often heard from. There’s
an unassuming tone to each of their recollections, which is fitting, given the
modest, self-effacing nature of the man they’re discussing. Their memories are informative
and entertaining, all of them linked by the greatest respect for their subject.
Stunt man Jack Young recalls
doubling for James Cagney on “Tribute to a Bad Man” (1956), and being impressed
by the relaxed yet professional atmosphere on Wise’s set—a recurring claim made
by everyone who worked on his films. Young offers a superbly concise description
of Wise as “a good director who cracked a soft whip.” He also reveals some
interesting facts about the nature of his profession in the 1940s and ’50s,
when stunt men also served as stand-ins and lighting doubles for actors, a
practice no longer allowed.
disliked Car Wash upon seeing it for
the first time On Demand several years ago and didn’t even make it all the way
through. Having grown up listening to Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the early
1980’s I had always wanted to see this film that showcased both of their
talents but could never seem to find it on television or on VHS in any of the
independent video stores that I frequented. The former West Coast Videos and
Blockbuster Videos were of no help either. Given the opportunity to see it On
Demand, I must have been in a different mindset as something about the film
must have rubbed me the wrong way, but a new viewing of it has changed my mind
Car Wash, which opened in theatres in New York City
on Friday, October 15, 1976 (remember the 8th Street Playhouse?), is
a delightfully funny slice of Los Angeles 1970’s craziness that looks at the
lives of a sizeable group of men who wash cars by hand for a meek owner, Mr.
B., played by the late great character actor Sully Boyer, the bank manager from
Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Mr. B. can’t
afford to install the automatic, machine-run equipment necessary to wash cars
more efficiently at the Dee-Luxe Car Wash (even a young boy sees through his
claim to have his workers do the washing by hand to give it that “personal
touch”) while, unbelievably, carrying on an extra-marital affair with Marsha,
the cute girl at the cash register (Melanie Mayron, who looks like she could be
the sister of adult film performer Sunny Lane). The main characters are the
washers themselves and we are introduced to them as they change in the locker
room and talk about the lives that they really want to be leading. One wants to
be a superhero, another two are a fairly good singing duo, and the angriest of
the lot calls himself Abdullah (Bill Duke) and wants to be anywhere but there
as he’s tired of the shenanigans. Lindy (Antonio Fargas of Starsky and Hutch) is a drag queen with a good heart and has some
of the best lines in this Joel Schumacher-scripted film.
the action progresses, we meet several clients who want only tip-top service.
Lorraine Gary from Jaws portrays an
inspired bit of Beverly Hills middle-age housewife hysteria who is in a hurry as
she speeds through the LA streets talking on a mobile car phone(!) with a young
son who can’t stop vomiting for reasons never explained. Kenny (Tim Thomerson)
catches Marsha’s eye and suavely hands her his business card. Another involves
a man recovering from a prostate operation and a bottle of urine that parodies
the ape throwing the bone into the sky in 2001:
A Space Odyssey. One of the stand-outs is Richard Pryor as Daddy Rich, a goofy
preacher who travels in luxury with an entourage that includes The Pointer
Sisters and spouts enough verbal puns to illustrate that not much has changed
between the days of snake oil salesmen and those “doing God’s work” while being
called out by Abdullah. His reaction after getting out of the limo (look fast
for the sophomoric TITHE on the license plate) for the first time when he gets
a look at Lindy is hilarious and priceless. The car wash even has Daddy Rich’s
photo mounted on a wall next to JFK and MLK. George Carlin also appears as a
loquacious taxi driver who boasts to a hooker/passenger (Lauren Jones) how much
he trusts people just as she quietly bolts from his cab without paying her
fare. He spends the rest of the film looking for her while she hangs around
right under his nose, completely unrecognizable in a different outfit. The
film’s episodic nature recalls Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking.
not all fun and games as the script takes an unexpected turn into serious
territory where it deals with Caucasian and African-American relations. One of
the washers is himself an ex-convict doing his best to stay on the straight and
narrow and provide for his children who greet him at work in a sweet and tender
scene. Later, he is nearly killed when a fired employee tries to rob the cash
register after hours. The incident is completely unexpected and deeply poignant
as the former promises to help the latter out of his situation as the would-be
robber emotionally breaks down.
of the scenes would probably not be scripted like this had the film been made
today, and as of early 2016 there was a rumor that the film was being
considered for a remake. In 2001 a film called The Wash (not to be confused with the 1988 film of the same name) was
released and was directed by DJ Pooh and starred Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg that
took place at a car wash.
who grew up in the 1970s fondly remembers “Chiller Theater” playing on WPIX in
the NY area. Chiller introduced me to
all the Universal classics – Dracula,
Frankenstein, The Wolfman and, of course, Karloff’s 1932 addition, The Mummy. Universal’s new re-imagining of their beloved
classic isn’t that Mummy, not by a long shot– but we’re in a different time and
a different world, so why not?
new Mummy stars Tom Cruise as Nick
Morton, an Army commando/antiquities raider who finds and sells priceless
relics on the black market. He’s stolen
a map from a lovely, combative British archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) that
leads him to modern day, ultra dangerous Iraq. After he and his Army bro (Jake Johnson) call in an airstrike to save
them from insurgents, a missile blast reveals the hidden tomb of Ahmanet, an
Egyptian Princess who murdered her immediate family in a quest for power. Her punishment was being buried alive – in a
vat of mercury, which the ancient Egyptians believed prevented her evil spirit
from escaping. Tom Cruise inadvertently
raises her and all Hell breaks loose – literally.
Algerian actress Sofia Boutella (the legless assassin from Kingsman: The Secret Service) plays our new Mummy – it was a bold
choice, but the ONLY one director Alex Kurtzman could make as no one could
out-Karloff Karloff. Boutella is
menacing, seductive and a screen presence who can more than hold her own with
film has already received a drubbing from some critics and die-hard monster
fans. They took issue with Tom Cruise’s
casting and the filmmakers’ use of CGI. While I was surprised to hear that
Cruise had signed on, The Mummy is
something different from his usual action hero chores and he embraced it with
his trademark enthusiasm. He
convincingly plays a macho military guy fighting against Ahmanet’s spell,
trying to win back the archeologist and save the world from the
princess’ zombie hordes. (Did I mention
she can raise the dead?) While the
filmmakers did use CGI, the work by
Technicolor’s MPC is, as expected, top notch – from sandstorms blowing through
London’s Financial District, to attacking camel spiders and dead Crusaders stalking
the London Underground.
we have a new, female Mummy, we have global icon Tom Cruise, we have zombies,
chases and car crashes. What’s the only thing missing? A frame to hang it and future monster movies
on. Well, the filmmakers thought of that
too: enter “Prodigium”, a super secret organization dedicated to wiping out
evil and it’s hot on The Mummy’s trail. Prodigium is run by… um… Dr. Henry
Jekyll. Cue the needle skip sound!
played by Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, is a clue that The Mummy, impressive as it is, is part of something bigger – the
Dark Universe, Universal’s reinvigorated monster franchise.Take a deep breath and step back… unless
you’ve been buried alive for the last decade, Hollywood is, for better or
worse, in the mega franchise business:Iron Man, Thor, Deadpool, Kong, Star Trek,
Pirates, Harry Potter, MI, Fast & Furious, Hunger Games, James Bond, Jack Reacher, etc. Why?Because with rare exceptions, they make
boatloads of money.If you view it in
that context, Dr. J’s appearance makes a bit more sense. Crowe is fine as the good doctor and his evil
counterpart who gives Cruise a righteous thrashing while trying to enlist him
to the dark side, but I kinda wish they hadn’t crossed horror streams, so to
speak…that said, The Mummy is everything you could want from a $120 million film –
it’s fast, exciting, and impeccably made.And it isn’t all airless CGI: early on, the military plane transporting
Princess Ahmanet’s sarcophagus is hit by a swarm of crows.The resulting crash was filmed on 16
parabolic flights to show Cruise and Wallis banging around the cabin in Zero
G.There’s a high-speed ambulance crash
on the moors of England that practically puts you in the driver’s seat.Cinematographer Ben Seresin uses the vast Namibian
desert to great effect; and love him or hate him, Tom Cruise is a damn good
actor. His almost-nude scene reveals he is also as ageless as the Sphinx.So kick back and enjoy this Mummy.You’ll always
have Karloff’s classic on your DVD shelf.
