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July 30, 2015

Storm Fear

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Cornel Wilde - 1955
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Not a exactly a classic, but Storm Fear is worth seeing for some of its counter-intuitive casting. I wasn't prepared to see Dan Duryea, usually cast as a smarmy, sadistic weasel cast here as a hypersensitive writer in ill health. Duryea is so sick that he walks around the house with a big woolen scarf around his throat, and is on the verge of coughing and wheezing off this mortal coil at any moment. What kind of writer is he? It's never clear whether Duryea's character writes novels, inspirational bromides, or self-help books, just that he had something published about four years earlier. Duryea also plays husband to Jean Wallace, as he says later, because it was the noble thing to do, hinting that he got a pregnant Wallace on the rebound after she's ditched by true love Cornel Wilde.

And Cornel Wilde, casting himself as the anti-hero, a bank robber on the lam. A very skinny Dennis Weaver is the unlikely hero. Steven Hill gets an "introducing" credit for his first significant screen appearance as one of Wilde's partners in crime, a very nattily dressed thug who Wilde attempts to keep on a short leash lest he impulsively pummels or shoots anyone considered in the way. Hill's character tries to come of with ways to keep the stolen money for himself, and has no sympathy for anyone. Best of all is Lee Grant, as a peroxide blonde moll whose relationship to Wilde and Hill is never made clear. Her mink coat is her prized possession. Grant has the best line in the film when she pours some whiskey in a glass and proclaims that she can't drink her milk straight. Grant may look cheap and trashy, but when Duryea and Wallace's eleven year old son sets his eyes on her, it's clear that adolescent hormones are starting to jump.

Most of the film is about this volatile mix of characters stuck in a mountain cabin during a December snow storm. Aside from a glimpse of a calendar, there's a big tree in the house, decorated with tinsel. This is where Duryea and Wallace call home, with a crank telephone, and the home entertainment center consisting of a radio, a gift from the love-struck Weaver. The opening scene establishes family tensions with Duryea's son having a closer relationship with Weaver than with his purported father, and the arguments Duryea has with Wallace, disturbed by the music from the radio. Duryea and Wilde are brothers, one a failed writer, the other, not much of a crook. There's no love between brothers, husband and wife, or the hoodlum trio. It's not a question of whether somebody's going to get killed, but an inevitable who and when.

This was Cornel Wilde's directorial debut, and unsurprisingly, stronger regarding the acting than in any kind of visual style. There are some nice images via cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, such as a close ups alternating between Wilde and Wallace while a bullet is crudely extracted from Wilde's legs, with Wilde flexing his muscles gripping the headboard of a bed. Also, Lee Grant looking up at a mountain path, lying in snow, ankle broken, unable to move, with wads of money at arms length, abandoned by her partners. Wilde gave Elmer Bernstein freedom to compose a score that weaves between jazzy riffs and abstract percussion. The adapted screenplay was by Horton Foote, his first theatrical film credit, hardly a harbinger of the acclaim to come just a few years later.

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Posted by peter at 07:40 AM

July 28, 2015

He Ran All the Way

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John Berry - 1951
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

For me, another example of a film that serves as a metaphor for an actor's career. Blacklisted by the studios while being investigated by the House of Un-American Activities Committee, it was fitting that John Garfield was able to make one last film with United Artists, a company that for the most part was home for filmmakers with liberal leanings. Also affected by HUAC were Dalton Trumbo, with his contribution to the screenplay credited to Guy Endore, screenplay writer Hugo Butler, who soon fled to Mexico, and director John Berry, who continued his career in France. By the time He Ran All the Way was released, John Garfield's film career was dead in Hollywood, while the character he plays, Nick Robey, dies face first in the gutter.

Garfield's Nick Robey is a small time hood who always lets his worst instincts get in his way. Even before his botched payroll robbery takes place, Robey is trapped in his shambles of a slum apartment, sweating, and nervous. Robey lives with his mother, who is seen in a shabby nightgown that hints at slightly better days of being someone's floozy, probably when Calvin Coolidge was president. The two would sooner engage in a bare knuckles brawl than anything resembling family affection. With a pile of unwashed dishes, clothes and trash strewn around, the clutter and disrepair of Robey's apartment is such that the rats have left for more hospitable lodgings.

