1.23.2017

80's Thriller Throwback: Road Games (1981)


1981
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Category: Thriller

This is a film I had been wanting to get my hands on for a long time, which had been rather difficult until Umbrella Entertainment recently re-released this on DVD and Blu Ray in a Region Free format. When I first saw Psycho II, I just loved it to death. In fact, I love it more than the original film, and I think that's partly due to director Richard Franklin's work behind the camera. Sure Tom Holland's script is amazing, but Franklin adds a deft touch to anything he directs, giving it a slick sheen. I soon discovered he was also responsible for Patrick, another Aussie classic, but the real clencher for me was discovering that he directed one of my all-time favorite 80's films, Cloak & Dagger.

On the surface, Road Games is right up my alley. It has so much going for it that makes me so eager to see it. It's from the early 80's, it's a thriller, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Stacey Keach, and it's directed by a genre legend. So I'm pretty much sold, I just needed to actually get my fucking hands on it, which was easier said than done. Here in the U.S., we only got a single DVD release, and that release is not cheap. Even the VHS release is hard to come by and again, a bit pricey for an old tape. I was almost deciding on a bootleg burn when I heard that Umbrella Ent. would be releasing it, in it's original widescreen aspect ratio, and for a very reasonable price. So let's get started.

Road Games was a unique thriller to say the least. It was not really the kind of film I was expecting, yet that didn't bother me. It was entertaining enough that it kept me invested regardless. It's a bit hard to put into words why it was so different. I think it's tone has something to do with it. It's not as serious a thriller as I was expecting, and that's largely due to the Stacey Keache's truck driver character, who is witty, charming, and speaks in poem versus for amusement. I don't know. For me, I felt the solo scenes of Pat Quid (Stacey Keach) and Hitch (Jamie Lee Curtis) take up too much of the films attention and running time, and little else was left for the actual plot of a serial killer roaming the Australian countryside. Sure there are moments here and there, but except for the end, that aspect of the film didn't like much of a priority - the whole "cat and mouse" game that the film is supposed to play out like. Not that those scenes were any less entertaining, it's just not the kind of film I was hoping for going in.

I think what throws me off is that most of the film is focused on Pat Quid while he's alone with his dog driving his big rig. Hitch, or the hitchhiker character played by Jamie Lee Curtis, doesn't show up until halfway through, so much of the first half is dedicated to Quid just talking to himself and his do. It's pretty amusing though, and the script by Everette De Roche is pretty clever and witty with the dialogue. Even more so when Hitch, who herself is also witty, joins in and the two offer up endless banter as they play off each other in a flirty playful way. Again, I did enjoy these moments. I just found them to be too successive when I felt the film should have spent more time dealing with the mystery of the serial killer who's been taunting Quid and Hitch periodically in spurts throughout the film. In fact, he disappears for less than maybe 20 minutes out of the entire film's running time, which again kind of threw me for a loop. I mean, the film is called Road Games, so I expected a lot of actual Road Games.

Overall I found it to be a solid thriller, but not a great one. Franklin's direction is on point, and Keache really shines here, delivering one of his absolute best performances. Jamie Lee Curtis kind of seems a bit out of place here, and only seems to be around as a distraction rather than contributing anything meaningful to the film. I'm glad I saw it and that I can finally scratch this one off my list though. It's a film I'd been eyeing for ages now. To be honest, this poster art is much better than the actual movie, but that's no big surprise considering this came from an era where that was usually the case.

How to watch it:

Like I mentioned earlier, Umbrella Entertainment recently released this on DVD and Blu Ray for a very cheap price. The print is in widescreen, and while it's not the most impressive print you'll seem the fact that it's in widescreen is a huge bonus. It also comes with a few extras such as a "making of". Really, for the price, it's worth a purchase.

1.21.2017

Revisiting A Fine Mess: 80's Comedy Gold

A Fine Mess Laserdisc from my personal collection
I just don't post enough about comedy on here. There's no real reason really, other than I'm more attracted to action, sci fi and horror when it comes to the ones I want to write about. I love a good comedy though, which like horror, are really hard to come by these days. But recently I was browsing the Laserdisc section of a local used record shop and came across this one. I instantly snagged it up without even thinking twice. I remember liking it as a kid when it would play regularly on HBO and Cinemax back in the 80's. So I wondered if I would still find it funny as an adult, or if  it would ultimately prove to just be another lame 80's comedy that was funny as a kid, but not so much as an adult.

I'm here to report that not only is it STILL funny as hell, but it's also one of my favorite comedies ever. It just became that by the way because upon revisiting this, I was struck by how genuinely and consistently funny it was, and how it was a reminder of the type of comedy they haven't made in what seems like ages now. I guess you would call it a slapstick comedy? It's pretty much a nonstop barrage of physical comedy that comes at lightning fast speed, never slowing down for a single minute. I found this to be awesome and so refreshing with 2 actors at the peak of their stardom delivering a solid effort under the direction of a genre legend.

The story is pretty all over the place, but the meat of it deals with 2 friends named Spence (Danson), an actor, and Dennis (Mandel) a waiter, who stumble upon a scheme to win big at the race track when they discover one of the horses has been given a drug to make it win the race. When 2 hoodlums find out that they know about the scheme, they relentlessly pursue them to silence them. Meanwhile the wife of a mob boss has begun an affair with Spence, only for Spence to discover that this new fling is married to the guy who orchestrated the entire scheme.