Levinson’s 1982 comedy Diner
celebrates its 35th anniversary (yikes!) with a special 35mm
screening at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Los Angeles. A highly revered
coming-of-age story directed by the man who helmed Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), Good
Morning Vietnam (1987), and Rain Man
(1989), Diner features and all-star
cast that includes Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon,
Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin, and Paul Reiser. The 110-minute film will be screened on
Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 7:30 pm.
PLEASE NOTE: Producer Mark Johnson and
actor Paul Reiser are scheduled to appear in person for a Q & A following
the press release:
35th Anniversary Screening
Saturday, June 10, at 7:30 PM at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre
Followed by Q & A with Producer Mark Johnson
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 35th anniversary
screening of one of the best loved films of the 1980s, Barry Levinson’s
'Diner.' Levinson made his directorial debut with this feature set in his
native Baltimore in 1959, and he earned an Oscar nomination for best original
screenplay. The frequently uproarious comedy-drama, set to a rousing soundtrack
of hits from the period, follows a group of friends who hang out at their
favorite diner as they try to navigate the perilous path from adolescence to
adulthood. Long before 'Mad Men,' this film skewered the blatant sexism that
was rampant in the era.
The extraordinary cast, many of them new to movies, includes Steve Guttenberg,
Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, and Ellen
Barkin. Levinson encouraged his cast to improvise, and their rapport helped to
electrify the film. Many of them went on to make an impressive mark in both
film and television over the next decades.Time’s Richard Corliss wrote that
'Diner' was “wonderfully cast and played.”People Magazinedeclared, “All the performances are
remarkable…but the ultimate triumph is Levinson’s. He captures both the surface
and the soul of an era with candor and precision.”
Mark Johnson won the Academy Award for producing the Best Picture of 1988, 'Rain
Man,' also directed by Levinson. His many other credits include 'The Natural,'
'Good Morning, Vietnam,' 'Avalon,' 'Bugsy,' 'Donnie Brasco,' 'A Perfect World,'
'The Chronicles of Narnia,' 'The Notebook,' and the award-winning TV series
'Breaking Bad,' 'Better Call Saul,' and 'Rectify.' He has chaired the foreign
language committee of the Motion Picture Academy for many years.
The Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre is located
at 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. The phone number is (310) 478 – 3836.
Roy Hill’s 1964 comedy, The World of
Henry Orient, is based on a novel by Nora Johnson that fictionalizes her
own experiences as a schoolgirl in New York City when she and a friend
allegedly had crushes on pianist Oscar Levant. She and her father, Nunnally
Johnson, adapted the book to screenplay.
the story of two mid-teens, competently played by newcomers Merrie Spaeth
(“Gil”) and Tippy Walker (“Val”), who attend a private girls school in the
city. Gil’s parents are divorced and she lives with her mother and another
divorcee in a nice Upper East Side apartment. Val’s parents are still married,
but unhappily, and they’re constantly traveling the world for her father’s (Tom
Bosley) business. This leaves Gil and Val to indulge in precocious imaginary
“adventures” around the city.
develops an infatuation on eccentric womanizing concert pianist Henry Orient
(Peter Sellers) and the pair stalk him around town as he has first an affair
with a married woman (the delightful Paula Prentiss) and later Val’s own snobbish
mother (Angela Lansbury). Orient spots the two girls several times, leading him
to have paranoid fantasies that they are spies working for the cuckolded
husbands. In short, the youngsters’ shenanigans end up running the naughty man
out of town.
movie is really an odd little coming-of-age tale concerning children from
dysfunctional or broken homes. It works well enough (it was positively received
upon release), but it’s hardly a “Peter Sellers movie,” as the publicity
campaign promises. Sellers, who receives top billing, is barely a supporting
player in the story, although he is indeed very funny. His antics with Paula
Prentiss—a highly underrated comic actress who shines in her brief moments—are
enjoyable, and the crazy Carnegie Hall concert in which he performs his latest
avant-garde composition is hilarious—worth the price of admission.
the film focuses on the two girls, who, for their debut performances, aren’t
bad at all, but don’t quite have the screen charisma to elevate the film to
intended heights (Spaeth never acted again; Walker went on to do some
television and a couple of other films before retiring from show business in
film might be a delight for anyone who knows New York City. As the picture was
made on location, it’s a virtual tour guide for the sights, mainly Central Park
and the Upper East Side. Elmer Bernstein’s lively score is memorable—especially
the catchy main title theme and Orient’s wacky P.D.Q. Bach-like “symphony”
(that includes a fog horn).
Lorber’s DVD release comes with no supplements other than trailers for other
releases by the company. The video image is fine.
little-seen today, The World of Henry
Orient is an interesting time capsule from its era, most significant for
being one of three 1964 pictures in
which Peter Sellers starred. He was, arguably, at his peak.
Scorsese has made several films that are challenging for an audience. Even some
of his most acclaimed pictures, such as Raging
Bull, are difficult to watch and “enjoy.” Scorsese tackles hard truths
about the human condition, and many times they’re unpleasant and disturbing.
Sometimes the dramas he explores are not what one would call a “good time at
doesn’t mean they’re bad. On the contrary, great art often requires an audience
to meet it halfway, to capitulate and embrace the pain that is at the heart of
what the artist has intended to convey.
Silence is one of those
films. A decades-long passion project for the director, based on the novel by
Shūsaku Endō, it is about the
“silence” of God that is the biggest obstacle faced by people of faith. The
subject matter would have been at home in hands of someone like Ingmar Bergman,
who tackled this topic several times in his career. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s oeuvre has often been informed by his
Catholic upbringing and his struggles with it. While his 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, was a
deeply personal and, yes, a religious picture,
it was met with controversy and even banning in some territories. Silence is an even more religious
statement from the master filmmaker, and it, too, has received mixed responses.
Some hailed it as a masterpiece. Others said it was an overlong, colossal bore.
Silence is a period piece
that takes place in 17th Century Japan, when Portuguese Jesuit
priests were attempting to bring Christianity to that feudal kingdom. One
particular priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), had gone to Japan on such a
mission, but news comes back to Portugal that he has renounced his faith and disappeared.
Two young priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam
Driver) are sent to locate him to find out what happened—and spread the Gospel
while they’re at it.
doesn’t go well. The priests encounter the cruel and calculating samurai known
as the “Inquisitor” (magnificently portrayed by Issey Ogata), who does
everything in his power to crush the priests’ objective, wipe Christianity from
his land, and keep an iron hold on the citizens’ beliefs. Different methods of
torture are his preferred weapons of rule. As time passes, the priests’ faith
is severely compromised—but Rodrigues hangs on, fighting with every fiber of
his being to the bitter end.
doesn’t come for two hours and forty-one minutes.
lies the problem I had with what otherwise was one of the most
gorgeously-photographed motion pictures I’ve seen in years. The cinematography
by Rodrigo Prieto earned an Oscar nomination—and probably should have won. The
production and costume designs by Dante Ferretti should have also at least received
nods. The movie is indeed beautiful to look at, on par with such visual feasts
as Barry Lyndon, Days of Heaven, and The Tree
just… long. And very slow. The meditative pace, intentional as it is, serves
the subject and the picture well up to a point. The movie is additionally extremely
quiet; the soundtrack consists of mostly sounds of nature along with delicate period
music of an Eastern flavor by Kathryn and Kim Allen Kluge. The relentless
suffering of the characters—in silence—takes its toll. Perhaps that’s what
Scorsese wanted to do. To test the audience, just as the priests are tested.
acting, especially by Garfield, shows extreme dedication to the material. Both he
and Driver lost a good deal of weight for their roles. At one point during
filming, as recounted in the documentary supplement on the disk, the entire
cast and crew broke for lunch on a beach—but the two actors chose to stay in a
boat away from shore and not participate in the meal.
new Paramount Blu-ray disk exquisitely captures the film. It looks fantastic,
as it should, with a 1080p High Definition transfer. There are several sound
options—5.1 DTS HD Master Audio in English, and other languages in 5.1 Dolby
Digital. The only supplement is the aforementioned making-of featurette, Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence,
which provides a satisfying overview of the production and its genesis.
of Martin Scorsese should give Silence a
chance, but don’t expect the flash-bang editing of GoodFellas. This is an art film of the highest order, one that you
may find very rewarding if your endurance makes it to its final, glorious image
before the end credits.
