Friday, April 18, 2014

Warner Archive Instant Cult Picks - SLITHER (1973)

Howard Zieff's SLITHER (not to be confused with James Gunn's film of the same name) opens on character actor extraordinaire Richard B. Schull singin "Happy Days Are Here Again" as James Caan looks on. We come to learn that Caan's character has just gotten out of prison. Richard B. Schull looks and feels a great deal like a poor man's version of Walter Matthau. They have very similar faces and manners of speech. Anyway, in this story he picks up James Caan from prison and immediately ends up entangling him in a quest to find the man who knows where some stashed loot is from a old heist he was a part of. From there springs one of those "freewheelin'" 70s narratives, part road picture and part Hitchcock/comedy thriller. Caan meets up with an odd woman played by Sally Kellerman on the side of the road and he's sort of swept off onto a small adventure. I find that Kellerman is at her best playing this sort of bohemian, off-center kind of gal. She has an extemporaneous charm about her and a certain sexiness to her in this sorta role (moreso when she was a brunette than a blonde in my opinion). Even the timbre of her voice can be pretty sexy. She sometimes feels like the antecendent to the "manic pixie dreamgirl" type that we've become accustomed to seeing in films today. Kellerman has this energy about her as if she always about to say, "Do you wanna do something crazy?" and that works well with a character like this. There are certain times when her energy can be a bit too much for me, (a bit overly dramatic I guess) but here she fits in well. This character seems just bi-polar enough to turn on Caan at any minute and it keeps him uneasy. Kellerman rounds out an amazing cast of oddballs which also includes Peter Boyle, Louise Lasser, Allen Garfield and Alex Rocco. If you are fans of all these actors (as I am) the film should please you on that level if nothing else.
This movie has an interesting lineage in that it was written by W.D. Richter - he of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and BUCKAROO BANZAI fame. SLITHER can't stack up against those cult classics, but there's a certain offbeat sensibility that shines through I think. There are just a lot of nutty characters running around in this film. It feels like a less comedic AFTER HOURS-y kind of universe and I like that. It's also a somewhat meandering narrative, the kind that were more prevalent in the 1970s, and I miss them. They had a sense of unpredictability and of a story unfolding that seems antiquated now. Not to rant too much, but movies today aren't given this kind of breathing room or time to gently find their way. Seems films now need to be a bit more direct in their approach to narrative in general. Thankfully there are still lots from this period like SLITHER to revisit. 
 As mentioned above, it is currently streaming via Warner Archive Instant:
(which has a 2 week free trial if you haven't jumped on board yet)
http://instant.warnerarchive.com/product.html?productId=118311






Thursday, April 17, 2014

Underrated Westerns - Steve Q

Steve Q blogs about terrible movies at http://zerostarcinema.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter at @Amy_Surplice.
------------
Assuming you've see all the great westerns, and all of the cult westerns, that leaves ten thousand B westerns, which are very rarely more than passable. Here are five that are better than average.

Trail of Robin Hood (1950)
Roy Rogers and a dozen other B western stars help to deliver Christmas trees for a man whose business is being threatened by big business. That makes for a very unusual western!

Gun Code (1940)
Tim McCoy, before his Rough Riders days, seeks vengeance on the men that blackmailed his father. This thin plot makes for a very good, seldom seen film.

The Narrow Trail (1917)
William S. Hart was the first cowboy hero, playing complicated characters (usually outlaws that do good things). This film is a tribute to his horse, which was nearly as famous as he was at the time. This kind of film was not uncommon in B westerns decades later.

Valley of the Sun (1942)
Between being a chorus girl and being a star, Lucille Ball made a number of interesting films, including this, her only western. It has moments of comedy, but is a true western. Sir Cedric Hardwicke also stars.

