Blu-Ray/DVD Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails

TheCatONineTailsIn a new interview included on this superb Arrow Video release, director Dario Argento notes he initially didn’t much like his second film, The Cat O’Nine Tails partially because it felt “Too American” Interesting, but in a way, I’d say he’s correct to a degree. That said, as a followup to The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, the film pushes some of the right buttons it needs to while providing a pretty impressive murder by onrushing train scene early on that’s still pretty awesome even when you find out how the trick was done.

That “Too American” comment is very likely about the two Americans playing key roles in this film, James Franciscus and Karl Malden. Both give solid performances in film that’s a bit slower in pacing than Bird was, but has a few tense moments that liven things up. Malden plays Franco Arnò, a blind former journalist who lives with his young niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). The pair are out for a nighttime stroll when Franco overhears a bit of a conversation from a parked car they’ve passed. It later turns out a nearby genetics lab has been broken into and onto the scene the next day arrives Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), a reporter who ends up bonding with Franco. The two men set out to solve the case, but yep, there’s a murderer on the loose connected to the theft and he’s got his sights set on not only the two men, but little Lori as well.

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Random Films of the Week: A Little New Year’s Cleaning

Yeah, Happy New Year and all that stuff. I figure I’ll post more than I did last year even though I got sick and was out of action for a month or so which led to a bigger backlog that I’m still wading through. My plans to write up and pre-load posts went south thanks to that, but I think with my health getting better (albeit temporarily) I’ll try and tackle stuff slightly differently on occasion. Or: Eh, I’ve been watching a ton of movies in no particular order, so you get to pore over a few quickie capsule recommends.

Stormy Monday_AV093Stormy Monday – Mike Figgis’ first film was this stylized bit of 1988 brilliance that featured Sean Bean, Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting, plus a pretty darn neat jazz score by the director. The neon-soaked Newcastle setting features some of Roger Deakins’ lovely cinematography that makes this a total treat to watch. It’s more or less a noir gangster flick with some solid performances and an overall sense that something bad is going to happen what with all the tense glowering and some romantic notions that make for a bit of conflict as things progress.

I actually hadn’t heard of this film other than seeing a trailer way back before it was initially released in theaters. I didn’t think it was for me back then, but thanks to Arrow Video, I’ve been proven quite incorrect. Expect a fine director’s commentary from Figgis along with a few cool bonus features on this BD/DVD combo that make this a nice surprise to discover if you’ve never seen or heard of it until now. Amusingly enough, this pairs well with Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire thanks to both films mixing reality and fantasy elements (although Figgis gets the edge and the edgier performances overall).

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Blu-Ray Review: The Apartment

The Apartment BRI’d forgotten Billy Wilder’s forever brilliant The Apartment was a perfect seasonal movie for those of us isolated types looking for a lift as well as anyone else who has cold and loathsomely lonely winters. Granted, the first time I saw it (I think I was maybe 10 or 11), I was too young to understand much of what was going on. During these darker days as I age none too gracefully, Jack Lemmon is sort of my spirit animal, so this five Academy Award-winning film has become a personal favorite.

Poor C.C. Baxter (or “Bud” to some) toils away at his data collection job at a huge New York City insurance firm, often keeping late hours with no overtime thanks to his nearby apartment being used as a hot spot for a trio of philandering company executives, Mr. Dobsich (Ray Walston), Mr. Eichelberger (David White), and Mr. Vanderhoff (Willard Waterman). Baxter is hoping to climb the corporate ladder a bit faster by doing this (yes, he even has a calendar to keep track of who gets his place and when). But he’s also so accommodating that he even cleans up afterwards and takes suggestions from his cheating superiors such as restocking his liquor supply and buying cheese crackers without asking for a dime in return. Things get even more complicated after the big boss Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) gets wind of Baxter’s bachelor pad and dangles a big promotion over his head if he can get access to the place for his own affair. Baxter agrees to the trade, but finds out that Sheldrake is romancing Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the cute elevator girl he’s been chatting up.

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Blu-Ray Review: PULP

PULP_BRFinally seeing PULP was a bit of a revelation for me. This tonally almost polar opposite of 1971’s Get Carter brings together writer/director Mike Hodges, Michael Klinger and star Michael Caine in a pretty unusual black comedy/crime story, newly restored by Arrow Video with a few nice special features. You’ll also get to see Mickey Rooney in his underwear (eek!), some fine supporting roles from Lionel Stander, Al Lettieri, and Nadia Cassini, with a too brief appearance by Lizabeth Scott in her final film role.

Caine plays Mickey King, a writer of pretty tawdry crime novels who gets the call to ghost write the life story of Rooney’s pint-sized Preston Gilbert, a former movie star with organized crime connections that come back to bite him hard. With his cheap, bland corduroy suit and middle-aged dad body, King still gets by with the ladies and his writing is so terribly risqué even the male owner of the typing pool churning out his latest novel slips him his home number. Mickey is thrust into the film’s events after he gets that Gilbert gig and things start falling apart as a few bodies fall before the credits roll.