(The new documentary "Becoming Bond" is now showing on the Hulu network.)
BY MARK CERULLI
to seeing Josh Greenbaum’s illuminating documentary, Becoming Bond, which premiered on HULU May 20th, I had
dismissed George Lazenby’s mystifying refusal to continue as 007 as just
another gullible young actor taking bad career advice; like Tom Selleck passing
on Indiana Jones, Travolta nixing Forrest Gump, Thomas Jane handing Don
Draper to Jon Hamm… but there’s more to
it than that, a lot more as it turns out.
combining interview footage of Lazenby, still hale and hearty at 77, with
well-staged recreations, Becoming Bond
dives deep into this complicated and impulsive star to understand HOW he could
casually dump one of the most coveted roles in the history of film. As it turns out, that decision is symbolic of
who George Lazenby really is: intelligent, charming, naïve but most of all, independent. Lazenby is, and has always been, his own man. From pissing off teachers in grade school, to
pursuing a girl from an elite family many social stations above his own, George
always did what George wanted to do. Usually documentaries feature others talking about the main subject in
order to create a full picture. Early on, director Josh Greenbaum felt
Lazenby’s stories were so rich, he wanted to recreate them – it was an inspired
choice. Australian actor Josh Lawson is
perfect as a young George Lazenby, gradually finding his way in the world and
effortlessly using his charm and chiseled looks to become a top model. A fluke landed him dinner with a London
talent agent (played by real Bond Girl, Jane Seymour) who got him in the
door to audition for 007, then George did it HIS way: conning a brusque Harry
Saltzman (comedian Jeff Garlin) into handing him the keys to the Bond movie
kingdom, then confounding him when he wouldn’t play by his rules. Lazenby did his and Cubby Broccoli’s film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which
became a box office hit in 1969 (despite popular belief that the movie bombed.) Suddenly the world – and a world of women –
were at his feet, but it was a lot for a guy from tiny Goulburn, Australia to
handle. Maybe too much. Lazenby turned down a one million dollar
payment to sign a seven-picture deal, something most actors would give body
parts for. Once the Bond producers realized none of the usual leverage worked,
they were playing by Lazenby’s rules, which meant there were no rules: George does what George wants. In the end, Lazenby did okay without Bond – he
made his money in real estate, acted in other films, married, became a father…
but oh what might have been.
After the documentary screening at LA’s delightfully quirky Cinefamily Theater, cast, crew and George himself answered questions, and once again, George was George. When asked if he regretted walking away from Bond, the actor said, “If I had stayed as James Bond I would have probably had three wives in Beverly Hills, mansions, been a drug addict… that’s the kind of person I would’ve been because it wouldn’t’ve been me.” He admitted he just didn’t like taking orders. Sitting next to him, actor Josh Lawson perceptively pointed out that, “the things that caused George to walk away were the things that got him the job in the first place.”
After the Q&A, Hulu threw down an after party with an open (bless them) martini bar. There the cast and Lazenby mingled with guests – including this CR scribe. I had met George before, but had forgotten how freakin’ big he is in person. (A fellow Bond fan said he was the tallest of all the Bonds.) Shaking his enormous hand reminded me of shaking hands with boxing champ George Foreman during my HBO producer days. No wonder Lazenby knocked out a stuntman during his Bond action screen test. (An act seen in the documentary, followed by Saltzman stepping over the twitching body to tell George, “We’re going with you.”) Absolutely priceless, all true – and pure Lazenby!
composure is remarkable given how close he came to having it all. In fact, the only time he became visibly
emotional was when he discussed the one decision he does regret: giving up the girl of his dreams, a lovely
upper class gal named Belinda (wonderfully played by Kassandra Clementi). Like her co-star, Clementi had never met
Lazenby until Wednesday’s premiere and she had never even seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which
was shown after the festivities. And how
did she like it? “I loved the film,”
Clementi said via her publicist, “And George Lazenby was unsurprisingly just as
captivating and charming as he is today.” Sounds like a newly-minted Bond fan…
Allen has written and directed several dramas over the years (none of which he
appears in)—and there are indeed a few that are worthwhile endeavors. The 1988
release, Another Woman, might be one
of Allen’s least-seen films, and yet it belongs in a list of the artist’s
solid, good pictures—not one of his
masterpieces, but certainly not a clinker (with over forty-six titles, his oeuvre runs the gamut!)
few months ago, I reviewed Allen’s first drama, Interiors, here at Cinema
Retro and acknowledged
the obvious influence of Ingmar Bergman in the work. But it was stated that Interiors was really more Eugene O’Neill
than Bergman. Here, Another Woman is
definitely channeling Bergman; in fact, many critics spotted the similarity—or homage—to the Swedish master’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957), in that the
film is about a person reflecting on a past life, discovering painful truths,
and resolving to change paths moving forward. In Strawberries, the protagonist is an old man; in Woman it’s a female turning fifty. The
Bergman comparison is made even stronger by the fact that Bergman’s longtime
and Oscar-winning cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, is the DP on Allen’s picture.
He shoots it in striking, picture-perfect color.
(sensitively played by the great Gena Rowlands) is an intelligent philosophy
professor on sabbatical, and she’s hoping to write a book. She’s in her second
marriage to Ken (Ian Holm), who is also in his
second marriage. His teenage daughter from the first union, Laura (Martha
Plimpton), is closer to Marion than her own mother (Betty Buckley). Marion has
rented an apartment to get away from construction noise at her home so that
she’ll have peace and quiet to write. However, the walls are thin and she is
next to a psychiatrist’s office. Marion can hear the patients talk about their
problems. One particular subject, Hope (Mia Farrow), is pregnant and suicidal.
Listening to Hope triggers a crisis in Marion, who begins to face turning fifty
and what her life has meant. She soon discovers that she’s been in denial over
a lot of things, mainly that she isn’t perceived by people close to her in ways
that she had thought.
film then takes the Wild Strawberries route
as Marion reflects on events from her past (shown in flashbacks and dream
sequences). Instances of infidelity, jealousy, elitism, and abortion come back
to haunt her—and Marion resolves to do something about it.
to Interiors, Another Woman is much more confident in its direction, and the
control over the piece is more relaxed. Experience counts, for Allen had one
other dead-on drama under his belt (the dreadful September) and several pieces one could call “dramedies” before
tackling Woman. His work here with
Nykvist is masterful. The cast is excellent—besides everyone previously
mentioned, the film also features Blythe Danner, Sandy Dennis, Gene Hackman,
Harris Yulin, John Houseman (in his last screen performance), Frances Conroy,
Philip Bosco, and David Ogden Stiers.
music—made up of classical and Allen-esque jazz selections—is also very
effective. Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 serves
as a theme of sorts, and its melancholy pervades the picture.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks marvelous, showing off Nykvist’s photography
with vivid hues. As with most Allen releases, though, the supplements are
sparse—only a theatrical trailer and an isolated music score are present on the
disk. A perceptive essay by Julie Kirgo adorns the inner booklet.
eighties may be Woody Allen’s strongest decade of work, and Another Woman is a fine example of the
“If a movie makes you
happy, for whatever reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
Giant bug movies have always been a favorite
of mine; Tarantula, Black Scorpion, The
Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, etc. The best of them all has to be Them!, the 1954 classic about atomic
testing causing ants to mutate to gigantic proportions. It was the first and
best of the 1950’s cycle of big bug movies.
In the 1970s, bugs and just about every other
form of nature, struck back against irresponsible humans who were poisoning the
planet in a plethora of nature-runs-amok films such as Frogs, Kingdom of the Spiders, Squirm, etc. They may not have been
gigantic like they were in the 50s, but they were just as deadly. However, Mr.
B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon, the man responsible for entertaining, 1950s
giant creature classics like The Amazing
Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Village of the Giants and the
aforementioned Earth vs. The Spider, had
already brought back giant wasps and worms in 1976’s Food of the Gods,and felt
that 1977 was the time to bring back the best giant insects of them all…the
ants. Using the great H.G. Wells’ popular short story as his inspiration, Empire of the Ants was born.
The movie begins when a canister of toxic
waste, which was dumped and supposed to sink into the ocean, washes up on shore
and leaks its toxic sludge into a neighboring ant hole.
