Random Film of the Week: Topkapi

Topkapi_DVDHaving had items stolen from me in the past, I’m not at all a fan of thievery as a *proper* lifestyle choice (grrr!). That said, it’s hard to pass up a good (fake) crime caper and Jules Dassin’s  wonderful, amusing 1964 film Topkapi has been a favorite of mine for decades ever since I saw it as a kid. There’s just something magical about Dassin’s work here. It was his first color film and boy, does he blow the doors out right from the near seizure-inducing start (you’ll probably wince/squint a few times with all those color filters and such coming at you full tilt), and it’s also a film that gets you grinning from start to finish.

It’s more or less the flip the switch to comic tone version of Dassin’s bleak but brilliant 1955 film Rififi with a more varied cast and an even better lengthy heist scene. It’s also a film that’s since inspired a few directors to steal liberally from it (to varied effects), but that’s another discussion for another day. Here, you get Melina Mercouri, smoky voice and all as the lovely Elizabeth Lipp, who has the grand idea to steal a jeweled dagger from Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. She seeks out an ex-lover (Maximilian Schell) who just so happens to be a thief of some renown and the pair plan out their caper with the intent to use nothing but amateurs unknown to any authorities who come sniffing around after the crime has been committed.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Legend of the Holy Drinker

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Based on Joseph Roth’s 1939 novella, Ermanno Olmi’s 1988 film, The Legend of the Holy Drinker is about as good as it gets if you’re looking for a bottle of melancholy to sip and sit with that’s also a fine whine of meditative work featuring a flawless performance by Rutger Hauer as the titular homeless drunkard, Andreas Kartack. The film’s somewhat romanticized but still realistically grimy Paris (which looks lovely that way) works well as a character of its own with a solid cast that helps create some of the drama and dilemmas Kartack faces after a stranger gives him 200 francs with the simple request that he repay it by donating the money to a local shrine.

Kartack ends up running into what could be called a run of really good luck for a homeless guy who sleeps under a bridge as in no short order he finds a temporary job, affords himself a few necessities such as a shave, decent food, and the company of women. But his drinking gets in the way of his quickly repaying the loan as does part of his past when he meets up with the lovely Gabby (Sandrine Dumas), a woman he’s got a particularly messy past with. Saying more would ruin the film’s quiet surprises, but Olmi’s assured direction flows along with the wine and supporting actors as Kartack’s luck swings in a few directions.

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Blu-Ray Review: George A. Romero: Between Night And Dawn

GARBNADWhat do you do after making one of the most influential horror films ever? Given that George Romero really didn’t have much of a clue that his first film, Night of the Living Dead would become such an essential genre masterpiece, the director went on to make a few different films between 1971 and 1975 that were either interesting failed experiments or more polished but flawed films all worth a look. Arrow Video has restored and collected three of Romero’s post-NOTLD works in George A. Romero: Between Night And Dawn and yes, it’s a set worth adding to your library.

The three films include the somewhat disappointing romantic comedy There’s Always Vanilla, the surprising, mature drama Season of the Witch and a return to horror of a different yet similar kind in The Crazies. While the grim, brilliantly disturbing horror flick Martin is missing in action here (the set’s sole flaw), with these three films you can see a director learning and growing into an even more confident artist. Interestingly enough, in interviews included on the special features, Romero states his total dislike for There’s Always Vanilla on a few fronts and yes indeed, the film is his weakest effort.

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Blu-Ray Review: Children of the Corn

COTC_AV106Back in 1984, I didn’t see Children of the Corn because if I’m not mistaken, I believe I was “Stephen Kinged Out” by so many adaptations of his work popping up in theaters and not being all they could be. Amusingly enough, when this screener of the nicely restored 2K version popped up from Arrow Video in my mailbox, I’d actually been thinking about films made from King’s novels and short stories thanks to the recent arrival of IT into theaters.

I’d read a long time back that King wasn’t too fond of director Fritz Kiersch’s film partially thanks to the rewritten script by George Goldsmith altering and adding elements to King’s original short story. Let’s just say that the end result is a mixture of good intentions and lousy cost-cutting and leave it at that. Well, okay – that would mean this review would end at that last sentence, so I’ll elaborate if you care to read any further.

The best things about the film are the principal actors giving it their all, a few very effective shots and a nice reliance on “less is more” when it comes to onscreen violence. The worst things are some truly crummy visual effects that weren’t good back in 1984 (and really stink now), the abrupt ending that feels as if was added in post-production and the addition of two annoying kid characters (and a voice over narration) that give the film a sappy gloss that lessens the horror factor geometrically.

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Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Torture A Duckling

DTAD_AV099Toss the name Lucio Fulci into a decent horror film conversation and it’s quite possible it may turn into some sort of cranky debate about a few of his more outrageous films that feature copious amounts of gore and violence (often against female characters). There’s an excellent video essay by Kat Ellinger called Hell Is Already In Us included on the fantastic Arrow Video restoration of Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling that drives home the point that the director was merely holding up a mirror to some of society’s madness and letting his camera do the dirty work. While not as relentless as his later work, what’s here is a pretty effective blend of thriller and pointed social commentary that’s still got a mean bite all these years later.