I'm surprised that this film isn't mentioned nearly as much as it should. Of course when we think of 80's comedy, we tend to go straight for the classics like the John Hughes stuff or the Ghostbusters, Back to the Futures or National Lampoon films. Rarely are any original films mentioned in the mix, unless they were solely aimed for the teen market. And yet, here we have a film that's so naturally enjoyable, so full of energy and so legitimately hilarious without having to rely on dick jokes or flatulence to generate a laugh. When I watched this, on Laserdisc!, I was immediately put into a natural high. I felt like a kid again, with a huge smile beaming across my face. It's not funny in a stupid way, it's funny in a pratfalls and physical way, which I know sounds stupid, but I don't know, there's just something in the way it's done here that makes it different and way more effective. You can tell they modeled this after comedy duo's like Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello. It has that same kind of energy and vibe. Hell, had the film been a success, maybe we would have gotten more? Ted Danson and Howie Mandell definitely work well together, and each handle the physical aspect of the comedy well.  

Writer/Director/Actor Blake Edwards is a legend in the comedy genre, having directed films since the 50's. However, he'll most always be associated with his classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, 10, Victor Victoria and the original Pink Panther films. Yet he still has a large output of stuff that most people don't even realize he was responsible for. Around this time in the 80's, he was pretty prolific, directing a film or two every single year with the likes of Burt Reynolds, Dudley Moore, Bruce Willis and John Ritter. And smack in the middle of this busy schedule he delivered A Fine Mess, a comedy that sort of just came and went without any fanfare. In fact, the film was a flop and Edwards claimed not to have much of a memory in regards to actually making it, which is a shame because it's actually a very fun and pretty fucking funny movie. Adding insult to injury, Edwards actually wrote the damn thing himself, so I'm curious as to why he dislikes it so much?

What surprised me was that when I brought this up on Facebook recently, so many people either remember it and loved it, or had never heard of it before. So it's a bit surreal in the sense that those who have actually seen it really enjoyed it, and then also that there are so many others who didn't even know it existed, which is such a shame. I guess I can understand if you're not someone my age and didn't grow up a teenager in the 80's and we didn't have the internet. HBO and Cinemax were our form of entertainment during the summer, next to Nintendo and Sega. I fondly remember films like Commando, Explorers, Back to the Future and A Fine Mess playing endlessly on a regular basis. It also didn't hurt that as a regular television viewer, it starred 2 notable television actors at the time, with Ted Danson hitting it big with Cheers, and Howie Mandel as part of an ensemble on St. Elsewhere. 

The supporting cast in here will also blow your mind on a regular basis. For starters, Paul Sorvino plays the bad guy. But he's not a bad guy in the traditional sense, he just happens to be a mob boss but only gets sucked into the story because his hot young wife, played by Maria Conchita Alsonso, is having an affair behind his back. And Rick Ducommun (Art from The 'Burbs) shows up as an asshole boss, but nearly unrecognizable compared to The 'Burbs 3 years later since here he's much larger, with long hair and a mustache. It's really his voice that gives him away though. Richard Mulligan (Golden Girls, Empty Nest), Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue), and most shocking, James Cromwell (American Horror Story, Babe) as a detective who maybe had all but 2 lines in the whole film. Mainly he just stood there behind the other detective who did most of the talking. 

Mandel was really trying to break out into film though, so while on hiatus from St. Elsewhere, he starred in a few comedies like this one, Walk Like A Man and Little Monsters. His transition to feature films never materialized much after this though, and he mainly stuck to television series and made-for-tv films when he wasn't doing comedy specials or voice work. Now he's mainly become known for hosting game and talent shows. Danson was doing extremely well with Cheers, but also wanted to break out into film. While he has had some success with Three Men and a Baby and it's sequel, he also never broke out big into feature films, sticking primarily to television where he would star in numerous hit series and continue to do so today. All that is to say is that though they were both busy with a hit series, they still took the time to try their hands at big budget feature films. While this one didn't end up helping them transition to them smoothly like they had hoped, I'm glad that they did because regardless of it's lackluster box office, the film is as hilarious today just as it was 30 years ago. 

Sorry this ended up getting so long with my rambling. I actually didn't think I'd have much to say about this, but once I started, it was hard to stop. I guess I loved this much more than I was expecting going in and I hope to encourage any who haven't seen it yet to go out and get your hands on it. It's just a fun fast paced screwball comedy that seems to do everything right. 

1.20.2017

Godzilla 1985 AKA The Return of Godzilla Film and DVD Review


1984
Directed by: Koji Hashimoto
Category: Monster Movies

I remember seeing Godzilla 1985 in theaters back in 1985 as a kid. I must have been all but 9 or 10 years old. Incidentally, I don't recall anything from that experience, other than always being really attracted to the poster art. It wasn't until just this past year or so that I discovered that it's actually called The Return of Godzilla (as it's known in it's native country), and that it was re-edited, severely cut, and inserted with humor to help Americanize it here in the states, which really took away from the dark and serious tone they initially tried to accomplish with this one. By this time, the Godzilla franchise had taken a 10 year hiatus because the low-ball, low-budget and cheesy direction it had gone had worn itself thin. People were over it. So with this one, they wanted to go back to it's roots and deliver a straight sequel to the very first film, making it dark and serious. Utilizing new effects techniques, they wanted to give the film a bigger scale, while also sticking to the "man in suit" method that made the franchise what it was.

I have to say, The Return of Godzilla is probably the best Godzilla film I've ever seen. Granted, I haven't seen every single one of them, but I have seen the original, and every big budget U.S. interpretation. I've caught a few of the paint-by-numbers and endless sequels here and there, and of all those I've seen, this film is easily the best and most entertaining I've come across. Having finally revisited it, I can certainly understand it's appeal, cult status, and lasting legacy. Thanks to Section 23, who just re-released this film in it's original Japanese cut and in widescreen for the first time, we are finally able to see the film the way it was intended in all it's glory.