Nearby, con woman Marilyn Fryser (Joan
Collins) and her lover/partner Charlie (Edward Power) attempt to sell some
worthless land called Dreamland Shores to a large group of potential buyers
including nice guy Joe (John David Carson), middle-aged Margaret (Jacqueline
Scott), beautiful Coreen (Pamela Susan Shoop), two-timing Larry (Robert Pine)
and his poor wife Christine (Brooke Palance).
As the group surveys the land, a few members
break off on their own. Cautious Margaret, while flirting with boat driver Dan
(Robert Lansing), asks him if he thinks the land is a good investment; Larry
gets Coreen alone, puts the moves on her and gets a knee to the groin for his
trouble, and Coreen eventually hits it off with Joe. All the while, the ants
silently watch them.
The entire group is gathered and taken on a
leisurely tour of the area. The tour doesn’t last long though as the dead body
of one of Marilyn’s crew (Tom Ford) is found. Joe and Coreen volunteer to check
things out and find the remains of a married couple (Jack Kosslyn and Ilse
Earl) that were originally part of the group. To their horror, they also find a
horde of giant ants and all hell breaks loose as the intelligent insects attack
and destroy Dan’s boat. With no way off the island, the terrified group starts
a campfire in order to keep the ants away.
The next morning, a storm begins and the rain
puts out the fire. The group frantically decides to make a run for it with the
ants hot on their tail. An elderly couple (Harry Holcombe and Irene Tedrow),
who can’t keep up, hides out in an old shack. Christine falls, sprains her
ankle and is killed by the ants, and, while helping a tangled Marilyn escape
from a tree branch, Charlie also meets his demise. As the rain stops, the
elderly couple, thinking that it’s safe, emerges from the shack only to find an
army of ants waiting for them. The remaining group members stumble upon a
rowboat and slowly take off down the river. The ants attack again, turning the
boat over and killing Larry.
The group realizes that the ants are leading
them toward a specific destination upstream and, as they continue to move
along, they come across an old couple (Tom Fadden and Florence McGee) who
contact the sheriff (Albert Salmi) for them. The sheriff drives them into town,
but the relieved survivors soon realize that something still isn’t right. They
can’t seem to find a working phone and everyone in the small town acts very suspiciously.
The group decides to hotwire a car, but while
trying to escape, they’re captured by the authorities and taken to the local
sugar refinery. While there, they discover that the queen ant is using her
pheromones to control every human being in the town and forcing them to feed
the giant ants. Marilyn is the first to come under the queen’s control, but
when they try to control Dan, the clever boat captain burns the queen with a
road flare he took from the abandoned car. Dan escapes with Margaret, Joe and
Coreen, but Marilyn, who snaps out of her trance too late, is killed by the out
of control queen.
Knowing that if the gigantic ants aren’t
stopped they will multiply and eventually take over the world, Joe drives a
leaking fuel truck into the refinery and blows the insects to kingdom come. As
the entire place goes up in flames, Joe, Coreen, Dan and Margaret reach a
speedboat and drive off to safety.
Ken (Dale Midkiff) and Bob (Preston Maybank) land
in a propeller plane and speed off on motorcycles to a large mansion. Ken calls
Julie Clingstone (Debbie Laster) via radio as Bob scales the side of the
building. Julie wants him to give her access to “the mainframe” when suddenly,
somewhere a puppet (yes, a puppet)
begins yelling Danger! Danger!, obviously aware of the imminent
intrusion. Edward Brake (Wellington Meffert) is sleeping in bed in the mansion
while Bob takes off his necklace and lays it on the ledge after reaching the
mansion’s roof. He rotates a parabolic dish and the puppet, operating some sort
of a crude computer and using telepathic powers, makes the necklace turn into a
sphere (think Phantasm). Bob starts
to bleed from the face and falls to his death. The action breaks into the
opening credits to “Nightmare” as sung by Miriam Stockley.
If you’re still reading this, I commend you,
because I would have stopped at the mention of the word “puppet”. There are few
films that leave me at a loss for words (Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 film Rubber is hands-down the most
infuriating movie I have ever watched; I might have to re-watch that one as I
must have missed the point completely),
but Henri Sala’s Nightmare Weekend
(1986) is, in the words of the late film critic Gene Siskel in his review of
1978’s Surfer Girls, one of the most
improbably lousy movies I have ever seen. This doesn’t stop one’s viewing of
the film from being a total loss,
however, as Nightmare is if nothing
else that we can be absolutely sure of a time capsule of the 80’s, with
artifacts of the Zeitgeist on full display: girls workout wearing leg warmers,
a guy dances nearly everywhere with a Walkman in his pants, a tough guy and his
Laura Brannigan lookalike chick get it on atop a pinball machine, and computer equipment is
crude, big and bulky. Clocking in at 85
minutes, Nightmare seems longer than
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part
II (forgive me for mentioning them both in the same sentence, I do
apologize). Edward Brake is an entrepreneur/inventor who has created a
computerized “Biometer” which changes naturally aggressive animals into docile
house pets. He ultimately wants it to be used for the betterment of society,
but it’s just not ready for prime time. His partner Julie can’t wait for him
and goes behind his back to team up with a nefarious organization that will pay
her millions for the Biometer. Edward’s daughter Jessica Brake (Debra Hunter) is a Carol Alt
lookalike who, with her friend Annie (Lori Lewis) and another woman, has been
chosen to be part of Julie’s experiment for which they will both be paid 500
dollars each for their involvement. The idea is to see how the Biometer works
on people. The aforementioned puppet, named George, is housed in Jessica’s room
and is operated by a computer named Apache, indubitably the precursor to the Apache HTTP Server (Danger! Danger! Sarcasm!), and is part of
the whole operation. The motley crew, and there are a lot of characters to keep
track of unnecessarily, all find themselves one way or another being affected
by the Biometer.
two biggest issues with Nightmare are
the screenplay and the editing. I love bad movies that are entertaining but
unfortunately this isn’t one of them. The
film never seems to make up its mind as to what it wants to be: horror,
soft-core porn, comedy, campy/serious? Scenes and shots are so
short it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the goings-on. It’s also
occasionally insulting to women as they are all pretty much on display simply for
Nightmare is a Troma
production which means that it exudes its own special, patented brand of strangeness.
It’s difficult for another film director or producer to attempt to ape the Troma
style as it is a singularly unique, signature and patented style of strangeness.
Shot in July 1983 in Ocala, FL on a budget of ostensibly half a million dollars,
description which, in the hands of a seasoned auteur like David Lynch, can be a
good thing. That isn’t the case here. Nightmarefalls into the “so-bad-it’s-bad”
camp. You feel like you’re watching auditions with an amateur acting troupe,
although amazingly other reviewers have championed the acting in an otherwise
disjointed film. That being said, if you’re a fan of the film, it has been
released as a DVD/Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome. The image has been scanned in 2K and looks
really nice and is a far cry from the VHS tape from 30 years ago. It also
contains an interview with producer Marc Gottlieb that runs just under 13 minutes.
He’s very engaging and fun to listen to as he describes the making of the film
and how they promoted it at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Dean Gates, who did
the makeup effects, speaks for nearly 23 minutes and provides us with an
interesting perspective on the effects that he created in the days before movie
companies made the switch to CGI for most of this type of work.
Vinegar Syndrome has put together a really nice
package for this title. It has a reversible cover and very colorful
Weekend is best
viewed on a weekend while severely inebriated!
Monsterpalooza convention in Pasadena, California this coming weekend will
afford convention-goers a rare opportunity to meet the last of the great horror
film stars, the Queen of Horror herself, actress Barbara Steele.
Steele, who is best known to genre fans for her work in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and
Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle
(1965), will be on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans on
Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8, 2017.
convention will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 East Green
Street, Pasadena, CA 91101 from April 7 to the 9th, 2017.
“It Takes a Thief,” the
iconic adventure/espionage series that many consider Robert Wagner’s defining role,
has had an interesting if somewhat checkered DVD release history. As reported
in Cinema Retro back in 2010, the first digital presentation of Alexander
Mundy’s nefarious exploits appeared in July of that year courtesy of the German
company Polyband, which released all 16 season one episodes in a pair of
three-disc sets, followed up with a four-disc set featuring 12 of the 26 season
two episodes, but then inexplicably ended its release program. These Region 2
sets, which have English as well as German audio options, are still available
at Amazon Germany.