Even when Robey is on the run, there is a constant sense of entrapment. Following the robbery, Robey runs through several hallways and staircases, spaces that allow limited movement. Even in the outside, Robey runs between several freight train cars, with the camera positioned to emphasize the small space of light between each car. Robey temporarily evades police capture in yet another enclosed space, a public swimming pool called Plunge. And plunge Robey does, ingratiating himself on Peggy Dobbs, a young woman who visits the pool regularly even though she can not swim.

Robey holes up in the apartment belonging to Peggy's parents. Again, there is a sense of setting that seems realistic. The Dobbs are presented as lower middle class. The apartment is bigger, but nothing looks new. A nice touch is the peeling wallpaper seen in the background. That the Dobbs are lower middle class is also indicated with the father working at a newspaper press plant, while Peggy works the assembly line boxing cakes in a bakery.

What I liked best were the exterior shots, filmed around the streets of Los Angeles. John Berry may well have been influenced by the then recent works of Italian neo-realism. The street where Robey and his partner-in-crime meet, the aforementioned train yard, and even some of the shots of the swimming pool and its surround environment, have an authenticity that could not be recreated in a studio. There are a number of traveling shots by James Wong Howe, with the camera movement providing visual correlation to Robery's nervousness.

Nick Robey couldn't escape from the law, and John Garfield couldn't escape from the effects of appearing before HUAC. In several shots, Garfield appears visibly aged, older than his thirty-eight years. While Garfield's film career ends here, the film may have provided the opportunity for Shelley Winter's to show off her ability as a serious actress. There may be something about Shelley Winters and water. Following He Ran All the Way, Shelley Winters played another character whose lack of swimming ability, and questionable choice in men, is part of A Place in the Sun.

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Posted by peter at 02:36 PM

July 26, 2015

Coffee Break

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Hanna Stanbridge in Let Us Prey (Brian O'Malley - 2014)

Posted by peter at 11:16 AM

July 23, 2015

Jet Li: Chinese Masculinity and Transnational Stardom

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Sabrina Qiong Yu - 2012
Edinburgh University Press

What I did find most useful here is a discussion on the difference between martial arts as practiced in life, as opposed to martial arts as a performance for film. This is a point of contention for some audience members who have concerns about authenticity. Jet Li had already established himself as a mainland Chinese national champion well before he became a movie star, first in Chinese language cinema, and eventually, with uneven results, with English language films. It was through working with Tsui Hark on the Once Upon a Time in China series that Li understood the difference in how his physical performance appeared on film, and has adjusted that performance to fit the camera. Li's ease of accommodating the camera is contrasted with the two martial arts stars that preceded him, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. As Yu points out, Lee proves his authenticity by performing bare chested, while Chan uses outtakes during the final credits to reiterate that he is doing his own stunts.

In terms of representations of Chinese masculinity, Yu is interested in the dual readings generated by several of the films starring Li. Yu's methods may be called into question as there is no consistency regarding her sources for these readings, whether they be professional critics, fans, or in one case, a captive audience of fellow former students. What is clarified, is that Jet Li sexual chasteness in most of his films is his own choice, that he is uncomfortable expressing romantic feelings in his own life as well as before a camera.

Too much information? Maybe. On the other hand, it does help explain why Li and Brigit Fonda don't do much more than exchange glances in Kiss of the Dragon. Without understanding this aspect of Jet Li, this makes Kiss of the Dragon appear to be not much more than an updated version of Broken Blossoms, but with an actual Chinese star and martial arts, rather than Richard Bathelmess or Emlyn Williams in yellow face saving the white woman. And fortunately, we are also beyond calling someone "Chinky" as a term of endearment. Why Li's choice of onscreen chastity is important is that it is sometimes interpreted as a continuation of the Chinese man in western screens as being asexual in western films opposite Fonda, or Aaliyah in Romeo must Die.

