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
Kneale, who passed away in 2006 at the age of eighty-four, was responsible for
some of early British television’s seminal moments, and is best remembered by
popular audiences for scaring the population half to death in 1953 with The Quatermass Experiment, followed over
the next few years by Quatermass II (1955)
and Quatermass and the Pit (1958). In
1954 he was responsible for adapting George Orwell’s 1984 into a television play starring Peter Cushing and Donald
Pleasence, a production that was considered so shocking that questions were
asked in Parliament. The repeat performance the following week was only allowed
to go ahead once word came through that the Queen had liked it.
Kneale’s success at the BBC he had a difficult relationship with the
corporation and eventually became an independent writer, spending most of the
next few decades writing television dramas and film scripts, as well adapting
novels for films. Some of this work was relatively pedestrian, but when he
wrote scripts like The Stone Tape (1972),
depicting the scientific exploration of a haunted house, or the dystopian
nightmare The Year of the Sex Olympics
(1968), a world in which television serves up a constant diet of violence and
pornography, his legacy as one of the most important writers of horror and
science fiction was assured.
he hated being associated with science fiction and horror, constantly rejecting
requests to write for shows like Doctor
Who, (1963 – 1989, 2005 –), which he thought was too frightening for
children, and in the 1990s he rudely turned down an invitation to contribute to
The X-Files (1993 – 2002, 2016 –), stating
“This is the worst kind of science fiction,” before going on to denigrate the
main cast. This no doubt disappointed the show’s creator Chris Carter who was a
big fan. His influence on a new generation of filmmakers and TV producers from
the late 1970s onwards meant that Kneale was constantly being offered work,
including from Hollywood, where he worked with John Landis on an unrealised
remake of The Creature From the Black
Lagoon (1954) before scripting Halloween
III: Season of the Witch (1982) for John Carpenter. Upon seeing the
finished film and how, in his opinion, it had veered drastically from his
script, Nigel Kneale was so furious he had his name removed from the credits.
published in 2006, this vastly updated and expanded edition of Andy Murray’s
excellent biography of Kneale is a fascinating insight into one of television’s
most influential, important and occasionally belligerent writers. From his
childhood on the Isle of Man to his final moments, no aspect of his life has
been neglected. The book is built around a series of interviews with the Kneale
and his wife, successful children’s author Judith Kerr, as well as with dozens
of people who have either worked with Kneale or are fans, including John
Carpenter, Russell T. Davies and Mark Gatiss. Andy Murray has also identified
many of the references and homages to Kneale’s work in film and television,
including, ironically, Doctor Who,
the show which Kneale despised so vehemently. Most notably the 1970s stories
featuring Jon Pertwee battling alien invasions of Earth alongside UNIT were
effectively Quatermass stories under a different name.
Into the Unknown: The
Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale is a thorough and well-researched read
for anyone interested in television history, science fiction, or who might have
spent Saturday nights as a child hiding behind the sofa during Quatermass and the Pit, and is highly
a film is as uninspired and as amateurishly made as Lance Lindsay’s Star Crystal (1986) is and ends with the
words “Filmed entirely in SPACE” following the end credits, you know that you’re
going to wish that you had those 93 minutes of your life back. Unfortunately, science
has not gotten us to the point where that is possible just yet. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) was the
first low-budget Star Wars rip-off
that I saw theatrically and I was astonished at how unexciting it was. However,
it did give us James Cameron, Bill
Paxton, and James Horner so it wasn’t all
bad. Crystal, also a product of Roger
Corman’s low-budget production company, goes much further than Battle did in terms of “borrowing” from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dark Star (1974), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Alien
(1979), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982),
The Thing (1982), Xtro (1983), and Lifeforce (1985). Released on VHS in April 1986, Crystal outright steals from these classic films. Crystal lives up to none of the exceptional movie artwork that was
used to promote it, which is a shame as the poster is probably the best thing
about it (though it hawks the action as taking place in 2035, not 2032 – is
there really a difference?), although it does have a fairly decent score by
the future, remember this is 2032 and not
2035!, two men on Mars extricate a rock from the planet’s surface and,
brilliantly, bring it on board the spacecraft. To think that these guys never
saw Ridley Scott’s Alien is a little
too much to believe. They have it analyzed by a scientist who determines that
it’s…a…rock. Yes, it’s a rock that leaks a mysterious white goo (no, I’m not going there…) which a crew member
sticks nearly their entire hand into out of curiosity. Apparently, they didn’t
see Larry Cohen’s The Stuff (1985)
either. It then begins to turn into a pitiful-looking alien. The rock turns
into some sort of crystal, and looks not unlike the titular Dark Crystal from
that superior film. These events cause the crew to die suddenly. Too bad it
didn’t have the same effect on the viewer. All the computers and onboard
spaceship equipment look like they were made by Radio Shack. The action (that’s
being kind) then flashes forward two months later when Colonel William Hamilton
is assigned to find out why the crew died. Maybe they watched the dailies and
committed suicide? An attractive blonde flirts with him in typical 80’s
fashion. Everyone on the ship has big 80’s hair, a true anachronism in 2032. Onboard
the ship (in reality a poorly-disguised shopping mall) is Roger Campbell (C.
Juston Campbell) and his right hand man who cracks unfunny jokes like “I’d
rather eat my shoe” when referring to the ship’s food. The ship begins shaking when
the cinematographer starts shaking it back and forth and crew members run
around frivolously. The shopping mall’s escalators are a hilarious prop.
could go on and on about this film, but I don’t want to ruin the special
awfulness of it for the viewer. I will say that the ending is particularly
silly and comes out of left field that features an anthropomorphized blob that
breathes deeply. The plot is picked out of many sci-fi films and the director
does what he can with the ludicrous material. It makes you wonder, however, if
the movie was originally written to be tongue-in-cheek or meant to be serious. Coca-Cola
appears in a product-placement moment, and the women on the ship are dressed in
outfits that make one half expect them all to break into calisthenics. It’s always
nice to have a blonde running around screaming, “We’re all gonna die!!” at the
first sight of outer space trouble. The gratuitous sex that was a mainstay of
such 80’s fare is completely missing from Star
Crystal and it makes one wonder who was the intended audience. Exactly ten
minutes into the film, a shot from within the mothership reveals a replica of
the Millennium Falcon flanking each side of the entrance. Really? Lucasfilm
signed off on this? May the Farce Be With You.
there is anything this film needs, it’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000
treatment. There is even the dreaded End Credits Song. Why do people think that we want a song at the end of movies like
you’re a fan of this film (no judgment; to each his own), you’ll be happy to
know that Kino Lorber has provided a top-notch transfer of the film on Blu-ray.
This is the one to get!
school friends Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch) and Rebecca Doppelmeyer (Scarlett
Johansson) absolutely cannot wait to be free of the prison of school, defiantly
flipping the bird and squashing their mortarboards following their graduation.
Enid isn’t off the hook just yet: her “diploma” is instead a note informing her
that she must “take some stupid art class” (her words) if she hopes to graduate.
Their fellow classmates are caricatures of everyone we all knew during our
adolescence. Melora (Debra Azar) is inhumanly happy all the time and oblivious
to Enid and Rebecca’s sense of ennui and contempt. Todd (T.J. Thyne) is
ultra-nervous to talk with the insouciant Rebecca at the punchbowl. Another bespectacled
student sits off by himself. Enid and Rebecca are at both an intellectual and
emotional crossroads. They want to share an apartment; however, they seem unaware
of the amount of money they will have to come up with for such a
venture. Instead of finding jobs, their post-graduation afternoons are spent
meandering through life while frowning upon society, following strange people
home, bothering their mutual friend Josh (Brad Renfro) and admiring the Weird
Al wannabe waiter at the new 50’s-themed diner which plays contemporary music.
Seemingly without a care in the world, the women have no plans to attend
college, preferring instead to prank an unsuspecting nebbish named Seymour (Steve
Buscemi) who has placed a personal ad in an attempt to communicate with a
striking blonde he noticed, with Enid feigning said blonde on Seymour’s
answering machine. Rebecca is a dour and solemn counterpoint to Enid’s aloof
yet occasionally jovial demeanor. If
Holden Caulfield had a girlfriend, she might be someone just like Enid,
sneering at the losers and phonies in her midst. Searching out Seymour, they
approach him and his roommate at a garage sale where he is unloading old
records for next to nothing. His affection for collecting 78 rpms begins to
endear him to Enid, who confides in Rebecca that she likes him despite their
25-year age difference. They have some truly funny moments together such as
attending a “party” for guys who talk techno mumbo-jumbo, riding in the car
together as Seymour screams at people walking through an intersection, and a
humorous romp through an adult video and novelty store.
Rebecca grows tired of hearing about Seymour,
and presses Enid to get a job but she only succeeds in getting fired repeatedly,
even from her position at the concession stand at a Pacific Theatre cinema when
she ribs the customers over their choice of movie and their willingness to eat
popcorn with “chemical sludge” poured on it. The tone of the film shifts from
one of comedic commentary on the world to one of disillusionment as Enid begins
to feel her world slowly begin to crumble around her. Her friendship with
Rebecca, an anchor in her life for years, is ending and like so many of us at
that age, she has no idea where her life is going or what she needs to be doing
when she isn’t changing her hair color or her now-famous blue Raptor t-shirt or
donning punk rock garb as a sartorial statement. Her summer art teacher
(Illeana Douglas) shows her students her personal thesis film Mirror, Father, Mirror which itself is a
parody of the pretentious student films submitted to professors. She pushes
Enid to create interesting and powerful art when Enid is only interested in
drawing the people she knows and Don Knotts. In short, nothing seems to be
going well for her. The only person she can rely on is Norman, the well-dressed
man who sits on a bench at a bus stop that stopped service a long time ago and
holds the key to the film’s long-debated denouement. Enid is almost like an
older version of Jane Burnham, the character portrayed by Ms. Birch in American Beauty (1999). In that film,
she barely reacted to her father (Kevin Spacey) and here her contempt for her
father (Bob Balaban) and his girlfriend Maxine (Teri Garr) is even more
Director Terry Zwigoff takes the source
material created by artist and writer Daniel Clowes and fashions one of the
most brilliantly entertaining and poignant ruminations on adolescence the
silver screen has ever seen. Ghost World
also boasts excellent use of music, much of it pre-existing, although the main
theme by David Kitay is an elegiac
piano theme that recalls David Shire’s theme to The Conversation (1974). The film starts with a bang to the
seemingly non-diegetic tune of the Mohammed Rafi hit “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” from
the 1965 Hindi film Gumnaam, the
scenes of which are intercut with images of the apartment complex’s
inhabitants. As the camera tracks from the exterior windows of these
grotesqueries, it settles upon Enid’s bedroom where the night before graduation
she dances to the aforementioned tune which we now see is being played back on a
bootleg VHS tape. The beat is frenetic and infectious. Enid, for the first of
only a handful of times in the entire film, appears to be in a state of joy as
she mimics the moves of the dancers. If only she could always feel this way! With this singular sequence, Mr. Zwigoff
achieves something reserved for only the greatest and rarest of filmmakers – re-identifying
a popular musical piece with his movie. I can’t hear “The Blue Danube” without
thinking of spaceships spinning throughout the galaxy.
Ghost World opened on Friday, July 20, 2001 in
limited release in New York and Los Angeles and garnered immediate critical
acclaim. Filmed in 2000, the film is a product of a simpler and more innocent
time. Before the brutal wake-up call of the September 11th attacks, there is a
complete lack of cell phone usage in the film. It makes a great companion to
2001’s other minor masterpiece of adolescent angst, the cult favorite Donnie Darko.
ANGELS ON WHEELS LA Screening with Richard Rush and Sabrina Scharf in Person
By Todd Garbarini
Rush’s 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels
celebrates its 50th anniversary with a special screening at the Noho
7 Theatre in Los Angeles. Starring Adam Roarke, Jack Nicholson, Sabrina Scharf,
Jana Taylor and Jack Starrett, the film runs 95 minutes and is one of several
films that Mr. Rush directed Mr. Nicholson in, the others being Too Soon to Love (1960) and Psycho-Out (1968). This is a rare
opportunity to see this film on the big screen.
PLEASE NOTE: Director Richard Rush and
actress Sabrina Scharf are scheduled to appear in person for a Q & A
following the screening.
the press release:
HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967)
Thursday, August 3, 2017 at 7:30 PM
A bunch of hairy guys on Harleys are causing trouble again in this, one of the
best-remembered examples of the biker flicks of the 1960's. Poet (Jack
Nicholson) is a moody gas station attendant who is looking for more excitement
in his life. When a gang of bikers roars through town, Poet is intrigued, and
after he pitches in to help the Hell's Angels in a bar fight (and pulls a
well-timed stick up), one of the gang's higher-ups, Buddy (Adam Roarke) asks
Poet to join. Soon Poet is riding with the Angels and living their lifestyle of
violent debauchery, but Poet begins to tire of their rootless decadence, and
Buddy is none too happy with Poet when he learns they're both in love with the
same woman. Hell's Angels On Wheels won a cult following for its agressive but
languid atmosphere and the fluid camerawork of cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs
(at this point still billed as "Leslie Kovacs"). Richard Rush
directed, and legendary Hell's Angels leader Sonny Barger appears as himself.
The Noho 7 Theatre is located at 5240
Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601.
The phone number is (310) (310) 478 – 3836.
Mark Robson’s 1957 film Peyton Place celebrates its 60th
anniversary with a special screening at the Royal Theatre in Los Angeles. The
film, which runs 157 minutes, stars Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan,
Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn, Terry More, and Hope Lange.
NOTE: Actress Terry Moore is currently scheduled to appear at the screening as
part of a Q & A regarding the film and her career.
From the press release:
of our Anniversary Classics series. For details, visit: laemmle.com/ac.
PEYTON PLACE (1957)
60th Anniversary Screening
Wednesday, July 12, at 7:00 PM at the Royal Theatre
Q & A with Co-Star Terry Moore
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 60th anniversary
screening of 'Peyton Place,' the smash hit movie version of Grace Metalious’s
best-selling novel. The film earned nine top Academy Award nominations,
including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also
tied the all-time record of five acting nominations from a single film: Lana
Turner as Best Actress and four supporting nods, for newcomers Diane Varsi and
Hope Lange, along with Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn.
Metalious’s novel exposed the steamy shenanigans in a small New England town,
and even in a slightly toned-down version, the film tackled such once-forbidden
topics as rape, incest, sexual hypocrisy and repression. It opened in December
of 1957 and became the second highest grossing film of 1958 after going into
wide release and then spawned a sequel and a popular TV series in the 1960s.
Leonard Maltin summed up the critical consensus when he wrote, “Grace Metalious’s
once-notorious novel receives Grade A filming.” Producer Jerry Wald (whose
credits included 'Mildred Pierce,' 'Key Largo,' 'Johnny Belinda,' 'An Affair to
Remember,' 'The Long Hot Summer,' and 'Sons and Lovers') bought the rights to
the novel for $250,000 and hired a first-rate team to bring it to the screen.
Screenwriter John Michael Hayes wrote many of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies
of the 1950s, including 'Rear Window,' 'The Trouble with Harry,' and 'The Man
Who Knew Too Much.' Director Mark Robson started as an assistant editor on
Orson Welles’ 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Magnificent Ambersons,' then directed
such successful films as 'Champion,' 'The Bridges at Toko-Ri,' and 'Inn of the
Sixth Happiness.' Oscar winning composer Franz Waxman provided the memorable
The Hollywood Reporter praised
all the performances but singled out co-star Terry Moore, who “shows what a
forceful and moving actress she can be.” Moore made a vivid impression in
1949’s 'Mighty Joe Young,' then earned an Oscar nomination for 'Come Back,
Little Sheba' in 1952. Her other films include 'Man on a Tightrope' with
Fredric March, 'King of the Khyber Rifles' with Tyrone Power, 'Beneath the
12-Mile Reef' with Robert Wagner, and 'Daddy Long Legs' with Fred Astaire and
Leslie Caron. She made 77 feature films over the course of her career and also
appeared in many TV series and movies.
Royal Theatre is located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd. 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los
Angeles, CA 90025. The phone number is (310) 478 – 0401.
is a tough one. On the one hand, Bring Me
the Head of Alfredo Garcia a picture that has gained a cult status and a
reputation among some cinema enthusiasts and certainly Sam Peckinpah fans as a
retro classic. On the other hand, this is one nasty piece of work.
remember immensely disliking the picture in 1974 (as did most audiences and
critics) when it was first released. I appreciated its dark humor and Warren
Oates’ superb study in futility and frustration—it was nice to see the longtime
supporting actor be a lead—but the overall nihilism of the movie left a sour
taste. I was eager to view to new DVD release by Kino Lorber on the chance that
perhaps my opinion would have changed over the last forty-three years, given
the title’s cult acceptance.
afraid my views have not changed.
Sam Peckinpah always had a confrontational relationship with Hollywood studios.
He was a rebel who liked to do things his way. By the time of Alfredo Garcia, he had pretty much given
up on Hollywood and was forging his own path. Luckily for him, United
Artists—known for indulging auteur filmmakers
in those days—gave him enough money to make the picture in Mexico with an
all-Mexican crew, save for a few key personnel. The film is perceived as one of
the director’s most personal statements.
story, by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, and adapted to screenplay by Peckinpah
and Gordon Dawson, follows an American ex-pat in Mexico, Bennie (Oates), as he
attempts to locate the body of deceased Alfredo Garcia, remove the head, and
return it to Mexican crime boss El Jefe.
