Saturday, May 2, 2020

Weekend Open Thread


34 comments:

  1. Nic Cage gave an early March Q&A at the Roxy Theater in Tribeca, NY. Cage talked about "Wild At Heart" and...

    ...The Pang Brothers' BANGKOK DANGEROUS (2008). Surprisingly conventional in story beats and execution (I was expecting the Pangs to go style-over-substance crazy with a big-bucks remake of their own '99 movie), it's just another average entry in the hitman-wants-to-get-out-of-the-business subgenre. Exotic Taiwanese locations and Cage's dialed-down moody performance (along with a stolen-from-007 boat chase) are not enough to make this one watchable. Cage obviously liked doing it, but I don't share the love despite the flick having the balls to end the way it does. :-)

    Also caught VAMPIRE'S KISS (1989) for the first time. Composer Colin Towns nails the comically serious angsty tone the material calls for. Too bad Cage came to chew scenery and leave no prop unturned (including a poor lil' cockroach... EEEUU!!!). Except for Elizabeth Ashley (her last scene as Cage's shrink is amazing) and Kasi Lemmons (adorably naïve) the entire cast could have been played by mops with wigs. Fine if you love Cage mannerisms dialed up to 11, which I don't when they're the only selling point instead of part of a pic's fabric (as in "Color Out of Space"). And after Maria Conchita Alonso proved she could kick ass in "Running Man" and "Predator 2" it's tough to see her reduced to such a wet noodle of a punching bag in this disposable flick. Cool vintage NYC footage, though. :'(

    Watching Corbucci's "The Specialists" last week left me hungry for westerns, so I spinned my Criterion Blu-ray of John Ford's STAGECOACH (1939). Used to like it for John Wayne's entrance and the amazing action-packed finale. Now it's just to appreciate the ensemble gathering of Ford regulars (Andy Devine, Donald Meek, Louise Platt, John Carradine, George Bancroft, etc.) giving the iconic shots of Monument Valley the feel of a B&W postcard from '39.

    Also saw BUCKING BROADWAY (1917) (included as a bonus in the Criterion "Stagecoach" disc), a new-to-me silent western directed by Ford. At 53 minutes it moves like stink (little on-location footage, since most scenes are shot either indoors or at a studio set) and highlights the star appeal of Harry Carey. It's a mostly boring back-and-forth between a rancher and a rich city stockbroker for the affections of a girl (Molly Malone's Helen), which is as exciting as it sounds. An early John Ford curio.

    Jean-Pierre Melville's UN FLIC (1972), feels like a proto-"Heat" during wordless scenes when a French cop (Alain Delon) and the leader of a gang of thieves ("Rambo's" Richard Crenna) exchange friendly glances while having drinks with the woman (Catherine Deneuve) they're both dating. If you're familiar with Melville's work this feels like an unexpectedly fitting career coda. And despite distracting obvious miniatures, "Un Flic's" helicopter/train sequence stands out among Melville's mise-en-scene. All that and good bonus features make the Kino Blu-ray a must-own.

    Last but not least, J. Lee Thompson's THE AMBASSADOR (1984) is easily the best movie the aging director made for Cannon. It's like "The Delta Force" with the anti-Muslim racism dialed back... until a finale that feels like a horror movie reel (exploding heads!) snuck into the final print. And what a cast! Robert Mitchum smoldering, Rock Hudson (in his final role) being a ruthless bastard, Ellen Burstyn giving the full frontal to Junesploitation! royalty Fabio Testi, Donald Pleasence playing an Israeli government minister without changing his accent. If you're a Cannon fan this is must-see because it aims high and mostly delivers... until it doesn't. Best $8 I spent at the Kino sale last week. ;-)

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    1. The Ambassador was not really on my radar at all but you just sold me on it hard.

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    2. Three simple words: Fabio Testi's mustache. :-)

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    3. Un Flic, i don't get it, why is everybody complaining about the train scene. I thought the miniature was great with great sound editing on top of it

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    4. Dude, I love Melville more than most people (own most of his movies on Blu-ray!) and even I found the miniature train/helicopter amusing... and I love the heist sequence and "Un Flic" as a whole! But it has to be mentioned because it really sticks out in an otherwise close-to-flawless picture. It's a testament to the quality of the rest of the production that "Un Flic" still is highly regarded, because those same miniatures on a Japanese kid's show or Italian horror flick would be laughable.

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    5. "The Ambassador" is currently on YouTube (uncut). It's obviously missing the commentary track from the BD (a good one) and it has black borders all around it, but it's free! :-)

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    6. Seeing Mitchum in the same movie as Rock Hudson and Pleasance and Burstyn will make my own head explode. Never heard of it before, thank you. I bid 50$. Oh, wait... I don't have 50$. Shit.

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  2. "Blood Quantum" on Shudder was a surprisingly really good and bloody zombie film with an interesting setting and somewhat interesting story. The practical effects are spectacular. I dug it much more than I anticipated. Normally it's a 3 1/2 out of 5 but I'm giving it a 4 based on it being refreshing for this all but dead sub-genre.

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  3. The movie watching this week was more eclectic than usual.

    MOTHER WORE TIGHTS (1947)– I was in the mood for a fluffy Technicolor musical, and this just happened to be on television. MOTHER was a vehicle for Betty Grable, a very popular movie star of the 1940s. It is easy to understand why she was a popular WWII pin-up girl. Grable plays a vaudeville performer who is part of a theatrical act with her husband. Full of music, dancing, and plenty of sentimentality, the film took my mind away from current troubles. I have long appreciated how these old musicals establish their own realities.

    THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION (2018) – A disappointment. Though I am a fan of Buster Keaton, the narrative approach used by director Peter Bogdanovich to tell his story was off-putting. I am not a big fan of the use of random talking heads, which the documentary is guilty of. Bogdanovich also frequently injects his opinions of Buster Keaton’s work in the discussion of the films.

    IN SEARCH OF THE LAST ACTION HEROES (2020) – While I have changed a great deal in four decades of life, I have never stopped being an ‘80s kid. There are many fond memories of watching Schwarzenegger films and playing with Rambo toys. LAST ACTION HEROES, consequently, hits a sweet spot for me. It also succeeds as a thorough and entertaining exploration of the subject of 1980s action cinema and its legacy. Anyone not already familiar with that period could create a good list of films to watch. The list of people who were interviewed for it the was impressive. Though the absence of interviews with the icons of the genre is glaring, I believe that it opens up the documentary. A Schwarzenegger or a Stallone could easily dominate the film. At over two hours, the run-time may be long for a documentary, but I can overlook that. The contrast in lighting from interview to interview can be harder to overlook, however. Available on Prime.

    Another watch this week had been on the DVR since the summer of 2017. THE CONFESSION, a film from 1970 directed by Costa-Gavras, is about communist show trials in 1950s Czechoslovakia. This is a wonderful European production full of notable actors of the period. Yves Montand plays the loyal government minister compelled to confess crimes against the state that he did not commit. Although unremittingly bleak for a good portion of its run-time, there is much to appreciate in that willingness to explore the darker side of twentieth-century politics. I also liked that the film does not simplify those politics, trusting the viewer to understand the nuances of the Stalinist era.

    I acquired some films from Kino Lorber's clearance sale this this week to beef up my options for Junesploitation. I want to rely more on physical media and my DVR (it's very full) this year. At least a couple of these new purchases will definitely be watched.

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    1. Just added IN SEARCH OF THE LAST ACTION HEROES to my Prime Watchlist. It also suggested another documentary on Prime to me at the time, Making Apes: The Artists Who Changed Film which looks to be a documentary on the makeup/effects work for the original Planet of the Apes.

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    2. Didn't know "Search for the Last Action Hero" was already on Prime, thanks. Big fan of Oliver Harper's YouTube channel, so this sounds like it'd be right up my alley. :-)

      And June's a month away, Casual. No point in holding your Kino exploitation treasures for Junesploitation! Start enjoying/sharing your cinematic booty now, then come back in June tio find/dig more stuff. :-)

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    3. Once in a while I do random searches on Prime to see what has come on the service. You never know what movies are coming and going on the site. In Search of the Last Action Heroes was one of several good finds this week. There is a restored version of one of Barbara Steele's films, The Long Hair of Death. Finally, Italian gothic horror I have not seen before!

      The two movies from the Kino purchase already set aside for next month are The Pit and Drum. Half of the seven titles I got are blaxploitation in nature, so fitting in those in a month crowded with other genres and subjects could be difficult. Any relevant films on the DVR will get first priority, anyway. There is also a pile of other dvds and blu-rays at home I have not gotten to yet. So much to see without the energy I used to have.

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    4. I love both Drum and The Pit. Those are some solid picks.

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  4. Finished up the Tarantino binge-watch this week.

    Grindhouse is a whole lot of movie. I'm kind of glad Death Proof slows the pace down a little before cranking it back up again for the big finale. The audience needs a breather. "Don't" is still my favorite bit, though.

    Inglorious Basterds, a.k.a. the one no one ever talks about, is really great. Every time I watch it, I flash back to college. This screenplay is how they taught us to write screenplays back then.

    Django is a tough watch, as I've always felt the movie's depiction of cruelty and inhumanity outweighs the cool gunfight action. Can't deny it's well-made, though.

    Hateful Eight is still awesome, but I tried Netflix's weird mini-series edit and I don't get it. Each "episode" start and stop is jarring, like when you're watching a movie on TV and the commercial breaks interrupt just whenever.

    And finished up late last night with another viewing of OUATIH. Wanna come over Sunday and watch F.B.I.?

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    1. What film did you have the biggest swing of opinion on, Mac?

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    2. Yeah, Mac, and which Tarantino flicks hold up best after so many years (and knockoffs) have tried to ape QT's style?

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    3. Hi! I used to think Reservoir Dogs was a near-flawless classic, but returning to it in 2020, all the cringe-y parts now feel a little too cringe-y. There's still a lot to like about the movie, but I can no longer call it a favorite.

      Kill Bill and Inglorious are my personal picks for the ones that have held up the best.

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  5. Watched a few things worth mentioning recently:

    Shogun's Sadism (1976) aka The Joy of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing: Friend of mine streamed this exploitation movie from Japan out to our movie watching group the other day. Some good gore effects in it, although a bit too rapey for my tastes. What made it notable was a good score from Takeo Watanabe with some funk to it and an instrumental cover of My Way which plays a few times during the movie. He was apparently pretty prolific and I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of looking his stuff on youtube. Check out one titled "Takeo Watanabe - License of Ruthless". Not from the movie, but pretty damn good.

    Also rewatched Robin Hood (2010) because I felt I needed to try to give it a second chance. I know Ridley Scott is wildly inconsistent but there's so much talent involved there, from Scott, to the cast, to screenwriter Brian Helgeland. I really was hoping to find something to latch onto to keep it from being a lot of wasted potential but sadly the movie just never comes together. Not terrible, especially since we now have Robin Hood (2018) as the most recent comparison, but not particularly good either.

    The Lady from Shanghai (1947): First-time watch for me as movies from the '20's to the '50s continue to be my comfort food lately for whatever reason. The scene where Glenn Anders tells Orson Welles who he is to murder and they're overlooking the cliffs and the ocean... that shot is just stunning. I know the Hall of Mirrors finale gets a lot of attention but the Cinematography is fantastic throughout.

    Also been keeping with The Last Drive-In's return to Friday nights.

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    1. There is a lot of rapey Japanese exploitation from the 1970s, Ross. No matter how disturbing the subject matter, though, there was generally a sense of style to the films. I have been recently eyeing some of the Teruo Ishii films released by Arrow that are in the same vein as Shogun's Sadism. I thought that might be one his films, actually. Arrow releases are a little out of my budget at the moment.

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    2. Ross, I've been meaning to rewatch Robin Hood (2010) as well. I remember liking it well enough at the time, and as you said, it's a great director and cast. But every time you see it mentioned, it's often not in a good light.
      Although I do enjoy that genre a lot, so I imagine I'll be quite forgiving to it.

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    3. Yeah Casual, especially under the circumstances I'm trying to spend a lot less on ordering movies right now. A good portion of money I have spent on movies lately has been on streaming stuff that supports theaters.

      Shogun's Sadism absolutely has style, and was worth watching. I'd say about 35% of the runtime at least though was some form of sexual abuse. I can get past it because it's just a movie, but it just became a "oh, we're doing this again" thing every 6-7 minutes.

      Paul, I'm sure it will be worth revisiting for you. I was trying to watch it this time as something other than a Robin Hood movie, like it was more historical fiction from Scott in the vein of Kingdom of Heaven (which I really like despite Bloom not being a particularly dynamic actor). When I was looking at reviews beforehand a lot of them seemed to knock this movie because they saw it was part of a Hollywood trend of taking something they felt should be fun and doing the dark/real version of it. There's some truth to that, but I wanted to make sure I was taking the movie on its own terms. I still don't think they found a hook to make it compelling, especially considering the almost 2.5 hour runtime (Unrated version). It's not terrible but it felt like there wasn't a lot going on for long stretches.

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  6. It's been a few weeks, and I've watched some good thing and a few bad things:

    Anger Management (2003) and That's My Boy (2012) were 2 Sandler movies, and both were hard to sit through. Anger Management was the "better" movie, but I just don't find Nicolson funny at all. The other one I actually enjoyed more, because it was just super dumb at times. I also watched Waiting...(2005) which was far and away the worst thing I've seen all year. Perhaps in years. I'm going to have to go further back to find some new comedies. Was thinking about visiting the Pink Panther franchise, which I haven't seen since as a kid.

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    1. Onto the positive things,
      Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan (2019) was an excellent Australian war movie. It seems to be going for realism, in the way everyone behaved, communicated. It's definitely a smaller budget movie, but managed to tell an exciting story convincingly. I really enjoyed it.

      Babe (1995) we watched as a family, and it was a huge hit! (I had seen it before)

      Cross Of Iron (1977) was one of Sam Peckinpah's last movies, entirely funded by an Eastern European porn producer and widely looked down upon by critics on it's release. But it seems to have gotten a reevaluation of sorts. I though it was incredibly exciting and action packed. Very violent throughout, especially compared to other war movies of that period. So many explosions. Like a crazy amount of explosions. I don't know how this was made without any extras being killed (plus considering the director was completely wasted throughout the filming). Apparently cocaine should have had an editing credit. But very watchable and well written story.

      The Guns Of Navarone (1961) which obviously is a classic. I found it a big lagging in parts, and the whole movie could have done with 30 minutes cut out it perhaps, but very enjoyable.

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    2. Danger Close is on Prime, btw.

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    3. I like that you've got three war movies there with Babe in the middle. Danger Close sounds interesting and apparently has Travis Fimmel from Vikings in it (interesting career trajectory that guy has had so far). I've added it to my ever-growing Prime watchlist so I'll get to it at some point.

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    4. A lot of those 1960s World War II films are on the long side. Last year I finally watched Where Eagles Dare (another Alistair MacLean story) all the way through and enjoyed it. I could not help thinking, from time to time, about how some scenes could be condensed.

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    5. @Ross Travis Fimmel was really good in it. There were many wordless scenes where he was conveying a lot just with him body language and subtle facial expressions.

      @Casual A lot of those movies are long, but it usually doesn't bother me. I suppose I'm only watching those movies when I'm in the right mindset (and prepared for a different level of pacing compared to most modern movies).
      I remember you mentioning Where Eagles Dare a while ago. It's been a movie I've been meaning to see for awhile. Thanks for the reminder.

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  7. So I watched both Babe and Babe: Pig in the City this week for the first time. The first one is a charming little kids' movie, and the sequel is a crazy phantasmagoria disguised as a kids' film. I'm still kinda reeling from the experience.

    Also watched: Birds of Prey (not gonna type the whole name here) was tons of fun. With the narration, erratic storytelling and goofy comedy, it's like a better version of Deadpool (and I like Deadpool (the first one) quite a bit). Plus, Margot Robbie and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are great in pretty much everything. One Cut of the Dead was really great and I'm glad I went into it knowing very little in advance. It definitely pulled the rug from under me a couple of times. First Spaceship on Venus is an East German scifi film from 1960 about, you guessed it, an expedition to Venus. It's charming in that "old scifi movie" way, but nothing that special. Public Enemies has some great scenes, but the whole felt mostly meandering and I found myself checking my watch several times. Also, Avengers: Endgame is still great and Star Trek: Nemesis still isn't.

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  8. "First Spaceship to Venus" was turned into an equally-unremarkable Season 2 episode of "MST3K" back in '90. Seen both the unriffed and riffed versions, can't say either one left an impression. :-(

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  10. Just finished The Ambassador on Youtube. What can I say...i thought it was terrible. Mitchum, Hudson, Burstyn, Pleasance must have had some bills to pay. I think they were trying to make a serious drama on the war in the middle east but holy s*it it's a big old mess. Give peace a chance was the moral of the story, I guess?

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    1. Terrible... or terribly entertaining? ;-)

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    2. lol, I did not have a good time. But it was free and only 90 mins. Still glad I watched it.

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