In October 2010, Australia’s
Madman Entertainment jumped into the fray, putting out the complete first
season in a five-disc set, and subsequently issuing seasons two and three as
seven-disc sets. These Region 4 sets are now out of print.
Meanwhile, American fans clamoring
for a long-overdue Region 1 release finally had their wishes granted courtesy
of the Canadian media distribution company Entertainment One, which packaged
all 66 episodes, the full-length pilot film, plus video interviews with Wagner
and writer-producer Glen A. Larson into an 18-disc box set that went on sale in
November 2011. That set, unfortunately, is also no longer available.
Somehow, a world in which Al
Mundy—still the epitome of glamor, sophistication and excitement—is no longer readily
accessible to his countless fans just doesn’t seem right. However, “It Takes a
Thief” fans who failed to nab one of the aforementioned DVD options have now
been granted a reprieve, albeit from an unexpected quarter.Yep, the Germans have once again come to the rescue of this irreplaceable
cultural touchstone. To which we can only say a heartfelt danke schön!
Fernsehjuwelen, a DVD label
that specializes in “jewels of film & TV history,” has just released the
complete series in a deluxe 21-disc Region 2 set that can be purchased through
Amazon Germany. Comparable in most respects to the out-of-print Entertainment
One box, this new set does raise the bar significantly in terms of image
quality, at least for the season three episodes. The eOne set did right by the
season one and two episodes, which were generally sharp and clear; but season
three was problematic, with some episodes exhibiting a marked drop-off in
sharpness and, worse, considerable color bleeding and ghosting. Important
visual detail was sometimes lost, especially during nighttime or low-light
scenes. This was frustrating, as many of the third season “It Takes a Thief”
episodes were filmed in Italy, and the variable resolution detracted from the
beautiful location photography.
No such issues arise with
the Fernsehjuwelen discs. Each season three episode boasts excellent color
balance and image clarity. This is the main improvement offered by “Ihr
Auftritt, Al Mundy!”—the German title for the series that translates to: “Your
Performance, Al Mundy!” This set includes the same video interviews of Wagner
and Larson from the eOne set; an interview with Rainer Brandt, the German actor
who dubbed Wagner in many of the episodes; and an extensive German-language
booklet written by Oliver Bayan that features interviews he conducted with
Wagner and co-star Malachi Throne in 2010. Unless you sprechen Deutsch, you’ll have to avail yourself of Google
translation to read these brief but fascinating Q&As.
The Fernsehjuwelen box set,
which houses all 21 discs in a sturdy multi-DVD case, is available through www.amazon.de for EUR 58.99, which works out to
approximately US $63.43. Need I say that it’s a veritable steal?
(Note: to view this set, you will need a Region 2 or all-region DVD player.)
“A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY
INTO A LITTLE NIGHT SILENCE”
By Raymond Benson
Allen’s first dramatic feature film, Interiors,
released in 1978 on the heels of his hugely successful and Oscar-winning
masterpiece, Annie Hall, was met with
praise by some and head-scratching by others. Most critics, however,
acknowledged that the picture was a step the artist needed to take in his evolution
as a filmmaker.
to Annie Hall, Allen’s films were
zany comedies—the “early funny ones,” as facetiously described in a later work,
Stardust Memories. Beginning with Annie, Allen made a quantum leap forward
in originality, confidence, and stylistic maturity. He reinvented the romantic
comedy. In many ways, Annie Hall is a
movie with a European sensibility. It could be argued that Allen’s body of work
post-Annie resembles the kind of material
made by a director like, say, Francois Truffaut—small, well-written, intimate
gems about people, relationships, and life
that can be comedies, dramas, or “dramedies.”
Interiors is one of the dramas
and it’s deadly serious. The influence of Ingmar Bergman is heavily prominent,
but there’s also a palpable strain of playwright Eugene O’Neill running through
it. The movie is about an upper class
dysfunctional family that could be right out of an alternate version of
O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
(Geraldine Page) and Arthur (E. G. Marshall) are a separated couple with three
grown daughters—Renata (Diane Keaton), Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), and Flyn (Kristin
Griffith). Renata is a successful poet, Joey is a lost soul searching for
meaning to her life, and Flyn is an actress. Renata and Joey are in flawed
relationships with Frederick and Mike (Richard Jordan and Sam Waterston,
respectively). Eve has a history of depression and suicide attempts. Arthur
just wants to get a divorce and move on with his life, especially with
new-found fling Pearl (Maureen Stapleton). Angst, recriminations, self-destruction,
and guilt abound.
not a happy story, but it is a
fascinating ensemble piece that demonstrates an uncommon mastery of cinematic
language. Allen’s direction is superb, and Gordon Willis’ color photography is
striking. The acting, though, is what places the picture above the bar. Page
was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar (and won
the BAFTA, although she was in the supporting category), and Maureen
Stapleton was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar. Allen himself received
nominations for Directing and for his Original Screenplay. A fifth Academy
Award nomination went to production designers Mel Bourne and Daniel Robert for
what are stark, creepily sterile interiors—hence,
is especially striking in Allen’s direction is the total lack of music—there is
a little source music here and there, but no underscore. There is
sound—dialogue, clocks ticking a la Bergman,
the roar of the tide—but basically this is a movie that overwhelms a viewer
with its silence.
Time’s limited edition Blu-ray (only 3000 units!) is a 1080p High Definition
transfer with a 1.0 DTS-Master Audio. It looks quite good, on a par with the
recent Allen releases by the label. Unfortunately, as with most Allen home
video products, there is little in the way of supplements—here, it’s only the
theatrical trailer that is included.
Interiors has its detractors,
to be sure, but, as evidenced by the five Oscar nominations, the picture also
has many supporters. Still—it’s probably not for everyone. Woody Allen fans
will certainly want to give it a shot. For my money, in examining Allen’s
handful of dramas he’s made over forty-seven years, it’s one of the better
NoHo 7 Theatre (“North Hollywood” for those not “in the know”) in Los Angeles
will be presenting a 30th anniversary screening of the uncut
director’s version of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film Robocop. The 103-minute
film, which stars Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood
Smith, and Miguel Ferrer, will be screened on Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 7:30
PLEASE NOTE: At press time, Actress Nancy
Allen is scheduled to appear in person for a discussion about the film
following the screening.
the press release:
RoboCop (Director's Uncut Version)
Part of our Throwback Thursday series
in partnership with Eat|See|Hear.
Cinema Retro recently caught up
with the editor of this fantastic new film poster book to talk movies and
CR: Where did you find all
these posters? Are they from several collections, are they yours, or are they
sourced from online collections?
Adam Newell: There are just over
1,000 posters in the book, and boy, do I wish they were all mine! That would be
an amazing collection to own. Alas, only a handful of them are mine, some are
from my co-authors, and many are from online collections (with a special tip of
the hat going to Mikhail Ilyin).
CR: Regarding the originals,
how does one go about finding posters like these, and how do you store and
AN: Back in the day, hunting
down vintage movie posters was a question of going to specialist shops down
dusty back alleys, being on the (snail) mailing list of the right dealers, or
attending movie ephemera fairs. I remember the first time I visited the US, in
1992, finding a shop down a back street in Hollywood, which was stuffed to the
gills with amazing US one-sheets for movies going back decades. It was a real
kid/candy store moment, and I spent hours in there looking at posters I'd never
seen before, mostly for films I'd never heard of! (As a complete aside, I also
remember that day earwigging a long conversation
between the shop
owner and a customer who was agonising over whether to buy a piece of TV
history the shop had for sale: an original Batgirl cowl, as worn by Yvonne
Craig. The price tag was $3,000, and I think he ended up not buying it. I
daren't think what that thing might be worth today...)
These days of course,
the internet has changed all that. At any one time, tens of thousands of
original movie posters are for sale online, along with countless repros, if
it's just the art you want. Need a repro of the one-sheet for Devil's Express, starring the amazing
Warhawk Tanzania in a pair of yellow dungarees? eBay will oblige. When I looked
a few weeks back, there was even an original one-sheet from that movie, for a
mere twenty bucks! I wish I'd bought it now. Specialist shops and dealers are
still around of course, and are always worth checking with if you're after
something in particular, and then there are auction houses for the really
high-end stuff. If you have several million dollars to spare, you could build
up a nice collection of original 1930s horror movie posters: in recent years
there have been quite a few sales of 'the only known surviving copy' of
particular posters, from the Karloff Frankenstein,
As for storage and
protection, it's the same as for any paper-based collectable: avoid damp,
cigarette smoke, and too much direct sunlight. I always think the best way to
store a poster collection is to have one of those floor-standing
display/portfolios you can flip through, so they can at be at least partially
'on display' at all times. If you've got the wall space, then put as many up as
you can! Decent clip frames will allow you to easily 'rotate' what you have on
the wall at any one time. Otherwise, it's best if they can be stored flat or
rolled, rather than folded, even if they came folded in the first place.
CR: What advice would you have
for someone who wants to become a film poster collector?
AN: If you don't mind having a
repro, then even those million dollar posters can be found inexpensively
(though you should always beware of the quality: one of those semi-automated
eBay sellers will happily sell you a full size repro of a poster, taken from a
scan which is not nearly up to the task...). If you're looking to buy original
posters, then whenever you can, simply buy what you like, not what you think
you 'should' be buying as an investment or whatever. Certain genres, artists
and series (James Bond, for example) will always attract a premium price, and
are way out of reach for most collectors, but that
doesn't mean there
aren't plenty of other posters to go around. Foreign language posters can be
cheaper than their US/UK equivalent, and often have cooler art!
so could have been a by-the-numbers genre movie: “Sensitive boyfriend goes to meet hot girlfriend’s parents in secluded
country home and mayhem ensues…” and that’s exactly what happens in Get Out, the new thriller from
writer/director Jordan Peele, but in a totally unexpected way.
filmturns every horror trope on its
head while tackling racist stereotypes along the way. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, an
aspiring young photographer who happens to be black. His beautiful, Ivy League-ish girlfriend,
Rose (Allison Williams from HBO’s Girls)
is bringing him home to meet her parents for the first time – a momentous
occasion in any new relationship but even more so when it’s interracial, a fact
the movie meets head on. Once at the
family estate, Chris feels that something is truly off – from the mind-gaming
father (Bradley Whitford) and his spooky psychiatrist wife (Catherine Keener)
to Rose’s hostile brother (Caleb Landry Jones). Their all black staff goes out
of their way to tell Chris how happy they are to be there, which just makes him
more uncomfortable. And then there’s the
family gathering Rose forgot to tell him about, where cousins and uncles leer
at Chris as if he’s on display, making clueless, subtly racist comments in a
perfect sendup of East Coast liberal elitism. Chris gamely endures all this while Rose seems genuinely mortified – but
it’s all an act! Chris has been brought
there for a sinister purpose and after Rose’s mom slyly hypnotizes him, that
purpose is revealed and Get Out moves
into high gear.
Peele, who made his name acting and writing in comedies like MAD TV and Keanu, deftly blends laughs and horror, all leading up to a truly innovative
climax as Chris desperately tries to escape. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) is
spot on as a budding artist trying to navigate a difficult social
situation. Allison William’s Rose is
appropriately seductive and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery is hysterical as Chris’
loyal wingman, Rod, a TSA Agent who investigates when his friend goes
missing. Produced by genre hitmeister
Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Split,
The Purge), Get Out is a mystery
thriller that truly delivers while skewering today’s pervasive racial
stereotypes. It’s also is a stunning
directorial debut for Jordan Peele, who will doubtlessly be able to work in
whatever genre he chooses.
Cinema Retro columnist Tom Lisanti co-authored (with Louis Paul) the book "Femme Fatales: Women in Espionage Films and Television, 1962-1973" for McFarland publishers. The book has just been issued in a softcover edition, revised and updated. Here is Tom Lisanti's story behind the creation of the book.
It was a long time coming, fifteen years in fact, but McFarland
and Company finally released a soft cover edition of the very popular and
well-received Film Fatales: Women in
Espionage Film & Television, 1962-1973 by Louis Paul and myself. The
book profiles 107 dazzling women (Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch, Dahlia Lavi,
Carol Lynley, Elke Sommer, and Sharon Tate, among them) who worked in the
swinging sixties spy genre on the big and small screens. Some include interviews
with these sexy spy gals. This new edition contains some profile revisions and
updates and a few new photos.
The idea for this book was all Louis Paul’s. We worked together
at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and became friends.
Louis is an expert on European spy movies, giallos, thrillers, etc. from the
sixties and seventies. He had a side video business and produced a fanzine
called Blood Times. I had been interviewing sixties actresses for
magazine articles and culled them for a book that was called Fantasy
Femmes of Sixties Cinema. While I was finishing it up, Louis suggested we
do a book on sixties spy girls. There were books on just the Bond Girls but we
thought we'd go beyond that to also include actresses from the Matt Helm, Derek
Flint, and Euro spy movies. And we also decided to include actresses who worked
in TV spy shows like The Man fromU.N.C.L.E., I
Spy, The Avengers, It Takes a Thief , etc. At
the last minute I pulled quotes from some of my interviewees on their spy
films/TV shows destined for my first book and saved for Film Fatales.
Robert Vaughn and Donna Michelle in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film "One Spy Too Many" (1966).
We felt that the book would reach a nice size audience because spy films have remained so popular due to James Bond. It is 2017 and they still are making Bond movies. It seems never ending and moviegoers just love the escapism. The affection for the 1960s Bond movies extends to the copycat films (Matt Helm, Derek Flint, Harry Palmer, Diabolik, etc.) and TV shows of the day. They all employed handsome debonair leading men, adventure, romance, diabolical villains, picturesque scenery, and some of the most beautiful actresses from Hollywood and Europe. The spy girls in particular remained popular because this genre gave them different type characters to play. A number of the actresses are exceptional and in some cases their characters are more memorable than the hero. In the book the roles are broken down into four distinct types: the helpful spy/secret agent/operative; the innocent caught up in the chicanery; the bad girl-turned-good; and the unrepentant villainess/femme fatale/assassin. This is why fans love their spy girls because of the varied facets found in this genre.
“You’ve got to live a
little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little—that’s the story
of, that’s the glory of love.”
popular opening song by Billy Hill and sung by Jacqueline Fontaine, “The Glory
of Love,” sets the tone for this classic, delightful motion picture that
addressed a social issue at the time that we take for granted today—interracial
marriage. Hey, in 1967, this was a hot topic. The Supreme Court had decided the
Loving vs. Virginia case, which
prohibited states from criminalizing interracial marriage, only six months
prior to the film’s release (and that legal battle is dramatized in the film Loving, currently in cinemas). Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was indeed
timely, certainly controversial in more conservative areas of the country, and
a powerful statement about tolerance and the rights of American citizens.
comedy/drama was a hit and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best
Picture, Director (Kramer), Actor (Spencer Tracy), Actress (Katharine Hepburn),
Supporting Actor (Cecil Kellaway), and Supporting Actress (Beah Richards). It
won only two—Hepburn took home the prize, and William Rose was honored for his
intelligent and warm Original Screenplay.
Kramer produced many “important” pictures before taking up the directing chores
himself in the late 50s, and he often tackled difficult social issues—racial
issues in The Defiant Ones (1958),
nuclear war in On the Beach (1959),
the teaching of evolution in schools in Inherit
the Wind (1960), and the Holocaust in Judgment
at Nuremberg (1961). He seems to have been just the man for the job, as
this new 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release emphasizes—there are three separate
supplements on the disk about Kramer himself, plus an appearance by his widow
Karen in an introduction to the film, as well as his presence in two more
featurettes about the making of the picture.
anyone who’s never seen this wonderful movie, it concerns an upper class
liberal couple (Tracy and Hepburn) whose daughter (Katharine Houghton, who
happens to be Hepburn’s real-life niece) has surprised them with her engagement
to a black doctor (Sidney Poitier). Suddenly, the parents’ liberal attitudes
are challenged and they’re not so sure this is a good idea. Complicating the
matter, the daughter has invited her fiancé’s parents (Roy E.
Glenn and Beah Richards) to join them for dinner to “meet the in-laws.” A
cordial white priest (Kellaway) and a feisty black housekeeper (Isabel Sanford)
add to the crisis of musical chairs. It’s a talky film that takes place mostly
indoors in the family’s home—it would have made a terrific stage play—but
Kramer’s deft hand at directing keeps everything fresh. This is a film about
the writing and the acting, and everyone is terrific.
only mild criticism I would have—and it echoes that of many critics at the
time—is that Poitier’s character is too perfect. Apparently Kramer and the
screenwriter did that on purpose so there would be no way anyone, that is,
anyone white, could object to him.