Apparently, poor Alfredo impregnated El
Jefe’s daughter and ran off, so the boss has placed a million-dollar bounty
for her lover’s head. Bennie and his reluctant Mexican girlfriend, Elita (Isela
Vega), are in competition with various hit men and fortune hunters. Lives are
lost, women are tortured, shootouts occur, and violence (done in trademark
Peckinpah slow-motion) follows Bennie wherever he goes. Once he’s in possession
of the head, which Bennie carries around in a rucksack, flies are his only constant
don’t need Smell-O-Vision for this picture—you can swear the odors of sweat,
death, and blood penetrate the screen.
my biggest objection to the picture is Peckinpah’s treatment of women. Yes,
we’re talking about Mexico here, and we’re focusing on bad guys and prostitutes
and bar girls. But the misogyny and cruelty inflicted on the female characters
is cringe-worthy, especially today, when we’re supposed to be a little more
sensitive to this stuff. The sequence in which bikers (one is played by Kris
Kristofferson) attempt to assault Elita, and her “here we go again, let’s get
it over with” attitude toward it, is disturbing—and not because it’s supposed to be disturbing. I get that.
The problem is that the entire scene is unnecessary.
action bits/shootouts are well-done, and the latter half hour with Bennie
lugging around that head with the flies buzzing around it is grossly comical.
Hit men played by Robert Webber and Gig Young are fun to watch, and Oates’
performance elevates the picture to something that is, granted, watchable… the
same way you might slow down and rubberneck on the highway to gawk at an
Lorber’s transfer looks very good, but there seems to be something wrong in the
mastering with regard to subtitles. A lot of the movie’s dialogue is in Spanish
(for example, the first five minutes, which takes place at El Jefe’s home). There is no default for English subtitles here.
You must go to the main menu and manually turn on the subtitles. That solves
the problem for the Spanish dialogue—but then, the subtitles continue
throughout the picture even when English is spoken. Very annoying.
only supplement is an interesting and insightful audio commentary moderated by
Nick Redman and featuring film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and
David Weddle, all who have written separate books about Sam Peckinpah. There’s
the theatrical trailer, and several more trailers for Kino Lorber releases.
Bring Me the Head of
Alfredo Garcia just
might be your cup of tea—it’s probably beloved by the “Tarantino crowd”—so if
it is, then this DVD is for you.
Walt Disney’s Bambi, which opened on Friday, August 21, 1942 at Radio City Music
accompanied by a live stage show, is an indisputable animated masterpiece based
upon Felix Salten’s 1923 novel of the same name. The story of a young fawn
growing up in the woods with his mother and cute animals in his midst, ty Bambi is not the sort of film that one
would normally associate with the Walt Disney name. As children, we are
introduced to the requisite characters who are synonymous with Disney and
labeled as “family entertainment” such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, either
through television viewings, theatrical rereleases or VHS/laserdisc/DVD/Blu-ray
viewings. The overall general attitude of a Disney film is one of fun and joy,
although there are exceptions as some movies, such as Pinocchio (1940) and The
Rescuers (1977), have moments that are emotionally dark. Bambi is no traditional Disney movie,
and dare I say it’s a film that parents of very young and impressionable
children should honestly think twice about before permitting them to view it,
as introducing the notion of death to a youngster through a cartoon may prove
to be a life-changing event (to say nothing of the constant images of violence
that children are subjected to on television and on the Internet each day).
Bambi experiences the many things in
life that children experience: meeting and taking a liking to new friends
(Thumper the rabbit proves a good companion and teacher and a fellow fawn named
Faline proves to be a fun female friend) and making honest mistakes (labeling a
skunk “Flower” of all things). He is very close to his mother, but does not
realize that the Great Prince of the Forest, who protects the animals from Man,
specifically hunters, and is both revered and feared by the animals, is his real
father. His fortitude is tested when his mother is killed by the hunters and
his father reveals his identity to him. Bambi realizes that to survive one must
As the years go by, Bambi matures,
grows up and adapts to the environment. He now views the equally older Faline
as a potential romantic mate, and wards off a fellow buck, Ronno, who competes
for her affections. His childhood friends also find their own romantic mates,
and Bambi and Faline are blessed with twins as Bambi becomes the new Great
Prince of the Forest. As they said in 1994’s The Lion King, the circle of life.
and Chong’s Next Movie, which opened on Friday, July 18,
1980, had stiff competition at the box office: Airplane!, The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Friday the 13th,
The Blue Lagoon, The Big Red One, Dressed to Kill, Fame, and The Blues Brothers were all in major
release at the time. While Next Movie
and did respectable business, it went on to gross even more moola when
Universal released is on a double bill with John Landis’s beloved Blues Brothers later. The film picks up
sometime after Cheech and Chong’s maiden cinematic outing, Up in Smoke, left off two years earlier. Written by the slapdash
and seemingly always high dynamic duo and directed by the latter of the two, Next Movie plays out like their comedy
album routines (“Dave” from their self-titled 1971 debut album is one of their
best-known and funniest bits) which is exactly how Abbott and Costello’s early
film appearances were scripted (in their case they were based on their radio
routines). Next Movie was shot in
1979 as evinced by the appearance of North
Dallas Forty and Being There on
Los Angeles movie marquees in the distance and concerns two struggling potheads
who go through a series of (mis)adventures while attempting to start a rock
band. They siphon gas out of a truck into a refuse-filled garbage can with
explosive results. They have an ongoing feud with their neighbor who is fed up
with their antics. Their house has been condemned and they find themselves at a
welfare office. Cheech’s girlfriend Donna (Evelyn Guerrero), one of the welfare
workers, has an off-screen tryst with him while Chong sits next to a very young
Michael Winslow who makes some truly funny sound effects that would make him so
popular later in seven Police Academy
movies. The scene goes on a bit too long, but it’s a great showcase for Mr.
Winslow’s considerable talents. Donna’s boss reprimands her for her momentary
lapse of reason under Cheech’s spell and they make a run for it. Later,
Cheech’s cousin Red (also played by Mr. Marin) blows into town and, while also
financially impecunious, fights with a hotel receptionist (Paul Reubens) who is
carted off by the cops while shouting Al Pacino’s famous “Attica! Attica!” mantra
and ends up jailed after assaulting the men.
The boys are then invited
to a party by a roller-skater (when was the last time you saw one of those
onscreen?) which takes place in a whorehouse in a sequence that elicits
laughter as Cheech watches and reacts to some action outside of one of the
rooms. They scare off the clients by playing back audio on a boombox that they
recorded earlier of the hotel altercation. This is a cute tactic that has
worked to comedic effect in everything from the aforementioned Abbott and
Costello to Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on
Elm Street (1984). The clients spill out onto Sunset Boulevard in a frenzy
and end up at the house of one of the girl’s parents, who are in a constant
state of hilarity, and the action moves to a comedy club wherein a fight breaks
out. Paul Reubens reappears here in a very early appearance as Pee-Wee Herman.
The film eventually ends with a strange bit of “far-out” silliness involving
pot, flying saucers and animation. The message of the film, if there is one, is
that “life’s a party”. If you’re a fan of the titular doofuses who are funny
and amiable, you’ll enjoy the film. Some of the episodes go on a little too
long and it makes one wonder if the filmmakers simply expected the audience to
be stoned while watching the film!
Like Shout! Factory’s
recent release of Universal’s Car Wash
(1976), Next Movie is a film that was
drastically altered for its television airing which included different scenes
and music. While it would have been nice to have had this alternate version on
the new Blu-ray, Cheech and Chong fans will appreciate the new and colorful
transfer which is much clearer than previous home video transfers. Shout!
Factory has done another bang-up job with the image looking very bright and the
colors vivid. Los Angeles, like New York at the time, had a look and feel and
character all its own which is now gone thanks to corporate America. The
brothel that they leave is on a street that has lost its integrity much like
the most memorable and colorful establishments that appear in Martin Scorsese’s
New York in Taxi Driver (1976).
The Blu-ray contains
these extras: a theatrical trailer, radio sports, and a roughly 20-minute
onscreen interview with Cheech Marin,who discusses the making of the film..
There’s nothing I like better than getting
hold of a movie that I’ve been searching over three decades for and adding it
to my collection. At my age, there aren’t many vintage films left that I don’t
own in one format or another, so when I heard that the 1976 cult classic Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw was getting a
Blu-ray release, I was quite enthused. This movie has somehow always managed to
elude me. It never seemed to play on any of my cable stations in the early 80s,
we never had a copy of it at the video store I worked at in the mid-80s and I
was still never able to find a copy of it anywhere throughout the 90s. To be
honest, by the time the 21st century hit, I completely forgotten
about this movie, so I was pretty surprised and even more excited to find out
that it was not only being released on Blu-ray, but also with quite a few
special features. Why? To begin with, I’m a tremendous fan of the director; not
to mention the entire cast and, last, but not least, I just love fun,
action/crime/drama exploitation films from the 1970s.