Considered by the director to be one of his personal favorites, Duckling’s blend of Italian countryside setting, shocking (off-screen) child murders and handful of suspects where everyone has either a direct motive or abnormal/amoral proclivities that can be seen as motives makes for a pretty unsettling experience. Adding to the film’s grim tone, Fulci also skewers his faith but good here with some knife-twisting fierceness and a killer finale that’s either going to make you cringe or crack up laughing (or preferably, both). This is a film that’s tough to watch, but extremely well made and even thought provoking in its own manner.

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Blu-Ray Review: Erik The Conqueror

Erik_AV102Mario Bava, again. Watching his films or more precisely, rediscovering them after a few decades is turning into a revelation on how insanely creative he was as an all-round filmmaker. Writing/co-writing, directing, designing and a special effects whiz working on limited funds and more. While not all of his work is great, there’s a lot of greatness to see in how well a lot of it came together.

1961’s Erik The Conqueror might in spots be a too-close for its own good reworking of Richard Fleischer’s 1958 hit The Vikings. But Bava makes it well worth watching thanks to great use of color, a more fantastical tone and yep, that Bava touch that gets one smiling because the illusions created onscreen do a fantastic job in transporting one into the past (albeit a past that never took place as shown here). Arrow Video’s recently released 2K remastered Blu-Ray/DVD combo is a great way to check out this colorful near-epic, although it’s light on special features.

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Blu-Ray Review: Django Prepare A Coffin

DPAC_AV085Some years ago I made the big mistake once of looking up how many Django films were made after Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 original and I think I had a headache for the better part of half a week from sifting through all those titles and trying to figure out if there was an actual sequel made or if any were worth tracking down for the bucket list. Eh, I survived that project by tapping out and concentrating on stuff that was less mentally taxing.

The same can’t be said for most of the folks who violently buy the farm in Ferdinando Baldi’s 1968 film, Django Prepare A Coffin (aka Preparati la bara!), a pretty good kinda-sorta sequel/prequel that’s nowhere as brutal or unsettling as the first film, but certainly has its interesting and amusing moments. Arrow Video has a fine and dandy restored version that’s been out for a bit, but I’m finally getting to some of the deep backlog stuff in my library, so here you go.

Filling in for Franco Nero is the great Terence Hill (aka Mario Girotti) and he does a pretty darn good job playing Franco Nero being Django. The script he’s saddled with (pun intended) is a bit of a mess, though. Then again, you’re very likely not watching this for the importance of the script, right? Right. That out of the way, the film still works well as a good way to kill 92 minutes and leave you with what should resemble a wry grin or its equivalent.

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Arrow Video October Releases: A Yay For These Boos

My big-ass backlog has kept me from updating these Arrow release lists, but the next few months of Blu-Ray/DVD’s coming are looking really phenomenal. A few reviews of the October lineup are incoming here, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out what’s coming soon to empty out your wallet:

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Children Of The Corn (Blu-Ray, 9/26/2017):

From the mind of celebrated horror author Stephen King, the man behind such classic terror tales as The Shining, Carrie and It, comes one of his most chilling offerings yet – Children of the Corn.

A young couple on a road trip find themselves lost in the back roads of rural Nebraska, eventually winding up in the seemingly abandoned town of Gatlin. But the town is far from empty – as the pair soon discover, it’s inhabited by a twisted cult of murderous children thirsty for another blood sacrifice…

Adapted from King’s eponymous short story first published in 1977 and starring Linda Hamilton (The Terminator), Children of the Corn has gone on to spawn one of the most enduring horror franchises of all time.

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Features
– Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
– Original stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio options
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Brand new audio commentary with horror journalist Justin Beahm and Children of the Corn historian John Sullivan
– Audio commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby and actors John Franklin and Courtney Gains
– Harvesting Horror – retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Fritz Kiersch, John Franklin and Courtney Gains
– It Was the Eighties! – an interview with actress Linda Hamilton
– …And a Child Shall Lead Them – a brand new interview with actors Julie Maddalena and John Philbin
– Field of Nightmares – a brand new interview with writer George Goldsmith
– Stephen King on a Shoestring – an interview with producer Donald P. Borchers
– Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights & Sounds of Children of the Corn – interviews with production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias
– Return to Gatlin – a look back at the iconic filming locations in Iowa with host John Sullivan
– Cut From the Cornfield – an interview with actor Rich Kleinberg on the infamous “lost” Blue Man Scene
– Disciples Of the Crow – 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s story
– Storyboard gallery
– Original theatrical trailer
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Sullivan and Lee Gambin

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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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VCI’s Fall 2017 Lineup: Eclectic, To Say The Least

VCI logoVCI Entertainment has been around for decades (I’ll let you read their “About Us” page at your leisure) and with a library of over 5000 titles from vintage to modern in nearly every genre available in physical, download, or digital rental format, you’ll very likely find something to watch.

The company’s fall 2017 lineup is a small but nice one with a bit of horror, history and a little rock ‘n roll to get the neighbors out of bed and pounding on your door late at night if your TV is up too loud. Hmmm… perhaps they’re all bringing over some popcorn and beverages so they can join in on the fun at that hour… as they’re not getting in otherwise. Anyway, let’s take a peek at what’s coming below the jump.

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