A bigger problem exists in discussing Swordsman II. Essentially, Li's character falls in love with a character played by Brigitte Lin, a transgender, a man who castrated himself to become more female, and attain certain martial arts secrets. The questions raised here are whether or not Swordsman II is a portrayal of same sex attraction, and whether or not Brigitte Lin's taking of the role as the object of Jet Li's affection defines their relationship. What confounds me in this examination of how Swordsman II is that Ms. Yu does not even mention the Chinese theatrical tradition of two men or two women portraying a heterosexual couple. Yu is right about one thing regarding Swordsman II, with Brigitte Lin as the appropriately named Asia the Invincible, it's difficult to remember who else is in this film.

Even within the span of three years since initial publication, Yu's assessment of Jet Li's career indicates that it may be too early to draw any conclusions. Li's sole performance as a dramatic actor, in Oceans Heaven is an anomaly. At age 52, Li has continued to be in films produced primarily for Chinese language audiences where he still displays virtuoso physical dexterity, alternating with increasingly thankless appearances in Sylvester Stallone's Expendables series, I would think primarily to maintain a presence for western audiences. That Jet Li has achieved a measure of stardom in English language films, something that eluded Chow Yun-Fat, brings up the question that not only applies to Chinese actors, is mastery in martial arts a prerequisite for for an Asian actor to any degree of western stardom? It is also quite possible that there will be no transnational actor like Jet Li, or Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, as with the commercial explosion of mainland Chinese film, there is a diminished need to appeal to western audiences.

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Posted by peter at 11:21 AM

July 21, 2015

House of 1,000 Dolls

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Jeremy Summers - 1967
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

What would Jesus do? Had Jesus "Jess" Franco directed House of 1,000 Dolls, maybe this film would have truly been the sleaze-fest alleged by various detractors. What we have are a dozen reasonably attractive young women running around in their underwear, plus one whipping of one of those women. Not family viewing as commonly understood, but mildly transgressive by most standards. That the film was shot in Spain, from a producer would be associated with Franco, Harry Alan Towers, makes me wonder what might have happened had this film been made a year or so later.

Towers wrote the screenplay, with the lurid premise of a magician and his assistant making unsuspecting young women disappear on stage, on for them to wake up as captives of a white slavery ring for a very exclusive house of ill-repute in Tangiers. The real slaves were stars Vincent Price and Martha Hyer, both in the film to fulfill contractual obligations. More screen time is given to George Nader, at the time a very popular star in Germany, important for a film that was a Spanish-German co-production. Mrs. Towers, better known as Maria Rohm, wakes up screaming in the opening minutes.

This was the last of three films Jeremy Summers did for Towers. The only other work I've seen was Ferry Cross the Mersey, essential produced as consolation for the various musical acts managed by Brian Epstein who were not The Beatles. The only thing I recall is Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, looking visibly excited as the camera tilts up, while he is playing his guitar. I am not sure if there is any significant meaning, but Summers does have something of a visual style here, filming several of the action scenes with shots partially obscured by window frames, fences, or what every he can use as a momentary framing device. There are several shots making use of the reflections of mirrors, with a shot of Yelena Samarina, reflected in Price's sunglasses, used in some of the posters. There is also one beautifully lit shot of a man coming out of the shadows to threaten Price. What ever one might say about the story, or the questionable Orientalism presented here, there can be no question regarding Summers' craftsmanship.

The Blu-ray comes with a commentary track by two Davids, DeCoteau and Del Valle. Somehow, the only Double Ds that are part of a movie about sexually exploited women are the voices of two men. David DeCoteau is a film director with a slew of titles primarily made for the home video market. Del Valle, who's commentary for The Crimson Cult was mentioned a couple of weeks ago, shares his knowledge of genre films and filmmakers. Aside from explaining the how this film evolved from one of Tower's unrealized projects, there are stories about the producer, whose life was often more colorful than some of the films he produced. We are assured by the Davids that this is the most complete version of the film, which was abridged in its initial theatrical release in the U.S., and may well have had some more explicit nudity in versions for other markets.

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Posted by peter at 07:06 AM

July 19, 2015

Coffee Break

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John Lloyd Young and Erich Bergen in Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood - 2014)

Posted by peter at 07:39 AM

July 16, 2015

Gangs of Wasseypur

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Anurag Kashyap - 2012
Cinelicious Pics BD Region A

The Blu-ray cover comes with an endorsement from Martin Scorsese. The blurbs used to sell Gangs of Wasseypur appear to be aimed towards an audience that is more familiar with several high profile gangster films from the likes of Coppola, Scorsese and Tarantino. While this is understandable given the story about the decades long conflict between to criminal families, and the increasingly brutal violence that takes place, it may also diminish what makes this an Indian film. And at a total of almost five hours and twenty minutes, describing this film as an epic is not inaccurate.

The first film periodically breaks into documentary footage, providing historical context to the narrative which begins during the final years of British rule over India. Part of the country has been turned over to the coal mining industry. Workers, paid paltry wages, steal coal and grain for survival. Even when India becomes an independent country, the situation does not improve for many workers as the British are replaced by an equally ruthless coterie of Indian industrialists. With the first half hour, Kashyap establishes a story not simply about gang warfare, but a history of a country that can not, or will not, break the cycle of exploiting its resources or people. The film can also be said to be about how easily even those who profess to have certain ideals can be corrupted, personifying the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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Indian popular culture is also intertwined here. There are a couple of scenes of people watching television, movie posters are everywhere, there are a couple of scenes of film-going, and a couple discussing which Bollywood film, if any, they will go see. The chief villain explains that the reason he has out-lived his rivals is due to his not watching any films, not imagining himself as whoever the current screen "hero" is at the time. Even if one is not well versed in Bollywood film, some familiarity may be helpful in appreciating how Kashyap uses that staple that characterizes the popular Indian film, the use of song. In the past few years, films have been using songs in the background as commentary, cutting down, if not always eliminating, the song and dance numbers that break up the dramatic portions of the film. The songs are a combination of original work created for the film, some folk songs, and songs from older Indian films. Most of the songs are heard as background commentary, although there are scenes with a singer performing "live" as part of street rallies. Where Gangs of Wasseypur songs make a significant break from other Bollywood films is that they are not designed for music video play, and the lyrics are sexually more frank than what is found from a film industry that has historically shied away from onscreen kissing.

Kashyap also makes clear that most of his characters are Muslim, making the taking of a Hindu woman from Bengal as a gangster's mistress a point of contention. In one scene, when a dinner is to be set up, a wife asks if the "meat plates" should be used. There is also reference to the remnants of the caste system, with one of the extended families noted as historically working as butchers.

Almost unbelievably, the story, though fictionalized, is based on the very real rivalry between two families in Wasseypur. Most of the film is about the Kahns, with the descendants more brazen in their predecessors. It's as if being a criminal is in the DNA. We go from mere bludgeoning, shootings and stabbings, to the beheading of a drug dealer, and one of the younger generation holding a double edged razor in his mouth, while another walks around threatening others with a live cobra. The bloodshed is not only between the crime families, but between family members. Pride and power trump everything else.

The Blu-ray comes with a booklet, with an essay by journalist Aseem Chhabra, that provides some helpful information on the making of the film, and the work of Anurag Kashyap. There are also two family trees, valuable in keeping track of the characters and their relationships.

Posted by peter at 10:06 AM

July 14, 2015

Reckless

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Bloedlink
Joram Lursen - 2014
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD

Reckless is the Dutch remake of the 2009 British film, The Disappearance of Alice Creed. The producer, Frans van Gestel, has been quoted as stating, "Obviously, if you make a remake of a British film, it is not meant to travel around the world. It is meant to work really strongly in the domestic market." While Lursen's version is not a shot-by-shot remake, this version does not deepen or alter the original story. If you've seen the original film, you know what to expect.

What the Dutch version has is Tygo Gernandt in the role of Vic, the part played by Eddie Marsan in the British version. Gernandts hair is shaved to form a V shaped mohawk. His lips are curled, as if he is eternally snarling at the world. This is the kind of face that looks as if has been beaten by the elements as well as opponents' fists. There is hardly a moment when this Vic does not look threatening. Between Vic and his partner in crime, Rico, there is no question as to who is the Alpha dog here.

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I liked the opening montage, with the kidnappers shopping in preparation of the kidnapping, buying a bed to be modified for restraining their victim, duct tape, and sound-proofing material. Most of the action takes place in an empty, abandoned high rise. There is also the sense of emptiness in most of the exterior shots, even in a parking lot filled with cars but no other people. The white van used for the kidnapping is the only vehicle seen moving in the streets. The windows in the kidnappers' apartment are closed, with those of the kidnap victim boarded up, further stressing the idea of a depopulated environment, save for the three characters. The use of lighting in the basement of an abandoned greenhouse, with a golden glow cast on the kidnap victim, Laura, is especially striking.

While I can understand remaking a film for a local audience, especially in a different language, the choice of Reckless for a North American release strikes me as baffling. It's not that this film is badly made, far from it, but there is not enough to make a significant departure from The Disappearance of Alice Creed. The kidnap victim here, played by Sarah Chronis, is a pouty blonde with none of the charm of Gemma Arterton. There is one cultural difference, with the casual nudity of the two men, something that I don't recall from the original film, which telegraphs their relationship as having been more than simply former prison cell mates.

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Posted by peter at 07:05 AM

July 12, 2015

Coffee Break

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Charlotte Gainsbourg in The Tree (Julie Bertuccelli - 2010)

Posted by peter at 09:26 AM

July 09, 2015

The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein

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Jesus Franco - 1972
Redemption Films BD Region A

Maybe I'm reading a little too much into this, but while watching The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, it occurred to me that the tuft of a goatee that the normally clean-shaven Howard Vernon sports in this film looks a bit like the the pubic hair on the women, lovingly photographed here, especially Britt Nichols. I can only say that I've seen enough films from Jesus Franco to know that the guy has a certain fascination for full frontal female foliage.

This is one of those Franco films that those less familiar with the filmmaker might use as an argument regarding the prolific Spaniard's abilities behind the camera. And there are moments when on a technical level, so-called good filmmaking yields to the demands of a short schedule and shorter money. And yet, even before I gave Tim Lucas the chance to explain everything and more regarding Franco and this film, I started to think that whether intended or not, maybe The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein might be closer in spirit to the kind of pastiche/homage/parodies of the Kuchar Brothers, then something from the House of Hammer.

What Lucas' commentary does is put the whole shebang into the context primarily of European comics made for adults, the most famous of which is probably Barbarella. Lucas also mentions the inspiration of the early novels of Jean-Claude Carriere, writing under the pseudonym of Benoit Becker. There is also the inspiration from the classic Universal Frankenstein series, with part of the plot taking The Bride of Frankenstein to its logical conclusion. The viewer is also assured that the French version that is presented here is the version closest to the film Franco intended.

We've got Dennis Price as Victor Frankenstein and Jesus Franco as his assistant, giving the monster the power of speech. The monster is kidnapped by Cagliostro, accompanied by his creation, a blind, vampiric bird-woman who screeches as much as she talks. Vera Frankenstein brings Dad back from the dead to find out what happened to his creation. Cagliostro hopes to mate the monster with his own female creation, made from parts of several beautiful women, with the goal of creating some kind of master race. This is not Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but something closer to The House of Frankenstein, a monster rally, updated to include an abundance of nudity.

As Tim Lucas makes clear, Jesus Franco never intended this film to be taken seriously. The most horrifying part of The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein is seeing the toll of alcoholism on Dennis Price, almost twenty years after his acclaimed appearance in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Franco's frequently used composer, Daniel White, appears here as a police detective. The English language soundtrack has Howard Vernon dubbing his own voice.

Another appreciation for this film, from the previous home video version, can be found from Kimberly Lindbergs.