Produced and directed by Mark Lester (Truck Stop Women, Roller Boogie, Class of
1984), written by Vernon Zimmerman (Unholy
Rollers, Fade to Black) and released by American International Pictures,
modern western Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw
tells the tale of quick-draw expert and Billy the Kid enthusiast Lyle Wheeler
(Marjoe Gortner, Earthquake, Food of the
Gods, Viva Knievel!, Starcrash) who, together with waitress and aspiring
country singer Bobbi Jo Baker (TV’s one and only Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter) experiences a dangerous cross country
adventure filled with love, robbery and murder.
So, was the movie worth the wait? I certainly
think so. It may not be in the same league as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but it’s still an extremely enjoyable,
well-directed, written and acted low-budget feature that definitely deserves to
be seen. To begin with, Mark Lester’s direction is not only solid, but he is
just at home directing the quiet, more character-driven and dramatic/romantic
scenes as he is directing a sequence involving heavy action and stunts. Next
up, Vernon Zimmerman’s wonderful writing not only creates an engaging story,
but interesting and likeable three-dimensional characters as well. Lyle Wheeler
aka the Outlaw, seems to live by his own code and has definite ideas of good
and evil; right and wrong. Marjoe Gortner effortlessly and believably gets all
this across and makes his character quite likeable. (This may be my favorite
Gortner performance.) The stunning Lynda Carter gets to show a bit more range
then she did as Wonder Woman and is extremely convincing as the hopeful and
somewhat naïve Bobbi Jo. The rest of the outrageously talented cast not only
add immensely to the film, but clearly came to play. Jesse Vint (Chinatown, Forbidden World) perfectly
plays Slick Callahan; a wild, not too bright cocaine fiend and boyfriend of
Bobbi Jo’s sister, Pearl. Gorgeous Merrie Lynn Ross (Class of 1984, TVs General
Hospital), who also co-produced the film, brings a hardened heart quality
to slightly ditzy stripper Pearl, and the always welcome Belinda Balaski (Piranha, The Howling) shines as hippie
waitress Essie Beaumont. Rounding out the top-notch cast is Gene Drew (Truck Stop Women) as a no-nonsense
sheriff, B-movie legend Gerrit Graham (Beware!
The Blob, Phantom of the Paradise, The Annihilators, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the
C.H.U.D.) as a helpful hippie, Virgil Frye (Graduation Day), who replaced Dennis Hopper, as a macho gas station
attendant with something to prove, Peggy Stewart (Alias Billy the Kid, Beyond Evil) as Bobbi Jo’s alcoholic mom, and
James Gammon (Major League) as a fast
Tim Sarnoff Technicolor's President of Production, addresses attendees.
energy was building, the drones were flying and the mood was celebratory as
Technicolor officially opened its brand-new Culver City TEC Center dedicated to
the brave new worlds of VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and other immersive
official name is “Technicolor Experience Center”, and it’s been having a “soft”
opening for almost a year, but now the doors are really open... The facility
is a collaborative lab and incubator to develop future content and delivery
platforms in the Immersive media space. “The TEC is really a work in progress,”
explains Marcie Jastrow, Technicolor’s SVP Immersive Media and the executive in
charge of the Center. “It’s a safe place for people to come and learn. It’s part education, part production and part
post-production.” Although Technicolor is the parent company of hot VFX shops
The Mill, MPC and Mr. X, which combined work on fully 80% of Hollywood
blockbusters and 50% of Super Bowl spots, the TEC is agnostic – meaning they
welcome all producers and projects.
“Technicolor” and most people think old time movie color, but as Tim Sarnoff,
Technicolor’s President of Production points out, “We processed our last foot
of film in 2015, we’ve been growing in the digital space for years.” Technicolor owns over 40,000 patents and is
ubiquitous today. “Everyone touches something that involves Technicolor,” says
Sarnoff, “… from your smartphone, TV, set-top boxes, blockbuster movies to
Super Bowl commercials.”
cool item on display was “The Blackbird” a VR vehicle designed by The Mill that
has been transforming auto advertising because it can mimic almost any type of
car and its unique 3D camera rig can capture a virtual version of any
environment. Along with making auto ad
shoots easier, The Blackbird (named because it was built in the very same
hangar where the legendary spy plane, SR-71, was constructed) can also help automotive
designers envision a new vehicle much earlier in the design process.
400 people crowded Technicolor’s new space – designers, directors, executives
from gaming, TV, film studios and technologists, all curious about the night’s other
big announcement: Technicolor and HP’s new collaboration: MARS Home Planet, an
ambitious project to use VR to design a life-sustaining environment for 1
million humans on the Martian surface. Hopefully we don’t have to flee Mother
Earth just yet (!) but this will be a vast experiment where students and
members of the public worldwide are invited to participate.
Blackbird VR vehicle.
wanted to tap into the collective human imagination and inspiration to reinvent
life on another planet…” enthuses Sean Young, HP’s Worldwide Segment Manager,
Product Development. He also pointed out
that while HP is known for its printers, they’ve been working in the film and
media space for 75 years, starting with building a color grader for Walt
Home Planet uses NASA’s research and footage of the Martian surface to create a
realistic backdrop for engineers, creatives, scientists and others to reimagine
what human life on another planet could be. Wanna be an astronaut? Go to hp.com/go/mars. The first 10,000 explorers get a download
code for the Fusion Mars 2030 VR Experience.
For a film director with
such an iconic resume, there’s a surprising scarcity of scholarly books devoted
to Robert Wise, the man who directed such classics as "West Side Story" (1961), "The Haunting" (1963), “The Sound of Music” (1965), “The Curse of the Cat People”
(1944), “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “The Sand Pebbles” (1966) and
many other critical and commercial successes. To say nothing of his stature as
the man who edited “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)
before taking up decades-long residence in the director’s chair.
Wise brought a self-effacing
approach to directing, one that never drew attention to itself. He may have had
the most “invisible” style of all the major directors from Hollywood’s Golden
Era, which no doubt helps explain why he never had the auteur imprimatur conferred
upon him by French critics who swooned over Welles’ baroque visuals, Douglas
Sirk’s melodramatic excess, and Howard Hawks’ male-bonding thematic.
characteristics of a Wise film were subtler, if no less crucial: the ability to
advance the narrative through visuals, seamless editing, an unfailing command
of pace, the ability to draw consistent performances from his casts. His
adaptability and mastery of all aspects of filmmaking helped him excel across every
genre. Noir, sci-fi, horror, westerns, musicals, romances—Wise made outstanding
films in each of these categories.
In what is surely good news
for fans of Robert Wise and classic films in general, Joe Jordan, film historian
and author of “Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle,” has filled an
important gap in film scholarship with his new book, “Robert Wise: The Motion
Pictures.” As the title implies, this is not a biography, but an in-depth study
of Wise’s films. The book’s length, 500 pages, testifies to the prodigious
research Jordan conducted on his subject.
Jordan’s approach is rather
unique. He provides an extended synopsis and assessment of each film, bookended
by contextual information relating to pre- and post-production issues and interspersed
with relevant dialog exchanges and copious film stills. These analytical
synopses, for want of a better term, are so lengthy and detailed that readers
are likely to find themselves running the films through their heads as Jordan
provides his own running commentary on how Wise achieved certain effects
through camera setups, staging of action, direction of actors, attention to
sound, and so on. Even if one has an intimate familiarity with Wise’s films,
Jordan continually surprises with his insight and observations, and makes one
want to watch them all over again.
Another highlight of the
book are the personal recollections from many of the actors and actresses who
performed in Wise’s films. These oral histories, some of which run to several
pages, are also deftly woven into the overall narrative. The contributors are
an interesting bunch. None of them are superstars per se (not all are actors,
either), and while some names are more familiar than others, all are extremely
talented professionals who made significant contributions to Wise’s films. It’s
refreshing to read fresh perspectives from personalities not often heard from. There’s
an unassuming tone to each of their recollections, which is fitting, given the
modest, self-effacing nature of the man they’re discussing. Their memories are informative
and entertaining, all of them linked by the greatest respect for their subject.