What makes this film so different from the others, even the U.S. remakes/reboots, is that this looks and feels like a classic Godzilla film, only bigger and better. Sure there's still a lot of political talking to sit through, but they never overstay their welcome. Plus, the man-in-suit action is pretty spectacular. Though it's still a lot of models and a guy in a funny looking rubber suit, it seems the 10 year hiatus did the series some good as the model and effects work is much more epic this time around. It just looks awesome, and not cheesy in the slightest. It's so full of charm and passion in fact that it could easily be called a love letter to the franchise, because in a sense, it is. They wanted to keep the same elements that made the franchise so popular in the first place, namely the impressive model work and man-in-suit mentality, but they also wanted to stray away from the elements that gave it the ignominious reputation it had endured for decades prior, and take it back to where the series started, with a serious tone and none of the cheesiness. They've pulled it off in spectacular fashion here.



I have to be honest, that serious tone threw me off for a bit because I'd seen so many of them be just plain goofy. It was a bit surreal to sit there and wrap my brain around the fact that I was watching an older Godzilla film, but one that was dark, gritty and violent. To think that a film 33 years old was able to do what 2 big budget Hollywood films made in the last 20 years "still" hadn't been able to do says a lot about how much passion and talent was used to make this one.

It was a big deal when we got a Godzilla reboot courtesy of director Roland Emmerich and his writing partner Dean Devlin back in 1998, but we all know what happened there. He attempted to bring some of the magic that made his earlier films such as Stargate and especially Independence Day such big hits, only I think he strayed too far into the light-hearted area, and the effects work just wasn't up to par for such an effects heavy film. Emmerich had always been known for being able to deliver some great effects heavy work on a budget, and making it look good. But when a film relied so heavily on effects as the driving force of the film such as Godzilla, they just didn't meet our expectations. And then there's the whole design of Godzilla himself. Emmerich and company decided "unwisely" to do an overhaul of the character. Let's just say most people were not happy with his new lizard-like appearance this time around and the film did not do so well, and certainly not well enough to jump-start a new franchise.

It would take another 16 years for the U.S. to attempt another Godzilla reboot, and this one fared much better. While it was a much better looking film and they did their best at offering up a straight-up Godzilla reboot, it still feels like it's missing something and doesn't quite hit the mark. It's not a bad film, but it's not a very engaging film either. It does suffer from numerous problems, like the casting of Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the lead, who comes off as insanely boring and dull. The new Godzilla design was a lot better than the '98 version, but still didn't get people really excited him after the film was released, at least not in the way they had hoped. On the plus side though, I was not expecting him to fight another big monster, so that was an unexpected and welcome surprise. I'm not sure where the state of the U.S. franchise currently sits. While it did well, it wasn't the massive hit they were expecting, and 3 years later, we still don't have any word on a sequel.

All this goes to show that people take their Godzilla seriously, and when you don't deliver, well then your target audience will not be happy. We're not going to just sit back and take any Godzilla film you throw at us just because you call it Godzilla. Attempting to reinvent the series has so far proven futile. Just stick with what we know, and what we like, and it will all be okay. The Return of Godzilla aka Godzilla 1985 is a good reminder of that. We're a full 33 years later after it's release, and it has held a near legendary Cult Status since then and remains the best Godzilla film next to the original.

The DVD and Blu Ray from Section 23:

As for the release itself, it's okay. The picture quality is not nearly as pristine as I had hoped, but it's not bad either. It does come in widescreen (a HUGE plus), because you get to really take in the grande scale they were really going for. It's in it's original Japanese language with English subtitles also, scoring some solid points. A trailer is included, which is ultimately a double-edge sword. It's a great trailer, and really puts a lot of excitement into just a few minutes, but it also shows you how vivid and striking the colors were originally, and sadly, the presentation here on the DVD and Blu Ray doesn't quite match that. Colors appear a bit more washed out and flat in comparison. Not a huge deal, but when you watch the trailer, you can't help but wonder how amazing the film would have looked had they been able to match that strong and vibrant color palate. Regardless, the DVD and Blu Ray comes extremely affordable. You can pick up the DVD for under $10 and the Blu Ray for under $15 at numerous retailers.

1.19.2017

Revisiting Schwarzenegger's Raw Deal


1986
Directed by: John Irvin
Category: Action/Drama

I've always considered this my least favorite of Arnie's films. Sure there are others I've only ever seen once and probably won't watch again, but this one always stood out as one that I just personally didn't like at all. It does have a strikingly awesome cover though, I'll give it that. As you may know, I've been on an 80's thriller kick, so I wondered if maybe my opinion of this film would change if I watched it with other films that are in kind of the same genre? I threw it on and hoped for the best, because you never know.

Raw Deal just isn't very good. I think one of the only things that really saves it from being totally forgotten is that it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. If he wasn't in this, you can bet your ass this would have disappeared into oblivion. It's a shame too, because it's not a bad story. Tired, but with the right script, it could definitely work. One of the biggest problems this film suffers from is that it just looks and feels like a Made-for-TV movie. You would never have assumed this ever made it to theaters, and if it hadn't starred Arnold in his prime, then it most definitely wouldn't have. It's a pretty forgettable throwaway film, one that they would add to box sets or these 4-Film Collections that you find at Target, Walmart and discount stores.

It's kind of a tired premise really. Small town cop, sheriff in this film, gets tapped to go undercover and infiltrate an Italian mob. They flesh it out a bit more here though. Kaminski (Schwarzenegger) is a small town sheriff who's unhappily married and only working this job because it was the only one he could get after something that went down years earlier. When an old FBI friend of his reaches out to him with the promise of possible reinstatement in the bureau if he helps him track down his son's killer, he accepts the covert off-the-books job. He's miraculously able to accomplish this solely through charm and brawn in a shockingly short amount of time, because he's Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Raw Deal has it's fair share of pro's and con's, with the con's far outweighing the pro's. On the plus side, the cast is pretty cool, with a young Robert Davi, as the mob boss's main "bodyguard/problem-solver", stealing scenes left and right whenever he's on screen. One of the things that surprised me, though it shouldn't have, is that despite the very limited role, Arnold Schwarzenegger really delivers the goods. Limited in the sense that there's just not much depth to the character, and you can't really take it very far. But Arnold gives it his all, even though in reality he's so terribly miscast here. It's really hard to look past the fact that this Austrian giant with such a pronounced accent is trying to weesle his way into the Italian mob effortlessly, yet you buy it in an unrealistic way because he's so damn charming and charismatic.