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Posted by peter at 08:50 AM

July 07, 2015

The Treatment

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De Behandeling
Hans Herbots - 2014
Artsploitation Films BD Region A

A difficult film to watch. A difficult film to write about. This is primarily a police procedural that deals with pedophiles, so between the subject matter, and writing about a film without giving too much away, there is for me, a look for the right balance. Adding to the complication of the manhunt, is that the lead detective, Nick, is the brother of a boy who was kidnapped by a pedophile, and has not been seen since then, adding personal motivation to Nick's detective work. And Nick has a neighbor, an older man, who taunts Nick with letters that suggest that he knows what has happened to the brother since he disappeared almost twenty years ago.

And while this Belgian film is not graphic in its depiction of what happens to any of the young boys who are victims, there are enough visual and aural hints to cause discomfort for all but the most insensitive viewer. It is as if Hans Herbots has taken the adage regarding horror films, that the scariest thing is what is left to the imagination of the audience. Without giving anything away, some of the answers to Nick's questions have turned out to be right in front of him.

The story might be described as a tragedy of errors, where Nick's zealousness, coupled with partial information, or misinterpreting what may be seen or head, causes many mistakes even as he gets closer to resolving the current investigation. The viewer may take on Nick's viewpoint, such as a scene with a swimming instructor, as it turns out falsely accused of being a child molester. The instructor is surrounded by a his students, all early elementary school aged, too close for the comfort of the instructor or the viewer. There are shots from the point of view of the instructor, underwater, looking at the children swimming, that are open to interpretation. There is at least one "MacGuffin" driving the action.

Nick's flashbacks to the last time he saw his brother have some visual clues as to the future of Nick and his brother, Bjorn. The two are playing "cowboys and indians". In addition to his cowboy hat, young Nick has facial hair added to his face, done with some kind of make-up, that makes him look, from the distance, like the man that he will become. What Nick remembers about the last time he saw Bjorn was the indian headdress his brother wore that day.

As with other films from Artsploitation, The Treatment teeters between art and exploitation, pushing the proverbial envelope. Films such as this do raise a multiplicity of questions regarding the role of film, the filmmaker and the subject matter. There is no question about the quality of the craftsmanship of Hans Herbots. The blu-ray comes with deleted scenes and an explanation for why each of those scenes was not used. At various points in the film, children talk about a possible threat by someone or something called the troll, initially dismissed by Nick as an urban legend shared between children. What makes The Treatment discomforting is that it is about real monsters.

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Posted by peter at 08:19 AM

July 06, 2015

Truck Turner

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Jonathan Kaplan - 1974
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

A bit of a disclaimer here. I knew of, but wasn't personally acquainted with, Jonathan Kaplan, at the time we were both at New York University. I probably crossed paths with him a few times without know it, and there were a couple of people we both knew from the film department. I never directly encountered Kaplan until several years later when Heart Like a Wheel was presented at the Denver International Film Festival.

Kaplan has a commentary track on the new Blu-ray version of Truck Turner, and it is very informative about the making of the film. Kaplan signed up for what he was told would be an action picture to star Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum. After signing the contract Kaplan found out the star was to be Isaac Hayes, and that American International Pictures was more interested in the anticipated profits of an Isaac Hayes soundtrack album. The dark and gritty action movie AIP thought they were going to get was turned into something frequently humorous and occasionally warm as a result of the collaboration by Kaplan and Hayes. Kaplan is also generous in discussing the work of editor Michael Kahn, who became a member of Team Spielberg as a result of his work here, as well as crediting Oscar Williams for his contributions to the screenplay.

For those not familiar with the film, it revolves around a skip tracer, former football star, Mack "Truck" Turner. Taking the job to find a pimp named Gator, the pimp is killed in self-defense. Gator has a stable of prostitutes managed by a madame, Dorinda. Various pimps look to take over from Gator. Dorinda offers a stake in the stable to whomever kills Turner. The deadliest of those in this competition is a pimp named Harvard Blue.

I saw Truck Turner at the time of its initial release in 1974. There is a lot of hand slapping, racial epithets, a pink Lincoln-Continental, and questionable fashion statements. Whatever one might feel about blaxploitation movies in general, or this film in particular, Isaac Hayes' music has definitely held up after forty years.