Stunt man Jack Young recalls
doubling for James Cagney on “Tribute to a Bad Man” (1956), and being impressed
by the relaxed yet professional atmosphere on Wise’s set—a recurring claim made
by everyone who worked on his films. Young offers a superbly concise description
of Wise as “a good director who cracked a soft whip.” He also reveals some
interesting facts about the nature of his profession in the 1940s and ’50s,
when stunt men also served as stand-ins and lighting doubles for actors, a
practice no longer allowed.
disliked Car Wash upon seeing it for
the first time On Demand several years ago and didn’t even make it all the way
through. Having grown up listening to Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the early
1980’s I had always wanted to see this film that showcased both of their
talents but could never seem to find it on television or on VHS in any of the
independent video stores that I frequented. The former West Coast Videos and
Blockbuster Videos were of no help either. Given the opportunity to see it On
Demand, I must have been in a different mindset as something about the film
must have rubbed me the wrong way, but a new viewing of it has changed my mind
Car Wash, which opened in theatres in New York City
on Friday, October 15, 1976 (remember the 8th Street Playhouse?), is
a delightfully funny slice of Los Angeles 1970’s craziness that looks at the
lives of a sizeable group of men who wash cars by hand for a meek owner, Mr.
B., played by the late great character actor Sully Boyer, the bank manager from
Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Mr. B. can’t
afford to install the automatic, machine-run equipment necessary to wash cars
more efficiently at the Dee-Luxe Car Wash (even a young boy sees through his
claim to have his workers do the washing by hand to give it that “personal
touch”) while, unbelievably, carrying on an extra-marital affair with Marsha,
the cute girl at the cash register (Melanie Mayron, who looks like she could be
the sister of adult film performer Sunny Lane). The main characters are the
washers themselves and we are introduced to them as they change in the locker
room and talk about the lives that they really want to be leading. One wants to
be a superhero, another two are a fairly good singing duo, and the angriest of
the lot calls himself Abdullah (Bill Duke) and wants to be anywhere but there
as he’s tired of the shenanigans. Lindy (Antonio Fargas of Starsky and Hutch) is a drag queen with a good heart and has some
of the best lines in this Joel Schumacher-scripted film.
the action progresses, we meet several clients who want only tip-top service.
Lorraine Gary from Jaws portrays an
inspired bit of Beverly Hills middle-age housewife hysteria who is in a hurry as
she speeds through the LA streets talking on a mobile car phone(!) with a young
son who can’t stop vomiting for reasons never explained. Kenny (Tim Thomerson)
catches Marsha’s eye and suavely hands her his business card. Another involves
a man recovering from a prostate operation and a bottle of urine that parodies
the ape throwing the bone into the sky in 2001:
A Space Odyssey. One of the stand-outs is Richard Pryor as Daddy Rich, a goofy
preacher who travels in luxury with an entourage that includes The Pointer
Sisters and spouts enough verbal puns to illustrate that not much has changed
between the days of snake oil salesmen and those “doing God’s work” while being
called out by Abdullah. His reaction after getting out of the limo (look fast
for the sophomoric TITHE on the license plate) for the first time when he gets
a look at Lindy is hilarious and priceless. The car wash even has Daddy Rich’s
photo mounted on a wall next to JFK and MLK. George Carlin also appears as a
loquacious taxi driver who boasts to a hooker/passenger (Lauren Jones) how much
he trusts people just as she quietly bolts from his cab without paying her
fare. He spends the rest of the film looking for her while she hangs around
right under his nose, completely unrecognizable in a different outfit. The
film’s episodic nature recalls Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking.
not all fun and games as the script takes an unexpected turn into serious
territory where it deals with Caucasian and African-American relations. One of
the washers is himself an ex-convict doing his best to stay on the straight and
narrow and provide for his children who greet him at work in a sweet and tender
scene. Later, he is nearly killed when a fired employee tries to rob the cash
register after hours. The incident is completely unexpected and deeply poignant
as the former promises to help the latter out of his situation as the would-be
robber emotionally breaks down.
of the scenes would probably not be scripted like this had the film been made
today, and as of early 2016 there was a rumor that the film was being
considered for a remake. In 2001 a film called The Wash (not to be confused with the 1988 film of the same name) was
released and was directed by DJ Pooh and starred Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg that
took place at a car wash.
who grew up in the 1970s fondly remembers “Chiller Theater” playing on WPIX in
the NY area. Chiller introduced me to
all the Universal classics – Dracula,
Frankenstein, The Wolfman and, of course, Karloff’s 1932 addition, The Mummy. Universal’s new re-imagining of their beloved
classic isn’t that Mummy, not by a long shot– but we’re in a different time and
a different world, so why not?
new Mummy stars Tom Cruise as Nick
Morton, an Army commando/antiquities raider who finds and sells priceless
relics on the black market. He’s stolen
a map from a lovely, combative British archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) that
leads him to modern day, ultra dangerous Iraq. After he and his Army bro (Jake Johnson) call in an airstrike to save
them from insurgents, a missile blast reveals the hidden tomb of Ahmanet, an
Egyptian Princess who murdered her immediate family in a quest for power. Her punishment was being buried alive – in a
vat of mercury, which the ancient Egyptians believed prevented her evil spirit
from escaping. Tom Cruise inadvertently
raises her and all Hell breaks loose – literally.
Algerian actress Sofia Boutella (the legless assassin from Kingsman: The Secret Service) plays our new Mummy – it was a bold
choice, but the ONLY one director Alex Kurtzman could make as no one could
out-Karloff Karloff. Boutella is
menacing, seductive and a screen presence who can more than hold her own with
film has already received a drubbing from some critics and die-hard monster
fans. They took issue with Tom Cruise’s
casting and the filmmakers’ use of CGI. While I was surprised to hear that
Cruise had signed on, The Mummy is
something different from his usual action hero chores and he embraced it with
his trademark enthusiasm. He
convincingly plays a macho military guy fighting against Ahmanet’s spell,
trying to win back the archeologist and save the world from the
princess’ zombie hordes. (Did I mention
she can raise the dead?) While the
filmmakers did use CGI, the work by
Technicolor’s MPC is, as expected, top notch – from sandstorms blowing through
London’s Financial District, to attacking camel spiders and dead Crusaders stalking
the London Underground.
we have a new, female Mummy, we have global icon Tom Cruise, we have zombies,
chases and car crashes. What’s the only thing missing? A frame to hang it and future monster movies
on. Well, the filmmakers thought of that
too: enter “Prodigium”, a super secret organization dedicated to wiping out
evil and it’s hot on The Mummy’s trail. Prodigium is run by… um… Dr. Henry
Jekyll. Cue the needle skip sound!
played by Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, is a clue that The Mummy, impressive as it is, is part of something bigger – the
Dark Universe, Universal’s reinvigorated monster franchise.Take a deep breath and step back… unless
you’ve been buried alive for the last decade, Hollywood is, for better or
worse, in the mega franchise business:Iron Man, Thor, Deadpool, Kong, Star Trek,
Pirates, Harry Potter, MI, Fast & Furious, Hunger Games, James Bond, Jack Reacher, etc. Why?Because with rare exceptions, they make
boatloads of money.If you view it in
that context, Dr. J’s appearance makes a bit more sense. Crowe is fine as the good doctor and his evil
counterpart who gives Cruise a righteous thrashing while trying to enlist him
to the dark side, but I kinda wish they hadn’t crossed horror streams, so to
speak…that said, The Mummy is everything you could want from a $120 million film –
it’s fast, exciting, and impeccably made.And it isn’t all airless CGI: early on, the military plane transporting
Princess Ahmanet’s sarcophagus is hit by a swarm of crows.The resulting crash was filmed on 16
parabolic flights to show Cruise and Wallis banging around the cabin in Zero
G.There’s a high-speed ambulance crash
on the moors of England that practically puts you in the driver’s seat.Cinematographer Ben Seresin uses the vast Namibian
desert to great effect; and love him or hate him, Tom Cruise is a damn good
actor. His almost-nude scene reveals he is also as ageless as the Sphinx.So kick back and enjoy this Mummy.You’ll always
have Karloff’s classic on your DVD shelf.
Levinson’s 1982 comedy Diner
celebrates its 35th anniversary (yikes!) with a special 35mm
screening at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Los Angeles. A highly revered
coming-of-age story directed by the man who helmed Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), Good
Morning Vietnam (1987), and Rain Man
(1989), Diner features and all-star
cast that includes Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon,
Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin, and Paul Reiser. The 110-minute film will be screened on
Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 7:30 pm.
PLEASE NOTE: Producer Mark Johnson and
actor Paul Reiser are scheduled to appear in person for a Q & A following
the press release:
35th Anniversary Screening
Saturday, June 10, at 7:30 PM at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre
Followed by Q & A with Producer Mark Johnson
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 35th anniversary
screening of one of the best loved films of the 1980s, Barry Levinson’s
'Diner.' Levinson made his directorial debut with this feature set in his
native Baltimore in 1959, and he earned an Oscar nomination for best original
screenplay. The frequently uproarious comedy-drama, set to a rousing soundtrack
of hits from the period, follows a group of friends who hang out at their
favorite diner as they try to navigate the perilous path from adolescence to
adulthood. Long before 'Mad Men,' this film skewered the blatant sexism that
was rampant in the era.
