Sunday, June 4, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 4: Cars!



    Mark L. Lester's STEEL ARENA (1973, TUBI) for the first time. Also streaming on AMAZON PRIME.

    DING! DING! DING! WINNAH, WINNAH! This is incredible! Half documentary, half fly-on-the-wall tale of a Southern traveling car stunt show ('Circus of Death') starring the real-life stuntmen that put on a derby of vehicular mayhem (Dusty Russell, Buddy Love, Gene Drew, etc.) with a handful of actors (Laura Brooks, Bruce Mackey, etc.) adding just enough interpersonal drama to make the whole thing a compelling start-to-finish narrative. There is a reason the stuntmen get top billing in the credits, something not even Hal Needham ever did in any of his films. These guys are so natural and effortlessly charming playing themselves you feel you're looking at a gang of real-life Cliff Booths. They're not Brad Pitt-level pretty (main guy Dusty Russell looks like a charisma-challenged Richard Dreyfuss) but they all carry themselves with that self-confidence and swagger that Cliff displayed in Tarantino's nostalgic fantasy. Adding to "Steel Arena's" historic significance is that there is little to no information about these people and these "COD" stunt shows online. If this movie hadn't been made there would be no lasting record that this piece of Americana/car culture ever existed. :'(

    The directorial debut of Mark L. Lester ("Class of 1984/1999," "Commando," "Showdown in Little Tokyo," etc.), "Steel Arena" does the impossible: it outshines and outclasses every Hal Needham cinematic tribute to stuntmen that it clearly inspired. You can't see this flick's opening minutes (Dusty's bootleg run from the cops on a 1939 Dodge) and not see "Smokey and the Bandit's" original inspiration, right down to a useless fat Southern sheriff (Eric Nord). Dusty's quest to achieve a dangerous, death-defying stunt mirrors the plot of 1978's "Hooper," except this one's for real and has the balls to have a jaw-dropping ending that feels honest, earned and within the dramatic confines of its 'PG' rating. Lester was already Junesploitation! royalty based on his 80's and 90's work. As far as I'm concerned "Steel Arena" elevates the man to exploitation deity. 5 DUTCH SCHNITZER's EXPLODING 'MR. ATOM' BOXES (out of 5). By far my favorite Junesploitation! discovery so far. :-)

    1. That sounds great! Unfortunately not available to rent here. I'll add it to my Junesploitation watchlist for next year.

  2. Larry Cohen's THE AMBULANCE (1990, PLUTO TV).

    If I hadn't discovered "Steel Arena" while I was trying to get "Supervan" (not streaming) you bet "The Ambulance" would have been the star of my Car! day reviews. This is a Larry Cohen hat trick (writer, producer and director) using every trick in his NYC low-budget guerrilla filmmaking book (shooting crowds on 5th Avenue as extras without permits, insane stunts near or in front of recognizable landmarks, etc.) to make this tale of a mysterious ambulance abducting New Yorkers with a particular medical ailment feel like its pounding several tons above its weight. In a sea of name actors (James Earl Jones, Red Buttons, Janine Turner, etc.) and recognizable faces in supporting roles (Stan Lee playing himself as benevolent office boss at Marvel) the only thing more out of control than Eric Roberts' politically incorrect treatment of women is the epic mullet behind his mug! :-D Not a fan of daytime TV, but not until this viewing of "The Ambulance" did it dawn on me that Eric Braeden (patriarch of "The Young and The Restless") gives an amazing performance as the evil doctor behind the whole thing. Come for the old red ambulance racing around Manhattan at insane speeds, stay to see Darth Vader chewing bubblegum like a pro. 4.25 "GANGS OF FAGGOTS THAT FIGHT LIKE STEWARDESSES" (out of 5).

  3. Watch Out, We're Mad! (1974, dir. Marcello Fondato)

    I had so much fun with 70's Bud Spencer movies yesterday, I went back for more. This time, he's joined by his frequent co-star Terence Hill.

    Ben (Spencer) and Kid (Hill) both take part in a rallycross race and have their eye on the grand prize, a brand new dune buggy. When the race ends in a dead heat, they have to split the prize, but before they get done deciding how to deal with that, they end up in the middle of a mobster's land grab attempt which results in the buggy being destroyed. This sets the reluctant partners on a collision course with the mobster and his henchmen, resulting in them driving a rally car on fire through the streets, a bumper car battle, a two-against-twenty fistfight, a motorcycle race through a forest, a sniper ruining choir practice, a car driving through a restaurant Blues Brothers style, another two-against-twenty fistfight, and a lot of sped-up footage. I got a little winded just writing that symopsis.

