Blu-Ray Review: The Climber

The Climber_AV089Don’t feel a bit sorry for poor Aldo (Joe Dallesandro) in The Climber (L’ambizioso), writer/director Pasquale Squitieri’s slick, sleazy 1975 crime action flick. The guy is so damn stubborn right from the get-go that all his big plans keep exploding in his handsome face thanks to his bull-headed determination to out gangster all the Italian gangsters who’ve ever gangstered. He scores some hefty wins in the material world, but it’s all a façade as the clock is ticking down on him as the bodies pile up.

It’s a great role for Dallesandro although he’s saddled with a derivative script that has him be a complete block-headed goon and most of his opposition be just as dumb or dumber. That said, if you love violent crime dramas with great soul-jazz-rock soundtracks and can flick off your story-starved brain for a spell of mindless violence, this is a pretty solid little movie when all is said and done.

After skimming profits from a Don Enrico’s (Raymond Pellegrin) illegal cigarette take, New York-transplanted Aldo is badly beaten and tossed onto a roadside (ouch). He gets lucky after he’s picked up by a gorgeous redhead named Luciana (Stefania Casini) who takes him to her apartment where he gets lucky a second time when she decides to sleep with him. The next day, he’s off to get revenge against the Don by looking up a guy he used to be partners in crime with in order to plan a heist (that goes wrong, of course). Our non-hero gets away with his ill-gotten gains, but he’s swiped off the street not long afterward and taken to the Don for punishment. “Is this the end of Rico Aldo?”

Well, not quite.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Big Knife

The Big KnifeAA014One of those interesting “message” pictures of the 50’s, Robert Aldrich’s 1955 filmed version of Clifford Odets’ 1949 play The Big Knife works pretty well as a sort of riff on Sunset Boulevard, packing in mostly solid performances from a fine cast. Yes, there’s a certain “stagey” feeling to the film as well as a few scenery-chomping bits colliding like lumbering wrestlers in a busted ring. But it works well enough to leave an impression with a few memorable “noirish” scenes that make for a powerful viewing experience.

Jack Palance (trust me, just roll with it and it works) is Charles Castle, hot Hollywood hunk with a particularly pernicious problem. He’s set to sign a seven-year contract extension with studio head Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger in full tilt gloriously nasty mode), but his wife Marion (Ida Lupino) has had it with Charlie’s womanizing ways which obviously threaten their somewhat busted marriage and properly raising their young son. As the film begins, the harried couple is estranged and already living apart, but Charlie is constantly working “hard” on keeping the rubble of their happier days somewhat upright. Charlie also finds out Marion has an open marriage proposal from Horatio “Hank” Teagle (Wesley Addy), something that annoys him to no end because he’s something of a hypocrite.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Love Of A Woman

TLOAW_AA015I’d never heard of director Jean Grémillon (1898–1959), but thanks to Arrow Academy, I’m now well-schooled in one of his great films. While not flawless, The Love Of A Woman works just about perfectly if you’re a fan of the pot-boiling tear-jerker romance genre. Granted, it also works fantastically as an example of fine film work as Grémillon was a master behind the camera and there are some striking images here to behold.

When Dr. Marie Prieur (Micheline Presle) decides to take over the job from a well-aged doc at the end of his career on the small island of Ouessant, she’s met by wariness from the locals and made fun of by a part of a crew of men working on the island. After a practical joke by the men on their supervisor, André Lorenzi (Massimo Girotti) ends up in a fight where the doc has to show up to fix a broken nose, Lorenzi begins calling the doctor incessantly asking for a date. After some nudging by a never-married older schoolteacher (Gaby Morlay), The good doctor agrees to André’s request, but their date is ruined after a local child falls gravely ill.

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Blu-Ray Review: Alien Covenant

“There’s so much here that doesn’t make sense…”
– Katherine Waterston as Janet “Danny” Daniels, Alien Covenant

AC_BR.PNGIs the Weyland-Yutani Corporation made up of really stupid and incredibly single-minded people hell-bent on burning through piles of money and human bodies every chance they get or am I missing something here? Every time they try to get an certain cranky, homicidal alien life form for their research or whatever other purposes, bad things happen and just get worse. I could just blame the robots, but it hasn’t *always* been their fault.

The humans on the other hand? Ay-yi-yi, we’re talking idiotic in increasing percentages in what, over a century of trying to bag that xenomorph and its assorted relatives? That’s a pretty lousy batting average. folks. That said, the original Alien gets a big fat weekend pass for its crew’s carelessness because you got your average space truckers griping about low wages and such who had no idea about what was coming thrown into a situation they had no control of .  Although, what the hell was Ash’s plan had the Nostromo crew somehow killed off their unwanted passenger first?

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Granted, the current chronology of the Alien franchise means the events in Prometheus came first and brought us the unbalanced synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) who ends up even nuttier in Alien Covenant (more on that below). Then we get Ian Holm’s creepy, frustrated and malfunctioning Ash in 1979’s Alien followed by the Lance Henriksen’s helpful Bishop in Aliens and Alien 3, followed by Winona Ryder’s “Hey, huh? I’m an android?” part in Alien Resurrection. While Ridley Scott seems hell bent on making a few more Alien films that take place before the original, Alien Covenant manages to (wisely) swipe enough from the above films not shot by Scott to somewhat good effect.  Still, I’m somehow left  with more bad questions than good answers about a ton of important stuff.

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Blu-Ray Review: Re-Animator (Limited Edition)

re-animator le Well, wow. As someone who’d missed out on the film during its theatrical run, I’ve always wanted to catch Re-Animator to see what all the fuss was about. Well, Arrow Video has just released an outstanding 4K transfer of both the theatrical cut and much longer Integral version that’s not not only a must-buy, it’s one of their best releases to date.

Amusingly enough, I’d gotten a copy of Bride of Re-Animator a while back, but stayed away from watching it because I wanted to see the first film before the sequels. Yep, I’m crazy like that. Anyway, yep. This movie is pretty damn great stuff and oh yeah, it’s not for the kiddies at all.

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Ninja Nope

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Ha! Unholy masters of unintentional comic relief, if you ask me.

 

Confession time, again. I was never much into the whole ninja craze that hit America in the 80’s and despite oh, 30+ years of trying to watch a chunk of these films, they just bounce off my imagination like bullets off Superman’s chest. Sorry, but the sight of some guy in black or white pajamas throwing down a smoke bomb and a handful of sharpened jacks just makes me chuckle to on end. Give an American ninja a deck of Hanafuda cards and he’d still be a joke shilling 3-card monte on a street corner somewhere in Baltimore.

Granted, the films I’m referring to are primarily American-made and very intentionally cheesy (even if they try too damn hard to be serious). I’ve seen a few Asian ninja flicks that I vaguely recall being “okay” in that “Well, it’s made over there, so it’s not so bad” manner one says as he politely dismisses more guys in their pajamas tossing pointy metal stars and throwing gravel in the faces of their enemies as they make a clean getaway (snicker!). Yeah, I just think the whole idea of stealthy assassins dropping in on a catered or any affair to bump off some poor sap(s) is prime hilarity more than any actual threat.

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Romero & Landau: Two For The Road

We have to stop meeting this way, but so it goes:

night_of_the_living_deadGeorge A. Romero created one of the most influential, essential horror movies back in 1968 with Night Of The Living Dead, a film that still packs a punch on a few fronts. As his feature film debut, Romero’s flesh-eating ghouls would inspire a legion of filmmakers to copy and attempt to improve upon his film’s strengths. Some did, most didn’t. He stayed primarily and comfortably within the horror genre, making six follow-ups to the original along with some solid films such as Martin, Knightriders, and Creepshow.

I can still recall the first time I saw Night on broadcast TV late at night (I think it was ABC that ran it first), the network placed an on-screen overlay during the “news” segments that ran during the film so people wouldn’t think actual dead folks weren’t rising up to chomp on flesh. I forget how young I was, but even in its edited for, the movie had me half under a blanket and that surprise ending gave me nightmares for a few days afterward. A few years later when TV spots for Dawn Of The Dead popped up, I was actually so scared I decided not to try and attempt to buy a ticket. I saved that underage trial by fire for ALIEN, released a year later.

Side note: George lived up here in the Bronx – I believe in the same area I’m in now. Not that it matters much, but finding that out always made me think of another neighborhood guy who did well for himself.

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Blu-Ray Review: Werewolf Woman

WerewolfWoman_BRWith most exploitation films, it’s best to jump in cold and hang on for dear life because over-scrutinizing every frame can mean missing out on what a film really has to offer. Flaws and logic gaps are commonplace as many genre films tend to be rushed (or pay homage to earlier rushed flicks) and rely on copious nudity, sexual content, and/or graphic violence to make their points. Of course, that’s probably one reason why they’re so appreciated by those of us with time to spend watching as many as we can fit into out libraries. You know who you are, so wave that flag proudly, pal.

On the other hand, a film like Rino Di Silvestro’s 1976 Werewolf Woman (aka The Legend of the Wolf Woman, among other titles) demands to be scrutinized (warts and all) because under that copious nudity, et cetera is a film whose director fully believed in the subject matter (Clinical Lycanthropy) and yep, decided to tackle it head on as a full on exploitation flick. While it’s a film that’s got quite a nasty, depressing bite to it when all it said and done, you can kind of see through all the sleaze that the director was trying to slap some sort of psychological depth into the proceedings.

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Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

independence_day_resurgence_xlgWe really didn’t need a sequel to Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, but one got made anyway. The first film was a big, loud and (at the time) expensive chunk of mindless summer fun that grossed over $800 million at the box office and paved the way for even more mindless blockbusters that featured cardboard characters, paper-thin plots, and more (and questionably “better”) computer generated effects. I liked it enough to see it four times (hey, those visual effects were pretty stunning back then) and later bought it on VHS, lenticular insert card and all.

The 20 years too late sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence ups the ante considerably by making everything bigger, dumber, faster and louder to the point that it’s a mind-numbing, confusing mess from start to finish. Hey, if you like your popcorn movies quite popcorn-y and don’t mind two solid hours of a simplistic yet convoluted plot, by the numbers acting and countless millions (or billions, it’s hard to tell) killed before the end credits, I’m not here to poop on your parade at all.

On the other hand, I want some actual science back in my science fiction. And physics. And something resembling a comprehensible plot that doesn’t insult what little intelligence I have left. None of those are here and the film’s way too cheery ending promising an even bigger and more bombastic third entry ends up dooming this “franchise” to maybe network TV movie or limited series status at best (that is, if someone at Fox has the brains to even think of going that safer route).

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Loving The Alien: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

 

The best film directors are master manipulators who can magically transform an entire theater audience into a group of happy to sappy sapient lemmings or wide-eyed marionettes easily controlled from start to end credits. Their best films have the masses cheering the heroes, hissing at the bad ones, empathizing with the downtrodden and generally feeling whatever emotion a scene calls for. Yes, there are exceptions to this non-rule (too-likeable villains, swapping out all attempts at sympathy for more explosions and eyeball rolling plot twists you can see coming 20 minutes before they occur). But when you get right down to it, you know your cinematic needs are being taken care of when certain directors are at the helm.

Or, as an old friend once said:

(thanks, svofski!) 

In other words, this is a Spielberg film, folks.
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