The extraordinary cast, many of them new to movies, includes Steve Guttenberg,
Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, and Ellen
Barkin. Levinson encouraged his cast to improvise, and their rapport helped to
electrify the film. Many of them went on to make an impressive mark in both
film and television over the next decades.Time’s Richard Corliss wrote that
'Diner' was “wonderfully cast and played.”People Magazinedeclared, “All the performances are
remarkable…but the ultimate triumph is Levinson’s. He captures both the surface
and the soul of an era with candor and precision.”
Mark Johnson won the Academy Award for producing the Best Picture of 1988, 'Rain
Man,' also directed by Levinson. His many other credits include 'The Natural,'
'Good Morning, Vietnam,' 'Avalon,' 'Bugsy,' 'Donnie Brasco,' 'A Perfect World,'
'The Chronicles of Narnia,' 'The Notebook,' and the award-winning TV series
'Breaking Bad,' 'Better Call Saul,' and 'Rectify.' He has chaired the foreign
language committee of the Motion Picture Academy for many years.
The Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre is located
at 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. The phone number is (310) 478 – 3836.
Roy Hill’s 1964 comedy, The World of
Henry Orient, is based on a novel by Nora Johnson that fictionalizes her
own experiences as a schoolgirl in New York City when she and a friend
allegedly had crushes on pianist Oscar Levant. She and her father, Nunnally
Johnson, adapted the book to screenplay.
the story of two mid-teens, competently played by newcomers Merrie Spaeth
(“Gil”) and Tippy Walker (“Val”), who attend a private girls school in the
city. Gil’s parents are divorced and she lives with her mother and another
divorcee in a nice Upper East Side apartment. Val’s parents are still married,
but unhappily, and they’re constantly traveling the world for her father’s (Tom
Bosley) business. This leaves Gil and Val to indulge in precocious imaginary
“adventures” around the city.
develops an infatuation on eccentric womanizing concert pianist Henry Orient
(Peter Sellers) and the pair stalk him around town as he has first an affair
with a married woman (the delightful Paula Prentiss) and later Val’s own snobbish
mother (Angela Lansbury). Orient spots the two girls several times, leading him
to have paranoid fantasies that they are spies working for the cuckolded
husbands. In short, the youngsters’ shenanigans end up running the naughty man
out of town.
movie is really an odd little coming-of-age tale concerning children from
dysfunctional or broken homes. It works well enough (it was positively received
upon release), but it’s hardly a “Peter Sellers movie,” as the publicity
campaign promises. Sellers, who receives top billing, is barely a supporting
player in the story, although he is indeed very funny. His antics with Paula
Prentiss—a highly underrated comic actress who shines in her brief moments—are
enjoyable, and the crazy Carnegie Hall concert in which he performs his latest
avant-garde composition is hilarious—worth the price of admission.
the film focuses on the two girls, who, for their debut performances, aren’t
bad at all, but don’t quite have the screen charisma to elevate the film to
intended heights (Spaeth never acted again; Walker went on to do some
television and a couple of other films before retiring from show business in
film might be a delight for anyone who knows New York City. As the picture was
made on location, it’s a virtual tour guide for the sights, mainly Central Park
and the Upper East Side. Elmer Bernstein’s lively score is memorable—especially
the catchy main title theme and Orient’s wacky P.D.Q. Bach-like “symphony”
(that includes a fog horn).
Lorber’s DVD release comes with no supplements other than trailers for other
releases by the company. The video image is fine.
little-seen today, The World of Henry
Orient is an interesting time capsule from its era, most significant for
being one of three 1964 pictures in
which Peter Sellers starred. He was, arguably, at his peak.
Scorsese has made several films that are challenging for an audience. Even some
of his most acclaimed pictures, such as Raging
Bull, are difficult to watch and “enjoy.” Scorsese tackles hard truths
about the human condition, and many times they’re unpleasant and disturbing.
Sometimes the dramas he explores are not what one would call a “good time at
doesn’t mean they’re bad. On the contrary, great art often requires an audience
to meet it halfway, to capitulate and embrace the pain that is at the heart of
what the artist has intended to convey.
Silence is one of those
films. A decades-long passion project for the director, based on the novel by
Shūsaku Endō, it is about the
“silence” of God that is the biggest obstacle faced by people of faith. The
subject matter would have been at home in hands of someone like Ingmar Bergman,
who tackled this topic several times in his career. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s oeuvre has often been informed by his
Catholic upbringing and his struggles with it. While his 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, was a
deeply personal and, yes, a religious picture,
it was met with controversy and even banning in some territories. Silence is an even more religious
statement from the master filmmaker, and it, too, has received mixed responses.
Some hailed it as a masterpiece. Others said it was an overlong, colossal bore.
Silence is a period piece
that takes place in 17th Century Japan, when Portuguese Jesuit
priests were attempting to bring Christianity to that feudal kingdom. One
particular priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), had gone to Japan on such a
mission, but news comes back to Portugal that he has renounced his faith and disappeared.
Two young priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam
Driver) are sent to locate him to find out what happened—and spread the Gospel
while they’re at it.
doesn’t go well. The priests encounter the cruel and calculating samurai known
as the “Inquisitor” (magnificently portrayed by Issey Ogata), who does
everything in his power to crush the priests’ objective, wipe Christianity from
his land, and keep an iron hold on the citizens’ beliefs. Different methods of
torture are his preferred weapons of rule. As time passes, the priests’ faith
is severely compromised—but Rodrigues hangs on, fighting with every fiber of
his being to the bitter end.
doesn’t come for two hours and forty-one minutes.
lies the problem I had with what otherwise was one of the most
gorgeously-photographed motion pictures I’ve seen in years. The cinematography
by Rodrigo Prieto earned an Oscar nomination—and probably should have won. The
production and costume designs by Dante Ferretti should have also at least received
nods. The movie is indeed beautiful to look at, on par with such visual feasts
as Barry Lyndon, Days of Heaven, and The Tree
just… long. And very slow. The meditative pace, intentional as it is, serves
the subject and the picture well up to a point. The movie is additionally extremely
quiet; the soundtrack consists of mostly sounds of nature along with delicate period
music of an Eastern flavor by Kathryn and Kim Allen Kluge. The relentless
suffering of the characters—in silence—takes its toll. Perhaps that’s what
Scorsese wanted to do. To test the audience, just as the priests are tested.
acting, especially by Garfield, shows extreme dedication to the material. Both he
and Driver lost a good deal of weight for their roles. At one point during
filming, as recounted in the documentary supplement on the disk, the entire
cast and crew broke for lunch on a beach—but the two actors chose to stay in a
boat away from shore and not participate in the meal.
new Paramount Blu-ray disk exquisitely captures the film. It looks fantastic,
as it should, with a 1080p High Definition transfer. There are several sound
options—5.1 DTS HD Master Audio in English, and other languages in 5.1 Dolby
Digital. The only supplement is the aforementioned making-of featurette, Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence,
which provides a satisfying overview of the production and its genesis.
of Martin Scorsese should give Silence a
chance, but don’t expect the flash-bang editing of GoodFellas. This is an art film of the highest order, one that you
may find very rewarding if your endurance makes it to its final, glorious image
before the end credits.
(The new documentary "Becoming Bond" is now showing on the Hulu network.)
BY MARK CERULLI
to seeing Josh Greenbaum’s illuminating documentary, Becoming Bond, which premiered on HULU May 20th, I had
dismissed George Lazenby’s mystifying refusal to continue as 007 as just
another gullible young actor taking bad career advice; like Tom Selleck passing
on Indiana Jones, Travolta nixing Forrest Gump, Thomas Jane handing Don
Draper to Jon Hamm… but there’s more to
it than that, a lot more as it turns out.
combining interview footage of Lazenby, still hale and hearty at 77, with
well-staged recreations, Becoming Bond
dives deep into this complicated and impulsive star to understand HOW he could
casually dump one of the most coveted roles in the history of film. As it turns out, that decision is symbolic of
who George Lazenby really is: intelligent, charming, naïve but most of all, independent. Lazenby is, and has always been, his own man. From pissing off teachers in grade school, to
pursuing a girl from an elite family many social stations above his own, George
always did what George wanted to do. Usually documentaries feature others talking about the main subject in
order to create a full picture. Early on, director Josh Greenbaum felt
Lazenby’s stories were so rich, he wanted to recreate them – it was an inspired
choice. Australian actor Josh Lawson is
perfect as a young George Lazenby, gradually finding his way in the world and
effortlessly using his charm and chiseled looks to become a top model. A fluke landed him dinner with a London
talent agent (played by real Bond Girl, Jane Seymour) who got him in the
door to audition for 007, then George did it HIS way: conning a brusque Harry
Saltzman (comedian Jeff Garlin) into handing him the keys to the Bond movie
kingdom, then confounding him when he wouldn’t play by his rules. Lazenby did his and Cubby Broccoli’s film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which
became a box office hit in 1969 (despite popular belief that the movie bombed.) Suddenly the world – and a world of women –
were at his feet, but it was a lot for a guy from tiny Goulburn, Australia to
handle. Maybe too much. Lazenby turned down a one million dollar
payment to sign a seven-picture deal, something most actors would give body
parts for. Once the Bond producers realized none of the usual leverage worked,
they were playing by Lazenby’s rules, which meant there were no rules: George does what George wants. In the end, Lazenby did okay without Bond – he
made his money in real estate, acted in other films, married, became a father…
but oh what might have been.
