THE HEIR APPARENT: LARGO WINCH
(France/Belgium, 2008; US release 2011)
KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
(Norway/Poland/France/Sweden, 2010; US release 2011)
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Released Memorial Day weekend 1982, the highly-anticipated ROCKY III ended the two-week box office reign of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, grossing a then-very impressive $16 million on 939 screens. Sold-out showings and a whopping $17,000/screen average would cause the film to expand to just over 1300 screens at its widest release. By way of comparison, CONAN was playing on 1600 at this same time; there were none of today's 4000 screen rollouts back then, so things actually stayed in first-run theaters for a long time, because it sometimes took people weeks to be able to see them (as an example, PORKY'S was still in the top five after Memorial Day, in its 11th week of release). ROCKY III was a durable hit, staying in the top five until late July and going on to earn $125 million, making it the fourth-highest grossing film of 1982.
Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, ROCKY III is thoroughly predictable at every turn, but few people know how to work their base like Stallone in his prime. After two immensely crowd-pleasing films, audiences had grown to care about Rocky, his wife Adrian (Talia Shire), his dumb brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young), and his tough-as-nails trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith). As ROCKY III opens, the Champ finds himself under fire from all directions: Paulie's still jealous and feeling left out and Mickey doesn't want to fight anymore, but biggest (and loudest) of all is upstart heavyweight Clubber Lang (an iconic performance by Mr. T), making a name for himself and calling out Rocky as a "paper champion." But the thing is, Clubber's right. Rocky seems to be everywhere but the ring: TV commercials, magazine covers, THE MUPPET SHOW, and even charity wrestling matches with Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan!). He's more celebrity than fighter, and after Mickey confesses that he's only lined up chump challengers to keep Rocky at the top ("Ya ain't been hungry since ya won that belt!" Mick growls), Rocky starts to question his legitimacy as a champ and, despite announcing his retirement, agrees to fight Clubber to prove his ability to himself. Rocky not only gets his ass kicked, but Mickey dies of a heart attack in the Madison Square Garden dressing room. Enter Rocky's old opponent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) who sees that Rocky's gotten lazy and complacent with his title and his fame and he needs to regain the "eye of the tiger." Apollo takes over as Rocky's manager and trains him for a rematch with Clubber, who's become an even more insufferable dick now that he's the champ.
Few actors embody the underdog as well as Stallone, and as a writer, he needed to find a way to once again make Rocky fit that mold. But was it necessary to have Rocky and company move into a fleabag Skid Row flophouse so the Italian Stallion could regain his edge? But as hokey as it is, ROCKY III looks like RAGING BULL compared to 1985's on-leave-from-reality ROCKY IV, made the same year as RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, in the midst of the Stallone-as-American-hero mania.
One major reason that ROCKY III had such staying power with audiences--it actually had an increase in box office in early July, over a month after it was released--was the soundtrack. And no, I don't mean the three Frank Stallone songs featured on it, but rather, Survivor's chart-topping, Oscar-nominated monster anthem "Eye of the Tiger." It's said that every summer has its song, and you couldn't go anywhere in the summer of 1982 without hearing "Eye of the Tiger." And even today, it's an impossible song to dislike. If you listen to "Eye of the Tiger" and don't feel even a little bit of an adrenaline rush, then there's something wrong with you.
VISITING HOURS trailer/TV spot
And speaking of Shatner, VISITING HOURS would not be the last time he'd be seen on the big screen in the summer of 1982. In fact, he had another film that was scheduled to open the next weekend...