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Movie Review: Justice League

Justice League MPIn its current state, Justice League both looks and feels like an incomplete film that should have gotten its release delayed simply in order for the creative team to make a more entertaining (and more polished) experience. As it stands, this hunk of colorful, expensive fluff will no doubt still make a good chunk of its money back and also get a home video release about three months or so from now in an “extended cut” that, like the extended disc versions of Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice should have been the version people are paying to see in theaters. Well, not that longer versions of either helped much thanks to their plots being way too full of hard to fill holes.

That said, the first thing that popped into my head as I was watching this somewhat disappointing film unfold was a wonder if the film was even storyboarded (ironic for a comic book flick, right?). As it stands, it’s almost as if someone cut out pages from a few dozen DC Comics, pasted them to some comic art paper, whited out the word balloons and had a few writers add dialog before rearranging everything. While the end result is indeed still watchable, it’s not very good at all when compared to other films of this type. Although, after some reflection I’ve decided it’s decidedly “entertaining” if you shut off your brain and take in its more comic book-like moments and not take anything at all too seriously (which, sad to say, some fans won’t tale kindly to hearing). That said, it’s running time of 120 minutes seems oddly enough, too short for a Zach Snyder film. Weird, but yeah – the film is actually too short because it packs in way too much character info in during that two hours and kind of overlooks its main villain in the process.

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Random Film of the Week: The Hateful Eight

TH8Yep, I’m calling it now. The Hateful Eight is also a Thanksgiving movie you can pop in and clear your house with if you end up with relatives arguing about politics or sports when all they really need to do is show up and shut up when they’re stuffing their faces with whatever tasty treats you’ve prepared. Note to turkey preppers: get that frozen bird defrosted and/or in a brine NOW (as in don’t wait until Wednesday night to fuss with a frozen bird) so you can have it all ready to pop in the oven and done up right. You fresh turkey buyers have an extra day as long as that bird doesn’t go into the freezer.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Yeah, you’ll be thankful for this film because you’re not going to find a more gorgeously shot yet hilariously amoral American film (well, one made by Quentin Tarantino) where you might go in expecting one thing but get exactly what you didn’t think you’d get. Let’s put it this way, if ever a title meant anything, it’s this film’s. Upshot nutshell: Eight not so nice (SO not so nice) people meet and otherwise interact in a cabin they’re trapped in during an epic snowstorm. Not everyone survives the experience. Nutshot upsell: Oh, boy is this film violent as hell. No one is spared from the talented folks at KNB Effects Group as they gore things up with some impressive practical effects. The film is about much more than than, although it kind of takes its sweet time in making its points.

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Blu-Ray Review: J.D.’s Revenge

JDR_AV110Automatically calling Arthur Marks’ J.D.’s Revenge a mere “blaxsploitation” film before viewing the end result actually puts it in the wrong category because it works a bit more outside that box you’ve put it in. Sure, it’s got a mostly black cast, some violent bits, blood and some nudity to draw in genre fans. But it’s also a supernatural revenge flick that kind of makes sense despite a few plot elements that fall on their faces. I wouldn’t call it a “pure” horror film per se, but I can see some folks who tend to freak out over mysticism in their movies falling for the film’s attempts to frighten them whenever it gets the opportunity.

That said, you do have to feel sorry for poor Isaac Hendrix (Glynn Turman), a law student in New Orleans who ends up getting hypnotized while out on a night of fun with his wife Christella (Joan Pringle) and another couple. That hypnosis somehow summons up the spirit of the late J.D. Walker (David McKnight), a not so nice street hustler type with a scar on his face and a penchant for straight razors as a means of protection. J.D. wants in on Ike’s scrawny body so he can finally take revenge on the man who killed him and his sister, Betty Jo. Naturally, vengeful spirits tend to not care much about collateral damage, so Christella is the first victim to Ike’s possessed form as she’s in the wrong place when J.D. materializes and takes over.

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Blu-Ray Review: Blood Feast/Scum of the Earth

Blood Feast_AV107So, officially (to me, at least) Blood Feast isn’t a “Halloween” movie at all – it’s more of a big, plump Thanksgiving Day turkey surprise. Under-cooked enough to give you a terrible gut-ache, but stuffed with tasty treats for those willing to push on and make it to that pumpkin pie and ice scream. And yeah, you’ll scream maybe a few times too many if the late H.G. Lewis’ classic 1963 gore-fest isn’t up your alley, but it’s the film’s campy pull wrapped in that grue brew that makes this one entertaining.

Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) just so happens to be the caterer chosen by wealthy suburban mom Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton) to cater a party for her pretty young daughter, Suzette (Connie Mason). Little does Mrs. Fremont know she’s hired a somewhat criminally insane man with a bit of a strong desire to chop up a bunch of nubile young ladies and use their body parts as sacrifices in order to resurrect the Egyptian goddess, Ishtar. Mua-ha-ha-haaa! I’m telling you, though – those damned eyebrows Ranses has would make me NOT want to hire him because they look like chalk-outlined squished caterpillars on his face. Now, go drink some recently cooled molten iron to coat your stomach while I spill out some more gory details on this gem.

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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: 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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