After all, Kramer had no idea what kind of backlash the film would receive upon
was extremely ill during the filming; in fact, he couldn’t be insured. Hepburn
and Kramer had to guarantee their salaries as collateral to get the film made.
Tracy died about two weeks after the production wrapped. It’s one of his
greatest performances. His final speech at the end of the movie to the rest of
the cast concerning his “decision” about the marriage is sure to well up any
viewer’s eyes. Poitier is very good as well—1967 was his year, as the actor had
also appeared in To Sir, With Love and
In the Heat of the Night along with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn
steals the film, though, if that is possible opposite Tracy and Poitier. Her
eyes maintain that fine line between almost-crying and bawling throughout the
picture. It’s a magnificent performance.
The Sony Blu-ray (to be released February 7) looks splendid in its 1080p High Definition glory with a 5.1 DTS-HD
Master Audio. It comes in a deluxe digibook with plenty of photos and an essay
by Gil Robertson. The problem with the disk itself is that there are no new
supplements—they’re all ported over from the 40th Anniversary DVD... but if you’ve never seen them, they’re all
quite well done. You have a choice of four different introductions to the
film—the previously mentioned one with Karen Kramer, and others each by Steven
Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Tom Brokaw. Along with the featurettes about the
film and Stanley Kramer, you get a gallery of photos and the theatrical
Guess Who’s Coming to
a milestone from the late 1960s—a relic of a turbulent time in America’s
history, but also an often funny—and gently principled—entertainment.
Perhaps the first film we saw
that convinced us that Woody Allen could actually act—i.e., not be his nebbish, nervous comic persona from his early
directorial efforts—was Martin Ritt’s 1976 comedy/drama, The Front, which appeared a year before Allen’s Annie Hall.
The Front was
perhaps the first Hollywood film to tackle the subject of “the blacklist” that
occurred in the movie industry in the late 1940s and throughout most of the 50s.
This abominable practice was due to the investigation of “Communist
infiltration” in Tinsel Town by HUAC—the House Un-American Activities
Committee. It was truly a dark time in U.S. history, one in which friends were
pressured to “name names” or face the prospect of unemployment or worse, such
as jail time. Note that the Hollywood
studio heads were responsible for the actual blacklisting. The powers-that-be
decided to cooperate with HUAC by targeting stars, writers, directors,
producers, and other personnel who may have
had some connections to the Communist Party, even if it was as far back as the
1920s and 30s. It was insane.
Director Martin Ritt, who himself
was a victim of the blacklist, shows us just how insane it really was. The film
was written by Walter Bernstein, also a blacklist victim. Actors Zero Mostel,
Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough—who appear in the picture—were also once blacklisted.
The Front knows what it’s talking
about. There are laughs, to be sure, but there is also a subtle seriousness to
the proceedings that is frightening.
Allen plays Howard, a lowly
restaurant cashier who is friends with screenwriter Alfred (Michael Murphy).
Alfred gets blacklisted, so he gets Howard to be his “front”—Alfred writes the
scripts and then Howard puts his name on them and takes a percentage of the
fee. The problems start when the scripts are so good that Howard becomes known
as a talented writer and suddenly becomes in demand. Soon he’s the front for
several writers, and of course, it gets out of hand. During the course of the
story, Howard befriends actor Hecky (Mostel), who also becomes blacklisted, as
well as lovely and smart studio script editor Florence (Andrea Marcovicci),
with whom Howard falls in love. How is he going to keep his secret from
Florence, especially when she’s just as enamored of his “writing” as the studio
The Oscar nominated original
screenplay is savvy and biting, Ritt’s direction is assured and knowing, and
Zero Mostel is so good that he should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination
for The Front—but it is Woody Allen’s
performance that is the soul of the movie. He literally lights up the screen
with a fully fleshed-out character that, at the time, was a refreshing
surprise. His passion for the material is evident, and one could almost think
that the film is one of his own from his late 1980s period.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition sports an all-region 1080p High Definition
restoration that looks sharp. It is accompanied by a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
soundtrack, as well as an informative audio commentary by Andrea Marcovicci,
and film historians Julie Kirgo (who also provides the booklet notes) and Nick
Redman. Other supplements include an isolated score track (Dave Grusin, composer)
and the theatrical trailer.
As with most Twilight Time
releases, the Blu-ray edition is limited to 3,000 units, so snatch it up before
they’re gone. The Front is a timely
piece of political filmmaking that still resonates, especially today.
cinephiles know that Woody Allen is a huge fan of Ingmar Bergman. Allen has
paid homage to the Swedish master several times, and his 1982 work, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, is an
example. It draws upon one of Bergman’s very few comedies, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), which is also the basis of the
Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical and later film, A Little Night Music.
Smiles takes place at the
turn of the last century (1800s to 1900s) in a rural village in Sweden, and the
story follows the bawdy escapades of several couples. Likewise, Allen’s Midsummer takes place in the same time
period, although the story is transplanted to “the country” somewhere in New
York state, and concerns an ensemble of six characters—three couples—who also
embark on bawdy escapades.
original film, in turn, is inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov. Smiles of Summer Night is light,
intellectual, and explores manners and morals with an undercurrent of serious
sexuality bubbling underneath—just like some of Chekhov’s comedies. The Russian
playwright’s comedies are not belly-laughers; instead they are subtle, amusing,
and effervescent. You smile at them.
Bergman’s Smiles is the same way, as
is Allen’s Midsummer.
said, Midsummer is not one of Woody
Allen’s better films. It’s all right—it’s not bad, it’s just very, well, light.
A fluff piece. Something he made to fill some time. He had actually shot Zelig prior to making Midsummer, but the visual effects of the
former film were taking longer than expected—so Allen wrote, produced, edited,
and released Midsummer in the interim
(Zelig was released in 1983).
are perhaps two significant aspects to Midsummer—one
is Gordon Willis’ gorgeous color cinematography, which excellently captures the
“enchanted” forest and pastoral mood of the film, and the other is that it’s
the first of Allen’s releases featuring Mia Farrow as a co-star. Unfortunately,
as opposed to several other of the director’s movies made later in the decade, Midsummer does not show off Farrow’s
talents particularly well.
plays Andrew, an “inventor” married to Adrian (Mary Steenburgen). They are
having marital problems, although their love for each other is evident. They’ve
invited two couples out to the country for a weekend—Leopold, a randy old
professor (Jose Ferrer) and his young fiancé Ariel (Farrow), and
Maxwell, a randy young doctor (Tony Roberts) and his adventurous nurse, Dulcy
(Julie Hagerty). Throughout the course of the weekend, couples mix,
relationships are challenged, and the promise of sex dominates everyone’s mind.
Throw in a little magic (the forest is “enchanted”),
and you have a light little romp of a comedy.
Time’s limited edition Blu-ray (only 3,000 units) features a 1080 High
Definition transfer that beautifully brings out the colorful settings. It comes
with a 1.0 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack, plus an isolated music track (the score
is made up of lively classical pieces by Felix Mendelssohn). The theatrical
trailer is the only supplement. The booklet contains an informative essay by
film critic Julie Kirgo.
the grand scheme of Allen’s nearly fifty titles, Midsummer resides somewhere in the lower third, to be sure. Nevertheless,
it provides 88 minutes of amusement in the way a nice European pastry is
pleasing to the palate. Enjoyable while it lasts, but then it’s gone.
King’s 1975 novel Salem’s Lot began
life as an unpublished short story (“Jerusalem’s Lot”) while Mr. King was still
in college. When he decided to expand it
into a novel he posed the question as to what would happen if Count Dracula
were to come back in 20th Century America, and his wife Tabitha
joked that he would probably get run over by a cab in New York City. It was originally titled Second Coming, however it was changed at the urging of Mrs. King because
it sounded like a “bad sex story” (she’s was right, and had a dirty mind to
boot!). The 439-page book was then made
into an effective TV-movie four years later, premiering in two parts on both
November 17 and November 24 on CBS. TV-movies
are a completely different animal than theatrical films as they are often shot
in a much quicker fashion. Salem’s Lot is no exception. The multiple-hour-long film was shot during a
seven-week stretch in July and August of 1979.
film’s construction is elliptical in nature and begins at the end with David
Soul as Ben Mears and Lance Kerwin as Mark Petrie, both obviously dirty, worn
out, and tired, as they collect holy water from a church in Mexico. They have been on the run for a while, but we
don’t know why. The action then switches
back to two years previous when Mears returns to the town of Salem’s Lot in
Maine (in reality the Victorian Village of Ferndale, CA). The small town feel is obvious from the get-go
as townspeople know and greet one another with polite familiarity. Novelist Mears drives into town and eyes the
Marsten House (a false front constructed for the film that was burned down at
the end; Peter Medak did the same thing in his masterful 1980 film The Changeling) and as it turns out he
had quite a scare there when he was a child. His attraction to the huge manse, which is reputed to be haunted, only
intensifies when he learns that two antique dealers, Richard Straker (James
Mason) and Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder), have purchased it and are opening up a
new shop in the Salem’s Lot business district. Barlow is reputed to be traveling throughout Europe acquiring new and
fancy merchandise to sell at the new store, however despite Mr. Straker’s
constant insistence that he will arrive shortly, his absence is felt. Mears, meanwhile, moves into a boarding house
temporarily to work on his new novel and finds himself romancing Susan Norton
(Bonnie Bedelia of Die Hard), a local
fan of his. Things in Salem’s Lot seem
to take a turn for the worse when Straker asks a moving company to lower a
crate into his basement; cold air emanates from the wooden enclosure and the
movers run off in fright. Several deaths
occur within the town, most horrifically among them children. When the vampire finally appears in the form
of Reggie Nalder, he is quite a sight to behold. Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), a teenage horror
film fan who also is an aficionado of magic, gets caught up in the mayhem and
when his parents are killed he vows revenge against Barlow. Together with Ben, Mark finds himself on the
run from vampires…
film’s signature image of a vampire in the form of one of the young boys with
bloodshot eyes floating outside of a window is still creepy by today’s
standards. Many young children suffered
through sleepless nights 37 years ago when the film aired, mostly due to this
sequence. The film also boasts a spooky
score by Harry Sukman which punctuates the action in a fashion that keeps in
line with similar made-for-TV movies of the period and is every bit as good as
anything concocted by composers Robert Cobert and Dominic Frontiere.
you watch the film you’re struck by just how many of the wonderful character
actors who appear are no longer with us: uncredited Reggie Nalder as Barlow;
Elisha Cook, Jr. and Marie Windsor, who both appeared as a couple in Stanley
Kubrick’s The Killing in 1955; James
Mason as Straker, and Kenneth MacMillian as the constable.
Salem’s Lot, in addition to many syndicated
airings, was released on VHS in the 1980’s by Warner Home Video in the form of
the 112-minute European theatrical cut, which removes 71 minutes (roughly 38%)
of the original television broadcast. While I am grateful that the 183-minute version is the one released on
this new Warner Blu-ray, it would have been nice to have had the 112-minute cut
on here as well just to be able to compare the two. Perhaps the master for that cut has been
misplaced? Director Tobe Hooper, still
riding the wave of the success of The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973) but having faltered with Eaten Alive (1976) and then getting fired
from the set of The Dark (1979),
regains his horror footing here before going on to make the little gem The Funhouse (1981) and the spectacular Poltergeist (1982). The sole extra on this otherwise bare-bones
release is a running commentary by Mr. Hooper, but this is sufficient and
should satisfy even the most die-hard fans of the film.
Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A.,
which opened on Friday, November 1, 1985 to lukewarm notices and underwhelming
box office despite being championed by Roger Ebert’s four-star review, is a
highly stylized, dark, and uncompromising crime thriller that boasts a
then-unknown cast with a story and a pace that feels more suited to the
1970’s. It also contains what I consider
to be the greatest car chase ever filmed and edited for a major motion picture,
which took no less than five weeks to plan and shoot. Having seen Mr. Friedkin’s brilliant East
Coast police thriller The French
Connection (1971) on VHS in 1986, I made it a point the following year to
catch up with his West Coast-based story of a Secret Service agent, Richard
Chance (William Petersen), whose best friend and partner Jim Hart (Michael
Greene) has been murdered by artist/currency counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem
Dafoe). Chance has one goal: put Masters away for life with no regard for how
he has to do it. Truthfully, he would
prefer to kill him. This causes problems
for his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow) who comes from a family of law
enforcement officers and wants to do things by the book. Vukovich’s patience and unwillingness to go
outside the boundaries of acceptability is tested when: Chance surreptitiously removes
crucial evidence from a crime scene in order to get to Masters; springs a
prisoner friend (John Turturro) of Masters without Vukovich’s knowledge to get
him to testify; and most notably forces Vukovich to go along with a plan to
obtain cash needed to get closer to Masters while nearly dying in what is
arguably the cinema’s most exciting getaway car chase sequence. What makes the chase work so well is that
it’s physical, it’s possible (though highly improbable), and it’s not done in a
Fast and the Furious, over-the-top
sort of way. It also comes as a result
of a plot point and isn’t just there for the sake of having a chase scene. Chance also beds a willing parolee (Darlanne
Fluegel) who gives him information on current convicts in order to provide for
herself and her son Christopher.
the intricate plot and the phenomenal car chase, I initially didn’t like the
film. The mixture of Eighties-style pop
music by Wang Chung (which turned me off, but I now feel fits the movie like a
glove) and disreputable characters were off-putting, but subsequent viewings gave
me a change of heart and I now feel that this is the last truly great film
directed by Mr. Friedkin. Like the
inexorable Popeye Doyle in The French
Connection (he will stop at nothing to put drug dealers and users away),
Chance will stop at nothing to stop and punish Masters. The difference between the two films is that
the former paints Brooklyn and New York City as gritty and almost despairing
cities whereas the latter bathes the frame in a Los Angeles that we have not
seen before. While also gritty, grimy
and dark, this is a Los Angeles that is also highly glossy and beautiful, with
beautiful people who are about as real as the counterfeit bills that Masters
manufactures. This is the overall theme of
To Live and Die in L.A. which is to
say that it’s about fraudulence. People
use each other for their own personal gains. Masters is an artist but hates what he paints and burns his work in
frustration. Since he cannot find joy or
satisfaction in his own originality, he resorts to copying others, in this case
$20, $50, and $100 bills in a procedure that is painstaking and difficult.
The French Connection, To Live and Die in LA is also based on a
novel of the same name, this one written by former Secret Service Agent Gerald
Petievich. What makes the film almost
remarkable is the opening sequence which features a martyr who shouts “Allahu
Akbar” while blowing himself up on the roof a hotel where President Reagan is
giving a speech. This scene made little
sense to me 29 years ago, but is eerily prescient of the world that we
unfortunately live in today.
performances are excellent all around. William Petersen, whose film debut was as a bar bouncer in Michael
Mann’s Thief (1981), is terrific as
Rick Chance and plays him as a daredevil whose cowboy nature makes him a
dangerous person to be around. This is
established in an early sequence wherein Chance bungee jumps off of the Vincent
Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, CA. In
addition to the martyr sequence, this could also be one of the earliest
instances of this now highly popular activity showing up in a major motion
picture. John Pankow is also quite good
as Chance’s conflicted partner. The
stand-out is Willem Dafoe as Masters, whose icy expressions and demeanor can
change on a moment’s notice without warning. Darlanne Fluegel is mysterious as Chance’s muse; I first saw her in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). Debra Feuer is striking as Masters’
girlfriend and confidante. Dean Stockwell
is great as Masters’ lawyer. You can
almost see him prepping himself for the role of Ben in David Lynch’s masterful Blue Velvet the following year. Steve James is an actor I always liked ever
since I first saw him in the “Night Vigil” episode of T.J. Hooker in 1984. He
started in the industry as a stunt man in films such as The Wiz, The Wanderers, The Warriors, Dressed to Kill, and He Knows
You’re Alone prior to onscreen acting. Here he plays Jeff, one of Masters’ clients and his performance, though
small, shines. He also appeared in the
William Friedkin TV-movie C.A.T. Squad
in 1986, which was also written by Mr. Petievich. His premature death in 1993 from what is
rumored to be the medical treatment that he received after a cancer diagnosis is
a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry.