Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Hard Workin' Blue Collar Drives onto Blu Ray From Kino Classics

Blue Collar (1978) Kino Classics Dec 10th 2019
Directed By: Paul Schrader
Starring: Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto, Harvey Keitel, Ed Begley Jr, Harry Bellaver, Lane Smith, George Memmoli

         In the ’70’s and ‘80’s Paul Schrader was at the height of his creative powers. His screenwriting credits including classics like Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). In 1978 he directed his first feature film Blue Collar (1978). Three hard-working blue-collar union stiffs named Zeke (Richard Pryor), Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) find themselves needing money after they suffer hardships at home. During one Saturday night coke fueled party the idea is floated around to rob the union vault to help ease their money woes. What started simply talk while high turns into an actual plan to steal the money. However, what’s inside the vault will lead to a domino effect of paranoia, corruption and murder. Schrader pulls zero punches in dropping us into the sweaty grimy world of factory town labor and union jobs but also manages to weaves a compelling story that kept me glued from start to finish. Initially you are led to believe that the union heist is the main drive but, in a move that Hitchcock himself would have been proud of, it turns out this is simply a macguffin (or misdirection) to the real plot.

      This is incredibly clever and something that is wholly unexpected. Blue Collar also examines social issues like race and American-class system which doesn’t over power the organic flow of the plot but rather plays expertly in the background. Its also very understated which is good, but one complaint some of the plot lines could have been punched up. Having said that Schrader’s film handles everything with no kid gloves in sight. His dialogue is as rough and ready as the sets which look well-worn ,lived in and grimy. You can really grasp the desperation and claustrophobia of living in this world. The cast is fantastic with Richard Pryor Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel all at the peaks of their profession and talent. The three big personalities somehow find a way to share the screen but also play off of each other in brilliant ways. Despite tensions on set it never feels like each other is trying to upstage one another. Its hard to say one of them stands out more, because each actor brings something wholly different and exciting. It was also interesting to read that this film was legendary troublesome and drove its young filmmaker to a nervous breakdown. It’s said that Pryor pulled a gun in a heated moment not to mention verb and at one-point physical altercations within its lead trio. It’s a small miracle this movie finished at all, let alone a minor classic. This film seems to have fallen by the wayside and doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. 

Thankfully Kino Classics is set to change all that with their brand-new Blu Ray. The print looks clean with very little to no artifacts and grain is kept to a minimum. A entertaining director commentary is included which was not included on the previous 2017 bare bones DVD. For someone who loves commentaries this is a real treat. Rounding out the features is a trailer. The 2018 Incinerator Blu Ray may have slightly more features, this is still a great release and the price is right. Blue Collar was a treat to discover and features the sharp wit and expert plotting that made Schrader a legend in his field. This is very much worth taking a chance on if you have not seen it. A great movie that deserves to be discussed more.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Ultra Sleaze Dog Day (1984) Kino Classic Review

Dog Day (1984) Kino Classics Dec 3rd 2019

Directed B;y Yves Boisset

Starring: Lee Marvin, Miou-Miou, Jean Carmet, Victor Lanoux, David Bennent, Tina Louise

     Jimmy Cob (Lee Marvin) is a fugitive on the run after scoring a huge bag of money. He sacks it away in the French countryside. As he hides out a remote farm he soon learns he is being hunted not only the police but a former colleague and a demented family that dwell on the land.  So, um yeah Dog Day is something. This film is a mess. Its a crime/man-on-the-run movie that at times veers wildly into a carnival of taboo and sexual depravity and even randomly turns into a slasher film over an hour into its disjointed run time. The plot and story is all over the place. Its very much like smashing two different films and trying to make them work. As I said above the film is highly sexual almost to the point of being a live action cartoon. All of this is so jarring not to mention everything feels wholly unfocused and frankly sloppy.

We the audience spend over ninety minutes with unwashed raving perverts which normally is not a bad thing but it feels so out of place here. Boisset is clearly out of his element with this film and he seems to have lost the reigns on what should have been a tense crime thriller. There are things in the screenplay that very nearly could have been clever or interesting but Yves never explores anything in depth. Dog Day is also very bleak at times. For example one of the very few  sympathetic character, an elderly woman, ends up hanging herself after making numerous suicide threats.  Maybe more disturbing is the casual way in which the director handles repeated sexual assaults.

     Dog Day feels like if The Hills Have Eyes had been spliced with Prime Cut mixed with some over-sex John Waters movie (minus Waters trademark wit and satire).  I wanted to like this movie as it seemed like a high energy crime film with a favorite actor, Lee Marvin. What I got was a mis-mash of genres, nearly foaming out of the mouth country folk stereotypes which smacks of lazy writing. One thing I will say is, this film is never dull and has a quality of watching a train wreck.

Kino Classics for better or worse has released or rather unleashed this '80's oddity. The film itself looks great with a crisp clean picture with very little digital artifacts. Skin tones are nature looking and colors arent over blown or muddied.  The sound is also great and include both the English and French audio. The extras include a Trailer and Audio commentary by film Historian Howard S Berger and Steve Mitchell.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1959) Warner Archives

Ranald MacDougall is probably best remembered for writing the screenplay for films like Mildred Pierce (1945) and Cleopatra (1963) as well as an uncredited work on Alfred Hitchcocks Stage Fright (1950) but he also directed notable films like Queen Bee (1955) and the strange little film we are talking about today, The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1959).

The World, The Flesh, and the Devil (1959) Nov 12th 2019
Ralph (Harry Belafonte)
Directed By: Ranald MacDougall

Starring: Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, Mel Ferrer

           This one is a mixed bag. While I love a good character study World feels like a movie better suited as an episode of The Twilight Zone rather than a full feature film. At first the time is intriguing as it slowly builds and Belafonte carries the film for a solid thirty-ish minutes until we are introduced to the second of three characters in this film. Personally I dont mind a  slow build provided that it actually goes somewhere interesting and it feels like this film never gets there. Frankly I was more bored as the plot (of what there is) slowly unfolded at a glacier pace. End of the world films like this can explore a lot of subject matter and this seems to be the case-well almost. We are introduced nearly a half way in to Sarah (Inger Stevens) who it turns out also somehow survived. She is white and its suggested very upper class a juxtaposition to Ralph an African American working class guy. MacDougall plays with subjects like race and class but ditches this almost right away. Gloves have never been more kid friendly. Instead of challenging and interesting social commentary we get a sappy turned dark (seemingly out of nowhere) love triangle between Ralph, Sarah and another man named Benson (Mel Ferrer). And indeed this is, in a nut shell a romantic drama set in a post-apocalyptic future. Which is such a waste of the sub-genre which is merely used to put the characters in a more dramatic situation than doing something interesting. It also has this weird tonal problem, drama intermixed with some lighthearted moments. I assume this was to keep the film from being too bleak.

As hinted at above the plot turns much darker almost out of nowhere and isn't built up enough to feel earned. This is especially baffling given MacDougall other screen credits. The film actually starts going somewhere in the last ten minutes but its a case of too-little-too late for me. It baffles me how such a talented writer like MacDougall turn in a bland screenplay. Its a shame because there are good elements in here. Chiefly its lead. Harry Belafonte gives a great performance as the seemingly sole survivor. A scene that sticks out is when his character Ralph is listening to the last transmissions, describing Earths fate. The camera stays on a medium shot of his face and his emoting as he learns the life as he knew it, any probably everybody he loves is long gone. Its an harrowing moment. Belafonte is wasted on this material though. I had some high expectations for this film seeing how the writer/director has a pretty good track record, but wow this was pretty underwhelming. Besides a great performance by its lead and a good score by Oscar winner Mikolos Rozsa , The World, The Flesh and the Devil is a largely forgettable relic of a film from the Cold War era and would have been suited as a television episode rather than a full length film. It comes close to examining bold social issues but opts out entirely.

Warner Archives doesn't disappoint when providing a nice crisp clean restoration which looks great given its age. The disc feature any bonus material.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Fetish Gear and Butterflies- Gwendoline (1984) Severin Blu Ray Review

One of the first releases from Severin was Gwendoline aka The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak (1984) so it seems fitting that, as the label hits its stride it re-releases the one that started it all.

Gwendoline aka The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak  (US Release Title)

Directed By: Just Jaeckin 

Starring: Tawny Kitaen, Brent Huff, Zabou Breitman

I know Gwendoline has a firm cult following among cult fans and hardcore 80's lovers no doubt highly regard this as well. I on the other hand thought it was....alright. Gwendoline (Tawney Kitaen) is on the search for her missing father, who it seems was after a rare specice of butterfly. This search leads her to meet a rough rogue named Willard (Brent Huff) and a trip into the Yik-Yak. Leather and fighting ensues in this adult adventure flick.

        The film wastes zero time in grabbing ones attention and after a great introduction of our main character Gwendoline (played by 80's sex pot Tawney Kitaen) in a shipping crate, things seem to be off to a great start. But then starts to dip in energy feeling more like a so-so Indiana Jones re-hash injected with some nudity for good measure. And that's the thing about this movie its kind of Meh for the first hour. It mostly feels like typical adventure troupes geared towards a mature audience and is woefully predictable. The gruff hero falling for the girl is so played out even by '84 and I just wish the could have played with troupes and actively subverted them. The filmmakers dont ever push anything far enough to be memorable. I also cant help but think this movie tries to coast a lot on the star power of Brent Huff and more specifically Tawney Kitaen. Its not to say they are bad by any means -in fact both actors are fun to watch together, just that the first half of the movie are spent with their characters and they arent exactly the most likable.

            That is until an hour into the run time. That is when we get a full blown surrealist film that feels very much like Terry Gilliam.  For me this is when the film truly shines but is also kind of jarring as it feels so different from what came before it. I just wish the film didnt take so long in getting to the more fun and memorable aspects. I really think that maybe if I had seen this movie a lot younger I would have at least some nostalgia goggles, thus forgiving some of the less than stellar plot, that really lacks a lot of world building. Say what you will about Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988) but at least its consistent in its hyper surreal world. If Romancing the Stone (1984) was Indiana Jones for the Rom-Com set, Gwendoline is Jones for the horny crowd.

        As I said above this is a special title for Severin as its one of the very first to be released by the label. But that was DVD and now we have STUNNING 4K Blu Ray so it seems fitting that this film finally gets a re-release. The picture is an improvement and looks sharp, clean and looks great for a movie over thirty years old. The old commentary with the director is ported over (as well as the other extras) and includes a fun new commentary that re-units Brent Huff and Tawney Kitaen. For fans this is a great addition. A new interview conducted in 2019 with director Just Jaceckin as well as the one he did in 2006. The extras are a wealth of interviews that tackle different aspects of this cult film. In fact, after viewing them it gave me a new perspective on what the filmmakers were trying to achieve.  The release also includes a SECOND cut of the film, which is the shorter US release of the film. This cuts 16 minutes off the films original runtime. Its nice to have that included as well just for those die hard fans out there. Overall this is of case of an AMAZING release for a film that was just alright. It has a big following so what do I know?

Friday, November 29, 2019

Konga (1961) Roars Onto Blu Ray Kino Classics

        The early '60 was an interesting time for Hollywood, as it was slowly phasing out films aimed to older people and moving into counter culture teen-aged fare. It was also a time when studios started tackling more taboo subject matter as the Production Code was slowly easing up on its grip. Like the ape itself, Konga (1961) is a film very much of another age. Its more of a creature-feature you`d expect from the '40's or '50's and not the same year as films like West Side Story, Judgement at Nuremberg etc.

Konga (1961) Dec 3rd 2019

Directed By: John Lemont

Starring: Michael Gough, Margo Johns, Jess Conrad, Austin Trevor, George Pastell

Dr Charles Decker (Michael Gough) presumed lost in Africa but returns alive and well with chimp in head and an amazing discovery. He has found a way to grow plants to huge sizes and, as you might have already guessed his monkey sidekick is going to get the same Bert I Gordon treatment. However the Doctor uses his new giant monkey friend to get revenge on those who he feels has wronged him in the past.

       Its easy to pick apart whats bad about Konga, from its plot holes, its bad dialogue and the special effects that are laughably bad even for this type of film.  And lets not even get started on how much of a King Kong ripoff the film is. But I might be able to forgive all this if it wasnt for, this being a giant ape movie that skimps on the ape. The film spends a lot of time in lengthy dialogue and exposition and not enough on actual big monkey terror filled hi-jinks. This is kind of disappointing as the audience has to wait nearly an hour to we get full on ape-action.  The pace is also not helped when over half way in we switch to some teen-aged subplot in the form of a field trip Deckers students take. Not only a jarring late addition but adds zero to the overall story, besides maybe giving Konga a victim. Its smacks of producers tacking it on to appeal to the "teen-market" which was flourishing in the '60's.In fact a working title for this film is I Was a Teen-Aged Gorilla  The one bright spot is Michael Gough who really makes this movie. He plays the sinister mad doctor with his signature charm and swagger, delivering his lines with the pur that is a mix of malevolent yet soothing. Outside of Price, Gough had such an amazing voice, especially for villains. Truly Michael laps up this role with vigor and its such fun watching him in action.

       I was hoping for a cheesy monster movie with one of my favorite British actors Michael Gough but the film never fully commits to its, lets face it silly plot. What we get is a slog to a fun third act. But its too little-too late. It feels like John Lemont could have taken things less seriously and played up the inherit b-movie charms. If only the rest of the film had the fun energy of the final fifteen minutes this could have been a really enjoyable cult classic. Kino Classics restores this film in 2k and WOW does this film really POP with color. Obviously the producers wanted to show off that they had the budget for color and everything is so vivid in its palate. For the most part the picture is artifact free and has a crisp clean look. Extras include a vintage Radio Spot, Image Galley and Trailer.

Great release with an awesome looking picture for a sadly Meh movie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Beyond the Door III Vinegar Syndrome Review

First off, to make things clear, Beyond the Door III  has nothing to do with Beyond the Door (1974) and Shock aka Beyond the Door II (1977). BTD was tagged on after the fact.

Director Jeff Kwitny has only one other director credit, the slasher outing Iced (1988) so I wasn't expecting much. But shocking it is a lot of fun and is one of weird, whacked out gems that seemed to languish in obscurity that is  until now thanks to the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome.

Beyond the Door III Aka Amok Train (1989) Oct 29th 2019

Directed: Jeff Kwitny

Starring: Mary Kohnert, Bo Svenson, Savina Gersak

      Beverly (Mary Kohnert) is a mousy and seemingly misfit among her classmates and generally gets made fun of. Her and her peers, as part of a class are venturing out into Europe for a field trip. But it seems that Beverly is special after all, being singled out by the same cult the kids are studying. Whilst the kids are asleep in their room a mysterious fire breaks out and after fleeing from cult members they board a train to seek safety. But of course they are anything but, when the evil is still among them.