Arnold was really hitting his stride as a hit-maker when this came out. He had already delivered 3 solid hits with Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator and Commando. He would then go on to make Predator the following year, so for him to take a chance and risk losing his momentum on this little film when he was on easily the biggest winning streak of his career says a lot about his drive and how badly he wanted out of his contract with mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis to pursue "his" projects. In the end, Raw Deal is but a small bump on an otherwise smooth road until his star power began to fizzle in the late 90's. Sure there were thuds like The Running Man and Last Action Hero to name a few, but he'd always been able to bounce back bigger and better, and thankfully Predator was his follow-up to this stale and mediocre affair, thus proving my point.

Silver Lining:

We all know that Arnold only made this film to get out of his contract with De Laurentiis, so he could pursue other bigger projects. Dino, in a very characteristic way, would allow Schwarzenegger to get out of his contract if he starred in this little film he owned the rights to, and hoped that by casting Arnold, a fast rising star, that it would have turned a healthy profit so that he could gain the funds to make Total Recall, another film he owned the rights to and so desperately wanted to make, back in '86, even though he wouldn't allow Arnold to star in Total Recall if he made it fearing he wasn't ready for such a large project. On the plus side, it got Arnold out of his contractual obligation with De Laurentiis, but on the negative side, it didn't do well at all, so Total Recall would have to change hands, companies, and wait 4 years before it could finally get made. So there's the little Raw Deal history, just in case you didn't already know. With that being said, I think we can all thank the stars that Raw Deal bombed and De Laurentiis wasn't able to make Total Recall when he initially wanted to and that the rights instead fell into the hands of Carolco Pictures and director Paul Verhoeven 4 years later. There's usually a silver lining, and in this case, that couldn't be more true.

Never Too Young To Die Blu Ray Artwork and Release Date Revealed!


Last week I posted about one of my dreams becoming a reality. That is that Shout! Factory acquired the rights to release the 80's batshit crazy masterpiece Never Too Young To Die on DVD and Blu Ray. Really, this is 30 years coming. Outside of VHS and Laserdisc, this Bad Movie Night champion has never gotten a release since it's 1986 release. That was 30 years ago! Well, it seems I wasn't the only one who kept pestering them about it because they've heeded our call and will be releasing this cult classic for the very first time on DVD and Blu Ray here in the U.S.

They've just released the official cover art and release date. While it's not bad, it's a shame they weren't able to get the original poster art, which was pretty fantastic. They've also stated that unlike most of their releases, this will not have the original cover art as a reversible option on the sleeve, which is a pitty.

The street date is set for April 11, 2017 and you can already put your pre-order in via their official website for a discounted price of $22.99. Sadly, there are no other specifics listed like Special Features, and there might not be any because when they work on supplemental material, they usually state something like "details coming soon" or something similar to let you know they are indeed working on extras to add as Special Features. But on this listing it's not stated at all so it may be a bare bones release. Of course, that's not a terrible thing because in the least, we're still getting this for the very first time ever in widescreen and a better picture quality, so I'm still very much excited.

You can place your pre-order HERE.

Here's some info taken from their website:

Listen up, my little turdballs!
A once-in-a-lifetime cast rocks the silver screen in director Gil Bettman's masterpiece of cult cinema, Never Too Young To Die.
When a top secret agent (George Lazenby, On Her Majesty's Secret Service) is murdered, his estranged gymnast son Lance Stargrove (John Stamos, Full House) teams up with his dad's seductive and deadly associate, Danja Deering (Vanity, The Last Dragon) to face his father's killer… the fiendish mastermind Velvet Von Ragner (Gene Simmons, the fiendish mastermind behind Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductee KISS.) The hermaphroditic heel is hell-bent on a scheme to poison the city's water supply — and it's up to Stargrove to crush Velvet once and for all!
Never Too Young To Die also features Peter Kwong (Big Trouble In Little China), Robert Englund (A Nightmare On Elm Street, duh), and enough leather-clad, mohawked henchmen to fill a dozen Road Warrior knock-offs. You think you've seen it all? It's never too late to see Never Too Young To Die!

1.18.2017

Documentary Dynamite: You're So Cool Brewster! The Story of Fright Night


2016
Directed by: Chris Griffiths
Category: Documentary

With the success of Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser 1 & II, the documentary filmmakers set their sights on their next project, this time dealing with the Fright Night franchise, specifically Fright Night (1985) and Fright Night Part II (1988). When the company announced that they would be starting a new Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, I immediately put down my pre-order for the Blu-ray/DVD combo. That seems like it was at least over a year ago, and for all I know, maybe it was? Last week I finally received it in the mail and I'm here to tell you, it was well worth the wait.

You're So Cool Brewster! The Story of Fright Night was such a blast from start to finish. I'll admit, I was a bit worried since I personally found Leviathan to be on the boring side. But whether there was some unanimous feedback that shared my sentiment, or if the filmmakers themselves made this decision on their own and wanted to try a different approach, it worked. This one is so much fun, lively and engaging.

One of the best things about this that you'll notice immediately is that they integrate little segments of a Peter Vincent impersonator (Simon Bamford) to announce each segment. It's a bit jarring at first, because this guy is so hammy that it's more of a caricature rather than an impersonation, but you end up starting to enjoy them because ultimately, they're pretty funny, clever and he's having such a great time doing it. When it was all over, I enjoyed these little bits so much that I told my wife that I wish they would make a show just on his character because it so much fun and legitimately funny.

If you're a fan of the film series, then this documentary is a gold mine of information and behind the scenes stuff. I'm telling you, at 3 hours long, I could have kept going on for many more. Whether they tackled the writing process, or how Tom Holland fought to get the directing gig, or the now legendary score by Brad Fiedel, to the practical effects work, they do such an amazing job at keeping it fun and never gets tedious. They literally touch on every single aspect of making this, including the casting and even the poster art (!!), which is an experience that just keeps on giving and giving.



When it comes to it's much debated sequel from director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III), it's just as detailed, fascinating and informative. I personally always found the reveled sequel to be my favorite. While logically I know that the first film is a better film, I've always felt that the sequel is a much more fun experience and doesn't get the credit or recognition it deserves.

In regards to the sequel, they do ultimately touch on why the film never got a theatrical release, and why it never really struck a chord with the fans of the first film. And while the topic of it's insanely limited DVD release is mentioned, it's never made clear why we still haven't gotten an authentic true blue widescreen release with all the bells and whistles in the U.S.

One of the most fun aspects of both films is that they ask several questions we've always wondered, and do their best to try to answer them. For instance, what was Billy Cole's relationship to Jerry Dandrige? And what exactly was he? Or in the sequel, what was Louie (Jon Gries)? Was he a werewolf, vampire or a hybrid? I love that they brought all of this up.

I have to give the documentary crew credit. They really went all-out with this one, getting nearly every single person involved in the cast of both films to do an interview. It was fascinating seeing them recall their experience, how fond they were of the film, the director and their coworkers, and how they each brought little aspects of their own to each character.

The DVD/Blu Ray combo also offers a healthy dose of Special Features, so trust me when I say you will want to make an entire day of this. This easily ranks as one of the best Behind-The-Scenes Franchise documentaries I've seen. They set their sights on making an entertaining one, and ultimately ended up making one of the best. Be prepared, because if you don't already own them, this will automatically want to make you track down the 2 films and soundtracks.

You can currently purchase this incredible doc directly from the manufacturer Cult Screenings UK (they ship internationally) in a Region Free DVD and Blu Ray for a ridiculously cheap price HERE.

With the great job they did with this one, you'd think that they couldn't top themselves. But they very well may because they are smack in the middle of their 3rd documentary, this time on none other than the Robocop franchise titled Robodoc. As they're still working on it, there's not release date set yet, but you can follow them on their Facebook, Instagram and website pages for any updates.

1.17.2017

New Horror Roundup

Growing up on healthy doses of 80's and 90's horror, I'm generally not a fan of modern day horror films. They're so different now. Too safe. Too bland. Too quick to turn a quick buck, and they'll do anything to ensure that they'll fill as many theater seats as possible by making them PG-13. They rarely ever go that extra mile to shock you anymore, and they seem more tailor made for the teen crowd, rather than the adult horror fan. With that being said, I tend to stay away from them, because more often than not, they're not very good. That's why I'm glad there's Redbox, where I can rent them for just $1.25.

I think studio's and producers have forgotten exactly what horror films are supposed to do. It seems like the only real aim is to label a film a "horror" film and to figure out how they can make as much money as possible. Sure that's nothing new, but it seems all the more significant now more than ever. An annoyance I also find with most of these new films is the casting of unnaturally looking attractive people. I miss the days when they used to cast regular looking people, like Charlie Brewster in the original Fright Night for example. Anyway, if you haven't seen any of these films yet, fair warning, there are minor spoilers ahead.

Lights Out:

I've seen the short film that this film is based on, but it wasn't until afterwards that I discovered that this full length feature was actually spawned from that short film. I don't know, I guess it never clicked. I know that scene from the short film is in the beginning of this one, but still, it never hit me that that was the same girl and that was the same scene. LOL. 

Anyway, this was alright. I mean, it wasn't great or scary or anything. I felt all the actors did fairly well, with the boyfriend walking away the most likable and endearing of the bunch. The story was interesting enough, yet there were holes that were never fully explained. Like for instance, why does she use the shadows to show up at certain times virtually anywhere, and not other moments when they're trying to escape her? Why or how is she able to appear anywhere she likes, even though most of the time it's not the one person she's attached herself to? 

This is David F. Sandberg's feature film debut, who's got a list of short films under his belt before this, including that original Lights Out short. He's not the most visually interesting director, but he gets the job done, and shoots it with an even hand, which surprisingly, is one of his greatest strengths since 90% of all new horror directors think shooting fast and loose, a la shaky-cam/quick-edit, is the way to go. So in that respect, it was a bit refreshing to see a film look like it should and not like a music video or commercial. I understand this resulted in his getting the Annabelle 2 directing gig, so kudos to him for being able to successfully transition to feature horror films. 

There were elements about this that I liked, like the back story of the girl, but overall, it was pretty much exactly what I expected from a safe PG-13 teen horror film. It doesn't take any chances, and it doesn't actually scare you the way a horror film is supposed to. There are are healthy doses of jump scares, but that's pretty much it. 

Don't Breathe:

This is actually one I had been kinda looking forward to for two reasons; 1 being that it starred a favorite character actor of mine in the form of Stephen Lang, and 2 that it was written and directed by the Evil Dead remake director. Still, it's a modern day horror film, albeit an R rated one this time, so I wasn't all that ready to jump at spending $10 to go see it in a theater. 

Don't Breathe was actually pretty good, and of the 3 I'm reviewing in this post, the best one of the bunch. While it still technically looks and feels like all of the new horror stuff, it does take it's chances by pushing the envelope a bit in the violence and certain situations. So that was a nice surprise. And I really enjoyed seeing Stephan Lang get a lead role. He's really one of the best and most underrated badasses in cinema still working today. 