*box office figures obtained from Box Office Mojo (www.boxofficemojo.com)
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Directed by Brad Parker. Written by Oren Peli, Shane Van Dyke, Carey Van Dyke. Cast: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Nathan Phillips, Devin Kelley, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Dimitri Diatchenko, Olivia Taylor Dudley. (R, 88 mins)
Despite appearances and the involvement of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY mastermind Oren Peli as producer and co-writer, CHERNOBYL DIARIES is not another in the endless stream of "found footage" horror outings. It does, however, rely heavily on shaky-cam to tell the story of four Americans--brothers Paul (Jonathan Sadowski of the somehow-lasted-for-an-entire-season TV series $#*! MY DAD SAYS ) and Chris (former teen pop sensation Jesse McCartney), Chris' girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and Natalie's friend Amanda (Devin Kelley)--and two Australians, Michael (Nathan Phillips of WOLF CREEK) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal of the Norwegian horror film COLD PREY), on an "extreme tour" day trip to Pripyat, the town abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown in April 1986. Led by gregarious ex-Special Forces tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), who's been supervising these excursions for five years, the tourists are denied entrance at a checkpoint because of a "maintenance issue." Undeterred, Uri tells his customers "There's more than one way into Pripyat," and he takes them in through a roundabout way through a surrounding wooded area. While radiation levels are elevated, a few hours exposure won't do any harm, and the biggest surprise they get is the sudden appearance of a wild bear. But once back at the van, Uri finds the electrical wires torn apart. Then the howling and the wailing start, and they quickly realize they're not alone and Pripyat is not abandoned.
What can you say about a horror movie where the most chilling moments are the quiet ones where nothing's happening and you're just observing the setting and the locations? If you really want to be unsettled, just Google some images of the vacated Pripyat. Those will send more chills down your spine than anything in the watchable but very tired CHERNOBYL DIARIES.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Directed by Isaac Florentine. Written by Michael Weiss. Cast: Michael Worth, Damian Chapa, Karen Kim, Marshall Teague, Kate Connor, Sophia Crawford, Andy Cheng, Hakim Alston, Plamen Zahov, Daniel Southworth, George Cheung, Burnell Tucker, Velizar Binev. (R, 95 mins)
Anyone who's seen the deliriously insane U.S. SEALS II knows the significance of that sound. Like its predecessor a year earlier, U.S. SEALS II went straight to video and only features two minor supporting characters held over from the first film, so knowing the events of U.S. SEALS is utterly unnecessary. As the audaciously batshit PUNISHER: WAR ZONE was to the disappointing THE PUNISHER, U.S. SEALS II is a different beast altogether, almost completely abandoning the stale, cliched military plot and instead delivering a cartoonishly balls-out martial-arts orgy that exists on no known level of reality. This complete shift in tone comes courtesy of director Isaac Florentine, an Israeli-born martial-arts expert who got his start as a stunt coordinator and then a director on the MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS TV series. Over the last decade or so, Florentine has become a major cult figure in the world of straight-to-DVD action films, based largely on U.S. SEALS II, but also BRIDGE OF DRAGONS (1999), and his two sequels to Walter Hill's 2002 film UNDISPUTED: UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING (2006) and UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION (2010). Florentine's films have a kinetic, unique ferocity all their own, and I'm surprised he hasn't yet graduated to A-list fare. Usually working with the folks at NuImage, it's possible that he enjoys the relative freedom they give him to do what he wants, especially since he wasn't pleased with the outcome of his one recent film done for others (the 2009 Van Damme actioner THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL). Sure, a lot of U.S. SEALS II is ridiculous and stupid, but it's so incredibly ridiculous and stupid that surely some of it is meant to be comedic. Or at the very least, winking.
|Michael Worth as Lt. Casey Sheppard|
|Karen Kim in action|
U.S. SEALS II isn't Florentine's best film, but it's probably his most well-known (his two UNDISPUTED sequels are awesome). It became a word-of-mouth hit among video store employees and bad movie fans with its constant whoosh sound effects whenever someone moves. I'm not kidding. Whether someone's aiming a gun, engaged in a martial-arts battle, signaling with their hand, or simply peering around a corner and turning their head, nearly every physical action is accompanied by a whoosh sound. This fight scene with Kim and Crawford (includes SPOILERS) is a perfect example. Even flowing hair whooshes.
(SPOILERS again) But no discussion of U.S. SEALS II would be complete without addressing the unforgettable demise of Chapa's venal, smirking Ratliff. Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot's Marty McKee has called it one of the top five villain deaths in all of cinema. That's really not an exaggeration. The main issue with its presentation is that its ambitions like beyond any budget or VFX capability that NuImage was willing or able to provide. The CGI is wonky, but as McKee has said, it works based on sheer intent and outrageousness. The sequence below is part of a larger one, intercut with Kim fighting Crawford and Andy Cheng, but the YouTube user edited it to just focus on Worth and Chapa, which explains why it's choppy. But the fight choreography and the action are top-notch and often brilliantly inventive in their presentation. Florentine is one of the best action directors in movies today. Why isn't he directing THE EXPENDABLES 2?
Yeah! You just saw that shit! And did you hear it at the very end? Go back and listen again. At 4:09 into the clip. One final, subtle, beautiful...whoosh.
Bravo, Maestro Florentine. Bravo.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
aka E TANTA PAURA
aka TOO MUCH FEAR
Directed by Paolo Cavara. Written by Bernardino Zapponi, Paolo Cavara, Enrico Oldoini. Cast: Corinne Clery, Michele Placido, Eli Wallach, Tom Skerritt, John Steiner, Jacques Herlin, Quinto Parmeggiani, Eddy Fay, Sarah Ceccarini, Cecilia Polizzi, Claudio Zucchet, Greta Vajant, Mary Ruth League. (Unrated, 95 mins)
Raro USA has done a nice job with the restoration of this obscure late-period giallo from director Paolo Cavara, best known for 1971's Dario Argento-inspired BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA. Long available in bootleg circles, PLOT OF FEAR (original Italian title: E TANTA PAURA) never made it to US theaters, nor did it ever turn up on home video, so this DVD marks the film's belated first official American release. Scripted by Cavara, Enrico Oldoini, and DEEP RED co-writer and regular Fellini collaborator Bernardino Zapponi, PLOT OF FEAR gets off to a clunky, confusing start and veers wildly between giallo and poliziotteschi, with some liberal doses of trangressive softcore porn. It's not a great film being rediscovered, but it's certainly an interesting artifact, not just for its rampant, cynical misanthropy (the rich are perverted and corrupt, men are petty and insecure, women are either vacuous models or dead hookers), but also for Eurotrash devotees, with its strange cast, terrible English dubbing (the original and better-preserved Italian audio track is also included), pervasive sleaze, and an infectiously catchy score by Daniele Patucchi, which is screaming to be covered by a present-day stoner rock band.
Opening scene. Credits and kickass music start around 1:30 into the clip
One of the suspects is Rosa's pimp (Claudio Zucchet), who, in this scene, gets picked up for questioning and bolts from the police car, instigating a brief but amazing foot chase through what has to be the busiest intersection in Milan. This brilliant bit looks as chaotic, awkward, and unchoreographed as a real pursuit would look (does that guy intend to tumble down the steps the way he does?), and I have serious doubts that the drivers of these cars knew that a movie was being shot.
Meanwhile, Lomenzo becomes romantically involved with Jeanne (Corinne Clery, fresh off the controversial, X-rated THE STORY OF O), a prostitute and part-time model who was also at Villa Hoffman the night of Rosa's death. As the murders continue, Lomenzo is torn between his relationship with Jeanne and her possible connection to the murders, and he also finds himself tangling with Riccio (Eli Wallach), an eccentric, chocolate-addicted private investigator who seems to have all of Milan under surveillance, hired by the surviving deviants to find out who's trying to kill them.
|John Steiner as Hoffmann|
|"Buon giorno, Tom. I'm Michele, nice to meet you. Two quick questions:|
why are you in this movie and exactly what is that you're wearing?"
|"Italy? All expenses paid? Lots of naked women in|
the movie? And I don't even have to hang
around to dub myself? Deal!"