The pleasures are in the casting and the personal touches. The opening shot pans across Turner's apartment, littered with beer cans and packaging from fast food restaurants, a glimpse of an Otis Redding album, before settling on Hayes' world famous, clean shaven, top of his head. "That guy", Dick Miller, appears, wearing his own pink sports coat. James Millhollin, one of those character actors I've seen many times in film and television, without knowing his name, makes a brief appearance. There is also Scatman Crothers as a retired pimp. Nichelle Nichols, in the gap between Star Trek the TV series, and Star Trek the film franchise, plays the foul mouthed Dorinda.

Kaplan talks about the relative freedom he had in making Truck Turner. The most distinctive scene involves the death of Harvard Blue. While it's not mentioned, I think there is some inspiration from Raoul Walsh's The Roaring Twenties, with Yaphet Kotto shot in the back, staggering for what seems like an extended moment, down the steps of a building, opposite of James Cagney, who staggered up a flight of stairs for Walsh. The soundtrack is silent. Kaplan filmed close-ups of Kotto, whose eyes have the look of someone stunned to discover his vulnerability, that his life may by ending on someone else's terms. The close-ups of Kotto alternate with point of view shots of Kotto approaching his car. The silence ends when Kotto falls head first onto the steering wheel, with a blast of the car horn.

The Blu-ray includes part of an appearance by Kaplan discussing Truck Turner at the New Beverly Theater in 2008, host by fellow Roger Corman alumni, Joe Dante. There is also the "Trailers from Hell", presented by cinematographer and director Ernest Dickerson.

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Posted by peter at 08:29 AM

July 05, 2015

Coffee Break

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Will Ferrell and Jason Sudeikis in The Campaign (Jay Roach - 2012)

Posted by peter at 05:23 AM

July 03, 2015

The Crimson Cult

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Vernon Sewell - 1968
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Talk about timing. What's best about this new blu-ray is that it comes with a 2012 documentary, taken from a television series, British Legends of the Stage and Screen, devoted to the career of Christopher Lee. We get to see Lee talk about the false starts to his acting career, how he almost became an opera singer, a bit about his parents and other relatives - Ian Fleming was his cousin, and his his thoughts on his iconic role as Dracula. There are clips from various films, including The Man with the Golden Gun, The Three Musketeers, and the film he was most proud of, Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Lee also talks about how he preferred to play Dracula as the character described by Bram Stoker, although no clips from the Jesus Franco film, that come a bit closer to the novel, are included here. There's only so much that can be stuffed in a forty-five minute documentary, but for the most part, this is a nice overview of Lee's life and films.

While the blu-ray is packaged as The Crimson Cult, what we see bears the original British release title of Curse of the Crimson Altar. Lee, along with Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele and Michael Gough, share top billing. Most of the screen time is given to Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherell, and if you are like me, you'll realize that you've seen them in other films after check the IMDb, but not recalled a single performance. I am also assuming that this is more complete than the version released in North America by American International Pictures.

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Eden plays an antiques dealer, looking for his brother who disappeared in a small town. His search brings him to the estate of a country squire played by Lee, who lives with his niece, played by Wetherell. The squire most frequently socializes with an elderly historian, played by Karloff. Karloff is usually seen with his aide, a guy in a black chauffeur's uniform and sunglasses, who looks virtually like Elton John. Spending a couple of nights at the estate, his sleep is disturbed by nightmares involving Steele as a witch, demanding that Eden sign his name in blood. Meanwhile, Michael Gough creeps around as demented butler with a serious speech impediment.

This is a film in which a grab bag of parts are stuck together in the hopes that no one will notice how not all of it fits into a coherent whole. There is a partial quotation in the beginning, from an unnamed author, about drugs used for hypnotism, superimposed over some kaleidoscopic images. And while Eden's character is supposedly hypnotized, that really the last time there is a reference to drugs. The swinging party hosted by Wetherell and her hedonistic friends seems to have been included, along with the drug reference, to make what is essentially a gothic horror film relatable to those kids who flocked to Roger Corman's The Trip, released at about the same time as this film was produced. There's also a bit of nudity provided by Wetherell, thanks to the newly relaxed production code.