The tone was a bit darker overall all compared to Lights Out, and writer/director Fede Alvarez offers up some impressive camera work, giving the film an overall better visual aesthetic. Sure you never end up liking any of the characters, but I don't think you're really supposed to in this case. And the twist that comes in later in the film was really unexpected, for me anyway. That was an area where they really pushed the boundaries a bit in this film, and I thought it was encouraging to know there are still a few filmmakers out there willing to take that chance, even if it means putting some people off.

The more I stop and think about this one, the more I realize I liked it more than I thought. It has a nice buildup of tension that explodes in certain sequences in the film. There's some cringe-inducing violence. There were themes explored, and boundaries pushed that you wouldn't normally see in a horror film these days. And the actors all looked like fairly normal looking human beings to boot. 

Blair Witch:

Dang. Another one bites the dust. Of any of the films reviewed here, this is one I was most excited about, only in that it was directed by Adam Wingard, who gave us 2 stellar previous films with You're Next and The Guest. I should have known trouble was ahead though when I started hearing reports that it was another Found Footage film. I don't know, for me I feel they've beat that gimmick to death. So if you're going to make the first Blair Witch film in almost 20 years, why the fuck would you just do it Found Footage again? I had really hoped Wingard and company were going to take this opportunity to take the franchise in a new direction, and breathe some new life into it. Instead they give us the exact opposite.

There are only a few new things they add to the table this time around, but even then, it all still feels familiar, tired and nauseating. I thought it was interesting they decided to actually show the actual witch this time around, yet it's only for extremely brief glimpses, never long enough to get a good look at her. And when it comes to the witch, there's so much left unanswered that it can drive you nuts if you try to understand it. For instance, what was the deal with the time lapses? What was up with the UFO lights at the end of the film? What were the young weird local couples real intentions? I could go on and on, but if you've already seen it, maybe you've already asked yourself these questions.

I found it frustrating that they attempt to tackle the whole Blair Witch mythology again, only to treat it like another typical Found Footage film, a sort of extension of the first film, when they could have really taken this series even further and more creatively. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who feels this way, as the film didn't do nearly the business the studio expected it would, especially in it's opening weekend.

I know some people enjoyed this one, and if you're into these types of horror films, I can see why. It definitely has a "going through the motions" vibe, and for some, maybe that's all they need to enjoy themselves. That's kind of how I feel about action films, so I get it. But I think we can all agree though that this was a pretty big missed opportunity.

1.14.2017

An Unexpected Surprise: Fatal Beauty Is Really a Badass 80's Action Thriller


1987
Directed by: Tom Holland
Category: Action/Comedy/Thriller

Recently I've begun a new form of film-watching. I hit my local thrift store, and puruse they're plentiful selection of VHS tapes. Some days these are only 50 cents, while others they're $1 each. Still, $1 is chump change when it comes to the enjoyment of a film, so I don't mind. I purposely pick up random titles of films that were made in the 80's, more often than not "thrillers", and blindly grab them if I've never seen it. I've found this to be a very rewarding experience, because these would not be films I would normally look for, rent, or add to my Netflix List. But for $1, I figure "What the hell? It's only a $1". And what ultimately ends up happening is that these are the films that end up completely taking me by surprise by how great they are. This happened most recently with Shoot to Kill and Band of the Hand, 2 films I am just completely in love with now.

Fatal Beauty is the perfect example of why I love films. Of going into them with a preconceived notion as to what type of film it might be, only to be surprised by it being a completely different one altogether. I'll be honest, the only reason I finally gave this a watch was because it was the film Tom Holland directed after his breakout debut with Fright Night. I didn't know that until now, and I was floored by the idea that he would choose this as his next project when he had just delivered a successful hit in the form of a vampire horror film just 2 years earlier. Knowing that his next film after this was Child's Play, another horror hit for a major studio, I was even more fascinated by the idea that he would instead choose a Beverly Hills Cop style cop/action/comedy sandwiched between 2 horror hits. When I came across this VHS tape at my local thrift shop, I jumped on it.

Much like myself, maybe you went into this thinking it was an action comedy, with Whoopi Goldberg displaying her knack for being a smartass. What I wasn't prepared for was how this film ended up being something different. In reality, Fatal Beauty is more of a gritty, violent cop thriller, with an occassional funny line thrown in. But really, I didn't find the humor to be more prominent, which was surprising, and ultimately this ended up being a pretty great 80's cop thriller that offers up ample amounts of violence, bad language, grittiness, and a hard-edged vibe that hits you right from the opening frame and doesn't let up until it's violent conclusion. For me, these were all pluses. I love being thrown a curve, in a good way. I love when I go in expecting something, and then having that idea take a complete 180.

I can only surmise that they were riding the Beverly Hills Cop wave, which coincidentally saw the release of it's sequel Beverly Hills Cop 2 (the most successful in the franchise) this very same year. It was also a good year for violent action films with the likes of Lethal Weapon, Predator, Robocop and The Living Daylights all hitting theaters this same year. 1987 was a good year for action to say the least. But still, I would not expect a film called Fatal Beauty, sporting a cover of Whoopi Goldberg smiling while holding a gun, all while sitting in a mustang convertible, with palm trees and the Hollywood sign in the background, to be anything but a funny take on the standard cop film. I mean, how does that yell "violent cop action thriller"? It doesn't. It spells "action buddy/comedy", which this film verily is not. And again, that's a good thing.

I think what trips people up is that on the surface, it's very much like Beverly Hills Cop. In this case, there's a new drug hitting the streets called Fatal Beauty, and narcotics officer Rizzoli (Goldberg) just happens to stumble upon this new trend, with an aim to put the drug dealer Leo Nova (Brad Dourif) out of business for good. Along for the ride is a persistent bodyguard (Sam Elliot) for a local drug dealer she's currently keeping under surveillance. The film is truthfully a bit weird in how it throws certain elements into the mix, like this bodyguard. It never really makes sense why he's always around, other than he's following orders from his boss. Yet he consistently risks his life to save hers at just the right time. He's also unapologetic-ally falling in love with her, which is also questionable since she's nothing but rude, mean and condescending to him. Then there's the whole thing about her having an Italian last name, which she obviously is not. There are so many elements that come into play that don't really make a lot of sense, yet it was the 80's, and details like that weren't all that important. It really just makes it all a bit more quirky than we're used to today.



And then there's the title - Fatal Beauty. Obviously right off the bat you assume it's referring to Whoopi Goldberg's character, which in itself is a bit odd. She's not someone you would picture when referring to someone as a fatal beauty. So that may have thrown some people off, when in fact Fatal Beauty refers to the new designer drug hitting the streets, and not the main character in the film. Maybe had the film been called something else, it may have had a better reception? Perhaps.

Another aspect that really kind of threw me for a loop, and which is also another major element to making it one of those "sign of the times" is the use of curse words incessantly. I'm talking like literally every minute. That's just something they don't do anymore, mainly because they want to make them as PG or PG-13 as possible so they can fill more theater seats. It's funny how that wasn't an issue 30 years ago. In the case of Fatal Beauty, the use of the word "Bitch" and "Cunt" is pretty incredible. I think they were trying to go for the same kind of record Scarface achieved years earlier with the use of the work "Fuck". What's interesting is that in this film, calling Rizzoli a bitch is kind of a thing. It's like an instigator for any kind of trouble she gets herself into. They call her a bitch, she tells them how much she hates it, and proceeds to get into a fight or gun battle because of it. Yet there are moments where she's not even in the scene and they refer to her as the bitch or cunt on a regular basis. It's kind of crazy. They definitely didn't think ahead about possibly having this film play on television one day.

Whoopi Goldberg was really trying to find her right fit around this time, or maybe the studios were? She came out swinging with her intense performance in The Color Purple. But immediately followed that up with a series of action/comedy/thrillers such as Jumpin Jack Flash, Fatal Beauty and Burglar, before delving into some more drama. Really though, comedy is where she delivers, and it's what ultimately won her an Oscar. But when you look back at these series of films, it's kind of surreal when you look at the no-nonsense and vigorously unfunny person she is today.

While the cast is pretty great all around, with a ton of notable character actors left and right, it's the casting of Sam Elliot, while a bit out of place here, that kicks this film a few more notches into badass territory. Really, it's a bit odd. He randomly shows up always at just the right moment, and then disappears again for long stretches of time. But when he shows up, he's a badass 100%. He always displays that swagger and Sam Elliot charm, saves the day, gets involved in endless shootouts and gun battles, and tries repeatedly to get into Rizolli's pants. He just rules.



Fatal Beauty was a constant series of surprises for me, mainly in that it's not at all the kind of film I was expecting based on that poster and cover art. I still can't explain why Tom Holland made this between Fright Night and Child's Play, but regardless, he does a bang-up job behind the camera, giving the film a darker and grittier look and vibe that I could ever have expected. He also demonstrates a knack for shooting action, which I wish he would have explored more with subsequent films. If you're never seen this before, and you like 80's action, then definitely give this one a try. It might surprise you.

1.12.2017

Year of the Dragon: Michael Cimino's Gritty, Brilliant and Bloody Masterpiece


1985
Directed by: Michael Cimimno
Category: Thriller

Very few films ever leave an impact on me the way Michael Cimino's Year of the Dragon did. It's become such a very rare feeling - to see a film and just be completely blown away, to have my senses obliterated by it's sheer epic and gritty realism. This film was also a turning point for me in regards to director Michael Cimino. I'll admit, I've never thought much about him. In fact, I've only ever seen The Deer Hunter. And with all that mess about Heavens Gate, the studio's collapse because of his fondness for going over-budget and over-schedule, I pretty much just labeled him as a pretentious hack. That is probably why I never really put much thought into this film until now. Nothing in particular pushed me to seek this out. I think I was just in the middle of my 80's Thriller phase, and when I saw all the talent involved like Oliver Stone writing, and Mickey Rourke starring, I dove right in and was hit like a punch to the gut by it's intensity, it's raw energy, and it's undeniable passion. Year of the Dragon is a brilliant tour de force in the crime thriller genre, and it's one of the best films I've ever seen.

Essentially a story about a newly assigned detective named Stanley White (Mickey Rourke), who makes it his mission to take down the Chinese Triad and the Italian Mafia in New York with his unforgiving and no-holds-barred approach. But the film and story take on so many levels and veers off into so many different directions and stories that there's just so much more to it than that simple premise.



The Good:

Brilliant visualsYear of the Dragon is a masterpiece. It's a hard-edged detective thriller that offers up ample amounts of gritty atmosphere and an unbelievable amount of talent behind the camera, courtesy of director Michael Cimino's superb camerawork. One of the things I noticed immediately was how chaotic every single frame is in this film. In each shot, whether it be in a city street, an office, an underground factory, a restaurant, there's so much going on in every single scene that it becomes intense and claustrophobic. Coupled with the fact that most, if not all, of these shots, including the ones confined to tiny spaces like an office, are shot using some impressive camera setups, you get the sense that a lot of the chaos in every frame is on purpose, which makes it all the more impressive.

There are moments where the film feels like a gritty cop thriller, set in the underbelly of an Asian crime syndicate, and the film has a grittiness to it. Yet the camerawork never falters. Every shot is executed with such precision, that even the chaotic moments come out as beautiful.

It doesn't always stay in the gritty though. There are moments where the film looks stunning. I could easily pick about a dozen shots that I could freeze-frame, and they'd be worthy as an art print on my wall. There's a scene in particular that just really took me by surprise, because had it been any other director, it wouldn't have even been a scene you would be able to remember because it's such a tiny moment in such an epic film. Detective White (Mickey Rourke) is standing on a New York City street at night looking at a dead body. Very simple and not at all interesting moment in an otherwise fascinating film. Yet, Cimino treats it like one by making this shot an incredible one. The camera placement, the lighting of the buildings in the background, the lens he used, the placement of the cars......it's all perfectly constructed to create a gorgeous shot, and this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the look to Year of the Dragon. The style and tone of each shot shifts constantly visually, but it always looks this amazing.



Mickey Rourke delivers. It really is a shame he didn't become the huge box office star he could have been. He has no one to blame but himself and his demons, but in an otherwise rocky rollercoaster of a career spanning 4 decades, the moments, films, and performances that shine the most will all come from his work in the 80's, with the exception of The Wrestler in 2008. When you see him in something from the last 10-15 years, it's shocking how different he looks. It's hard to look past the fact that his face just doesn't move due to the numerous plastic surgeries and see the performance. But it's films like this that really make you notice. Even though his character is easily one of the most unlikable you'll see, he carries it so far over to the other side that you kind of end up liking him. It's in films like this that remind me that he was easily the top of his class. He may not have gotten the big films and big paychecks, but he delivered the big performances nonetheless.

Impeccable writing. Co-writer Oliver Stone was at the height of his creative streak, having come off of writing films like Conan the Barbarian and Scarface, he followed Year of the Dragon with other knockout's like Platoon and Wall Street. It's so surprising to me that this film is never mentioned as some of his best work. In fact, I had no idea he was even responsible for this until I did some digging. And after finally watching it and being blown away, again, I find it shocking that his screenplay for this isn't more highly regarded as a masterpiece of crime cinema.



Michael Cimino's last screenwriting credit was the disastrous Heavens Gate, which was 5 years earlier, and we all know how that turned out. Yet here we are, a full 5 years later, and along with Oliver Stone, turns out a bloody, violent, and gritty masterpiece of crime fiction. It just blows my mind. Interestingly enough though, this would be his last screenwriting credit for the remainder of his career.

The 80's gave us a tremendous amount of quality thrillers. In fact, as I dig through this enormous output of films I never got around to seeing back then, I'm realizing that the best ones came from this decade, and Year of the Dragon was one of the best. On the surface, it's easily dismissive. The poster art doesn't grab you, and you don't know anything about it right off the bat. Is it a period piece? Is it a drama? Action? Thriller? I'm sure that played into my not seeing it until now. Even then, when I finally put this on on a quiet Monday afternoon while home alone, I had no idea what to expect, no clue what was in store. And typically, these are the moments that a film will blow me away, which is ultimately Year of the Dragon did for me.

The Bad:

There is no bad. Year of the Dragon is a masterpiece.

Michael Cimino's Legacy:

By the time Year of the Dragon came out, Michael Cimino was all but a pariah in Hollywood. Ostensibly taking cue's from Stanley Kubrick, Cimino developed a work ethic not unlike Kubrick's. While Kubrick developed this reputation and earned it with hard work, "decades" of film-work, and much success, Cimino adopted the "perfectionist/authoritarian" approach to filmmaking early, but still saddled by producers who still had control over the production, much like the way Clint Eastwood did on Cimino's directing debut Thunderbolt & Lightfoot. But that would all change when Cimino directed The Deer Hunter in 1978, taking home 5 Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture, which only fed Cimino's massive ego. When he was given more power and more freedom, he made Heavens Gate, which he released in 1980. Massively over-schedule and over-budget, the films success would have justified at least some of that. But instead, it was a massive flop, resulting in United Artists downfall, and Michael Cimino being ostracized from Hollywood. It would take a full 5 years for him to get another film made, which was 1985's Year of the Dragon. This time around he would have limits, and a budget. He would only go on to direct 3 more films after this, each with varying degrees of critical reception - none matching his Oscar glory of '78, before fading away into obscurity in 1996 after his last film.

Mickey Rourke and writer/director Michael Cimino on set

I fully believe he was as talented as Stanley Kubrick, and I believe that had he not been such a problematic individual and a megalomaniac, he would have continued making quality films without the status of being difficult. He came from an era of filmmaking where the director was the star, much like William Friedkin and Francis Ford Coppola, knowing no bounds or limits when it came to making something he wanted. His downfall though came at a time when studio's realized the error of their ways by fully allowing this, and effectively putting an end to it. It's a shame his career was overshadowed by his arrogance and overindulgence because honestly, he's one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation.

There are many great articles you can find all about Michael Cimino, who became known as more of a mystery than for his films, especially in his later years. This one in particular written by Steve Garbarino in 2000 for Vanity Fair is the best of the bunch, so if you get a chance, do yourself a favor and read it.

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2010/04/ciminos-final-cut-200203

Who knows how far his talent would have taken him? Personally, I can only say I've seen The Deer Hunter and Year of the Dragon out of the 7 films he's directed. Despite it's insurmountable controversy, Heaven's Gate has since become a cult classic, embraced by cinephiles and critics alike, and considered by many to be a masterpiece, and I look forward to giving that one a watch at some point. I don't ever hear about how good the last 3 films are he made, so I'm going into them a little weary. But that's also what happened with Year of the Dragon, so I guess you never know.

How to Watch it:

Here in the U.S., we've only ever gotten a single DVD release back in 2005. Thankfully it is in widescreen and does come with a commentary track by Michael Cimino. To date, we still haven't gotten a Blu Ray, which would really give this visually stunning film the makeover it deserves. I am aware of a Region Free Spanish Blu Ray you can get, but my Sony player is notorious for not allowing certain Region Free releases to work. You can stream it on Amazon and also buy it digitally there. VHS and Laserdisc are other options. But really, this film begs to be seen in widescreen. It's the only way to do the film any justice.