    A ridiculous movie that leaps from scene to scene with little rhyme or reason, but it's hella fun to hang on and enjoy the ride. Spencer and Hill are fun as always, but the movie's stolen by John Sharp and Donald Pleasance. Sharp plays the aforementioned mobster like he's a manic toddler trapped inside a corpulent 50-year-old, and Pleasance hams it up as a German psychologist who functions as the mobster's adviser and psychotherapist.

    The filmmakers liked the theme song by Oliver Onions (a.k.a. the brothers Guido and Maurizio De Angelis) so much they play it about a dozen times in the movie. So now it's pretty firmly lodged in my brain.

  4. Wheels on Meals - 1984, dir. Sammo Hung

    Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao are best buds who operate a tricked out food truck in Barcelona. Sammo Hung plays a doofy PI attempting to track down a beautiful and mysterious troublemaker, who conveniently also crosses paths with our food truck boys. There’s a whole kidnapping plot involving a Count’s evil brother, parents in a mental institution, Benny Urquidez shows up, etc., it’s cool.

    So right off the bat, I definitely remember this movie having more car chases and hijinks with the food truck, hence it’s selection for “Cars!” day. There is one big chase in the middle involving hot dog condiments and a bridge that’s fun, but that’s the extent of the car action for a movie with “Wheels” in the title. Oh well. Watching this for the first time in 20yrs+, I also realized that the version we watched growing up was considerably shorter and through the magic of editing and subtitles, completely removes the entire aspect of Lola Forner’s “woman in trouble” character Sylvia being a sex worker (vs. JUST a pickpocket). This omission makes the whole love triangle dynamic even weirder because Chan vacillates between infatuation and disdain for Sylvia, which in the more family friendly version just comes off as him trying to be Mr. Nice Guy™ and be his nerdy bud’s wingman and not just him showing contempt toward her economic choices.

    Otherwise, the action is fun and light, just as you’d expect from the more comedic Sammo Hung. Chan and Biao movies always flip-flopped between comedic and brutal and despite them both playing slightly against type in this film, they’re both still playing with the charm and swagger turned way up. It’s wild that the main villain, played by José Sancho (whose work I’m really only familiar with from a handful of Almodovar movies) only shows up roughly 20min before the movie ends. He could’ve been an interesting foe if he had more to do. Also fun seeing regular faces like Kar Lok Chin, Paul Chang Chung, John Sham, and Richard Ng. Despite the flaws, I’d still recommend this goofiness. Hell, I spent a week in Barcelona back in 2012 specifically because of how cool I thought the city looked in this movie from watching this on a bootleg VHS growing up. The action, set pieces, and story aren’t as good as other Chan/Biao/Hung collabs, but the Barcelona setting and general vibes make it a fun enough time.

  5. THE JUNKMAN (1982)
    dir. H.B. Halicki

    It’s takes a certain type of moxie to make a movie where the lead character is a writer/director/producer/movie star and his super successful first feature is going to make everyone involved so rich that it inspires murder.

    Of course that first feature was the original GONE IN 60 SECONDS and it is a stone cold B-movie classic. The JUNKMAN however plays like a movie by Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell, but without the porn.

    Still, the crazy car chases and epic car crashes in THE JUNKMAN make it a must watch, even if you must watch part of it on fast forward. Just don’t miss the Goodyear Blimp buzzing the CineramaDome.

    “I need a favor: I need a car. I need some money. I need a gun.”

    1. Isn't The Junkman just a re-editing of Gone in 60 Seconds? Or am i thinking of another one?

    2. You’re thinking of Deadline Auto Theft which came out the year after this and used footage from this one and Gone.
      This one take place the weekend before the premier of Gone in 60 Seconds and the first half of the l movie is set around a James Dean festival in central California. That part has 2nd-half of Death Proof vibes and makes it really worth watching.

    3. Right. I actually have the dvds somewhere. I bought the bluray of Gone in 60 Seconds on amazon marketplace a long time ago. What i didn't notice at the time is that i ordered it directly from the distributor, managed by his wife i think. They added the dvds for free. That was a nice surprise

  6. Ferat Vampire (1982)

    The Ferat rally car used in the film wasa prototype for the Škoda 110 Super Sport, which is now known as the Škoda Super Sport Ferat Vampir RSR because of this movie. The car is so famous in Czechoslovakia that Škoda remade it as part of their Icons Get a Makeover series.

    This was directed by Juraj Herz, who also made the must-see films Morgiana and The Ninth Heart. He also wrote this with Jan Fleischer. It was based on “Upír Ltd.” by Josef Nesvadba. Another movie based on that writer’s work, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea, also has the Škoda Super Sport Ferat Vampir RSR in it. That movie is a science fiction film about the Third Reich trying to go back in time to give Hitler a nuke and the twin of the pilot of the time machine — who choked to death on a croissant — trying to stop them.

    Dr Marek (Jirí Menzel) loses his driver Mima (Dagmar Havlová) — who he obviously has feelings for — to the Ferat team, which has developed a car that just may be fueled by human plasma through the lead foot of the driver.

    The real vampire is the Ferat company, which sucks the blood of all who work for it. Or, well, uses them and throws them away, like any big corporation. The car is also a vampire in a way that may not be about blood. Once driven, it obsesses everyone that has felt its power.

    I love that Juraj Herz is the vampire in the silent movie within this film, just as much as how Ferat is taken from Nosferantu and Mimi is very close to Mina Harker.

  7. Rabid Dogs (1974)
    ...In which we discover what it would be like to road trip with Antropophagus...

    I came across this Mario Bava-directed sleazefest while researching Poliziotteschi flicks. It was unreleased in the 70s and finally reached the light of day in the 2000s in two different versions: Rabid Dogs (which was Mario's cut) and Kidnapped (to which Lamberto Bava made some alterations and additions). The opinions I read held that the Rabid Dogs version was superior, so I went with that, and man, it was a cringy blast.

    This film takes place almost entirely in a car: you're stuck with 5 sweaty adults and one sick kid, and 3 of 'em are killers on the run, including the aforementioned Antropophagus (Luigi Montefiori), who steals the show with his creepy portrayal of the character 32 (and yes, you'll find out what this name means). The rest of the cast is excellent, and I loved Stelvio Cipriani's score with its with hints of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."

    A taut thriller that creates discomfort and claustrophobia, Rabid Dogs makes you squirm and grates on your nerves-- in other words, I loved it!

  8. RADIO ON (1979, d. Christopher Petit)
    First-time watch on Fun City Editions BluRay, 9/10.
    No descriptions of this movie that I encountered made me really want to see it.
    ~A more listless Wim Wenders vibe (not surprising given his involvement).
    ~The successful portrayal of pregnant boredom in the first chunk.
    ~A punk rock movie without the trappings of the subculture, perhaps made more "punk" when the punk-looking kid sends the leather jacket-clad lead to a disco club.
    I'm not sure these ideas alone would've swayed me, but they might've helped. On the strength of Fun City's stamp of approval & the clearance price tag, I avoided not seeing this film.
    Cronenberg's CRASH is on my list to revisit for today's theme, but I was surprised at how interesting a warm-up film RADIO ON would make for it. Not least of which is the inclusion of Bowie's "Always Crashing in the Same Car".

    Since I haven't seen it on here yet & I won't rewatch it today, lemme recommend the wacked-out car flick from 1976, CRASH! by Charles Band.

  9. Repo Man (1984) dir. Alex Cox

    First watch, I had started it a few years ago but didn't finish. I was having trouble getting on the same wavelength as the movie then. This one went better, it was pretty enjoyable. Ended up liking it but not loving it. It's super fun and I thought Emilio was great. Just a pretty odd punk, sci-fi tight 90 minute movie. Can't go wrong with that!

    1. Why do the end credits roll top to bottom?? That really caught me off guard. Apparently the Se7en credits do this too but I don't remember that from last time I saw it.

    2. “An ordinary guy spends his life avoiding tense situations… Repo men spend their lives getting INTO tense situation.”

  10. Taxi 4 (2007, dir. Gerard Krawczyk)

    I've been watching the Taxi series for the last 4 Junesploitations and really enjoying it. Taxi 4 is diminishing returns though, focusing too much on the cartoonish comedy and pretty minimally in the car hijinx department. Still, Samy Naceri remains one of the most charismatic actors I've ever seen and it's fun to see these characters on another adventure. Recommended.

    1. Hang on to your hat when you get to taxi 5. It's so bad

  11. Repo Man (1984)

    "The life of a repo man is always intense."

    What a picture. Bursting with radioactive punk rock energy, populated with idiosyncratic characters, and filled to the brim with fun worldbuilding ideas big and small, like the universally generic product packaging, or increasingly weird news bulletins in the background. I was all in from the moment the highway patrol cop opened the trunk and got vaporized, and then things got only crazier from there. I just can't not love a movie where a fatally shot criminal uses his last dying breath to say: "I know a life of crime led me to this sorry fate. And yet… I blame society."

    1. Message me any time you wanna get sushi and not pay

    2. “You’re a white suburban punk, just like me.”

  12. First time watching Smokey and the Bandit. Dudes rock.

    (Also watched the Spanish Grand Prix this morning for good measure)

  13. The Last Chase(1981 Dir,Martyn Burke)

    20 years after a disease wiped out half of America and the oil dried up cars are illegal. The government controls the populace by walling off the populace and restricting travel. Former race car driver turned forced shill for the public transport department Lee Majors and local teenage hacker and explosives expert Chris Makepeace join together in Majors rebuilt race car to head to free California. Government officials and a formally great fighter pilot Burgess Meredith work together to stop them.
    This was just right for a Sunday morning movie. Its breezy and doesn't have the biggest stakes but some good thrills and some really good stunts involving a f-86 saber and the racecar. The real star of the flick to me is George Touliatos as Hawkins. The head government agent. A man who shows a calm and charismatic politicians' charm and raves like a fascist lunatic in the same scene. So convinced that his side is the right side he approaches it like a preacher. You know? A dangerous man. His line "This man, This fool! He is defecating in our flowers" is most likely going to end up in my lexicon whether I want it too or not.
    But there are problems with the movie. Its politics are pretty 80s. Again, Public transportation is seen as a bad guy. Any regulations on a person are bad. According to wiki, Leornard Maltin even called out the film as reeking of Reganomics. He also called it a flimsy drama though. Which lets be honest it is. The plot holes stack up quickly. Like why is the gas still pliable? How is Meredith refueling? Did they think Makepeace was 12 when they cast him? Why do he and Majors spend so much time wrestling? But you know what? Who Cares? A jet just landed on the road behind a race car doing 250. Don't think just enjoy.

  14. CRASH (1996, d. David Cronenberg)
    Rewatch on Criterion BluRay, 9/10.
    I was finishing high school when CRASH hit the video store shelves. My friend & I rented it to watch with a group we weren't totally fond of, but the most unfortunate outcome was that I didn't like it at all. Sometime over the following decade, without rewatching the film, I had an epiphany that now I knew it to be great. I could chalk it up to listening to too much Agoraphobic Nosebleed, or maybe to some real-life experiences (that were totally NOT sex-and-car-crash related). I think I didn't rewatch CRASH again until several years ago, after I had read the Ballard novel.
    In any event, "it's something we are all intimately involved in: the reshaping of the human body by modern technology".

  15. The Transporter (2002)

    Thought this was going to be more car-centric than it ended up being, but I'm counting it anyway!

    I've avoided this movie since it came out cause the trailer looked soooo dumb. But, turns out it's totally fine! Enjoyable in some parts! Now, this is one of the most aggressively 2000s movies I've ever seen. Something About early 2000s action cinematography really bothers me. Everything is both overexposed while the colors are completely denatured. I dunno, looks really ugly to me. But the fight scenes I do find inspired, particularly the oil fight. And Statham is actually very charming when he wants to be (and my god what a slab of beef.) It's kind of the end of his charming Guy Rotchie phase right before he would get ultra serious and completely humorless in every role.

  16. New-to-me: TORQUE (2004)
    A cool motorcycle guy runs afoul of evil motorcycle guys, leading to lots and high-speed chases. This takes place in a world where everyone is a cool motorcycle guy and people speak only in motorcycle jargon, alienating the normies in the audience. This is why THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS has all those family barbecue scenes. The CGI-heavy action is appropriately silly, but this movie is otherwise forgettable. I recommend everyone check out director Joseph Khan's outrageous 2011 sci-fi comedy DETENTION instead.

    Old fave: THE LOVE BUG (1968)
    I owned a junior novelization of this when I was a kid, and I was near-obsessed with comparing and contrasting it with the movie. Nobody told me this was a weird thing for a kid to do. Rewatching the movie this morning, I still find it very cute and charming. The car gags are a blast, and actor David Tomlinson as Thorndyke is one of the all-time buffoon villains. It strikes me that the movie is also very much of the year 1968, with jokes about hippies and new age gurus. Great old-school Disney fun, though. Who wants Irish coffee?

    1. I loved The Love Bug and other Herbie movies as a kid. Several good memories watching them with the family. My father showed it to my son once when babysitting, and apparently he loved it too.

  17. VANISHING POINT (1971)
    dir. Richard C Sarafian

    Heard about the passing of Barry Newman earlier today so I had to watch this one today. I traveled those southwest desert highway so many times as a kid that this movie feels like a phantom memory. And it’s not just a great car movie, it’s one of the great American existential movies, along with Two Lane Blacktop. The 7th or 8th hour of driving a car on a monotonous straight highway is about as zen of an experience as I’ve ever had.

  18. Six Pack (1982, dir. Daniel Petrie). This movie starring Kenny Rogers and Diane Lane was a nice comedy drama about a guy taking on a gang of kid car-part thieves (they're the six pack) as his pit crew. Very pleasant and entertaining, although the car racing wasn't the most exciting. The best car chase was between a lorry and a mobile home.

  19. COP CAR (2015, d. Jon Watts)
    Rewatch on Universal BluRay, 7/10 up from 6/10.
    When I first watched this picture I was sidetracked by the Coen-lite feeling. This time I was able to shrug that off & appreciate what Watts was giving me. Kevin Bacon is still a little too hammy sometimes, but maybe he was taking the cop role seriously in his own special way.
    I'm glad Watts is making those Spidey-bucks, but does this mean we won't get anymore COP CAR or CLOWN type flicks from him?

  20. Driven(2001 Dir, Renny Harlin)
    Tried to watch this for the first time in 20 years tonight. Made it about 30 minutes in before tapping out. I have a theory this was envisioned and shot as a 4 hour epic then they cut all the scenes up and threw them in the air. After that, the producers, director and Stallone where each given a turn to grab whatever footage they could and edit a movie out of it. Afterwards they had to return the footage to the pile and the next person went. What we got was the winners cut.

  21. CANNONBALL (1976, dir. Paul Bartel) – David Carradine is again trying to survive in a cross-country car race. Compared to Death Race 2000, Cannonball is less outlandish, yet the entertainment value is still high. If you want to watch cars, there are plenty of them to see. The cast is full of familiar faces (Mary Woronov, Gerritt Graham, David’s brother Robert) who look like they are having a great time. Paul Bartel’s distinctive black humor is present throughout the film. All of the high-profile cameos add another layer to enjoy.

  22. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. 1986. A trash classic.

  23. JOY RIDE (2001, d. John Dahl)
    Rewatch on 20th Century Fox BluRay, still 7/10.
    Paul Walker's other 2001 car movie holds up, thanks in no small part to Ted Levine's pipes (I haven't watched this since it first hit DVD).

    1. AHHH I love Joy Ride so much!!! Great choice!

  24. THE GUMBALL RALLY (1974)
    dir. Charles Bail.


    It’s a good racing movie and it’s funny, but not in a Cannonball Run 2-groan-worthy way. And you can watch it with your kids.

    “And now my friend the first rule of Italian driving” (Franco rips off the rear view mirror and tosses it away.) “What’s ah behind me is not important.”

  25. DEATH PROOF (2007)
    I watched this movie a couple of weeks ago, and have been anxiously anticipating the day car movies would be on the calendar so I could watch it again for Junesploitation. My wife had never seen it so it was super fun to introduce it to her and watch her energy shift along with the film in the last third. She loved it.

    FARGO (1996)
    It had never occurred to me until today just how much this film, and many of the events/motivations, revolve around cars despite this not being a "car movie." Not just Jerry's job, but everything from the first shot of the film, the scheme involving the Sierra, TruCoat, paying for parking (or rather, not parking), drive-thru food, scraping fucking ice off your windshield... or even Buscemi's fate because he didn't want to split the cost of the car. I've seen the movie 100 times, but this was a fun new lens to view it from.

    1. Holy crap, you're right. 🤯😲 I've also seen "Fargo" lots of times, and the importance of cars to the plot/characters never registered at all. You're a wise owl, Mr. J.G. 👊😎

  26. DEATH PROOF (2007) dir. QT

    I love watching this at the New Beverly and sitting as close as possible to the screen because it plays so much better when it’s bigger and because it’s awesome to listen to the whole theater laugh when Stuntman Mike starts crying.
    It may not be QT’s best (that’s Once Upon…) but it’s my favorite.

  27. Drive (2011)

    Watched this earlier in the day than I ever have. Still works. Brooks is absolutely great in this. Nightcall by Kavinsky is such an epic opening track.

  28. Christine (1983)

    Almost forgot to post! Probably because I wouldn't consider this a favorite King or a favorite Carpenter....

  29. The Driver (1978)

    Late to log it (because I was traveling), but really dug this one. It's a no frills, gritty, down-and-dirty car flick--just about all I could have asked for on Cars! day. Ryan O'Neal oozes cool, and dialogue is kept to a minimum because he lets his driving do all the talking! The chases here are pretty great. Cars, baby!