Note: I reviewed the Criterion
Collection’s 2008 DVD release of this film here at Cinema Retro. The product has now been upgraded to
Blu-ray by the company. Much of the following is excerpted and/or revised from
the original review, while also addressing the new Blu-ray.
Schrader has always opined that Mishima—A
Life in Four Chapters is his best film as a director, and I must agree.
Originally released in 1985 (and executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola and
George Lucas), the film is a fascinating bio-pic about controversial Japanese
author/actor Yukio Mishima. Schrader, a successful screenwriter who has also
had an interesting hit-and-miss career as a director, co-wrote the film with
his brother Leonard and filmed it in Japan with a Japanese cast and crew.
Ironically, the film was banned in Japan upon its release due to the
controversial nature of Mishima’s infamously public display of seppuku (suicide) in 1970.
despite Mishima’s questionable act, there is no doubt that he was a formidable
novelist, poet, and artist—certainly one of his country’s greatest. Schrader’s
film attempts to visualize Mishima’s life and work, as well as make sense of his
final days in three different stylistic approaches that are beautiful to behold
and brilliant in conception.
“present” (that is, 1970) is in color, filmed realistically, almost
documentary-like, as we follow Mishima (expertly played by Ken Ogata) and his
cadets travel to and subsequently take control of a Japanese military base in
Tokyo so that he can deliver his public manifesto and commit seppuku. The past—the events of
Mishima’s childhood and rise to fame—is in black and white, almost as if we are
watching film noir. The motion
picture also presents dramatizations of scenes from some of the author’s
novels. These are presented in a highly stylized theatricality, in color, with
stage sets and “actors.” The narrative ingeniously jumps between these three
arcs, revealing the psyche of a complicated, but brilliant, artist. Why would
he kill himself as an artistic statement? Mishima—A
Life in Four Chapters attempts to explain this enigma.
Glass provides one of his most admirable motion picture scores to date, John
Bailey’s cinematography is exquisitely gorgeous, and Eiko Ishioka’s production
designs are perfectly suited to Schrader’s sensibilities. Whether or not you
know anything about Yukio Mishima, you will find the picture to be an
extraordinary cinematic experience.
Criterion Collection has done another outstanding job of producing a new,
restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut, which was supervised and
approved by Schrader and Bailey. There are optional English and Japanese
voiceover narrations (by Roy Scheider and Ken Ogata, respectively—the U.S.
theatrical release only had the Scheider narration). Personally, I agree with
Schrader’s view that the English-language narration by Scheider is preferable;
otherwise there are too many subtitles on the screen when simultaneously
translating the narration as well as the Japanese speakers. (There is an
additional “early” Scheider narration that I’m not sure adds much to the
viewing experience.) The film comes with an audio commentary by Schrader and
producer Alan Poul, recorded in 2006.
supplements are ported over from the original DVD release. This wealth of material
includes the excellent 1985 BBC documentary The
Strange Case of Yukio Mishima. There are vintage video interviews with
Mishima himself; more recent segments with Mishima’s biographers and
translators, Philip Glass, John Bailey, and other members of the film crew; and
the trailer. The booklet features an essay by critic Kevin Jackson, a piece on
the film’s censorship in Japan, and photographs of Ishioka’s sets.
Mishima—A Life in
Four Chapters is
a beautiful, emotionally-powerful film that is an immersive, visual and aural
treat. Highly recommended.
summer of 1992 I visited a neighborhood thrift store that rented obscure videos
of movies made all over the world. Foreign films on laserdisc imported from
Japan were transferred to VHS and rented long before “online downloading” became
a household term. One of the films was relatively new yet unfamiliar to me
although the cover art featured actress Jennifer Connelly on it. I already knew
of her from her roles in Dario Argento’s Phenomena
(1985), Seven Minutes in Heaven
(1985), Labyrinth (1986), Some Girls (1988), and The Hot (yowzah) Spot (1990), but this title looked quite different. Etoile, the French word for “star”, is
the title of director Peter Del Monte’s relatively unknown and overlong 1989
dramatic thriller that easily calls to mind Darren Aronofsky’s superior Black Swan (2010) due to its theme of a
troubled ballerina. I would almost consider Etoile
to be a “lost” Jennifer Connelly film in that most people are unaware of it. Even
this video tribute to her
on Youtube skips it completely. Although Italian and filmed in spoken
English, the film was not released in either Italy or the United States. Ms. Connelly, who premiered at the age of twelve in Sergio
Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America
(1984) as a dancer, plays Claire, a New York-based ballerina visiting Budapest
to audition for Swan Lake. Like in
the opening of Phenomena, her
character is arriving in a foreign land by way of aviation and finally by taxi.
She bumps into a fellow New Yorker named Jason (Gary McCleery) after dropping
her slipper in the hotel she is staying at. He’s instantly smitten with her,
and who wouldn’t be? At just seventeen, Ms. Connelly is utterly breathtaking. The
ballet school is run by Marius Balakin (Laurent Terzieff, who bears a striking
resemblance to Pierre Clementi for those Bertolucci fans of you out there). Claire
ventures out into an old, decrepit theater and dances alone until she locks
eyes with Balakin who is sitting in a seat, looking around at the theater. She
bolts. In the meantime, Jason is learning the antiques business from his Uncle
Joshua (an unlikely Charles Durning), but cannot stop thinking about Claire and
sneaks off, accompanying her on a sojourn to an abandoned old house that used
to belong to a ballerina who danced in Swan
Lake. Compelled to succeed, Claire decides to audition.
this point the film takes a turn into seemingly supernatural territory when
Claire finds flowers delivered to her room and addressed to “Natalie”. Despite
her best efforts, she cannot locate anyone else in the hotel with that name. In
the middle of the night, she receives a visit from her teacher’s choreographer
and another dancer; understandably freaked out, she then decides to return to
New York. While at the airport, a P.A. page for a one “Natalie Horvath” sends
her into a trance and she almost willingly assumes the “role” of this person
and transforms into a ballerina, with no memory of Claire, her former self. Jason
locates her sitting by a lake and is hurt and bewildered by her demeanor and
failure to recognize him. Determined to get to the bottom of this, he goes to
great lengths to uncover this very obvious transformation that he is powerless
to explain let alone comprehend.
Peter Del Monte’s best-known film to Americans is indubitably Julia and Julia, the 1987 Sting-Kathleen
Turner outing that was touted as the first film to be shot in high definition
(it was later transferred to 35mm for theatrical exhibition). The premise of
that film also called into mind the sanity of the protagonist, however here
Claire merely appears to be a confused and unwilling participant in a world
that simply pulls her into it. Although Claire and Jason’s love story isn’t
very compelling, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for him and ended up rooting
for him. The ending is trite, even by the director’s own admission, which he
found unsatisfying. Jurgen Knieper, the film’s composer who has done some
wonderful work for Wim Wenders, provides a very effective and haunting score
that remained with me days after seeing the film, in particular the main theme.
The cinematography is also quite stellar as Acácio de Almeida’s camera reveals much
more than the laserdisc ever showed, mostly because this new transfer to DVD is
made from a new 2K scan of the original film elements with extensive color
correction performed. The image is framed at 1.85:1.
DVD from Scorpion has several extras. First up is an eighteen-minute interview with the
film’s director who discusses the challenges that he was forced to deal with
while making the film. He took the job as the producer gave him an advance,
which is something that he never had before. However, there were many
disagreements regarding the film’s tone, etc.
second extra is an on-screen interview with the film’s executive producer, Claudio
Mancini, who has far less positive things to say about the cast and the whole
experience. This runs just shy of ten minutes.
final section contains trailers for the following films: Etoile (1989), Barbarosa
(1981), City on Fire (1979), Steaming (1985), and Ten Little Indians (1974).
would recommend Etoile wholeheartedly
to Jennifer Connelly completists.
small film, which actor/co-producer/co-writer Jon Cryer says could be made 200
times for the budget allotted to Titanic,
is an absolute gem.
by Cryer and director/co-producer Richard Schenkman, Went to Coney Island… is part coming-of-age story, part mystery,
and part social problem film. The latter category encompasses the tackling of
mental illness, homelessness, and what one’s obligation might be to a loved
one—or simply a friend—who has ceased to function in society.
(Cryer), Stan (Rick Stear), and Richie (Rafael Báez) have been friends
since they were five, growing up on New York streets but basically living a
normal existence as precocious, middle-class American boys. As teens, Stan
underwent a botched medical procedure to correct a problem with his leg and was
left with a permanent limp, brace, and cane. Richie has a reputation as a
ladies’ man, but he holds a secret that he can’t reveal. Daniel is the
straight-arrow and probably the most intelligent of the trio.
the present day the threesome is in their thirties. Daniel works a regular job in
a pawn shop/jeweler, and Stan is an alcoholic and has a gambling problem. The
woman in his life, Gabby (Ione Skye), has about had it with him. Richie is
simply… missing in action. He disappeared years earlier after a tragedy
occurred in his family. One day, Stan hears that Richie is homeless and living
under the boardwalk in Coney Island. Using a childhood code for ditching school
and doing something more “important,” Stan tells Daniel that they have a “mission
from God”—they must go to Coney Island and look for Richie.
winter, so Coney Island is mostly closed-down except for a handful of sleazy
shops and midway attractions. The once famous amusement park is practically a
ghost town, on its way to oblivion. Daniel and Stan make their way around the
area, encountering various misfits and wackos, until they do indeed find their
long, lost friend. Richie isn’t in good shape. What follows is an intervention
of sorts, as well as a redemption for the two main protagonists.
in numerous flashbacks and contemporary (1998) scenes, Went to Coney Island masterfully draws the viewer into the intimate
lives of the characters. It explores their inner demons, but it also exhibits
what it means to be true friends. While this might sound like a dire
experience, much of the picture is hilarious. The various weirdos and how
Daniel/Stan react to them provides the kinds of laughs one might find in a John
Hughes picture—only these have a little more bite. This is “dramedy” at its
Cryer and Stear are excellent in their roles. Schenkman’s direction is
pitch-perfect, easily pushing the movie to the top of his eclectic body of
work. The way the flashbacks to the 1980s are handled reveal sensitive insight
on the mood and sensibility of the era. Schenkman’s handling of the Coney
Island sequences evokes a wide palate of moods and imagery.
is art-house cinema of the highest order.
new High Definition Blu-ray release incorporates a frame-by-frame digital
restoration from original 35mm film elements, and it looks spectacular. The
main feature comes with 5.1 Surround Audio (uncompressed PCM) and 2.0 stereo,
plus an audio commentary by both Schenkman and Cryer. The pair also appear in a
new, short introduction to the film. Supplements include a behind-the-scenes
featurette that contains new and vintage footage; The Producer,a comedy
short from the period directed by Schenkman; a photo gallery; and the original
theatrical trailer. A mini-poster comes in the package.
Went to Coney Island
on a Mission from God…Be Back by Five could stand alongside such low-budget
classics as My Bodyguard, Breaking Away, and sex, lies and videotape. Check it out.
science fiction writer Jerome Bixby produced many short stories in the genre,
but he is perhaps most well-known for writing a handful of classic Star Trek episodes (“Mirror, Mirror,”
“By Any Other Name,” and more). The memorable original Twilight Zone entry, “It’s a Good Life,” was based on his short
story, as was the same segment in The
Twilight Zone—The Motion Picture (1983). Bixby was also responsible for the
stories or scripts for sci-fi films such as Fantastic
Voyage (1966), and It! The Terror
from Beyond Space (1958).
last work, allegedly completed on his deathbed in 1998, was the screenplay The Man from Earth. Nearly ten years
later (2007), Bixby’s son Emerson helped bring it to the screen as producer.
The low-budget feature was directed by Richard Schenkman and starred David Lee
Smith as “John Oldman,” a man in the present day who has lived without aging
for 14,000 years. Released with little fanfare, The Man from Earth grew a cult following and is today considered
one of the “great science fiction films you’ve never heard of.” It is the kind
of picture that is cerebral, intelligent, and deals with existential themes and
ideas. Sci-fi for the mind.
the ensuing years, Schenkman and Emerson apparently received many requests from
fans of the original work to make a sequel. The idea was resisted until the
concept of a TV series was floated. In each episode, the Man from Earth would be
on the run, followed by various groups of cultists and “believers”—much the
same way Richard Kimble (The Fugitive)
had to move from place to place.
The Man from Earth: Holocene was made
as a backdoor pilot to a series, was an official selection at the Dances with
Films Festival, and it is now available on home video.
Holocene picks up a decade
after the events of the first picture, with John “Young” (he changes his
surname with every move across country) teaching religious studies at a
community college in a small California town. He’s shacking up with fellow
teacher Carolyn (Vanessa Williams), keeping a low profile, and inspiring
students. A quartet of these young adults, played with aplomb by Akemi Look,
Sterling Knight, Brittany Curran, and Carlos Knight, discover John’s secret,
decide that he has all the answers to their many questions about life,
religion, and the universe, and begin to, well, stalk him.
of the students, Isabel (Look), contacts Art (William Katt), the primary
antagonist from the first film. Art had been a professor, like John, who wrote
a non-fiction book about the Man from Earth, exposing his tale, and was roundly
pilloried by the academic world and shunned for it. Thus, he has an axe to
grind with John.
any more about the story would spoil what is a very decent continuation of the
original picture. While the first movie took place mostly in one room—like a
stage play (and, in fact, Schenkman adapted that film into a play that has been
produced around the world)—Holocene has
“opened up.” It was shot in various locations around the town. It does retain,
however, the intellectual and dialogue-heavy aspects, keeping it in tune with the
original and what will, hopefully, indeed become a series. This reviewer has fingers
Star Trek—The Next
Generation’sMichael Dorn and Star Trek: Enterprise’s John Billingsley also appear in Holocene as, respectively, the college’s
dean and as Harry, a character from the first film.
The Man from Earth:
once again a low-budget but thoughtful treatise on the nature humanity. The
acting, especially of Smith as John, and of Look as Isabel, is top-notch.
Blu-ray looks gorgeous and shows off Richard Vialet’s cinematography with sharp
images and vivid color. The main feature comes with an audio commentary by
Schenkman and co-producer Eric D. Wilkinson. A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary
features most of the crew and cast and takes the viewer through the history of
the first film and production of Holocene.
Also included are featurettes on the score by Mark Hinton Stewart, the premiere
at the Dances with Films premiere, deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary,
a kickboxing video made for the movie, photo gallery, poster gallery, teaser
trailer, and theatrical trailer.
you’ve never seen either picture, the original The Man from Earth is now also available from MVD as a special
edition Blu-ray/DVD combo.(Click here for review). Holocene may
not have the impact of the first movie, but it is indeed a worthwhile follow-up.
technology that we all know and use today has become so ingrained in our
everyday lives that it’s virtually impossible to recall how we all survived
without them. Cell phones, portable computers, tablets, realistic-looking video
games, Global Positioning Systems, and access to extensive news media on a
24/7/365 basis were pipe dreams just twenty years ago. The computing power that
we all take for granted now started somewhere,
but most of the present-day users of techno gear weren’t even zygotes when the
home computer revolution was just getting off the ground. Yours truly was there
when my mother’s uncle worked for the federal government. He was the first to
get the really cool gadgets, mostly because he had the disposable income to
spend on them. I recall being in his basement in 1977 and playing Atari’s Pong
and being wowed by it. I was thrilled to watch movies on Wometco Home Theater
(WHT) on his rear-projection TV that he built out of a Heathkit two years later.
My mother’s second cousin had the Tandy/Radio Shack TRS‑80 Model I
in 1978. Santa Claus delivered an Atari 2600 to me in 1981 (one of the most
frustrating aspects of owning one would unquestionably be that the actual 8-bit
games themselves couldn’t live up to the excitement depicted on the cover
artwork). I was given a TRS-80 Coco (Color Computer) II in early 1984 and wrote
programs in BASIC (Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). In 1989 I
did desktop publishing in Pagemaker on an Apple Macintosh SE. In 1995 I purchased
a 100MHz Pentium Packard Bell IBM-compatible computer. Where did all of these
electronic gadgets come from?
Walliser’s8-Bit Generation: The Commodore Wars is an entertaining and informative
documentary that attempts to answer that question. However, it really feels
geared towards those like myself who are in the know. I do feel, however, that
anyone who isn’t would not only be
lost but ultimately frustrated by this film as it assumes familiarity with its
subject which it tackles with rapid-fire editing and has an annoying habit of accentuating
the onscreen interviews (depending upon the subject being discussed) with strains
of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the
Mountain King and Richard Strauss’s Also
Sprach Zarathustra overused to the point of annoyance.Those shortcomings
aside, it’s also an insightful look at how modern business is conducted (that
is, cutthroat) and how the dominant factor in just about every business decision
boils down to two syllables: “money” (and sometimes, “revenge”).
film, which was shot between 2010 and 2012, primarily focuses on Jack Tramiel,
an Auschwitz survivor who saw the darkest side of humanity but was lucky enough
to come out of it. His success as a business man following his liberation from
the camp is a testament to his human spirit, business acumen and tenacity. He
went from selling reconstructed typewriters to calculators to personal
computers. Through interviews with Mr. Tramiel and many colleagues who worked
with him and for him, we learn about the founder of Commodore International, the
company that produced The Commodore PET (Personal Electronic
Transactor), the Commodore VIC-20, and the Commodore 64. I never owned any
of these computers, but the story behind their inception, rousing and
unprecedented success and ultimate failure is very intriguing. In addition to
Mr. Tramiel, we hear from his son Leonard, MOS Tech engineer Chuck Peddle, Nolan Bushnell (the founder of Atari), Commodore engineer Bil Herd (who also
narrates), and a whole slew of others too numerous to list.
fact that this film about hi-tech is available only DVD and not Blu-ray is not
lost on me and is quite ironic. DVD is now looked upon by some as a legacy
technology despite being around for 21 years, not unlike the very systems
depicted and discussed in the film itself. If you are interested in seeing it,
you would do well to read this next bit of info very carefully prior to making
a decision. The film is available in three different varieties:
Available here on DVD on Amazon.com (which has a 14-minute TEDx Talk Segment with Leonard Tramiel that can also be seen here on Youtube). Kino
Lorber has put together a very professional package for this release.
- Available as a high definition download in a deluxe edition
at this link with many extras not on the DVD.
Available as a high definition download in a Jack Tramiel edition at this link which contains everything in the
deluxe edition, plus a one-hour interview with Mr. Tramiel.
still waiting for a documentary on RCA’s Select-A-Vision Capacitance Electronic
Disc (CED) system…
A Summer Story is the unassuming title of a classy
and ultimately emotionally wrenching romantic drama of class differences set in
Great Britain in the early 1900’s. Originally released in the United States in
the summer of 1988 in a small number of theaters, the film is an adaption of John
Galsworthy’s 1916 short story “The Apple Tree” which was also made into two
separate radio programs over forty years earlier: Lady Esther Almanac on CBS in 1942 and Mercury Summer Theatre in 1946. Obviously the source material
proved to be palatable enough to audiences to warrant adaptations in both the
aural and visual spectrums. Director Piers Haggard, known for more sinister
fare such as The Blood on Satan’s Claw
(1971) and Venom (1981), directs from
the late Penelope Mortimer’s adapted screenplay.
Ashton is played by James Wilby, who was coming off the heels of Maurice (1987) and A Handful of Dust (1988) at the time. Ashton (changed from Ashurst
in the short story) arrives at a farm in the summer of 1922 with his wife who goes
off to look for a view to paint. He approaches a dilapidated fence alone with
hesitation and remembrance in a voiceover that can be best described as perfunctory,
much like Rupert Frazer’s ill-executed explanation to the audience concerning
the secret of his bride in Gordon Hessler’s unfairly under-rated The Girl in a Swing (1989). This is a
great misstep right out of the gate, or wet gate, given the film’s transfer
from what appears to be a near-mint theatrical print. The sequence would have
made the film’s denouement resonate even more than it does if Ashton were given
the gift of conveying his emotions by simply exuding them in a wordless opening
scene. The obvious emotion would have sufficed to have been accentuated by the
lush and poignant strains of Georges Delerue’s violins. It’s so out of place,
in fact, that I have a hard time believing that it could have come out of Ms.
Mortimer’s typewriter rather than a last-minute-urging of a studio executive
following a Q-and-A of a sneak preview, the result of cinematically illiterate audience
members wondering what the opening sequence even means. A slow dissolve takes
us to a period nearly twenty years earlier when Frank and a friend stumble upon
the very same gate and farm. A misstep over the gate leaves Frank with a
twisted ankle and a need to convalesce in the abode of the farm’s owners, under
the caring eye of their farm girl, Megan David (Imogen Stubbs), who is desired
by Joe, the farmhand (Jerome Flynn, Game
of Thrones’s Bronn). Her aunt (Susannah York) puts Frank up in a guest room
for a decent price but it isn’t long before Megan and Frank begin eyeing each
other. Frank meets up with Megan at a sheep-shearing festival. Eventually they
make love, read poetry upon a hilltop, and it isn’t long before Joe and Frank
come to blows. Frank makes a decision in an effort to be together that will
forever change Megan’s life.
film benefits enormously from the exceptional acting by all of those involved
as it tells the story of people who behave in an orchestrated and proper
manner, only to have their human emotions boil over when their true wants and
desires are threatened. The set design is quaint and colorful, with Lyncombe
Farm in Exmoor National Park in Dulverton, Somerset, England being where the
bulk of the action takes place.
U.S. theatrical exhibition of A Summer
Story committed a faux pas so
egregious in nature I felt it was borderline sacrosanct. The carefully
orchestrated main theme of the film which was supposed to play over the end
credits was instead jettisoned for the Moody Blues’s new song at the time, I Know You’re Out There Somewhere. How audiences
didn’t regurgitate and burn down the Village’s Quad Cinema, I’ll never know.
available from the fine folks at Kino Lorber, this new Blu-ray release
mercifully reinstates the late Mr. Delerue’s glorious theme over the end
credits, righting the wrong enacted upon this lovely film thirty years ago. The
soundtrack album from 1988, long out of print, is now available again in a
significantly expanded edition from Music Box Records that can be ordered here from Screen Archives. The Blu-ray image
is touted as a “brand new 2017 scan of the original vault elements”. As there
is no mention of a 2K restoration, I’m assuming that this is 1080P, and the
result is the best that the film has looked since its theatrical exhibition,
easily besting all previous home video incarnations (the VHS version retained
the inharmonious Moody Blues tune). The Blu-ray’s sole extra is a section of no
less than seven trailers for the following films: Conduct Unbecoming (1975), Etoile
(1989), The Salamander (1981), Trouble Bound (1993), The Last Seduction (1994), Aloha,
Bobby and Rose (1975), and Steaming
(1985). Curiously, the trailer for A
Summer Story is not included. However, it can be seen here on Youtube.
long-gone Carnegie Hall Cinema in New York showed A Summer Story, and even featured a classy diorama in one of the
windows, depicting a scene from the film. Beautiful. Moviegoing in New York is
a lost art, a thing of the past…
Gemser is an actress known to very few moviegoers in the States nowadays. In
the 1970s and 1980s, however, she was well-known for her Emanuelle series, which followed the better-known Silvia Kristel Emmanuelle variety, the difference
between both women being the exclusion of one “m” in the title. Emmanuelle and the Deadly Black Cobra is
a 1976 effort by Joe D’Amato, the man responsible for many other entertaining
European trash films (I use that as a term of endearment). Unlike Ms. Gemser’s
past Emanuelle films, this one is a
curiosity as it inexplicably has two “m’s” and is really just an excuse to dangle
the director’s lithe leading lady in front of the camera in various stages of
undress. The plot, if you can even call it such, is really rather silly.
Gemser stars as Eva, an exotic nightclub dancer in Hong Kong whose seductive
and topless moves with a Python catch the eye of Judas Carmichael (Jack
Palance) who is with his brother and businessman
Julius (Gabriele Tinti, Ms. Gemser’s real-life husband). Judas is a significantly older gentleman (by forty-four
years) who is captivated by Eva’s Indonesian beauty. He attempts to intrigue her
by introducing her to his love of reptiles, specifically snakes (Fellini
jump-cut anyone?). Following a brief lunch the next day, Judas invites Eva to
his home to see his snake collection, which she initially refuses to do. It
isn’t long before the oogling ophiophilist’s charms work on Eva and she agrees
to live with him following his desire to lavish her with money and presents. Eva
likes ladies, too, and she meets Candy (Ziggy Zanger). Another woman, Gerri (Michele
Starck), takes her to a club frequented by lesbians. Meanwhile, Julius is up to
no good. He becomes jealous of the women and puts a nasty plot in motion to
teach “them a lesson”.
many other exploitation films of the era, Emmanuelle
and the Deadly Black Cobra has been released under various other titles: Eva Nera (Black Eva) and Black Cobra
Woman. Don’t be confused, these titles are one in the same film. In typical
exploitation fashion, the film is replete with bad dubbing and stilted
performances but let’s face it, we’re not watching Edward Albee here. The
target audience of this flick is young men and the women on display are a sight
to behold despite their unorthodox stage names: “Ziggy Zanger” and “Michele
Starck” are strange monikers to be sure and they only really serve as eye
candy, the former’s character’s namesake a deliberate tongue-in-cheek maneuver.
The character of Julius is a curiosity as we never really know what his deal
is. He meets a terrible end (and I do mean “end” which, mercifully, takes place
off camera). The late-great Mr. Palance is sufficient as the playboy/rich man
who is visibly taken with Eva. She, in turn, is pursued by an Asian man who is
shattered when his attempts to possess her ultimately fail.
Piero Umiliani provides a musical score that
is pleasant to the action onscreen, especially in the dance-with-the-snake and
girl-on-girl sequences that passed for high eroticism over forty years ago. The
interiors were shot in the old Elios Studios in Rome and exteriors were shot in
Hong Kong and the city is featured prominently, roughly twenty years before the
British government would transfer the sovereignty of Hong Kong over to China in
The film has recently made its way to Blu-ray
via of Code Red and Kino Lorber and the results are spectacular. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and
given a 1080p transfer, Emmanuelle and the Deadly Black Cobra looks
light years ahead of any past dark VHS bootlegs that circulated through the
mail and in video stores back in the 1980s.
Mirek Lipinski, the film’s writer, provides
an interesting feature-length commentary which discusses both the onscreen
action as well as interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits involving the nature of
the film business at the time and the relationships among the performers in the
If you’re a Laura Gemser fan, this Blu-ray is
Royal Theatre in Los Angeles will be presenting a 45th anniversary
screening of Francois Truffaut’s 1973 film Day
for Night.The 115-minute film,
which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and known in its
native France as La Nuit américaine (The American Night), stars Jacqueline
Bisset, Valentina Cortese, Dani, Alexandra Stewart, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jean
Champion, Jean-Pierre Léaud and François Truffaut and has been referred to as the most beloved film ever made about
filmmaking. It will be screened on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at 7:30
PLEASE NOTE: At press time, Actress Jacqueline
Bisset is scheduled to appear in person for a discussion about the film
following the screening.
the press release:
Part of our Anniversary Classics series. For details, visit: laemmle.com/ac.
DAY FOR NIGHT
Part of our Anniversary Classics
series. For details, visit: laemmle.com/ac.
DAY FOR NIGHT (1973)
45th Anniversary Screening
Thursday, May 10, at 7:30
PM at the Royal Theatre
Q&A follows with
Actress Jacqueline Bisset
Laemmle Theatres and the
Anniversary Classics Series present a 45th anniversary screening of Francois
Truffaut’s valentine to moviemaking, 'Day for Night,' which won the Academy
Award for best foreign language film of 1973. The following year, the picture was
nominated for three additional Oscars—best director for Truffaut, best original
screenplay by Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, and Suzanne Schiffman, and best
supporting actress Valentina Cortese. The film won awards in those three
categories from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of
David Sterritt of TCM praised the picture as “the most beloved film ever made
about filmmaking,” and few would disagree with that assessment. Truffaut
himself plays a beleaguered director trying to complete his latest film in the
south of France while he wrestles with budget and insurance problems,
temperamental star behavior, sexual shenanigans, and even an unexpected
accident. Jacqueline Bisset stars as the British actress hired to play the
leading role in “Meet Pamela.” Jean-Pierre Leaud, who had starred in Truffaut’s
very first feature, 'The 400 Blows,' and in several of his other films, plays
the insecure leading man. Jean-Pierre Aumont, Alexandra Stewart, Dani, and
Nathalie Baye round out the cast. Acclaimed novelist Graham Greene has a cameo
role as an insurance agent.
Cortese has perhaps the
most memorable role as an aging actress who has trouble remembering her lines.
At the 1974 Oscar ceremony, the best supporting actress winner, Ingrid Bergman,
spent most of her acceptance speech praising the performance of Cortese for
creating a character that all actors could recognize. In addition to hailing
the performances, Roger Ebert said 'Day for Night' was “not only the best movie
ever made about the movies but… also a great entertainment.” Truffaut’s
favorite composer, Georges Delerue, provided the lushly romantic score.
Our special guest
Jacqueline Bisset has brightened movies and television for many years. Her
earlier films include 'Two for the Road,' 'Bullitt,' 'Airport,' 'Murder on the
Orient Express,' 'The Deep,' 'Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?,' John
Huston’s 'Under the Volcano,' George Cukor’s 'Rich and Famous' (which she also
produced), and Claude Chabrol’s 'La Ceremonie.' Bisset won a Golden Globe for
her performance in the TV miniseries 'Dancing on the Edge' in 2014.
The Royal Theatre is located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
90025. The phone number is (310) 478 – 0401.
of the gems of 1968 was The Lion in
Winter, a multi-nominee for the Oscars (including Best Picture and
Director), and one of the better period costume dramas that seemed to be so
popular in the 60s. Capitalizing on the success of Becket and A Man for All
Seasons, Winter is based on a stage play by James Goldman, who also wrote
the screenplay and won an Oscar for it.
the picture is a handsome production, its primary asset is the acting. What a
cast, and what performances! Katharine Hepburn, as Eleanor of Aquitaine, picked
up the Best Actress trophy (although that year there was a tie—she shared the
award with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl).
Peter O’Toole stars as Henry II for the second time (he played a younger
version of the man in Becket, four
years earlier), and received a nomination for Best Actor. For my money, this is
the performance out of many nominations for which he should have won—he
dominates the movie with a commanding, almost-mad presence. Interestingly, the
actor was only 36 when the film was made, and he plays a Henry who is in his
fifties. On the other hand, Hepburn was 61 when she made the picture, and she
plays a 45-year-old Eleanor. The miracle is that one doesn’t notice either
actor’s true age.
rounding out the cast are Henry’s three sons, played by a young Anthony Hopkins
(as Richard the Lionheart), John Castle (as Geoffrey), and Nigel Terry (as
John, who later became King John). While all three are terrific, and it’s
especially enlightening to examine Hopkins’ performance and compare it to his
later more renowned work, the real revelation in the picture is the appearance
of a very young Timothy Dalton as
King Philip II of France. Dalton is outstanding
in a small but pivotal role upon which the plot hinges.
year is 1182. Henry II decides to hold a Christmas party at the castle, so he
lets his wife Eleanor out of prison (!) so she can attend along with their
three surviving sons (the others are long dead) and Henry’s young mistress,
Alais (Jane Merrow). Eleanor has long accepted with grace and humor that Henry
beds other women and that their marriage is over—although throughout the course
of the story it is apparent that there are deep wounds in her heart. All three
sons are vying for the throne since Henry, being in his fifties, is on his way
to the grave—although one wouldn’t know it from the energy he displays. Henry’s
favorite is young John, who is a bit of a bumpkin. Eleanor prefers Richard.
Geoffrey prefers himself. Oddly, whoever is chosen gets Alais!
short, The Lion in Winter is the
story of a dysfunctional family. Eleanor wryly delivers the line that is the
title of this review at a key moment after the men attempt to kill each other.
In fact, the script is full of great lines. Henry: “What shall we hang?—the
holly, or each other?” Eleanor: “In a world where carpenters get resurrected,
everything is possible.” Eleanor (to one of her sons): “Hush dear, mother’s
Lorber’s newly restored 4K Blu-ray looks marvelous, and the sound is excellent.
It shows off John Barry’s Oscar-winning score (play it loud!) and includes an
audio commentary by the late director Anthony Harvey. There is a supplemental
interview with sound recordist Simon Kaye, which is fine, but one wishes there
could have been interviews with some of the surviving stars such as Hopkins and
Dalton. The theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber title trailers are also
The Lion in Winter is a top-notch
exercise in superlative acting and grand writing. It is prestige cinema at its
finest. Don’t miss it.
Left to right: Stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and director Brad Peyton at the Warner Bros. junket. (Photo: copyright Mark Cerulli. All rights reserved.)
BY MARK CERULLI
when he used to wrestle for the WWE, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would ask, “Can
you smell what The Rock is cooking?”Well, his latest big screen blowout, Rampage
smells a lot like jet fuel – there are more smashed planes and helicopters in
this film than in ten Godzilla movies
on the 1980s video game of the same name, the big screen version features not
one, not two, but THREE hyper-deadly creatures making a beeline for downtown
Chicago. Johnson plays a zoo
primatologist who prefers animals to people, reluctantly teaming with a lovely
geneticist (Naomie Harris) to stop them. Although Johnson is the movie’s star, he shares
the screen with an even bigger hero: a
massive gorilla named “George”. “They’re a lot alike,” director Brad Peyton
said, “They’re both funny, they’re both alpha males and they’re both the
biggest guy in every room.” Rampage
is Johnson’s third collaboration with Peyton, who previously directed him in San Andreas and Journey 2: Mysterious Island.Ahead of the film’s debut, Warner
Bros staged an elaborate press junket at a Hollywood studio where key cast and
crewmembers talked about the film…
conceit of this idea is a ridiculous one, “Johnson told the assembled crowd of
reporters, “Three gigantic monsters destroying the city of Chicago… we took a
lot of swings at it to make it fun and give the story an anchor in heart and
soul, which is my relationship with my best friend – this rare, gigantic albino
(Photo: copyright Mark Cerulli. All rights reserved.)
wanted to make a monster movie that would stand the test of time,” Johnson
continued. “There’s been a lot of great ones – King Kong, Godzilla, even Jurassic
Park I’d include – so we wanted to raise the bar, even a little bit and anchor
it in a relationship.”Since George, the
gorilla, exhibits many human-like qualities and has a deep bond with Johnson’s
character, he goes all out to save him from the inevitable military hardware
brought out to take the huge ape down.Special note should be made of the remarkable visuals created by New
Zealand-based Weta Digital, which has a long history of creating amazing
effects in blockbusters like Avatar, Justice League and War For The Planet Of The Apes.
(Photo courtesy Warner Bros.)
film gives Naomie Harris – who Cinema Retro readers know as Moneypenny in the
Daniel Craig Bonds – a chance to get out of MI6 to dodge falling buildings and
gigantic creatures, an experience that was well out of her acting comfort zone:“This was reacting to tennis balls and I was
absolutely terrified,” Harris says with a laugh, referring to the weeks of complex
green screen work she had to do to dodge said giant monsters.Luckily, her amiable co-star came to the
rescue:“I had to lean on Dwayne, he’s
the master of this and I was completely lost in the beginning.”
odd that my comfort zone is destruction,” Johnson added, which got a big laugh.And destruction there is – from a space
station spinning high above the earth to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile being torn
up, Rampage is a fast-moving visual
feast, which the cast doesn’t take too seriously and neither should the
audience.Instead Rampage is a ride meant to be enjoyed… As the movie’s director summed up: “What I’ve
learned from him (Dwayne) is ‘When you get up to the plate, try and hit a grand
slam.’ As a Canadian, I wasn’t trained to think like that, but this gigantic
Hawaiian dude really knows how to do this right!”
(Photo courtesy Warner Bros.)
Rampage roars into theaters
Friday, April 13th, from Warner Bros. Pictures. Click here to visit official site.
James Bawden was a TV
columnist for the Toronto Star, and
Ron Miller was TV editor at the San Jose
Mercury News and is a former president of the Television Critics
Association. During their respective careers stretching back some fifty years the
list of stars they have interviewed reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood. These two volumes bring together an
incredible assortment of interviews from almost the birth of cinema itself,
with Buster Keaton, Jackie Coogan and Gloria Swanson representing the silent
era. The great leading men are all here, including James Stewart, Henry Fonda,
Kirk Douglas, Victor Mature and Cary Grant, and of course classic leading
ladies like Bette Davis, Janet Leigh, Fay Wray and Joan Fontaine. Along the way
they also met character actors and horror stars like Ernest Borgnine, Victor
Buono, John Carradine, and Lon Chaney Jr., and even singing cowboys Gene Autry
and Roy Rogers make an appearance. With each book containing over thirty
interviews, this is an opportunity to revisit the golden era of Hollywood. Many
of the interviews, generally to publicise their latest film, were conducted on
sets, in theatre dressing rooms, or if they were lucky, the star’s home, and
the authors preface each interview with their own recollection of the moment,
giving us a little more insight into how these stars were when the cameras were
switched off. Ron Miller has even written an entire chapter titled “My seven
minutes alone with Elizabeth Taylor,” recalling the lengths he was required to
go to in order to interview with star whilst she was filming the TV miniseries North and South (1985). The effort that
went into securing those seven minutes is possibly more entertaining than the
interview itself, and secures some sympathy for those dogged TV and film
journalists who have to jump through sometimes dozens of hoops before getting
Miller has helpfully
also provided a chapter titled “How to Talk to a Movie Star,” which provides
invaluable advice for anyone considering taking this up as a career, including
a recollection of the time James Bawden interviewed Julie Harris. “I hate star
interviews!” she exclaimed, so Bawden quickly told her that he had never
understood Shakespeare until the time he saw her in a production of Romeo and Juliet. “You’ve convinced me!”
she replied and spent an hour answering his questions. The lesson? Flattery
frequently gets you somewhere.
interviewing stars like Boris Karloff when barely out of their teens to
developing personal friendships with stars such as Bob Hope, Bawden and
Miller’s collection is a feast of nostalgia and insight into a
never-to-be-repeated era of Hollywood history, and these two books are a must
for the bookshelf of any respecting film fan or potential Hollywood journalist. (Both books are published by University Press of Kentucky.)
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Retro-active: The Best from the Cinema Retro Archive
By Todd Garbarini
Swamp Thing (1982)
is a peculiar entry in the Wes Craven canon.
For a director who cut his teeth in porn (most directors began their
careers as editors in this field in the early 1970s) and directed such fare as The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Swamp Thing is a much gentler film. One of the few PG-rated entries to his credit,
it was made just a few years prior to his very own A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the movie that turned the horror film
industry on its ear with the introduction of Fred Krueger and which spawned one
of the most successful franchises in the genre.
Released on Friday, February 19, 1982 by the
late Joseph E. Levine’s long-defunct Embassy Pictures, Swamp Thing is a film version of the DC Comic that was created by
Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Set in
the swamps of Louisiana (though filmed in South Carolina), brother and sister
scientists Alec and Linda Holland (Ray Wise and Nannette Brown) are hard at
work on an experiment that is designed to create a plant and animal hybrid that
can withstand the extreme temperatures of various environments. Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) works for the
government and makes a trip to the lab to see how things are coming along. Just as it appears that the government has
spent its money well, the henchmen of one sinister Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis
Jourdan), headed by the late cinema baddy David Hess, attempt to steal the written
magic formula and the serum from the clutches of its rightful owner. Linda is killed, and Alec gets doused with
the new concoction, ends up on fire (yes, that is stunt man Anthony Cecere running
outside engulfed in flames, a feat he
would repeat in A Nightmare on Elm Street)
and jumps into the swamp, reemerging as the titular creature who is henceforth
played by Dick Durock. Dr. Arcane believes that this serum will make him
immortal and he will therefore stop at nothing to make sure that he gets his
hands on the complete formula. Alice
begins to fall for Alec/Swamp Thing as she is eluding Dr. Arcane's machine gun-toting
minions. Mr. Hess, who appeared in the
aforementioned Last House, plays the
usual crazy, bullying nut job that he did so well in Hitch Hike (1977) and House
on the Edge of the Park (1980), and the supporting cast that surrounds him
are a terrific group of menaces. Reggie Batts nearly steals the film in his
turn as Judd, a young store proprietor who does everything he can to help Alice
avoid capture. There are various animated wipes, dissolves, and visual
transitions/segues that take you from one piece of action to the next in an
effort to emulate the look of a comic book. For the most part, the film succeeds.
Swamp Thing was
originally available on home video on capacitance electronic disc (CED),
laserdisc (LD), and the ubiquitous VHS cassette. Although it made its DVD debut in 2000, the
discs were pulled from the shelves when it was discovered that the DVD was
sourced from the international print which ran 93 minutes in length and contained
an additional two minutes of nudity that was not seen in the original 91-minute
PG-rated 1982 domestic theatrical exhibition. Bowing to some consumer complaints, MGM reissued the movie on DVD in
2005 in its original version, minus the nudity. It is this version that appears
on both the new DVD and Blu-ray. It would have been nice if the missing footage
had been included as an extra (if it is here as an Easter egg, kudos to those
of you who can find it!).
The transfer of the film is excellent; there
are a few spots and very small scratches here and there but nothing to distract
from your pleasure of watching the image. Scream Factory, an imprint of Shout! Factory, is to be commended for
continually putting out our favorite genre films in these new versions with
top-notch extras. Best of all, this is a
DVD/Blu-ray combo. I don't know what the criteria is (or who the decision maker
is) when it comes to deciding to release a title in separate formats or as a
combo, but I sincerely wish that all of Scream Factory's titles were sold as
combos forthwith. That being said, both
formats boast excellent transfers, with Blu-ray obviously being the sharper and
clearer of the two.
There are some really nice extras on the
discs (which are presented equally on both formats). The movie contains two
separate full-length commentaries. The first is with writer/director Wes Craven
and it is moderated by Sean Clark of Horrors Hallowed
Clark is a walking/talking encyclopedia and asks Mr. Craven lots of interesting
and intelligent questions about the production and the people involved.
The second commentary is with makeup effects
artist William Munns, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. This track is an absolute joy to listen to as
Mr. Munns remembers a great deal about the making of the film. Growing up in Studio City, CA, he speaks quite
eloquently about his experience in the film business prior to Swamp Thing, in addition to the issues
that began to flourish when the film was green-lighted. He recalls having to wait a long time as the
financing was secured, and even went to work on a film initially called Witch (later released as Superstition) in
the interim. Since the sex of the Swamp
Thing was an issue, he had to work around the anatomically correct creature and
his recollections are humorous in how this was handled (he says that the film
needed a PG-13 rating, however Swamp
Thing was shot in the summer of 1981 and this rating was not used until 1984
with the release of John Milius’ Red Dawn). He talks about fitting the suit, discusses
how the makeup crew became the scapegoat when filming came to a crawl due to
the other departments that were behind, the dangers of wearing the Swamp Thing
suit, the stunts that needed to be done, and how he took over as Swamp Thing
when Mr. Durock could no longer perform.
The bonus features consist of:
Tales from the Swamp is an
interview with Adrienne Barbeau. The
segment runs 16:56 and Ms. Barbeau is a delight to listen to. Jovial and funny,
she recalls the time that she spent on the film and talks about the bacteria
and parasites in the water, the long hours on the set while they were in South Carolina,
and the challenging elements around them. The original script that was given to
her by Wes Craven was far more audacious than what ended up on screen.
Unfortunately, just as the film went before the cameras, the production company
began to chip away the film's budget, necessitating constant rewriting during
the course of shooting and many concessions needed to be made. Ms. Barbeau is
rather candid and pulls no punches in explaining her disappointment with the
final product at the time, however she has developed an appreciation of the
film in the years since its release.
Hey, Jude is
the name of the second segment, and this is a fun and entertaining interview
with actor Reggie Batts who plays Jude (hence the name!). It runs 14:30. Mr. Batts explains how he got the role in the
film and was a fan of DC comics. Following
the release of Swamp Thing, he also appeared
in the North and South (1985) miniseries
The last segment is titled That Swamp Thing, and it’s a look back
with creator Len Wein who explains how he came up with the name for the
creature and how he got his start as an animator. The segment runs 13:19.
The original theatrical trailer is also
included, and this is in excellent condition, not the usual scratch-ridden mess
that we’re used to seeing.
The photo galleries consist of posters and lobby
cards; photos from the film; William Munn’s behind-the-scenes photos; and behind-the-scenes
photos by Geoffrey Rayle.
As an added bonus, the DVD/Blu-ray sleeve is
reversible and has the French poster artwork under the title of La Creature Du Marais, which translates
to “The Creature of the Swamp”.
Pinter was one of the groundbreaking playwrights that emerged out of the 1950s,
along with Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and a handful of others. They changed
the landscape of what audiences could expect on the stage. Pinter’s first
decade of remarkable plays (and a few screenplays) fall into a category dubbed
by critics as “comedies of menace.” They feature (usually) working-class
Britons in situations in which an ambiguous threat lies underneath the surface
of an otherwise mundane existence. The subtext
is everything in a Pinter play. Known for the pauses in dialogue
(specifically designated in the scripts), Pinter was able to pack weighty
meaning in what is not said, more so
than perhaps any other modern playwright.
The Birthday Party was his first
full-length play (written in 1957, premiered in 1958) and is one of his
most-produced and well-known works—although probably not so much by anyone who
isn’t an aficionado of the theatre. You’re not going to see a production of The Birthday Party at your local high
school. The Homecoming (1967) won
Pinter the Tony Award, and, for my money, is his greatest work (it was
brilliantly filmed by Peter Hall in 1973 for the American Film Theatre
experiment). As a screenwriter, Pinter’s work on The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Betrayal (1983) received Oscar nominations, and he received the
Nobel Prize shortly before his death.
filmmaker William Friedkin, who had yet to make The French Connection and The
Exorcist, had seen a production of The
Birthday Party in England in the early 60s and, by his account, was knocked
out by it. He personally met with Pinter to convince the elusive playwright to
allow him to adapt the play into a film. It took some doing, but finally Pinter
relented and wrote the screenplay himself. The picture was produced on a
shoestring budget, but Friedkin managed to employ several outstanding British
actors—many of whom were already a part of Pinter’s unofficial “repertory
those familiar with Pinter, the results are outstanding. For everyone else—The Birthday Party could very well be a
Shaw stars as Stanley, a nervous boarder in a seaside village rooming house run
by Meg (Dandy Nichols) and Petey (Moultrie Kelsall). It may—or may not
be!—Stanley’s birthday. Enter two mysterious new boarders, Goldberg (Sydney
Tafler) and McCann (Patrick Magee), whom we know have an agenda with Stanley
but we’re never sure what it really is. We just know it’s a threat, and they
make things very uncomfortable for him… and the audience. Shaw and Magee,
especially, deliver riveting performances.
say more would be a disservice to the viewer and to Pinter, for much of the
power of The Birthday Party is its
mystery and ambiguity. Just know that by embarking on this journey you will be
entering a heightened realism in which characters never say what they mean and what
they don’t say means more. As an adaptation of Pinter’s play, Friedkin’s The Birthday Party is quite faithful and
Lorber’s new Blu-ray presents a 1080p transfer that looks fair enough for its
age and intentionally drab cinematography and setting. The nearly half-hour supplemental
interview with director Friedkin is fascinating—he relates the entire history
of how he got involved with Pinter and the film, and he throws in anecdotes
about the playwright and a few other characters (like Joseph Losey). Theatrical
trailers for this and other Kino Lorber releases—many related to Pinter—are
The Birthday Party will certainly be
appreciated by those of us who were theatre majors many years ago, and by the
art house cinema crowd. For others, the picture might be an acquired taste.
