(Not-So) Random Film of the Week: Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon duel1

Where it all begins for one Redmond Barry.

Barry Lyndon is a story which does not depend upon surprise. What is important is not what is going to happen, but how it will happen.

Stanley Kubrick

barry_lyndon_ver1_xlgMy first introduction to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was via the most likely means most 11-year olds with little to no interest in certain three-hour plus films made by somewhat visionary directors had at the time: MAD Magazine. I do recall that particular issue was confiscated from the classmate who owned it later in the day by a somewhat strict English (Literature) teacher who didn’t appreciate his not paying attention during her class. Fortunately, the magazine was returned the following day with a note that student had to take to his parents about his reading habits during class and oddly (or not so oddly) enough, a public library copy of The Luck of Barry Lyndon for him to read, write a book report on and return to the teacher. It turned out the teacher was a big fan of Kubrick’s film but had never read the MAD version, so she took it home, read it and liked the parody. Thus the somewhat unusual  temporary gift and form of “punishment”.

You gotta love good teachers, friends. Go and hug one today (er, with consent, of course).

I’ve had the feeling for some time that I may have wished for such a tremendous fate back then, as it took quite a few years more for me to actually read the book Kubrick adapted and altered somewhat using groundbreaking lighting techniques and some of the most gorgeous and true to life costume recreations ever put on film. It’s also a film where you can practically hear its director chuckling as he reworked the book into his own style that in my opinion, fits in well with Thackeray’s original writing. Droll, deadpan humor is laced throughout the dramatic scenes, all of which are masterfully composed shots that may have you pausing the film to admire a landscape or painterly composition (of which there are many). Excellent performances from the cast all around also help, as does realizing that Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) isn’t supposed to “act” here in the sense of a person throwing himself into a part and chewing up the scenery. He’s perfectly cast as a man in a particular point in history where both good to terrible things happen and he reacts as he sees fit (which isn’t always accordingly).

Continue reading

Advertisements

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Slipstream (1989)

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

This one’s a real woozy-doozy, folks. But an innnnteresting woozy-doozy.

Welcome to this latest installment of VSAH, folks! Definitely check out this month’s other reviews from Todd at Cinema Monolith, Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies, and Sir Wolf (you’ve been knighted, pal) over at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club.

slipstream 1989Ambition can be a weird and wild thing at times, particularly when it comes to film production whether it be a big deal studio film or tiny independent flick. Taking a pack of awesome ideas and turning them into reality (well, of the cinematic kind) while keeping an audience hooked into the world you’ve created it a risky business, specifically when it comes to fantasy and science fiction.

Granted, the actual “science” in most sci-fi is at best, suspect and at worst, more than enough to yank a viewer clean out of the experience and leave them scratching their heads raw (ow!) while they try and figure out what the hell is going on in some scenes as they miss an important plot point or three in the process.  On the other hand, a film like Steven Lisberger’s (TRON) absolutely ambitious 1989 film Slipstream isn’t going to be one where you question the science all that much (if at all) because you’ll likely be questioning a few other more important things from parts of its plot to some offbeat cameos that may add to the star power, but come off a bit too much like stunt casting or a few folks popping in for a fast paycheck.

 

slipstream pax

Bill Paxton, doing his best Bill Paxton doing Christian Slater look, circa 1989.

 

The film certainly kicks off ambitiously enough with a properly bombastic Elmer Bernstein main theme and a wonderfully shot flying sequence using one of a few of the custom made aircraft created specifically for the production. That plane is carrying the somewhat cantankerous “peacekeeper” Will Tasker (Mark Hamill) and his able-bodied assistant Belitski (Kitty Aldridge) and said plane is chasing a man in a nice suit (Bob Peck) running away from them to no avail. He’s caught up with and captured by the pair who plan to take him to some faraway location to be tried and executed for the murder he’s committed. Unfortunately for them, their nattily dressed prisoner is swiped by Matt Owens (Bill Paxton), a genial illegal arms dealer looking to make a big score when he discovers how valuable that prisoner is before he decides to try his hand at kidnapping.

Continue reading

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Smash Palace

Smash PalaceThanks to a few oddball decisions (some made by people connected with his first film) Roger Donaldson’s second feature film, 1981’s Smash Palace almost didn’t get made. I’ll let you go check out the excellent making of feature on the Arrow Academy disc for the full story, but let’s just say everything worked out in the end and we have a strong followup to Sleeping Dogs to chat about for a spell. Donaldson’s film is a wrenching, raw look at a marriage fallen apart thanks to a lack of communication and what happens when decisions made by the adults in the room spiral past the point of reasonable discourse.

Al Shaw (Bruno Lawrence), a former race car driver looking to restart his career is married to Jacqui (Anna Marie Monticelli), a former nurse he met while recuperating in France after an accident that took him off the track. They eventually wed and moved to a remote spot in New Zealand where Al runs the titular wrecking company. Jacqui despises the run-down location and dull (to her) lifestyle, berating Al for not taking  a solid ongoing offer to sell the business. Despite the tension, love for couple’s daughter, Georgina (Greer Robson), or Georgie, keeps things mostly in check. Unfortunately, Al’s best friend, local cop Ray Foley (Keith Aberdein) catches Jacqui’s eye and ear (Al talks a lot, but tends to ignore his wife because he’s happy in his work) and the two get romantically involved. When Al discovers this, he lashes out (in a hard to watch scene) and yes, Jacqui leaves him for Ray, taking Georgie with her.

 

(Thanks, Arrow Academy!)

 

Things go sideways and downhill from that point on even though Al gets back on the race track with a car he spent a year building. Recklessly, he makes a series of somewhat terrible decisions, some of which where his hand is forced and others where he just reacts out of pure but flawed human instinct.

Continue reading

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs ArrowBased on the novel Smith’s Dream by C.K. Stead, director Roger Donaldson’s 1977 film Sleeping Dogs is not only a remarkable first feature film, it’s shockingly prescient on a number of fronts. Before I get to the film proper, I’ll note that I chose neither this nor Donaldson’s outstanding second feature, 1981’s Smash Palace because of their implied or direct relevance to some of today’s often depressing news. My movie backlog is just so huge that I decided to grab two films off the top of the stack and these Arrow Academy releases were right on top of that stack. Boo-yah, I guess? Additionally, I’d heard good things about both a while back from a few people who didn’t spoil the stories for me other than to note that both were important films from New Zealand that would be well worth watching. Those people were correct, as these two films are simply superb despite their less than Hollywood budgets.

The government in New Zealand is under chaos after oil talks break down, gas is severely rationed and it seems civil unrest is brewing partly as a result of a rather stubborn prime minister determined to keep the peace (or what he sees as peace) at any cost. Meanwhile, rudderless after breaking up with his wife, a man named Smith (Sam Neill) is driving down a highway when he spies a small island in the distance. At a tiny village’s tinier restaurant, he inquires about the ownership of the island and is given directions to a house owned by two Maori men and is told to bring a bottle of whiskey with him. Smith trades the bottle for the island and run-down house on it, but the motor boat he needs to get there? That costs him his car. Well, at least he gets a free cute dog out of that part of the deal, as it’s forced on him during the trade.

 

Continue reading

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: The White Buffalo

It’s that time again, folks (Dangit, we need a THEME SONG):

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

Go get that popcorn going, this one’s quite a doozy.

The Whire Buffalo (Kino)While it’s not that much of an “obscure” film these days thanks to a few DVD and Blu-Ray disc releases over the years, J. Lee Thompson’s wild fantasy/horror western The White Buffalo goes way the hell out of its way to be as surreal as possible (well, within the confines of a Hollywood studio film, circa 1977). If you’re allergic to allegory and go in expecting it to be a more typical manly-man weekend special Charles Bronson flick, it may likely baffle you with its mystical and more surreal elements even though it definitely delivers the goods on the action front.

If anything, this Dino De Laurentis produced follow up to 1976’s (not quite as classic as the true classic) remake of King Kong suffers from too little scope due in part to a lower budget that, combined with a script that’s not fully fleshed out in spots, doomed it to death by a thousand critics slicing away with pen-knives and audiences who likely were expecting a more commercial flick. Today, it’s a different story as the film has garnered a bit of a cult following, warts and all.

Bronson and Buffalo

One of these hairy dudes is Bronson, the other looks more like a hippie jackalope. Uh, wait. a sec…

Still, it’s an excellent showcase for Bronson, as he completely inhabits the role of an ailing James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (or, James Otis as his alias here), who, after having recurrent nightmares about the titular creature terrorizing his mind, sets out to kill the beast but good. His competition for the prize: Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), whose infant daughter has been killed along with many of his tribe after a bloody rampage by the seemingly unstoppable, mountain wrecking, avalanche-causing monster.

In a kooky way, it’s more or less Ahab (from Moby Dick) meets Quint (from JAWS), but I don’t want to get too far with the literary or cinematic references even though the film is based off the novel by Richard Sale (who also wrote the screenplay). Let’s just say not every idea gels here, and to quote the late Milton Arbogast,

“You see, if it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic, and this ain’t jelling.”

That said, when it does gel, it’s like that time you used three boxes of gelatin and too little water and got something sweet you could bounce a silver dollar off of and have it hit you in the eye (ouch). Painfully palatable is a good description.

Continue reading

Beefarino Get! Or: Coming Attractions

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

I guess there was a mild white earthquake while some person was laying out text for this DVD cover artwork. Check out the original poster for a clue as to what’s what.

So, yeah. I needed to snag a film for a blogathon and as I’m on a budget these days (well, I’m always on a budget!), I ended up picking us a little addition to the library that, along with a bunch of other films I own just so happen to be from South Korea. Everyone needs an odd obsession or three that’s legal yet somewhat comical and one of mine is legal variants of films that come from other countries. I need to do a post on this at some point I guess.

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, the subtitles are optional. I like the clean animated menu design here (which makes me wonder if the US release uses the same one).

As you can see, the film runs fine (on a Blu-Ray, a PS4, PS3 and standard DVD player from my quick tests). Quality-wise, it’s acceptable, but definitely not anything close to a Criterion Collection remaster.And before you ask “How’s the film?” I’ll tell yoy now that you’ll have to wait with bated buffalo breath for my verdict until next month’s installment of (shameless plug time:) Video Store Action Heroes to find out.

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

So shameless… yet so pluggy.

-GW

The Unseen, Soon to Be Seen and Spoken Of

greatest

Today’s bad joke, courtesy me: “Look, Buster – that’s NOT how you take the train!”

Or, Debbie over at Moon in Gemini is hosting another fine blogathon and as I have a rather massive backlog (hey, I’m building a movie fort!), I’ll be doing two Roger Donaldson films I’ve not seen but just so happen to have here thanks to the fine folks over at Arrow Video: Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Smash Palace (1981). I hear both are quite excellent.

Not So Random Film of The Weekend: The Zero Boys

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

Ooh, it’s my first entry in this soon to be never-ending series. Be gentle!

The Zero Boys Arrow

While it’s certainly an entertaining popcorn and beer-worthy flick with great camerawork, direction and an appropriately 80’s blend of synth-heavy and orchestral scoring courtesy of Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer, there’s something a wee bit “off” about Nico Mastorakis’ 1986 film The Zero Boys  that keeps it from total greatness. Don’t get me wrong, folks: It’s certainly got just about everything it needs to be a perfectly fine cheesy action flick and even adds in some mildly disturbing  moments that lend it a solid horror vibe. However, there’s very little in the way of gore here and you certainly don’t want to go in expecting a ton of exploitative nudity even though you’d think a film such as this made at this point in time would include a moderate heaping of both as par for the crowd-pleasing course.

In fact, according to an interview on the Arrow Video Blu-Ray, Mastorakis deliberately made the film this way as a sort of counterbalance to his far more brutal 1976 film Island of Death. If you take away the expletives and make a few minor edits, you pretty much have a PG-rated flick that you could easily show on a regular network or basic cable channel these days. Amusingly enough, by comparison, an average episode of Gotham has a load more violence than what you’ll see here (I kind of liked the first two seasons, but the show’s gotten a bit too grim as a alternate world take on its source material, but I digress…).

TZB_banner

Let’s see now: Bandanna? Check. Attitude? Check. Gun? Check. I think that’s everything, but you know how these things go (until they don’t go the way you think).

That’s not to say the film is totally tame, mind you. It moves from high action and a slightly comedic tone at the start into those more moody and serious scare scenes with relative ease and works well enough on that level. In general, Mastorakis’ films tend to go in all sorts of directions as they blend drama, comedy, action, sexy stuff and lots of suspension of disbelief common to genre films. Of course, if you pay too close attention to the writing, some parts don’t click as well as they should because the story needs to move along, damn the continuity consequences or assorted logic fails. In other words, this is one of those films where any sort of overthinking makes it a lot less fun.

Continue reading

COMING SOON: Getting Some More Action In

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

Psst. Hey. Yeah, you. Keep this a secret, would ya? Um, August 18th is when you may want to pop in and see what’s what. Shhhhhh. Just you, though.

Okay,  you may tell a friend or three.  I’ll go make some popcorn.

-GW

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

on_her_majestys_secret_service_xlg

Par for the 007 course, that action-packed poster art is a busy hoot of improbability on display, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying a pretty solid flick.

For some strange reason, I’d thought I’d already reviewed this most interesting entry in the long running James Bond film series, but nope, I hadn’t. It’s my favorite film in the franchise for a few reasons and had an ending that’s brilliant for its being completely unexpected for a series known for its figurative “happy endings.” Granted, the film received automatic hatred for decades thanks to it not being a Sean Connery Bond, and some overly harsh criticism of George Lazenby as 007 even though his performance is quite good. Having first seen it as a kid on network TV as a heavily edited version presented out of order and split into two parts over two weeks (WABC was the big and only Bond channel here in NYC for years, so we were stuck with their awful recut versions), I fell right into the story and Lazenby’s more sensitive take on the character despite the clumsy reworked hack job. Okay, okay, Diana Rigg also was a big draw, as I was a huge fan of The Avengers TV series (which REALLY needs a North American Blu-Ray set!) and her always thrilling Emma Peel character.

OHMSS_Diana

I actually had an appropriately witty yet respectable caption for this, but seriously forgot what I was going to type.  A good thing, as pictures like this speak for themselves.

 

Continue reading