Harlem Rides the Range (1939)
This western with an all-black cast is from the era of race films, which are underseen today. Herb Jeffries stars. He finds a dying man, falls in love with a picture of the man's daughter, loses a glove, gets implicated in the murder, exonerates himself and meets the girl. He also sings (quite well).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Underrated Westerns - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence is the Music Librarian over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) and I have been a fan of his radio show there for more than 10 years now. It is truly my favorite radio program out there. Quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check it out!
http://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/dn 


Eric is also an adventurous cinephile whose tastes I respect very much. In fact, it was he who first turned me onto THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS which has slowly become one of my very favorite films. 
For more cool film recommendations, check out his 'Film Discoveries' lists for 2011, 2012 & 2013 below:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2012/01/eric-j-lawrences-favorite-older-films.html

http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2013/01/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2012-eric.html
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2014/01/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2013-eric.html

Find him on Twitter at @ericjlawrence:
https://twitter.com/ericjlawrence
-----------

Beaten to the punch by earlier commentators on the films I would include as my definitive “Underrated Westerns” (i.e. Wagon Master (John Ford, 1950), Seven Men from Now (Budd Boetticher, 1959), The Bravados (Henry King, 1958) and Warlock (Edward Dmytryk, 1959)), I fill out my list with some Western films that don’t necessarily hold up as absolute gems, but which have some interesting points of merit nonetheless:

Rawhide (Ray Taylor, 1938)
This program-filling oater features Smith Ballew (one of the second-tier of cinematic “singing cowboys”), but the real star of the show is baseball legend Lou Gehrig, playing himself!  Retiring from baseball in order to help his sister on her Montana ranch, Lou, with the help of cowboy lawyer Ballew, confronts the corrupt “Ranchers Protective League,” who have been extorting the local ranchers.  Gehrig doesn’t do much shootin’, but he does do some rough ridin’, and he even pitches some billiard balls as the villains during the de rigueur ballroom brawl.  Also notable for being a Western set in contemporary times, this one works as a goofy precursor to Space Jam!
The Kentuckian (Burt Lancaster, 1955)
Burt’s first (and only solo) directing gig, this CinemaScope flick is also set in an infrequent place & era: 1820s Kentucky, which certainly qualifies as the Wild West for the time.  Burt plays a frontiersman and single parent who aims to head to Texas to stake his claim.  But circumstances force him to consider settling down to be a local merchant like his older brother.  In between there are bullwhip fights, scamming riverboat gamblers, Hatfield & McCoy-like family fueds, an attractive indentured servant to be bought out, a comely schoolmarm and a ridiculously oversized hunting horn. The climatic shoot-out is cool in part because they’re dealing with single-shot muskets where lots can happen while you reload!  Lots of familiar Western actors named John are present (John McIntire, John Carradine, John Litel), but the Cracker Jack prize is Walter Matthau making his film debut as a whip-crackin’ baddie!
Comanche Station (Budd Boetticher, 1960)
I wrote about this Randolph Scott-starring picture as part of my favorite discoveries of 2011, but it worth repeating.  The final film in Boetticher’s beloved Ranown Cycle, it remains a favorite for the strength of Scott’s unyielding character, the barren but starkly beautiful Lone Pine locations, and for the appearance of Claude Akins as the snide villain of the piece.
The Deadly Companions (Sam Peckinpah, 1961)
Although he had disowned it later, this was Sam Peckinpah’s film debut, and while it shows his greenness as times (and is also certainly hurt by his lack of control of the script, etc.), it also serves as an indicator of what Peckinpah was to become as a director.  Brian Keith (often overlooked as a Western star) plays an ex-army officer who accidentally shoots and kills the young son of a saloon dancer (played by the strong-willed Maureen O’Hara) and out of guilt insists on helping bury him in nearby Apache territory.  Fairly grim, but minus the overt brutality of Peckinpah’s later films, this one also features Chill Wills & Steve Cochran as hired (and borderline psychotic) crooks and Strother Martin as a frontier parson just trying to get on with his sermon.  Minor Peckinpah, but that’s still better than most directors’ A-game!

A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (Damiano Damiani & Sergio Leone, 1975)
One of the last true Spaghetti Westerns, this Terence Hill-starring vehicle serves as an unofficial sequel to My Name Is Nobody and the prior Trinity films, and while nowhere near as solid as those films, it has some interesting twists.  Such as an opening sequence directed by Sergio Leone, the last he would do in a Western (the bulk of the film was directed by Damiano Damiani); some oddball casting (Klaus Kinski as a Doc Holiday-like character, Miou-Miou as the love interest & Patrick McGoohan as a racist calvary major); and a truly weird Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Underrated Westerns - Will Johnson

Will Johnson is a writer and actor in Dallas, TX. He can be followed on twitter @BingoLollipop. If you must, you can also visit his semi abandoned blog at geekflix.blogspot.com . Will is also part of the Cinema Shame project, where penitent film writers watch glaring omissions in their film knowledge for the first time -cinemashame.wordpress.com . 

Westerns are one of my favorite genres. Growing up in Texas, my father and grandfathers were huge fans of what I affectionately called "cowboy shows". Below are some of my favorite westerns that I never hear too much about. 

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is probably my favorite western. There’s just something about Redford and Newman in that movie that makes being an outlaw look like a lot of fun. In The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Newman brings that same kind of charm to a different sort of character.

When the outlaw Roy Bean comes into Vinegaroon, Texas he is quickly set upon by the resident ne’er-do-wells and robbed of his ill gotten gains. Once he regains his strength, he returns to town and kills everyone who did him wrong and declares himself the Judge of the area. After recruiting a band of outlaws as Marshalls, Bean continues to dispense his hanging justice and build up the little town west of the Pecos.

The film features a great supporting cast including Ned Beatty, RoddyMcDowall, Anthony Perkins, a gorgeous Victoria Principal, and StacyKeach as the albino killer, Bad Bob. Long stretches of the film feel like a collection of vignettes, but it never grows tiresome or feels like it’s spinning its wheels. Of course, a lot of what happens isn’t entirely historically accurate, but as the tagline reminds us, "it should be".

John Huston directs this tall tale of a western, and even appears in a brief scene as Grizzly Adams. All in all, it’s a very fun time and should definitely be better known.

Zachariah (1971)
Billed as the first “electric western”, Zachariah takes Herman Hesse’ snovel Siddhartha and turns it into a psychedelic western fable with lots of philosophical pondering. It is kind of a mess in places, trying to blend the rampant  gunplay of the genre with the pacifist leanings of the underlying philosophy behind the source material. 

That doesn't mean the movie isn't a fun one, however. From Joe Walsh playing electric in a saloon to a young Don Johnson as the angst ridden antagonist, there's a lot to love about this wonderful experiment from an experimental time. I'm particularly fond of Country Joe and the Fish as a group of bank robbers.

The Villain (1979)
I’ll be very upfront about this – The Villain is not a great movie. In fact, it’s not even a particularly good movie. What it is, however, is a showcase of the stunts director Hal Needham learned during his tenure as the hardest working stuntman on western TV. Every scene feels like a setup for the next Looney Tunes style stunt with hit or miss jokes thrown in for good measure.

The Villain is definitely a novelty western, made more so by the fact that it is one of the earliest film roles of a certain Austrian bodybuilder who went on to become more than a little famous. Schwarzenegger plays Handsome Stranger (actual name), a gee whiz good guy who has to protect Charming Jones (Ann-Margret) from the titular villain, Avery Jones (Looney Tunes references abound).

Avery, played by the legendary Kirk Douglas, is the Coyote to the heroes’ roadrunner. He keeps coming up with ridiculous plans, and they always backfire on him – usually with a pretty well done old style stunt involved in the proceedings. You get the feeling that this film wanted to be another Blazing Saddles, but its humor never hits those highs. It is a fascinating watch, though, especially for stunt enthusiasts and fans of the three leads.

The Big Trail (1930)
This is the film that almost made widescreen a thing decades before it finally caught on. For years, I saw copies of this taken from the fullscreen version, and it was a quaint early John Wayne film. The Fox Grandeur widesreen print, which was shot separately and concurrently with the fullscreen version, was made available a while back, and I now regard this film as a fascinating glimpse into an alternate universe of film - a universe where John Wayne became a huge star years earlier, and widescreen epics with casts of thousands were a thing in the very early 30's. Of course, in that universe, the Great Depression never happened. That's what killed Grandeur, a lack of funds to upgrade enough theaters for it to catch on.

The Grandeur cut of The Big Trail is a fascinating watch. John Wayne is sooo young, and the proceedings are sooo big. In the background of almost any scene, there are thousands of extras acting out pioneer living. The scope of it all is just overwhelming for a film from 1930.


Seraphim Falls (2006)
This is a fairly recent film, but it came and went without many giving it a look- which is  a shame. In it, Pierce Brosnan plays the pursued and Liam Neeson plays the vengeful pursuer. The exact reason why these two are chasing each other across the vastness of a beautifully shot West is slowly revealed over the course of the movie, which leaves you to wonder who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. That moral greyness lends itself to an almost biblical western, starting in the white snowy heaven of the mountains and ending in the hell of the desert. 

Dirty Little Billy (1972)
The story of Billy the Kid has been told a million times on screen. Usually, though, they cover the same territory- Regulators, Lincoln County War, Pat Garrett, running from the law, and death (or lack thereof). Dirty Little Billy is different, though. It starts with a young William Bonny coming to New Mexico with his parents and follows him as he rebels and starts hanging out with local hooligans. It’s kind of a “Billy Begins” film.

Michael Pollard gets a rare lead role in this, and his Billy the Kid is different from most takes on the historical character. His Billy is a little more reserved and awkward. The events in the film get him to the point we usually meet him, but it doesn’t go too far into the familiar territory of Young Guns and the like.  Instead, this film is more of a slow character piece, showing us how the man who could "make you famous" started down that road towards Lincoln County.

Skin Game (1971)
Along with the Spaghetti Westerns of Lore, Quentin Tarantino named this film as an inspiration for DjangoUnchained. It’s not hard to see the connection when you watch Skin Game, as it tackles a lot of the same themes that Tarantino’s recent blockbuster touched on.

Skin Game tells the story of two con men who make their way around the slave driven south, duping would be slave owners out of their hard earned money. The game goes like this: James Garner comes into town with Lou Gossett in tow. They make their way to a saloon where Garner announces that he has to reluctantly sell his longtime slave. Gossett begs not to be sold, and the bids start mounting up until Gossett is sold. Garner leaves with the money, then returns to free his friend from his newfound bondage.

This goes well for a while, until they come up against a super evil EdAsner and they have to play the game for one last time with Gossett’s freedom on the line.

Despite the heavy themes, Skin Game manages to keep things fairly light, and a lot of humor is found in the interactions between Gossett and Garner. The real treat in this film, though, is watching Ed Asner go full on Simon Legree. I would be hard pressed to find another film whereAsner is anywhere near this unlikeable. 




Monday, April 14, 2014

Twilight Time - USED CARS and WILD AT HEART

USED CARS (1980; Robert Zemeckis)
USED CARS is one of the great comedies of the 1980s. It seems to have gained a bit of traction in this respect over the last decade or so, but it's still not as exalted as it should be. The film opens with a wonderful, almost Welles-ian tracking shot that cranes down to Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) rolling back the odometer on a car. It's a great shot and a great opening to the film. See, I think that USED CARS is still sometimes seen as a dopey R-rated comedy, but to dismiss it that way is really doing the movie a great disservice. In the past decade or so, I count Edgar Wright's film SHAUN OF THE DEAD as one of the great comedies. This is for a number of reasons, but the script is certainly one of them. It is just so brilliantly constructed. I feel the same way about USED CARS. Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale were one of the great writing duos ever in my opinion. Their script for BACK TO THE FUTURE is just amazing. Talk about construction. There are almost no throw away bits in the movie. Almost everything ties back in somehow. Well you don't get to writing a script like that just out of nowhere. Gale and Zemeckis had done a lot of writing previous to BACK TO THE FUTURE. USED CARS was the pinnacle though. It was the final proving ground for both of them. Sure, you can look at USED CARS as a silly, disposable comedy, but if you start to break it down, you'll begin to see the underlying brilliance. I'm sure the script for USED CARS has been studied at some point in some screenwriting class, but I feel like it should be mandatory, especially for folks trying to write a good comedy. Early on in the film, there's a scene where a character's death is played for a good laugh. Midway through the scene, the tone shifts and the impact of that death is felt. It's a remarkable deftly handled scene, both from a writing and acting standpoint. One thing I think people overlook in this shaggy madcap romp of a film is what I believe to be it's roots in screwball comedy. The dialogue and jokes come careening at us like the climactic car chase set piece climax of the film itself. It feels like an amped up, bigger budgeted throwback to the pre-code era in it all it's raunchy, ragged glory. Zemeckis and Bob Gale have said of this film that it is, "a classic Frank Capra movie, except everybody lies". I love that. Rudy Russo is one of Kurt Russell's great performances without question, and talk about high-speed dialogue delivery! He embodies this charismatic, yet morally questionable fellow with an ease that few other actors could ever have pulled off. Maybe Michael Keaton, but he'd never have outdone Russell. When I see Rudy Russo, I am reminded again of the lovable scamps and hustlers that populated the films of the 1930s. Jack Burton, Snake Plissken, and R.J. Macready are characters that people seem to most strongly associate with Kurt Russell. It's true they are some of my favorite characters in cinema and that Russell's collaborator with John Carpenter was one for the ages. That being said, I do feel like USED CARS gets a little overlooked. Again, maybe because it's a comedy, but regardless it is worthy of re-examination and  I hope this Blu-ray will allow some folks to re-appraise it.
Not to get too nostalgic about it, but I do truly miss the R-rated comedies of this era. USED CARS is right on the cusp of the 80s, but is still in essence a 1970s film. In its time, this film was certainly underappreciated. It was a success only by a small margin financially and I find that rather shocking. It was considered a failure at the time. How could audiences in 1980 not fall in love with this film? It may have had something to do with the fact AIRPLANE had opened the week before. Nonetheless, how could they not fall for that affable scoundrel Rudy Russo? They'd fallen for another affable scoundrel in Han Solo a few years prior and would soon fall for Harrison Ford again in a similarly scoundrel-y adventure role. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK would open just shy of a year later and clean up at the box office. For some reason, USED CARS would have to wait years to slowly build up some true appreciation. 
Quentin Tarantino has cited USED CARS as a favorite film for him. I remember him saying something about it being like a great old record album you can put on and listen to over and over. I'm guessing it got quite a bit of play at Video Archives back when he used to work there. I can totally see it being that kind of "comfort food" kind of film that just gives you a pleasant, familiar feeling whenever you come back to it. It is that way for me for sure.

Included here is a commentary track (which has been ported in from the previous DVD release of the film). It's a pretty great track and features Zemeckis, Bob Gale and Kurt Russell and it is a doozy of a track. So many great stories and fond memories (some of them rather risqué) of bygone era of making movies. Honestly, it's one of the better tracks I've ever heard and it is, like the film, a hoot to listen to. There's just something about commentaries with Kurt Russell. They all tend to be awesome. He just has this remarkable energy and humor about him that is ridiculously infectious (this track even opens with him laughing). Check out any one of his commentaries with John Carpenter as well for further examples of this. Great stuff. Also include here are a gag reel and outtakes (hilarious of course) and a vintage radio interview. On top of that, there's also two isolated score tracks, one featuring the unused score for the film. Oh and the transfer looks quite nice to my eyes.

WILD AT HEART (1990; David Lynch)
This might have been my gateway film into Lynch if I recall. My best friend in high school had an older brother who was big into movies at the time. It was because of his brother's movie collection that I ended up seeing things like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and EVIL DEAD II in high school. I owe him a great deal for turning me into some cool stuff. Lynch was also really big to the older brother and his friends at the time. I remember for his senior quote, one of his friends used, "She's dead. Wrapped in plastic". They were clearly gigantic TWIN PEAKS fans, but loved his films as well. I think the soundtrack to WILD AT HEART was even floating around my best friend's house around that time. I remember specifically cause we used to rock out to the Powermad song "Slaughterhouse" in the car a lot. I think my best friend may have even bought a Powermad album because of that song. But I digress. My later high school years were an extremely fertile and formative period for me in terms of movies and I was happy to stumble onto Lynch. I'm sure I didn't know what to make of his films at first, but he would obsess me a year or two after that. I think WILD AT HEART may have also been my first exposure to Nicolas Cage as well and it certainly left an impression. I wouldn't see RAISING ARIZONA or VALLEY GIRL for some time after that, but I'd never forget him from this. He was quite Elvis Presley-ish at a time when I was sort of just becoming aware of Elvis as a singer, performer and personality.
David Lynch is still one of my favorite filmmakers. His philosophy of not liking to explain his films has always been one I've respected a lot. I just love the idea that he wants each viewer to come away with their own interpretation of his films and that that interpretation is no less valid than anything he'd ever offer up. I think it annoys some people as they prefer their cinema to be more straightforward, but he was truly inspirational to me on a lot of levels. The stuff that comes out of that man's head is truly unique and amazing. In WILD AT HEART, he kind of offers up his own take on a WIZARD OF OZ parable/road movie. It is a fascinating thing to see a much beloved story come creeping into a Lynch film. And speaking of love, WILD AT HEART is a deeply romantic film in that Sailor (Cage) & Lula (Laura Dern) have a powerful, affecting love for each other that is one for the ages. They are both young and quirky characters and that also makes their romance stand out. They convey that passion, desire and vibrance that comes with such a youthful, determined love in such a way as to be the end all be all of existence. I just love these characters. It's very interesting to look at this Nicholas Cage character in the context of his other roles. Most obviously, it's easy to draw a line from H.I. McDunnough (from RAISING ARIZONA) to Sailor. Sailor is like the darker flip side to H.I. who exists in a much darker, more hellish dimension. There's even a kinship between WILD AT HEART and VALLEY GIRL for that matter with the whole star-crossed lovers thing. There's just some great Nic Cage symbiosis happening here. As for Laura Dern, I must say I've always loved that she aligned herself with Lynch early on and that they made multiple films together. She is one of my favorite actresses, equal parts fiercely talented and stunningly beautiful. My wife and I recently watched her HBO show ENLIGHTENED and just adored it. It was such a neat thing to see her acting opposite her real-life mother (Diane Ladd) where they were playing a mother/daughter relationship. They are both such fantastic actresses and somehow I had forgotten that they had worked together in the same capacity on WILD AT HEART. Some big time flip sides in that case too. Lula and Dern's character on ENLIGHTENED were way different from each other and Diane Ladd's two mother characters are on completely different planets. It was a uniquely rewarding experience to see mother and daughter acting together again though after watching that show.
I watched this film with my wife who was seeing it for the first time. We both have a strong connections to Cage (we both love VALLEY GIRL), Dern and Lynch so it was right in our wheelhouse. Lynch is just one of those filmmakers that inspires conversation after watching one of his films and seeing WILD AT HEART may have spurred us to do a mini-Lynch marathon over the next few weeks. As I mentioned above, Lynch was a director I came to when I was pretty young and he was one who made had a deep and lasting influence on me. I was just realizing that he is one of the director's I've loved the longest in my life (something like almost 25 years). He is a filmmaker that I truly cherish with such a unique and powerful vision. 

This WILD AT HEART Blu-ray has a very nice looking transfer and the extra features included here start with , "Love, Death, Elvis & Oz: The Making of WILD AT HEART". This 30 minute featurette has all the principles (Lynch, Cage, Dern, Dafoe etc) recalling the production and their collaboration fondly and entertainingly. It's a cool making of and touches on a lot of different actors and their feelings about the characters and some memorable specific scenes.
Next up, the original 1990 Making of EPK (7 mins) is also included. I always enjoy press materials for a film like this from around the time it came out. It's just neat to see the director talk about it at that time, before the film has found its place in the world.
-"Specific Spontaneity: Focus on Lynch" (7 mins) featurette taking the actors and crew about Lynch and what it it's like to work with him as a director and his involvement in all the details and aspects of filmmaking.
-"David Lynch On the DVD" (3 mins) - Lynch discusses color correcting and visual prepping of the film for its release on DVD.
Also, there are about 10 or so additional interview bits, basically unused pieces from the Making of included here as supplements as well.

Keep up to date on all the Twilight Time release news at their Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies

Warner Archive Grab Bag - SEARCH and SEARCH FOR THE GODS

SEARCH The Complete Series (1972)
"World Securities" is the organization at the forefront of this show. This company is basically a high-tech private investigation firm with a groovy headquarters and multiple (three) operatives who are sent out on assignment each episode. Each operative has audio implants and has miniaturized cameras so they can send data back to HQ and get intel. I couldn't help but think a little bit of the 1992 film SNEAKERS a bit here as these teams are often infiltrating in a similar way to the SNEAKERS gang. It might have had to do with the team be essentially pretty small too because they clearly had more money than the SNEAKERS crew. SEARCH is also certainly a show taking more than a few cues from James Bond for sure. It seemed to be a vehicle for actor Hugh O'Brian at the time and has been sadly forgotten due to a lack of availability until this Warner Archive release.
Hugh O'Brian is certainly a graduate of the Charlton Heston school of acting. His cadence, teeth gritting and a square jaw make him a decent poor man's Heston with little troublechina day at all . His character in the show is certainly a charmer like 007 and somehow that increases the Heston vibe somehow. He's like Heston by way of Kenneth Mars (at least in his facial features). The show has a kind of batting order mentality in that each episode seems to focus on one of the SEARCH agents and the particulars of their specific mission. So Hugh O'Brian gets a go in one episode, then Tony Franciosa and then Doug McClure. Allow me to digress for a moment regarding Doug McClure by th way. I came to him first in the 1990s via a show called OUT OF THIS WORLD. It started a young half-alien girl named Evie (the lovely Maureen Flannagan) who could stop time and start it again at will. Very silly show, but Doug McClure was a featured player in it as a washed up actor and friend to Evie's mom. As I'd never seen McClure before, it never occurred to me that he could have done a rather significant amount of acting in the 1970s in such things as SEARCH, and movies like HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP and AT THE EARTH'S CORE. I always find it humorous now when he crops up in something because I was so used to seeing him in this dopey syndicated comedy show. Anyway, as I was saying, each of the agents gets a turn with and episode and all of them rely heavily on Burgess Meredith in the SEARCH mission control room assisting them with various bits of up-to-the-minute info and surveillance. I don't mean to be insulting to anyone, but if you don't enjoy Burgess Meredith in pretty much anything, I just don't know what to tell you. I adore the guy.
Beyond the cast, there were several other fun things about the show. Not the least of which was the gadgets. Gadgets have always something I've gotten a big kick out of. Just the idea that something small and innocent like a fountain pen could hold a high energy laser always amused me. One of the bits of gadgetry I love in this is these "scanners" that each agent is equipped with. They are like cameras that record events in real time, but not only allow playback, but also allow for the SEARCH HQ folks to read things like heartrate and other vitals signs off of. Makes no real sense, but somehow these scanners can record in "4D" or something and I just got a big kick out of that.




SEARCH FOR THE GODS (1975; Jud Taylor)
I'm a Kurt Russell fan from way back. I love the guy and it's a 'chicken or the egg' scenario for me at this point in terms of whether I first saw him in his Disney movies (most likely) of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA back in the summer of 1986. Regardless, he's one of my heroes and I very much like coming across films of his I haven't seen for one reason or another. In the case of SEARCH FOR THE GODS, like the above mentioned SEARCH, it was due to a lack of avaibility. SEARCH FOR THE GODS was a TV movie/pilot from 1975 that never went anywhere. It's curious to think about what would have happened with Kurt Russell's career if it had gone to series and been a hit by some miracle. Would it have affected his decision to work with John Carpenter on ELVIS in 1979? If it had, that would have destroyed the universe as we know it as it would have blocked one of the greatest actor/director pairings of all-time. That being said, SEARCH FOR THE GODS was of course not picked up and basically disappeared for the past nearly 40 years until it's release on this Warner Archive DVD. I'm not sure it was ever even put out on VHS, so it may have existed only in the memories of those that saw it on TV back in the day. One thing I will say for the movie though - not enough Kurt Russell. Actor Stephen McHattie is basically the headliner here and I like the guy quite a bit actually, but he's no Kurt (though to be fair, Kurt is not quite the Kurt we know and love from the Carpenter films at this stage of his career). From IMDB, the plot synopsis for this film is this: "Two young people search for a valuable medallion, which they believe will prove that aliens from outer space visited Earth in prehistoric times." Sounds kinda neat right? Well it is to a certain degree, and feels like some kind of offshoot of the Disney films of this period - like ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, without the special powers. Kind of part that and part Hardy Boys maybe. An early predecessor to THE X-FILES perhaps. An interesting time capsule certainly.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Warner Archive Instant Cult Picks - NIGHT OF THE LEPUS & FROM HELL IT CAME

NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972; William F. Claxton)
The first time I ever heard NIGHT OF THE LEPUS mentioned was on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was the first episode with Mike Nelson on the Satellite of Love and the Bots (Crow & Tom Servo) said something to the effect of, "You quipped your way through NIGHT OF THE LEPUS...". It always amused me that LEPUS was like a 'training film' for them (it wasn't until recently that I realized they'd done a Rifftrax commentary for it). It is notorious for being a pretty terrible film, but it's certainly something of a cult film as well. This may be for a variety of reasons. One of them may be the premise - giant killer rabbits. On top of that you have Deforest Kelley, Dr. McCoy himself from Star Trek. I am kind of fascinated by the fact that Kelley and William Shatner both did an animal attack film. Shatner was in KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, which is actually bears a rather striking  resemblance to LEPUS. LEPUS also has Janet Leigh in a late career performance, and seeing Janet Leigh in anything is great in my opinion.
The 'animals attack' or 'nature gone wrong' genre is one of my favorites. You can start at the top, in terms of quality, with something like JAWS, or THE BIRDS or THEM and work your way down. Even the weaker entries in the genre like LEPUS or THE SWARM are still a lot of fun for me. What's intriguing about the really silly ones (again, like LEPUS) is how they were ever made to begin with. One has to wonder how the filmmakers could have been blissfully unaware of how inherently laughable some of these premises are. It's hard not to laugh (and think of Monty Python) when you say the words "killer rabbits". But then again, it is that kind of lack of awareness that allows for some rather memorable films to get out into the world. LEPUS is certainly memorable. Between close ups of rabbits & oversized props used to make them seem bigger, slow motion photography to make them seem lumbering and the use of deep growling effects to make them sound like cougars, it's hard not to snicker a little. Director Willam F. Claxton clearly attended the Bert I. Gordon University of filmmaking. If this film was made today, there would undoubtedly be a lot of winking at the audience and the result would be pretty intolerable. One thing I lie about LEPUS is that they really do try to play it straight. When the rabbit-attack victims are found , the are drenched in blood. It really is meant to be pretty grisly. There's lots of blood and lots of people screaming as they are attacked by rabbits. And it's a PG rated film!

Oh, and by the way , did I mention that Deforest Kelley has a mustache in this movie? He does. It is awesome. For that and so many other reasons, this film needs to be watched by you right now.
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS is currently streaming via Warner Archive Instant (in HD):
(which has a 2 week free trial if you haven't jumped on board yet)
http://instant.warnerarchive.com/product.html?productId=77680


Killer rabbits on the loose.


Bonus Pick:
FROM HELL IT CAME (1957; Dan Milner)
From killer rabbits to killer trees? Yep, that's the next stop on the Warner Archive Instant express and it's a hoot. This movie first popped on my radar when it Warner Archive released it on DVD early on in their existence. I started to hear that people had been clamoring for its arrival on DVD and I had to find out why. While LEPUS had something of a budget (albeit small perhaps), this film truly exemplifies Z-grade cinema, but that's kind of part of its charm.
Synopsis from Warner Archive Instant:
"Primeval tribal magic mixes with atom age science to unleash a terror tree from beyond the grave! Beware, Tabonga - part man, part tree, all vengeance! On a remote South Seas island, Kimo (Gregg Palmer), a native prince, is unjustly sentenced to death thanks to the machinations of an evil witch doctor. Swearing to return to wreak vengeance, Kimo is stabbed through the heart and buriend upright in a tree trunk. Meanwhile, a team of western scientists is on the island, concerned about the effects of fallout from atomic testing. Fallout and curse combine, and the murder tree Tabonga is born. But Tabonga's rage - and radioactive sap - may prove to be fatal for all who remain on the island, innocent and guilty alike."
Joe Dante himself has brought this film in the past I believe so it's just a matter of time before it shows up on his Trailers from Hell site. It definitely feels like a movie that needs to be covered there. It is cut from a similar cloth to things like THE GIANT CLAW and THE CREEPING TERROR, which were both included (along with NIGHT OF THE LEPUS) on this Bloody Disgusting Top Ten list of films with the least scary movie monsters:
http://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/19353/not-so-scary-top-ten-worst-movie-monsters/
Tabonga the tree monster is indeed not particularly scary, but this movie is nonetheless particularly entertaining in my opinion.
Tabonga.



Like NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, this movie is currently streaming on Warner Archive Instant also in HD:
http://instant.warnerarchive.com/product.html?productId=76942




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...