   I kept the plot vague because there are a lot of weird twists and turns and one bat shit crazy finale. BTD has its host of problems like, bad acting, all over the place plot and characters that feel underdeveloped. Having said that, the film is expertly paced and wastes little time in ramping up the acid fueled story. Thats the thing I loved about this movie, for as messy as the plot is , it was never boring. You always had something going on from surreal visuals, cheesy dialogue and of course a lot of blood and gore. This brings me to another brilliant thing about this movie, which is its amazing practical splatter effects. Even as jaded as I have become, the gore is really something to behold and as dated as some of the effects look they still are pretty grisly. Highlights are a double kill (edited between the two) of a man being burnt alive and another poor guy slowly being beheaded.  Adolfo Bartoli did the cinematography and it is incredible. Bartoli a longtime Full Moon/Empire DP really gives this film dreamlike quality. It is dripping with atmosphere and utilizes the bleak countryside to its upmost creepiness. Clearly the look of the film is partly inspired by Bava and Argento. BTD does struggle with its story and the very end feels underwhelmed however I was entertained by the films style and over-the-top grand guignol type blood shed. It a film that is campy, yet its drug laced moments give it a waking nightmare kind of feel.  Overall a fun film that you should check out especially if you are a fan of strange cinema.

      Vinegar Syndrome goes full steam ahead with this release. We get a stunning 4k print using 35mm material. The new restoration shows of Bartoli's incredible visual flare and poorly lit scenes are now thankfully visible. It also sounds great with a nice 2.0 digital HD mix. And of course as you`d expect the disc is choked full of great features that fans have come to expect from the company. This includes a director interview, interview with cult actor Bo Svenson (Kill Bill Vol 2) and cinematographer Adolfo Bartoli. This gives you a great cross section of perspectives and the interviews are wildly entertaining. As I mentioned above I loved the look of the film so having someone like Bartoli get an interview is amazing. Despite its flaws this is a wonderfully bat-crap-crazy film and VS has provided some great supplements to go with it. Consider is a Must Own!

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Faithful Man (2018) Kino Lorber Blu Ray Review

A Faithful Man (2018) Kino Lorber Nov 19th 2019

Directed By: Louise Garrel

Starring: Louise Garrel, Laetitia Casta, Lily-Rose Depp, Joseph Engel

Abel (Louise Garrel) seems to have a good life living with his girlfriend Marianne (Laetitia Casta). His life comes crashing down when she reveals she is pregnant with his best friend Pauls baby. She asks him to leave and he simply walks out of her life without protest. Years pass and Paul suddenly dies and its shortly after the funeral where Abel trys and rekinkle his love. Enter Paul's sister Eve (Lily-Rose Depp) who has been in love with Abel since she was a young girl. Now Eve and Marianne fight over Abel whilst also dealing with other dramas that come with it.

       I think the biggest flaw with this film is that, Abel (Louise Garrel) is kind of a dud of a character so its hard to imagine how two women would be fighting over him.  As Depp's character says "Its war" referring to the two going to battle over him. This smacks of some narcissism on Garrels part who not only directs the film but cast himself as the lead and co-wrote the screenplay. Deep describes Garrel's character as the most beautiful man alive...Um. No. Like seriously who writes that bout themselves? Both of these women are so clearly out of this guys league. I`d maybe buy it if Abel has a lot of charm and swagger or something interesting about him, but he doesn't. So, its hard to accept why this love triangle is happening in the first place. This is a big problem as its the foundation for the entire plot. Story wise its a bit all over the place, you have the love triangle, you have issues with Marianne's kid Joseph who may or may not be Abels. Then its sort of suggested that foul play was involved in Pauls sudden death, which is sort of explored but then weirdly dropped. Characters motivations are also kind of hard to swallow. For example Marianne tells Abel she literally flipped a coin to decide whose child she was going to say it was. In any normal situation you`d be furious or at the very least totally mistrusting of this person. Its also not the first strange thing she does/says in the film. But thats the thing, characters act so abnormally its hard to really understand anyone's true motives. It takes one out of the film which never feels like it finds its footing and sets up story lines and never resolves them. Depp and Casta give fine performances but they get lost in their strange sycophantic feelings towards Abel.   A Faithful Man seems hollow and a bit of a cinematic vanity project of Louise Garrel. Its plot is underwhelming and feels like its there only serve to showcase Garrel as a brooding ladies man instead of a honest and deep story about love and obsession.