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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Some Kiwami Films For Yakuza Fans

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With Yakuza Kiwami out now and hopefully selling well for Sega as an evergreen title into the future, overall interest in the long-running series over the past few years seems high enough that I’m thinking some of you folks might be interested in a few of the many Japanese gangster films out there. If you’re new to them, this very short list of recommendations may pack a ton of surprises on a few fronts.

If you’ve played Yakuza 0, Yakuza 4 or more recently, Kiwami (which means “extreme” in Japanese), you’ll very clearly see cinematic influences in abundance throughout the series. Even though the games are set in a more modern version of Japan, most of these films have very similar scenes that show how in general, some criminal behavior never really changes and it’s quite a draw for some who choose to live that lifestyle despite the risks.

Anyway, just step into this alley over here and I’ll set you up right… or set you upright after setting you up, right?

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Cops Vs Thugs * – Prolific director Kinji Fukusaku made a number of great yakuza-themed films, but this 1975 gem is probably his best. Notable for a brutal interrogation scene where an actor playing a gangster is actually beaten by actors playing crooked cops (the rehearsal footage is included as one of the bonuses), that scene is somehow very tame once added to the assorted forms of other violence on display.

When crooked but loyal to a fault cop (Bunta Sugawara) and his equally crooked and loyal to a fault Yakuza pal Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata) clash with a gung-ho young detective who wants all corruption purged from the force, plenty of mayhem ensues. There’s not a dull moment at all here and it’s also a case of seemingly minor characters having major roles as the plot twists pile up.

Fukusaku’s candid camera catches it all, sometimes tilting mid-action during certain scenes and freeze-framing during others for added emphasis. The imminent threat of random violence and no clear black and white heroes makes you almost root for both sides. But you’ll see that there’s no winners here when all is said and done. This one’s a must despite the kind of goofy title as well as a great way to embellish your Kiwami experience outside the game.

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Blu-Ray Review: Brain Damage

BD_AV090 (Custom)I somehow missed out on Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage when it was first released back in 1987, but it’s been on my very long list of films to see for quite some time.  Arrow Video’s recent restoration is pretty awesome and is filled to the brim with some great bonus features. Depending on your tastes this is one of those outrageously creative films that you’ll love or hate, but like Henenlotter’s other exploitation flicks (the three Basket Case movies, Frankenhooker, Bad Biology), your best bet is to jump in feet first and enjoy the wild ride.

When a somewhat phallic-shaped brain-eating parasite named Aylmer (or Elmer) escapes from the apartment of the elderly couple keeping it as a twisted addiction source and ends up a few doors away with a new host, Brian (Rick Herbst), things get gory quite quickly. The old couple had been feeding Aylmer fresh from the meat market calf brains thinking they could sate his hunger, but you know how these things go in movies like this, right? Yes, there’s an explanation for how the parasite ended up in the apartment of that couple, but that comes later on in the film and I’m not telling.

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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: Madhouse (1981)

Madhouse_AV094Ovidio G. Assonitis’ 1981 horror flick Madhouse (aka And When She Was Bad and There Was a Little Girl and not to be confused with 1974’s Madhouse) is a good-looking but ultimately disappointing genre flick that throws a few interesting ideas around but doesn’t quite know how to fit them all together. But man, does it make a killer opening impression as well as pack in a few unsettling kills. That said, it’s easy to see why the film has its following despite some oddball flaws that keep it from being truly great.

That haunting opening still packs a wallop, though. As a creepy lullaby plays, one young twin gently rocks another in a darkened room before suddenly stopping to smash her in the face with a rock or brick of some sort. It’s definitely jarring, but actually has nothing to do with the film unless it’s meant to set the overall mood.

Yes, we find out that one sister had indeed been incessantly mean to the other throughout their childhood. But it’s Julia (Trish Everly), now a teacher for deaf children who was the victim of her sister Mary’s (Allison Biggers) cruelty. Julia’s got flawless skin and not a scratch on her face or body, but she’s bearing plenty of fears thanks to her sister making her early years a living hell. Given that there’s no mention of her receiving any sort of plastic surgery (she also mentions Mary’s dog used to bite her frequently), that opening seems open to interpretation.

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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: Slugs

SlugsAV066Speaking of stuff that creeps around gardens you can accidentally squash, let’s talk about Slugs for a spell, shall we? The late Juan Piquer Simón’s hilariously awful, intensely gory horror flick is one you’ll love or hate intensely in part thanks to some pretty wretched acting that actually clashes with the rather awesome icky practical effects work by Carlo De Marchis.

Just like the director’s notoriously nasty Pieces, you’re getting a film that’s not going to let you out of its grip even though the absurdities pile up to the point where your brain starts spinning inside your skull. Then again, Pieces was (and is) totally nuts for a few more reasons I’ll leave the braver of you out there to discover at your leisure. But yes, let’s talk about Slugs for a spell, shall we?

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Blu-Ray Review: The Slayer

The Slayer_AV101Well, hell. The Slayer actually surprised me with how good it was and once again, Arrow Video drops the microphone with a stellar print of this eagerly awaited slasher with some nice bonus features. While the film has its share of flaws, it’s got a small and interesting cast that’s not made up of the usual sex-starved teens getting killed off by the slasher of the week. Okay, it’s more mature adults getting killed off, but hey, it’s a step up in any event.

The film also predates A Nightmare on Elm Street in having its fiend just so happen to do its dirty work as its wide-eyed female lead sleeps. While probably not at all an influence on Wes Craven’s masterpiece, it’s impossible to watch the film without making a connection somewhere along the line.

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Blu-Ray Review: Ronin

Ronin_AV098I’ve always viewed Ronin as a sped-up Alfred Hitchcock film, but yep, I’m nuttier than a fruitcake when I need to be. Late director John Frankenheimer’s mostly solid and thrilling 1997 action flick has a few Hitch hallmarks such as an obvious red herring as a major plot device, a bunch of men (and one woman) under pressure crammed into a tough situation, indiscriminate collateral damage thanks to high-speed chases and a story that has at least one major flaw one can overlook when all is said and done.

As usual, Arrow’s stellar Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs in the film and a load of bonus features worth a look. There’s also an alternate ending that is pretty darn awful, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

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