a new Tomb Raider in town and she’s not… well…she’s not your older brother’s Tomb
Raider.Gone is the statuesque,
pistol-packing Angelina Jolie of the iconic video game character’s first movie incarnation.Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft is pared down to
the essentials - a dangerous tomboy who is smart, feisty and tough as nails.
we meet this Lara Croft she’s broke,
toiling as a London bicycle messenger, getting her ass kicked in MMA training
and still reeling from the disappearance of her father (Dominic West) seven
years ago.He had vanished exploring a
mysterious island off the coast of Japan. When she discovers the key to his
hidden workroom, she becomes hooked on his quest and decides to follow his
trail all the way to the jungle tomb he was desperately trying to keep from
ever being opened.
by the aptly named Finnish director, Roar Uthaug, the film starts off at a breakneck
pace and rarely slows.The action moves like
a bullet train from a bike chase in Central London to a Hong Kong dock melee
and then on to a remote island as forbidding and dangerous as the one King Kong
calls home.There, Croft encounters her
father’s nemesis – a shadowy organization called Trinity which is laser-focused
on finding the final resting place of an ancient Queen known as “The Mother of
Death.”Their archaeological dig is run
by a psychotic thug played with real verve by Walton Goggins (Justified), who could clearly give
Hannibal Lecter a run for his money.When he steals Croft’s father’s journal, the path to the tomb and its
hideous contents is revealed and the final battle begins.
is fit and relentless, yet vulnerable for an action hero – when she takes a
beating, you feel it.The amount of
training Ms. Vikander had to endure for the role must have been epic.As the New York Times’ review pithily noted,
she has “a washboard stomach you could play the blues on.”(Sorry, that was too sweet not to reuse!) Cinematographer
George Richmond makes great use of the lush South African scenery, and his zooming
camerawork flies through jungle canopies and ancient tombs with equal finesse.
Vikander’s Lara Croft isn’t as snide or as sexualized as her predecessor, hers
is a strong debut and like Daniel Craig’s Bond, she’ll make this iconic
character her own.
RAIDER is released by Warner Bros. and MGM. The film makes its North American debut on Friday, March 16.
hindsight, the most enjoyable thing about Manhattan
Murder Mystery was Diane Keaton’s return to co-star with Woody Allen in what
will most likely be their last screen appearance together. Released in 1993, Murder Mystery was Allen’s obvious
attempt to regain public favor after an acrimonious split with Mia Farrow and
the surrounding uproar of allegations and custody battles. Keaton’s presence
served to remind us that the old chemistry between the two actors could still
generate sparks, and it did.
critics at the time commented that the pair could have been playing the characters
of Annie and Alvy (from Annie Hall) sixteen
years later, now settled in an imperfect, but comfortable, marriage. In fact,
much of the plot of Manhattan Murder
Mystery was originally a part of Annie
Hall! That 1977 classic, co-written by Allen and Marshall Brickman,
contained not only the Annie/Alvy love story but also a murder mystery the
couple attempts to solve. Eventually that was all thrown out of Annie Hall (thank goodness!). Years
later, Allen and Brickman decided to resurrect the discarded plot elements and
fashion a brand-new script in which a couple like Annie and Alvy—now middle-aged—get themselves embroiled in
(Allen) and Carol (Keaton) live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (where
else?) and meet their apartment building neighbors, Paul (Jerry Adler) and
Lillian (Lynn Cohen). The next day, Lillian has died of a heart attack. Larry
and Carol notice that Paul doesn’t seem too broken up about it. Furthermore,
Carol discovers an urn full of ashes in Paul’s kitchen, even after Paul has
said that Lillian was buried in their “twin cemetery plots.” Enter Larry and
Carol’s friend Ted (Alan Alda), who encourages Carol’s imaginative speculation
that Paul murdered his wife. Larry’s client, Marcia (Anjelica Huston), gets into
the act as well, and the foursome embark on exposing Paul’s nefarious scheme
that involves a series of lies, a mistress, and his wife’s twin sister.
plot is far-fetched, but Allen treats the material as a farce anyway. It works well
enough. Much of the fun of the picture is watching Allen and Keaton as their
characters do astonishingly stupid things, such as when Carol, thinking Paul is
out of the building for a while, sneaks into his apartment to snoop. Of course,
Paul returns, forcing her to hide under the bed and lose her glasses at the
has included references to cinema history that are a lot of fun—clips from
Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944)
and Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947)—inform
the story with thematic and visual motifs. There are laughs, to be sure, but Manhattan Murder Mystery does not rank
among Allen’s best comedies. It’s enjoyable fluff, and perhaps that was all it
was meant to be.
Time’s limited-edition Blu-ray (only 3000 units) looks very nice in its 1080p
High Definition transfer, showing off Carlo Di Palma’s colorful cinematography
and New York City landmarks that are always a treat in a Woody Allen film. The
audio is 1.0 DTS-HD MA, with an isolated score and effects track. The
theatrical trailer is the only supplement.
for a lightweight romp around the Big Apple, Manhattan Murder Mystery will please fans of Allen and, especially,
was the film that convinced audiences and critics alike that Jane Fonda could
act. After appearing throughout the Sixties in glamour-girl and comic roles (Cat Ballou, Barbarella) that barely scratched the surface of what this talented
actress could do, along came They Shoot
Horses, Don’t They?, which featured a tough, cynical, mean-spirited, and
take-no-prisoners Jane Fonda as Gloria, a down-on-her-luck contestant in a
Depression-era marathon dance contest. The showy role resulted in her first
Best Actress Oscar nomination.
picture also awarded Sydney Pollack his first Directing nomination; in fact,
the film received a total of nine Oscar nominations, including Adapted
Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Susannah York), and Supporting Actor (Gig
Young, who won); but it did not, curiously, land a Best Picture nod. It
dance marathon contests in the early 1930s were an American display of
spectacle and madness. On the one hand, they provided cheap entertainment for
audiences who wanted to watch the progression of misery as dancers remained on
their feet (aside from occasional ten-minute breaks for food and very rare
longer breaks) for hours, days, weeks… until one couple was left standing. On
the other hand, it provided some kind hope for the contestants themselves, as
the payout was a whopping $1500—a big chunk of change in Depression-stricken
(Fonda) matches up with Robert (Michael Sarrazin) by default. There’s also
Alice (York), a Jean Harlow wannabe, aging former Navy man Harry (Red Buttons),
and married couple James and pregnant Ruby (Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia). The
proceedings are MC’d with ringmaster showmanship and a canny sense of sardonicism
by Rocky (Young, who is marvelous in his award-winning role). “Yowza, yowza,
yowza!” he calls into the microphone, as the contestants go through hell in the
guise of showbiz.
the picture was released in 1969, it provided a social commentary that was a
metaphor for life itself—that we’re competing in a never-ending marathon of
hardship until you either drop out, drop dead, or win the big prize. The final
irony is that the big prize isn’t such a big prize after all. Not a feel-good
movie, to be sure, but certainly a thoughtful statement on the human condition.
Pollack’s direction is superb, an early indication of the long career he would
have in Hollywood.
Husbands and Wives was released in
September 1992, the news was full of the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn
scandal, which had recently broken. The studio, Tri-Star, seemingly rushed the
release of the film to capitalize on the gossip, and, as a result, the picture
did pretty good box office (better than Allen’s previous two films). Although
the public found out about Allen’s dalliance with Farrow’s adopted daughter a
little later, Farrow discovered it at some point during the filming of Husbands and Wives. Talk about what must
have been a tense set...!
so this is a case in which a reviewer can’t look at a movie without the
real-life baggage encroaching on the evaluation. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s
impossible not to do so.
said, Husbands and Wives is one of
Woody Allen’s greatest—albeit darkest—works. It might be his most insightful,
honest, and disturbingly analytical treatise on affairs of the heart,
especially as they apply to American—and specifically New York City—upper and
upper-middle-class men and women.
a “reality TV” approach to the way it’s shot and directed, with hand-held
cameras and a narrator/interviewer (the voice of Jeffrey Kurland, the costume designer of the film!), who elicits
commentary from the characters outside the main action of the story. This was a
revelation at the time, since the concept of reality television had been only teased
on MTV during the 1980s and had not fully developed as a primetime phenomenon.
Allen’s regular director of photography, Carlo Di Palma, provides a gritty,
jerky, documentary feel to the proceedings, and it works beautifully.
(Allen) and Judy (Farrow) are married with no children. He’s a college
professor in literature. Their best friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally
(Judy Davis) are a couple that announces at the beginning of the film that they
are getting divorced. They’re both ostensibly okay with that, but Judy and Gabe
are shocked and upset. Jack and Sally, throughout the film, begin to date
others. Jack sees Sam (Lysette Anthony), a much younger aerobics teacher who is
intellectually incompatible with him. Judy matches Sally with Michael (Liam
Neeson), although Judy has the hots for Michael herself. Sally is too neurotic
and so-not-ready for dating again that it doesn’t work out with Michael.
Meanwhile, Gabe becomes infatuated with a very
young college student, Rain (Juliette Lewis), who has a history of dating
this a film fraught with art-imitating-life syndrome, or what? Without
revealing how these romantic and not-romantic liaisons work out, let’s just say
that Allen consistently shows us ugly truths about lies, trust, and compromise.
Is it a comedy? Yes and no. There are laughs, but mostly this is a biting, dark
satire that is more akin to the works of, say, Jules Feiffer, than Woody Allen.
There are moments of sheer brilliance, and others that are too close to the
headlines for comfort.
the most revelatory statement in Husbands
and Wives is that Gabe, Allen’s character, refuses to take his involvement
with student Rain any further after one kiss (that she asks for on her birthday) because it’s “not right.” It’s
amazing that Allen’s character
performs with wiser moral integrity than Allen himself did in his personal
life, considering that the movie was written and made while he was courting a
much younger woman. Ironic, if anything.
Davis received a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actress
for her performance. Pollack (director of such works as Tootsie and Out of Africa),
too, is exceptional, and it’s a wonder why he never got more recognition for
his occasional acting stints. Jack and Sally’s story is the most engaging piece
of the film. Allen’s script, a striking piece of work, was nominated for
Time’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds exemplary, with its 1080p High
Definition transfer and 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The only
supplements are the theatrical trailer and an isolated music and effects track.
The essay in the booklet is by critic Julie Kirbo.
to only 3000 units, Husbands and Wives is
a collectors’ item that explores the hurricane that can exist within a relationship,
and one that blew up in the tabloids.
the old saying goes, “You can’t go home again.”Having seen Scream And Scream
Again decades ago, I remembered it as being thrilling and suspenseful... now,
47 years (!) after its release, not so much.The story is a hodgepodge of sci-fi and social commentary as a brusque
police inspector (Alfred Marks) and a curious doctor (Christopher Matthews)
investigate the brutal deaths of several young women, eventually connecting them
to a scientist (Vincent Price) who is creating synthetic humans using body
parts from unwilling live donors.Christopher Lee is the head of British Intelligence, whose agency is – I
think – secretly funding the experiments.A subplot with a sadistic official (Marshall Jones) from a fictional Eastern
European nation (think East Berlin) in collusion with the Brits is also in the
mix. (In an interview years later, even Vincent Price admitted he didn’t know
what the film was really about!)
directed by Gordon Hessler, who made a number of Price Edgar Allen Poe films
including The Oblong Box; Scream And Scream Again is a time
capsule of late 60s England:there are
several nightclub scenes featuring the then-popular Welsh band Amen Corner
singing away, with audience members gamely trying to look hip… one guesses the
object here was to contemporize things: “Look
Kids! No more stodgy castles!” Still,
there is a lot to recommend the film – the opening sequence of a hapless jogger
running through London, waking up several times to find more and more of his
limbs being removed is as effective now as it was in 1970, and Hessler’s use of
hand-held camera to put the audience IN the action was innovative for its time.Another standout sequence is a wonderful
faceoff between a nattily dressed Lee and Jones in Trafalgar Square. (Jones’
knit pom-pom cap remains a bold wardrobe choice for a hulking villain!)
Price and Lee are at the top of their game and if you’re a Christopher Lee fan,
there are many loving close-ups of his sneering visage. Unfortunately the
wonderful Peter Cushing is used in only one scene – blink and he’s gone.According to filmmaking lore, Vincent Price
insisted on doing his death scene (sinking into a vat of acid) himself.The harsh chemicals used in the fluid caused
him serious sinus problems for years.
Twilight Time DVD release is welcome for overcoming some longtime rights issues
and returning the original music to the film. The colors are crisp in 1080p HD
and the DVD is loaded with extras including a 23-minute documentary, Gentleman Gothic: Gordon Hessler At AIP, which
features an interview with Hessler, who passed in 2014, as well as film historians
discussing his work.There is also a
still file, radio spot, original trailer (which erroneously identifies actor Marshall Jones as the iconic Peter Cushing!) and a subtitled interview with German
actress Uta Levka, who played the impersonal “composite” nurse in the
film and an illustrated booklet with liner notes by historian Julie Kirgo.It’s safe to say, this will
forever be the definitive release of Scream and Scream Again!.
This is a region-free, limited edition of 3,000 units. Click here to order.
2018 is the official centenary of Mickey Spillane, we at Cinema Retro thought it would be a good idea to examine this
excellent digest of the author’s works on the silver screen and on television.
and filmmaker Max Allan Collins (probably best-known for writing the graphic
novel Road to Perdition, the basis of
the 2002 film, but also author of 100+ other books) is the literary executor
for the estate of Mickey Spillane. Not only has he co-written this excellent
“bedside companion” on Spillane’s big-and-small screen adaptations, Collins has
co-authored/finished manuscripts originally begun by Spillane before his death
in 2006 at the age of 88. Co-author James L. Traylor has also had a long career
of writing critical analyses on crime authors and novels. One can be confident,
then, that in Mickey Spillane on Screen,
the authors know what they’re talking about.
Spillane wrote many popular hard-boiled—very
hard-boiled—crime novels published over five decades. His most-famous
character, detective Mike Hammer, first appeared in Spillane’s debut novel, I, the Jury (1947). Noted for its atypical
(for the time) sex and violence, the novel was not initially a success in
hardcover; but when it was published in paperback a couple of years later, it
became an international best-seller. Further Mike Hammer novels appeared, along
with books featuring other characters such as Tiger Mann and Morgan the Raider,
and stand-alone pulp fiction titles.
also had a love/hate affair with Hollywood. The first adaptation of I, the Jury was released in 1953
(featuring Biff Elliot as Hammer), directed by Harry Essex and produced by
Victor Saville, with whom Spillane had a long business relationship. Saville
would go on to produce three more pictures based on Spillane’s properties
(including one non-Hammer movie, The Long
a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction scenario, Spillane was also an actor—and he
played his own character, Mike Hammer, in the 1963 adaptation of his novel, The Girl Hunters, directed by Roy
Rowland. This U.K. production co-starred none other than Shirley Eaton, a year
before she appeared as the “Golden Girl” in the James Bond blockbuster, Goldfinger. Spillane’s first big screen
role was as himself in the crime drama, Ring
of Fear (produced by John Wayne’s production company) in 1954. Older
readers of Cinema Retro may remember
the Miller Lite TV commercials in which Spillane spoofed himself.
you know that there was a TV pilot made in 1954 by director Blake Edwards,
starring Brian Keith as Mike Hammer? This is a revelation I learned in reading Mickey Spillane on Screen.
Unfortunately, that pilot wasn’t picked up, but it was made available in a now
out-of-print DVD box set that Collins put together entitled The Black Box Collection—Shades of Neo-Noir
(2006). Perhaps you can find a copy on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.
book, which is illustrated with scenes from the films, is divided into sections that cover a brief biography of Spillane, the feature
films, and television adaptations. The latter, of course, examines the many
episodes (and TV movies) of the very popular Mike Hammer series (1984-1998) starring
Stacy Keach. The critiques and background stories behind the movies and
television series are thorough and spot-on. I agree with the authors that the
1955 Robert Aldrich masterwork, Kiss Me
Deadly, is perhaps the best Mike Hammer interpretation we ever got.
recommended for aficionados of crime films and television, Mickey Spillane on Screen is especially a love letter for the
author’s fans. Happy 100th Birthday, Mickey!
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
(This review originally ran during the film's initial theatrical release in 2017)
BY MARK CERULLI
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.
Woody Allen’s 1990 film Alice after
all these years brought on many emotions. I instruct the students in my Film
History class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, that one must
always judge a film within the context of when it was released. These days,
it’s difficult to do so with the formidable filmography of Woody Allen. Can one
put aside the context of when this film
was released? Alice was made while the
writer/director’s relationship with his star, Mia Farrow, was supposedly still rosy,
less than a couple of years before the familial scandal erupted that has dogged
the filmmaker ever since. Can one ignore the presence—throughout the film—of
young Dylan Farrow, playing the role
of Alice’s daughter? Or, ironically, the small role played by James Toback in the film? (Readers
familiar with what’s been going on in Hollywood lately will understand that
the same time, Cinema Retro’s
editor-in-chief recently said, “What, are we to pretend that Allen’s entire
career never existed? Our job is to evaluate the artistry, not the personal
morality. Otherwise we’d quickly run out of people to write about.”
I couldn’t help examining Alice as an
omniscient behind-the-scenes spectator. Oddly, I’ve reviewed several new
Blu-ray releases of Allen’s movies for Cinema
Retro over the past few years, and I’ve never felt this kind of discomfort.
That doesn’t mean I can’t critique the movie’s merits, it’s just that Woody
Allen’s oeuvre now comes with baggage.
One must simply unpack it and look at what’s there on the screen.
Alice is actually a pretty
good entry in the director’s work. Considering that he’s made nearly fifty
films, this one probably belongs in the lower half of the list in ranking, but
certainly nowhere near the bottom. It’s a solid 2-1/2 or 3-star effort (out of
4), mainly due to Mia Farrow’s excellent performance as the mousy but rich
Manhattan housewife who desperately wants to change her life—but doesn’t know
is married to wealthy, but stuffy, Doug (William Hurt), who has a high-powered
job. This leaves Alice to tend to her two small children (when they’re not
cared for by nannies and maids), hang out with her socialite friends, and get
her nails and hair done. It’s a very superficial life until she meets Joe (Joe
Mantegna), a divorced father, at her children’s school. Another hard left turn
is when Alice visits a mysterious Chinese doctor (Keye Luke), who hypnotizes
her, gives her strange herbs to take, and pushes her into a fantasy world that
turns her own upside down.
many ways, Alice is a companion piece
to The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985),
another of Allen’s more whimsical pieces that deals with fanciful situations.
In Alice, Farrow’s character can
become invisible and spy on people, she can meet up with her deceased first
boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) and fly over the city with him, and she can recreate
childhood memories involving her parents and sister. It’s these elements that
make Alice a fun, if fluffy, romp. It
is also in many ways somewhat an homage to Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (1965), in which a
bored housewife ventures into fantasy sequences to escape the doldrums of her
philandering husband and to better her own life.
owns the movie. For most of it, Alice is timid, nervous, and hesitant to try
new things—but Farrow infuses these qualities with a great deal of charm. She
literally lights up the screen with beauty and a winning pathos. Then there are
the moments when she breaks out of this “shell”—such as when one of the
doctor’s herbs makes her suggestive and flirtatious, notched up to eleven. Her seduction scene with Joe in
the school waiting area is not only hilarious, but her transformation is masterful. One comes away from it
thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know Mia Farrow could do that!” (Farrow was nominated
for a Golden Globe—and she won the Best Actress award from the National Board
of Review—for her performance.)
There are countless film
noirs meriting Blu-ray treatment, but perhaps none so deserving as T-Men (1947), arguably the best of the
documentary-style noirs of the late 1940s, distinguished by its uncompromising
tone, stylish direction and brilliant cinematography. While many individuals
contributed to its success, the film was above all a triumph of creative
collaboration between two of Hollywood’s greatest visual artists: director
Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton. The two capitalized on the film’s
narrative—government agents infiltrating a counterfeiting ring in an underworld
of sudden cruelty and shifting allegiances—to push the noir/crime film to new
extremes of stylized violence and subjective intensity.
Although better known for
his dark psychological westerns of the 1950s, Mann honed his craft in the even
darker waters of forties film noir. Like many directors of his generation, Mann
cut his teeth in the demanding arena of B movies, churning out a dozen
bottom-of-the-bill programmers for Republic, RKO and PRC between 1942-1947. Although
he made several musicals during this period, Mann was much more at home
directing noirish films like The Great
Flamarion (1945) and Strange
Impersonation (1946), which gave scope to his thematic obsession with conflicted,
desperate characters navigating through a world of moral ambivalence and
Mann was the thinking man’s
director par excellence, equally adept at staging dynamic set pieces as probing
his protagonists’ inner responses to narrative stimuli, usually in the same
scene. His sensitivity to characters better able to cope with physical rather
than psychological roadblocks made him right at home in the existential
uncertainties of noir. Relentless pacing, kinetic visuals and an intense focus
on the emotional and psychological dissonance of his characters were among his
hallmarks. T-Men, made for Eagle Lion
Films, was the fullest realization of his aesthetic to date.
Helping Mann transfer his
dark vision to the screen was legendary cinematographer John Alton, whose
chiaroscuro photography recalled the glory days of German film expressionism.
The Hungarian-born Alton was among the most daring and experimental of
Hollywood cameramen. His work sometimes bordered on the abstract, but only when
it served the needs of the story. Often stuck with directors unreceptive to his
ideas, his pairing with the open-minded Mann was a match made in noir heaven. Alton’s shadowy, half-lit urban
environments provide the perfect visual correlative to Mann’s thematic emphasis
on paranoia and emotional crisis. Known for his minimal use of lights—he got
better effects with a handful of lights than cameramen who used dozens—Alton
succinctly summed up his photographic philosophy: “It’s not what you light,
it’s what you don’t light.”
marked the appearance of another significant creative partner for Mann in the
person of John C. Higgins, who had penned the director’s previous film, Railroaded (1947). Higgins was one of noir’s
more prolific and dependable screenwriters. In addition to the five films he did
with Mann, he also scripted the iconic noirs Shield for Murder (1954) and Big
House, U.S.A. (1955). While T-Men’s
accolades are typically reserved for Alton’s chiaroscuro and Mann’s
nerve-shredding mise en scène, Higgins’ tough, pungent dialog shouldn’t be
overlooked. He was arguably the first quality screenwriter Mann worked with.
Higgins’ tight scenario
centers on treasury agents Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony Genaro
(Alfred Ryder), who go undercover to break up a counterfeiting operation working
out of Detroit and Los Angeles. Posing as members of a once-prominent Detroit
gang (O’Brien adopting the moniker Vannie Harrigan, Genaro becoming Tony
Galvani), the pair gain conditional access to the organization through a
low-level middleman called The Schemer (Wallace Ford), offering as bait an
engraving plate of exceptional quality. Having fallen from favor with his
employers, the Schemer hopes to redeem himself by brokering a deal between his
felonious new pals and the organization’s top brass. The latter are interested
but wary, and as negotiations proceed keep O’Brien and Genaro under close surveillance
by the gang’s enforcer Moxie (Charles McGraw).
March 1990, I paid a visit to my one and only source for all things foreign
horror. A small comic book hole-in-the-wall roughly half-an-hour from my house
was a New Jersey version of Stephen King’s Needful
Things. This store, long gone because of the Internet age, boasted VHS
bootlegs and imported foreign laser discs of uncut horror film titles I had only
read about in black and white fanzines written and printed by young adults.
This is where I saw the uncut version of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981), a film that had
played theatrically seven years earlier in a horrifically butchered
eighty-minute version that removed some forty-five minutes of footage from an
already convoluted albeit brilliant film.
movie that came to my attention at that time (despite having been released on
VHS here a year earlier, though I was unfamiliar with it) was the uncut edition
of Dick Maas’s 1988 thriller Amsterdamned,
which was shot on location in the Netherlands in the summer and fall of 1987. When I
put the VHS tape into my player I was presented with an image that was so dark,
so grainy, and so difficult to see that I had no choice but to shut it off
several minutes into it. I was disappointed because I had read that it was a
fairly decent movie. I never would’ve imagined at that time that it would take
me some twenty-seven years to see it. Thanks to the fine folks at Blue
Underground, Amsterdamned has now
been restored to its original glory and is available in a Blu-ray and DVD combo
pack. The result is a stellar 2K scan and high definition presentation of one
of the most enjoyable and intriguing thrillers that I have seen in quite some
time. While the story itself may not seem entirely fresh, the cinematic
execution is top-notch.
Amsterdamned is essentially an aquatically-themed
thriller concerning a scuba-diving lunatic stalking seemingly random folks in
the city of Amsterdam. The killer spends much of his time lurking about the
polluted canals of the titular city. The camera is kept at eye level (think
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws from 1975) as
he snakes through the water, his presence telegraphed by the bubbling and
gurgling of his oxygen tank and Darth Vader-like breathing which acts as a
harbinger of death for anyone unlucky enough to cross paths with him. After he
kills his first victim, an unfortunate prostitute from the infamous Red Light
District, a murder spree with no discernible motive is set into play. Eric
Visser (Huub Stapel) is the cop assigned to the case. He has a thirteen-year-old
daughter who is precocious and tries her best to help him along now that his
ex-wife is nowhere to be found. Much of the film revolves around Visser and his
partner chasing the killer through a series of “Damn, he got away again!” set-pieces, and while this may
sound boring and derivative, director Maas has a visual style that keeps things
tense, interesting and moving forward. There is a fairly elaborate canal chase
involving the killer and Visser in separate speed boats that is very well-mounted
and edited together that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Lewis Gilbert
mounted a similar chase in the James Bond film Moonraker (1979) and used rear projection for some of the close-ups
of Jaws (Richard Kiel), but director Maas does it all for real here, much like
the other predecessor in this arena, Geoffrey Reeve’s Puppet on a Chain (1971) which also set a boat chase through
being under the gun by his superiors to catch the killer, Visser manages to
find time to romance a scuba diver named Laura (Monique van de Ven) who is
jovial and cheerful and agrees to a date. Their passing fancy with one another comes
under close scrutiny from her friend and psychiatrist Martin Ruysdael (Hidde
Maas) who used to be a scuba diver (red flag!) but gave it up years ago. Visser
and Laura become closer and consummate their relationship. Laura becomes the
perfect damsel in distress towards the film’s end and despite the revelation of
the killer, Amsterdamned still
manages to pack a decent punch.
director also wrote the musical score (think John Carpenter) and it works very well
for the film. It exudes a definite air of tension. Amsterdamned boasts the best Jaws-inspired
underwater scare that pays homage to the Ben Gardner death from that film. It
ends with (what else?) an Eighties pop-tune called (guess!) “Amsterdamned”!
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.
years, every studio salivated over Marvel’s profit machine where iconic
characters jump in and out of each other’s films. To get in on the action, Universal
mined their monster vaults by creating the Dark Universe franchise. The first
entry was The Mummy starring Tom
Cruise, Annabelle Wallis and Russell Crowe (as Dr. Henry Jekyll). Directed by
Alex Kurtzman, the film also starred Algerian stunner Sofia Boutella as the
title creature, who is light years away from Karloff’s 1932 creation.
film stirred a pot o fan controversy when it was announced because of, well… Tom Cruise in a horror movie? Not to worry, he dove into the hero role with
his trademark enthusiasm and ageless good looks, doing stunts that would leave
any other mortal in a coma or full body cast. The film is entertaining; it’s a popcorn ride, full of beautiful scenery
and state-of-the art visual effects, and Boutella steals the show as the
sensuous 5,000 year-old Egyptian Princess who is pure evil.
with their $125 million film, Universal packed a sarcophagus full of extras on
the 2-disc, dual format set that also includes a digital download version. Extras in the set include:
The Plane Crash (in Zero G)
others – adding up to over an hour of bonus material. Say what you will about Tom Cruise doing
horror, The Mummy featured
spectacular sets and some of the best action sequences this side of a James
Bond movie. (And the vicious sandstorm taking out London’s financial district is
a show stopper.) Universal’s first
plunge into their Dark Universe is definitely worth your time – and you might
as well get familiar with it because, if the studio has its way, The Mummy is just the tip of the dark
iceberg: The Bride of Frankenstein (with
Javier Bardem as The Monster) is already in the works as is The Invisible Man (with Johnny Depp no
(For Mark Cerulli's review of the film's theatrical release, click here).
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