After the documentary screening at LA’s delightfully quirky Cinefamily Theater, cast, crew and George himself answered questions, and once again, George was George. When asked if he regretted walking away from Bond, the actor said, “If I had stayed as James Bond I would have probably had three wives in Beverly Hills, mansions, been a drug addict… that’s the kind of person I would’ve been because it wouldn’t’ve been me.” He admitted he just didn’t like taking orders. Sitting next to him, actor Josh Lawson perceptively pointed out that, “the things that caused George to walk away were the things that got him the job in the first place.”
After the Q&A, Hulu threw down an after party with an open (bless them) martini bar. There the cast and Lazenby mingled with guests – including this CR scribe. I had met George before, but had forgotten how freakin’ big he is in person. (A fellow Bond fan said he was the tallest of all the Bonds.) Shaking his enormous hand reminded me of shaking hands with boxing champ George Foreman during my HBO producer days. No wonder Lazenby knocked out a stuntman during his Bond action screen test. (An act seen in the documentary, followed by Saltzman stepping over the twitching body to tell George, “We’re going with you.”) Absolutely priceless, all true – and pure Lazenby!
composure is remarkable given how close he came to having it all. In fact, the only time he became visibly
emotional was when he discussed the one decision he does regret: giving up the girl of his dreams, a lovely
upper class gal named Belinda (wonderfully played by Kassandra Clementi). Like her co-star, Clementi had never met
Lazenby until Wednesday’s premiere and she had never even seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which
was shown after the festivities. And how
did she like it? “I loved the film,”
Clementi said via her publicist, “And George Lazenby was unsurprisingly just as
captivating and charming as he is today.” Sounds like a newly-minted Bond fan…
Allen has written and directed several dramas over the years (none of which he
appears in)—and there are indeed a few that are worthwhile endeavors. The 1988
release, Another Woman, might be one
of Allen’s least-seen films, and yet it belongs in a list of the artist’s
solid, good pictures—not one of his
masterpieces, but certainly not a clinker (with over forty-six titles, his oeuvre runs the gamut!)
few months ago, I reviewed Allen’s first drama, Interiors, here at Cinema
Retro and acknowledged
the obvious influence of Ingmar Bergman in the work. But it was stated that Interiors was really more Eugene O’Neill
than Bergman. Here, Another Woman is
definitely channeling Bergman; in fact, many critics spotted the similarity—or homage—to the Swedish master’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957), in that the
film is about a person reflecting on a past life, discovering painful truths,
and resolving to change paths moving forward. In Strawberries, the protagonist is an old man; in Woman it’s a female turning fifty. The
Bergman comparison is made even stronger by the fact that Bergman’s longtime
and Oscar-winning cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, is the DP on Allen’s picture.
He shoots it in striking, picture-perfect color.
(sensitively played by the great Gena Rowlands) is an intelligent philosophy
professor on sabbatical, and she’s hoping to write a book. She’s in her second
marriage to Ken (Ian Holm), who is also in his
second marriage. His teenage daughter from the first union, Laura (Martha
Plimpton), is closer to Marion than her own mother (Betty Buckley). Marion has
rented an apartment to get away from construction noise at her home so that
she’ll have peace and quiet to write. However, the walls are thin and she is
next to a psychiatrist’s office. Marion can hear the patients talk about their
problems. One particular subject, Hope (Mia Farrow), is pregnant and suicidal.
Listening to Hope triggers a crisis in Marion, who begins to face turning fifty
and what her life has meant. She soon discovers that she’s been in denial over
a lot of things, mainly that she isn’t perceived by people close to her in ways
that she had thought.
film then takes the Wild Strawberries route
as Marion reflects on events from her past (shown in flashbacks and dream
sequences). Instances of infidelity, jealousy, elitism, and abortion come back
to haunt her—and Marion resolves to do something about it.
to Interiors, Another Woman is much more confident in its direction, and the
control over the piece is more relaxed. Experience counts, for Allen had one
other dead-on drama under his belt (the dreadful September) and several pieces one could call “dramedies” before
tackling Woman. His work here with
Nykvist is masterful. The cast is excellent—besides everyone previously
mentioned, the film also features Blythe Danner, Sandy Dennis, Gene Hackman,
Harris Yulin, John Houseman (in his last screen performance), Frances Conroy,
Philip Bosco, and David Ogden Stiers.
music—made up of classical and Allen-esque jazz selections—is also very
effective. Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 serves
as a theme of sorts, and its melancholy pervades the picture.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks marvelous, showing off Nykvist’s photography
with vivid hues. As with most Allen releases, though, the supplements are
sparse—only a theatrical trailer and an isolated music score are present on the
disk. A perceptive essay by Julie Kirgo adorns the inner booklet.
eighties may be Woody Allen’s strongest decade of work, and Another Woman is a fine example of the
“If a movie makes you
happy, for whatever reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
Giant bug movies have always been a favorite
of mine; Tarantula, Black Scorpion, The
Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, etc. The best of them all has to be Them!, the 1954 classic about atomic
testing causing ants to mutate to gigantic proportions. It was the first and
best of the 1950’s cycle of big bug movies.
In the 1970s, bugs and just about every other
form of nature, struck back against irresponsible humans who were poisoning the
planet in a plethora of nature-runs-amok films such as Frogs, Kingdom of the Spiders, Squirm, etc. They may not have been
gigantic like they were in the 50s, but they were just as deadly. However, Mr.
B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon, the man responsible for entertaining, 1950s
giant creature classics like The Amazing
Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Village of the Giants and the
aforementioned Earth vs. The Spider, had
already brought back giant wasps and worms in 1976’s Food of the Gods,and felt
that 1977 was the time to bring back the best giant insects of them all…the
ants. Using the great H.G. Wells’ popular short story as his inspiration, Empire of the Ants was born.
The movie begins when a canister of toxic
waste, which was dumped and supposed to sink into the ocean, washes up on shore
and leaks its toxic sludge into a neighboring ant hole.
Nearby, con woman Marilyn Fryser (Joan
Collins) and her lover/partner Charlie (Edward Power) attempt to sell some
worthless land called Dreamland Shores to a large group of potential buyers
including nice guy Joe (John David Carson), middle-aged Margaret (Jacqueline
Scott), beautiful Coreen (Pamela Susan Shoop), two-timing Larry (Robert Pine)
and his poor wife Christine (Brooke Palance).
As the group surveys the land, a few members
break off on their own. Cautious Margaret, while flirting with boat driver Dan
(Robert Lansing), asks him if he thinks the land is a good investment; Larry
gets Coreen alone, puts the moves on her and gets a knee to the groin for his
trouble, and Coreen eventually hits it off with Joe. All the while, the ants
silently watch them.
The entire group is gathered and taken on a
leisurely tour of the area. The tour doesn’t last long though as the dead body
of one of Marilyn’s crew (Tom Ford) is found. Joe and Coreen volunteer to check
things out and find the remains of a married couple (Jack Kosslyn and Ilse
Earl) that were originally part of the group. To their horror, they also find a
horde of giant ants and all hell breaks loose as the intelligent insects attack
and destroy Dan’s boat. With no way off the island, the terrified group starts
a campfire in order to keep the ants away.
The next morning, a storm begins and the rain
puts out the fire. The group frantically decides to make a run for it with the
ants hot on their tail. An elderly couple (Harry Holcombe and Irene Tedrow),
who can’t keep up, hides out in an old shack. Christine falls, sprains her
ankle and is killed by the ants, and, while helping a tangled Marilyn escape
from a tree branch, Charlie also meets his demise. As the rain stops, the
elderly couple, thinking that it’s safe, emerges from the shack only to find an
army of ants waiting for them. The remaining group members stumble upon a
rowboat and slowly take off down the river. The ants attack again, turning the
boat over and killing Larry.
The group realizes that the ants are leading
them toward a specific destination upstream and, as they continue to move
along, they come across an old couple (Tom Fadden and Florence McGee) who
contact the sheriff (Albert Salmi) for them. The sheriff drives them into town,
but the relieved survivors soon realize that something still isn’t right. They
can’t seem to find a working phone and everyone in the small town acts very suspiciously.
The group decides to hotwire a car, but while
trying to escape, they’re captured by the authorities and taken to the local
sugar refinery. While there, they discover that the queen ant is using her
pheromones to control every human being in the town and forcing them to feed
the giant ants. Marilyn is the first to come under the queen’s control, but
when they try to control Dan, the clever boat captain burns the queen with a
road flare he took from the abandoned car. Dan escapes with Margaret, Joe and
Coreen, but Marilyn, who snaps out of her trance too late, is killed by the out
of control queen.
Knowing that if the gigantic ants aren’t
stopped they will multiply and eventually take over the world, Joe drives a
leaking fuel truck into the refinery and blows the insects to kingdom come. As
the entire place goes up in flames, Joe, Coreen, Dan and Margaret reach a
speedboat and drive off to safety.
Ken (Dale Midkiff) and Bob (Preston Maybank) land
in a propeller plane and speed off on motorcycles to a large mansion. Ken calls
Julie Clingstone (Debbie Laster) via radio as Bob scales the side of the
building. Julie wants him to give her access to “the mainframe” when suddenly,
somewhere a puppet (yes, a puppet)
begins yelling Danger! Danger!, obviously aware of the imminent
intrusion. Edward Brake (Wellington Meffert) is sleeping in bed in the mansion
while Bob takes off his necklace and lays it on the ledge after reaching the
mansion’s roof. He rotates a parabolic dish and the puppet, operating some sort
of a crude computer and using telepathic powers, makes the necklace turn into a
sphere (think Phantasm). Bob starts
to bleed from the face and falls to his death. The action breaks into the
opening credits to “Nightmare” as sung by Miriam Stockley.
If you’re still reading this, I commend you,
because I would have stopped at the mention of the word “puppet”. There are few
films that leave me at a loss for words (Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 film Rubber is hands-down the most
infuriating movie I have ever watched; I might have to re-watch that one as I
must have missed the point completely),
but Henri Sala’s Nightmare Weekend
(1986) is, in the words of the late film critic Gene Siskel in his review of
1978’s Surfer Girls, one of the most
improbably lousy movies I have ever seen. This doesn’t stop one’s viewing of
the film from being a total loss,
however, as Nightmare is if nothing
else that we can be absolutely sure of a time capsule of the 80’s, with
artifacts of the Zeitgeist on full display: girls workout wearing leg warmers,
a guy dances nearly everywhere with a Walkman in his pants, a tough guy and his
Laura Brannigan lookalike chick get it on atop a pinball machine, and computer equipment is
crude, big and bulky. Clocking in at 85
minutes, Nightmare seems longer than
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part
II (forgive me for mentioning them both in the same sentence, I do
apologize). Edward Brake is an entrepreneur/inventor who has created a
computerized “Biometer” which changes naturally aggressive animals into docile
house pets. He ultimately wants it to be used for the betterment of society,
but it’s just not ready for prime time. His partner Julie can’t wait for him
and goes behind his back to team up with a nefarious organization that will pay
her millions for the Biometer. Edward’s daughter Jessica Brake (Debra Hunter) is a Carol Alt
lookalike who, with her friend Annie (Lori Lewis) and another woman, has been
chosen to be part of Julie’s experiment for which they will both be paid 500
dollars each for their involvement. The idea is to see how the Biometer works
on people. The aforementioned puppet, named George, is housed in Jessica’s room
and is operated by a computer named Apache, indubitably the precursor to the Apache HTTP Server (Danger! Danger! Sarcasm!), and is part of
the whole operation. The motley crew, and there are a lot of characters to keep
track of unnecessarily, all find themselves one way or another being affected
by the Biometer.
two biggest issues with Nightmare are
the screenplay and the editing. I love bad movies that are entertaining but
unfortunately this isn’t one of them. The
film never seems to make up its mind as to what it wants to be: horror,
soft-core porn, comedy, campy/serious? Scenes and shots are so
short it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the goings-on. It’s also
occasionally insulting to women as they are all pretty much on display simply for
Nightmare is a Troma
production which means that it exudes its own special, patented brand of strangeness.
It’s difficult for another film director or producer to attempt to ape the Troma
style as it is a singularly unique, signature and patented style of strangeness.
Shot in July 1983 in Ocala, FL on a budget of ostensibly half a million dollars,
description which, in the hands of a seasoned auteur like David Lynch, can be a
good thing. That isn’t the case here. Nightmarefalls into the “so-bad-it’s-bad”
camp. You feel like you’re watching auditions with an amateur acting troupe,
although amazingly other reviewers have championed the acting in an otherwise
disjointed film. That being said, if you’re a fan of the film, it has been
released as a DVD/Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome. The image has been scanned in 2K and looks
really nice and is a far cry from the VHS tape from 30 years ago. It also
contains an interview with producer Marc Gottlieb that runs just under 13 minutes.
He’s very engaging and fun to listen to as he describes the making of the film
and how they promoted it at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Dean Gates, who did
the makeup effects, speaks for nearly 23 minutes and provides us with an
interesting perspective on the effects that he created in the days before movie
companies made the switch to CGI for most of this type of work.
Vinegar Syndrome has put together a really nice
package for this title. It has a reversible cover and very colorful
Weekend is best
viewed on a weekend while severely inebriated!
Monsterpalooza convention in Pasadena, California this coming weekend will
afford convention-goers a rare opportunity to meet the last of the great horror
film stars, the Queen of Horror herself, actress Barbara Steele.
Steele, who is best known to genre fans for her work in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and
Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle
(1965), will be on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans on
Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8, 2017.
convention will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 East Green
Street, Pasadena, CA 91101 from April 7 to the 9th, 2017.
“It Takes a Thief,” the
iconic adventure/espionage series that many consider Robert Wagner’s defining role,
has had an interesting if somewhat checkered DVD release history. As reported
in Cinema Retro back in 2010, the first digital presentation of Alexander
Mundy’s nefarious exploits appeared in July of that year courtesy of the German
company Polyband, which released all 16 season one episodes in a pair of
three-disc sets, followed up with a four-disc set featuring 12 of the 26 season
two episodes, but then inexplicably ended its release program. These Region 2
sets, which have English as well as German audio options, are still available
at Amazon Germany.
In October 2010, Australia’s
Madman Entertainment jumped into the fray, putting out the complete first
season in a five-disc set, and subsequently issuing seasons two and three as
seven-disc sets. These Region 4 sets are now out of print.
Meanwhile, American fans clamoring
for a long-overdue Region 1 release finally had their wishes granted courtesy
of the Canadian media distribution company Entertainment One, which packaged
all 66 episodes, the full-length pilot film, plus video interviews with Wagner
and writer-producer Glen A. Larson into an 18-disc box set that went on sale in
November 2011. That set, unfortunately, is also no longer available.
Somehow, a world in which Al
Mundy—still the epitome of glamor, sophistication and excitement—is no longer readily
accessible to his countless fans just doesn’t seem right. However, “It Takes a
Thief” fans who failed to nab one of the aforementioned DVD options have now
been granted a reprieve, albeit from an unexpected quarter.Yep, the Germans have once again come to the rescue of this irreplaceable
cultural touchstone. To which we can only say a heartfelt danke schön!
Fernsehjuwelen, a DVD label
that specializes in “jewels of film & TV history,” has just released the
complete series in a deluxe 21-disc Region 2 set that can be purchased through
Amazon Germany. Comparable in most respects to the out-of-print Entertainment
One box, this new set does raise the bar significantly in terms of image
quality, at least for the season three episodes. The eOne set did right by the
season one and two episodes, which were generally sharp and clear; but season
three was problematic, with some episodes exhibiting a marked drop-off in
sharpness and, worse, considerable color bleeding and ghosting. Important
visual detail was sometimes lost, especially during nighttime or low-light
scenes. This was frustrating, as many of the third season “It Takes a Thief”
episodes were filmed in Italy, and the variable resolution detracted from the
beautiful location photography.
No such issues arise with
the Fernsehjuwelen discs. Each season three episode boasts excellent color
balance and image clarity. This is the main improvement offered by “Ihr
Auftritt, Al Mundy!”—the German title for the series that translates to: “Your
Performance, Al Mundy!” This set includes the same video interviews of Wagner
and Larson from the eOne set; an interview with Rainer Brandt, the German actor
who dubbed Wagner in many of the episodes; and an extensive German-language
booklet written by Oliver Bayan that features interviews he conducted with
Wagner and co-star Malachi Throne in 2010. Unless you sprechen Deutsch, you’ll have to avail yourself of Google
translation to read these brief but fascinating Q&As.
The Fernsehjuwelen box set,
which houses all 21 discs in a sturdy multi-DVD case, is available through www.amazon.de for EUR 58.99, which works out to
approximately US $63.43. Need I say that it’s a veritable steal?
(Note: to view this set, you will need a Region 2 or all-region DVD player.)