There is one moment, maybe too cute, maybe too meta, where our young couple takes a tour of Lee's mansion, and Wetherell states, "It's like a house from one of those old horror films.", and Eden replies, "It's like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment." And pop up, Karloff does, in one scene, barely getting a grip on his chair, falling back. This was one of Karloff's last films, and as frail as he was during the filming, his way with words never failed him as he grins just enough while mentioning that his collection is of "instruments of torture".

The film takes place during a local holiday marking the celebration of the burning of a witch named Lavinia. We get to see Steele wearing some kind of hat shaped like ram's horns with long feathers. In her coven is a whip wielding woman with some kind of swirl design black pasties covering over her nipples, and a blacksmith in a black leather speedo. While the scenes fail to inspire dread, this might be campier than anything in Rocky Horror.

Alas, Christopher Lee doesn't do much here except look dapper.

The commentary track with film historian David Del Valle and Barbara Steele doesn't do much in terms of providing any insight into the making of The Crimson Cult, but does allow for Steele to tell stories about various high and low points in her own career.

A more curious inclusion is an interview with Kendall Schmidt. A music composer, Schmidt was hired to create new music scores for a number of A.I.P. films after the library had been bought by Orion Pictures. While it is explained that this was done for legal reasons, it doesn't explain why this was an issue for this particular studio. I can understand the rights issue regarding specific songs, which has caused some films to not get home video releases. There is something odd when finding out that Schmidt not only was hired to replace the original score by Peter Knight for this film, but also the music by Gino Marinuzzi for Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires, and that of Paul Ferris for Witchfinder General, among titles mentioned.

Posted by peter at 06:26 AM

July 01, 2015

For the Emperor

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Hwangjereul Wihayeo
Park Sang-jun - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

A small army of hooded thugs gather in the corridor of a building. The lights are off. The only illumination is from flashlights going in multiple directions. There's a gang war with men knifing each other. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on, but the flashing lights give the scene a kinetic quality. Sometimes the pleasure of genre films is just doing enough to make it stand out from other films.

While not specifically recalling other films, there is even a moment when the mob connected attorney declares that he needs some popcorn in anticipation of another plot twist coming up.

The original Korean title, according to Wikipedia, refers to the name of the loan company that the characters work for, Emperor Capital. Behind the fancy office building, and gentlemen wearing coats and ties, is a loan shark operation, one that will see you beaten and blood if debts are not paid in a timely manner.

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Hwan, a formerly promising young baseball player, is having a terrible season. Making matters worse, he's busted in a gambling raid and has additionally been revealed to have been involved in fixing games. His own indebtedness is causes him to be attacked by a gang who collects money. Hwan ability to take on the gang brings him to the attention of Emperor Capital's CEO. Hwan works his way up the ladder of the organization, also gaining the attention of a glamorous prostitute known as Madame Cha, and the real head of Emperor Capital, an older gangster who works behind the scenes. The basis for the film is a comic book by Kim Seong-Dong. It is also the second film directed by Park Sang-jun. And in some ways the story follows a familiar pattern of the rise of a young gangster, and the power struggles that take place within organized crime.

The lights of Busan are seen from a distance, and appear glittery and golden. The film could be said to be about Hwan seduced by what he sees - money, power, respect, sex. It may be too obvious to have Madame Cha working out of a bar called Temptation. Park Sang-jun is also less than subtle with several shots angled in a way to help emphasize the breasts of actress Lee Tae-im. Hwan and Madame Cha get together, but it is later that one has to ask who seduced whom? Lee Min-ki as Hwan and Lee Tae-im are in the kind of scene that Hollywood might have made forty years ago - hot, nude, with bodies tangled. Not exactly "Last Tango in Busan", but viewers on this side of the globe might forget this is, for South Korean audiences, a mainstream movie.

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Posted by peter at 08:38 AM