Raro supplies plenty of extras, including a subtitled interview with Placido, who talks about the making of PLOT OF FEAR and shares warm memories of working with Wallach. There's also interviews with co-writer Oldoini, as well as Pietro Cavara, son of the late director (Paolo Cavara died in 1982). The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks great and has to be a significant upgrade from Raro's original, non-anamorphic Italian release some years back. Raro USA's packaging mentions "new and improved English subtitles," but Wallach's character ("Pietro Riccio") is inexplicably referred to as "Peter Struwwel" in the English subtitles, even though "Riccio" is clearly audible on both audio tracks. This was apparently an issue with the original Italian DVD release. In lieu of the liner notes they used to provide, Raro USA gives us an appreciation of the film by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, in the form of a PDF file. He can't explain BLOODY PEANUTS, either.
|Original Italian poster|
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
(France/Italy/Belgium, 2010; US release 2011)
(France/Italy/Belgium, 2010; US release 2011)
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Directed by Howard Avedis. Written by Howard Avedis and Marlene Schmidt. Cast: Mary McDonough, Lynda Day George, Christopher George, David Wallace, Bill Paxton, Alvy Moore, Bill Conklin, Denis Mandel, Donna Garrett, Marlene Schmidt. (R, 93 mins)
A familiar title from the video store glory days, MORTUARY arrived in theaters in the fall of 1983 with one of the most misleading ad campaigns of its day. With poster art featuring a hand sticking out of a grave and a trailer that utilized footage and an actor (THE HILLS HAVE EYES' Michael Berryman) not present in the film itself, MORTUARY didn't exactly endear itself to horror fans. Instead, it's a rather straightforward suspense thriller with post-HALLOWEEN/FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher elements that too often look like clumsily-inserted gore scenes that were added after the fact, as if a distributor or someone controlling the cash flow decided the movie needed more splatter. Exploitation vet Howard Avedis (SCORCHY, THE FIFTH FLOOR) does a nice job staging some effective scare sequences throughout, and until you get a really good look at the killer ("Open the window, Christie!"), his appearance--sort of a cross between Captain Howdy from THE EXORCIST and the frontman of a Norwegian black metal band--is pretty unnerving. But Avedis lets some scenes go on too long, the killer's identity is too obvious too early, and the gore scenes aren't as well done as in some of its contemporaries. When fans today look back at a lot of these '80s slasher films, there's much misplaced nostalgia for some of them and I think it's really the era being remembered with such fondness rather than some of the individual titles. MORTUARY was not a beloved film in its time. Is it a long-buried treasure ripe for rediscovery? No. But freed from the shackles of its hysterically inaccurate one-sheet and trailer and all of those expectations, it holds up pretty well.
|Mary McDonough and Lynda Day George|
|"You two donkey dicks couldn't get laid in a morgue!"|
Scorpion's DVD, part of their "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line, is framed at 1.78:1 and looks good overall. Some print damage here and there, and some of the murder scenes show more wear than the rest of the film, a possible indication that they came from a different source. MORTUARY has been shown with running times ranging from 84 to 91 minutes, and this DVD runs 93, so maybe there's some extra footage in spots. Extras include an interview with composer John Cacavas, and the infamous trailer that does not in any way reflect the actual film:
Monday, May 21, 2012
One of the most influential action films of the 1980s, George Miller's THE ROAD WARRIOR is also one of the prime examples of the golden age of Australian cinema. From the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, films like PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH, MY BRILLIANT CAREER, BREAKER MORANT, GALLIPOLI, THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER, and CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HEAR YOU among many others, achieved critical and commercial success worldwide. Another of the top Australian imports of the time was 1979's MAD MAX, released in the US in 1980 with the Australian-accented actors redubbed by Americans. MAD MAX proved to be a decent-sized hit in the US and gave American audiences their first exposure to Mel Gibson. Gibson returned to the role for MAD MAX 2, released in Australia in late 1981 and retitled THE ROAD WARRIOR for its US release on May 21, 1982, this time keeping the real voices of its cast. Australian exploitation films, dubbed "Ozsploitation" by fans, had been renowned for some time for their innovative action sequences and hair-raising, death-defying stunt work. THE ROAD WARRIOR took this to new levels with its many inventive set pieces and chase sequences set in post-apocalyptic wasteland where Max (Gibson) repeatedly tangles with iconic bad guys Wez (Vernon Wells) and The Humungus (Kjell Nilsson).
THE ROAD WARRIOR was an even bigger success than MAD MAX, and resulted in an entirely new post-nuke subgenre--mainly from Italy--films that became fixtures at US drive-ins, in video stores and on late-night cable for the rest of the decade. Even today, virtually any dystopian film with a post-nuke setting owes something to THE ROAD WARRIOR (which itself borrows elements from its contemporaries, namely the STAR WARS wipe transitions), from the desolate locations to the costumes, cars, and weaponry. One look at Wez and you see nearly every villain in any one of these. Portions of the film were even restaged almost wholesale in Neil Marshall's DOOMSDAY (2008), an affectionate tribute to this unique genre that fans, for whatever reason, didn't get. THE ROAD WARRIOR wasn't the first film of this type, but it set a template that countless films followed. Gibson returned once more for 1985's MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, and Miller, who most recently directed the two HAPPY FEET films, has tentative plans to reboot the MAD MAX franchise with Tom Hardy in the lead role.
|Mel Gibson returns to his star-making role as Max|
|Vernon Wells as Wez|
|Kjell Nilsson as the Warrior of the Wasteland, the Ayatollah of Rock n' Rolla: The Humungus!|
|Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain|
|Emil Minty as the lethal boomerang-throwing Feral Kid|
|Virginia Hey as the Warrior Woman|
Also in theaters on this same weekend was Lewis Teague's vigilante thriller FIGHTING BACK, an occasionally ludicrous but much less exploitative take on similar territory explored by DEATH WISH II a few months earlier. It suffered from familiarity not just with the recently-released Charles Bronson hit but also with the similarly-plotted WE'RE FIGHTING BACK, a nearly identically-titled made-for-TV movie from a year earlier, not to mention an Australian "angry young man" drama titled (wait for it)...FIGHTING BACK, that was also released in 1982. The May 21, 1982 FIGHTING BACK disappeared from theaters after a couple of weeks but it's acquired a following over the years thanks mainly to the outstanding performance by Tom Skerritt as a fed-up Philly deli owner who decides to take back his Italian-American neighborhood that's been overrun by pimps and pushers. His pregnant wife (Patti LuPone) mouths off to a pimp and miscarries in the resulting car chase, and his mother walks into a drug store robbery and gets her finger cut off when the creep can't remove her diamond ring from it. Skerritt and reluctant cop buddy Michael Sarrazin form a Guardian Angels-type neighborhood watch group, which results in various political and legal (and marital) scuffles when Skerritt repeatedly takes the law into his own hands. The film rather ham-fistedly speaks to societal concerns of urban crime and decay, and the sensationalizing of violence by the media (it opens with a documentary crew in a news studio using creative editing for a news piece when they're disappointed to discover there's no actual clear footage of Pope John Paul II being shot). It gets pretty silly at times, especially when Skerritt drops a grenade-in-a-water-balloon through the convertible top of a pimp's Cadillac, and with the unlikely casting of Josh Mostel as a drug pusher getting junior-high kids hooked on heroin. Nevertheless, Skerritt's committed, believable performance really sells it, and thus far, it's the only film to ever feature a credit as awesome as "and Yaphet Kotto as Ivanhoe Washington." It's available on Netflix streaming in a cropped, but decent-looking 1.33 print.
Also released May 21, 1982: