June 29, 2018

SUPER FLY (1972): A Lesson in Genre History

Starring Ron O'Neal, Carl Lee, Julius W. Harris, Sheila Frazier, Charles McGregor, Curtis Mayfield. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. (1972/93 min). 


Review by Mr. Paws😸

When reviewing discs, I generally watch the film first, then go through whatever supplementary material is included. For some reason, I did the opposite with 1972's Super Fly, which turned out to be a good idea.

Along with Shaft, this film defined 70's "blaxploitation" in the eyes of many, including myself. It's also not a genre I'm particularly familiar with. And because Super Fly is so emblematic of its time, watching the retrospective documentary in advance provides some valuable context that might help the uninitiated appreciate its influence and cultural impact.

Ron O'Neal is Youngblood Priest, a high-rolling cocaine dealer who plans one more big score before getting out of the business for good, which turns out to be easier said than done. The story itself is actually pretty slight, nearly everything related to his line of work regulated to a photo montage and a few corrupt cops on his tail. Super Fly is more about Priest himself. Cool, tough & stylish, he's pretty-much the whole show, whether romping in a bubble bath with his lady, Georgia (Sheila Frazier), turning the tables on his enemies or cruising around New York in his customized Eldorado (which has since-become as iconic as the film itself).

Obviously assembled on a very low budget, Super Fly's writing, direction and cinematography is merely perfunctory. But compensating for its lack of panache are earnest, lively performances and an absolutely killer soundtrack. O'Neal exudes loads of charisma as Priest, and what more can be said about Curtis Mayfield's music score? Not only do they perfectly enhance every scene, the songs have aged a lot better than the film.

"I think the bullets go in right here, guys."
Super Fly was somewhat controversial when first released, supposedly for glamorizing drug-dealers and exacerbating a negative image of African-Americans. However, the film does not present the drug business as an appealing career choice. Despite his ride & wardrobe, Priest ain't exactly living like Tony Montana, and none of these characters appear to reap the rewards of their lifestyle. In fact, they've more-or-less been denied opportunities to do anything else. There are numerous moments in the film where Priest is told his dream of finally getting out is hopelessly optimistic.

While Shaft is arguably the most entertaining blaxploitation film of the 70s, Super Fly is just as historically important. Four decades on, it may be a bit too grassroots and - amusingly? - outdated for newcomers. That's why Warner Archive was wise to include a generous amount of bonus material for this release (carried over from the original DVD). Knowing its backstory beforehand makes Super Fly a more rewarding experience for anyone curious about the genre.

FEATURETTES - "One Last Deal: A Retrospective" (a terrific documentary that effectively explains Super Fly's historical importance); "Behind the Hog" (Les Dunham discusses the design of Priest's classic car); "Behind the Threads" (Nate Adams still has his plaid suit!)

June 28, 2018

Did You Hear the One About the Traveling CHINA SALESMAN?

Starring Dong-Xue Li, Mike Tyson, Steven Seagal, Janicke Askevold, Li Ai, Eriq Ebouaney. Directed by Tan Bing. (2017/110 min).


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Tyson vs. Seagal? Not quite.

In one of China Salesman's very first scenes, Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson throw-down in a bar. During this lengthy and destructive brawl, Seagal lands a precision strike to the tip of Tyson's ear, which briefly disorients the ex-heavyweight with incessant ringing. Was this a cheeky allusion to Tyson's infamous ear-biting incident? If so, it's as self-aware as this dumpster fire gets. The rest is unintentional comedy gold.

This initial clash of former titans has zero to do with the actual plot, and it's unclear what triggered the fight to begin with. This scene is also the only time they share the screen. Tyson pops up now and then to glare, blow stuff up and deliver every line like he's severely constipated (and it's obvious he looped much of his dialogue during post-production). But give the man some credit...at least he looks like he's trying. Seagal shows-up even less, nearly always seated behind a desk or bar, slurping wine and mumbling so unintelligibly that one wishes his lines came with subtitles.

"If it's Ladies Night, then where the hell are they?"
Speaking of which, the actual star is Dong-Xue Li as Yan Jian, computer whiz and man-of-action (though he spends most of the film getting his ass handed to him). He represents a Chinese company engaged in a bidding war for a contract to run all telecommunications in an unnamed African country. When Yan and his colleagues are speaking their own language, the subtitles flash across the screen so fast that we can't entirely process what they're saying (and this is where most of the exposition is offered). Li also give the film's worst performance, which is really saying something when we remember who else is in the cast.

The plot is so convoluted that we're only vaguely aware of what's going on at any given time. It basically involves a French spy, Michael, who attempts to win the communications contract by triggering a civil war (!). The narrative often jumps from point A to B with little or no transition, and some scenes have no context whatsoever (out-of-the-blue shower scene, anyone?). There's plenty o' gunplay, chases, explosions and mayhem, but it's not always clear who's fighting who or why. Not only that, several characters change sides without warning or logical explanation.

Certainly expensive looking, China Salesman is the obvious result of many investors with deep pockets (check out the sheer number of company logos preceding the opening titles), but I'm not sure where all that money went (explosives, maybe...there's a lot of 'em). The film is so haphazardly assembled, badly acted, poorly executed and atrociously written that its deadly seriousness renders the whole thing hilarious, culminating in an priceless final scene where Tyson is required to emote way, WAY beyond his abilities. If you ain't rolling on the floor by then, check your pulse.



August 9, 2019
Quentin Tarantino's ninth feature film is a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don't recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor...Sharon Tate.

June 27, 2018

BLOCKERS: Redefining Overprotective

Starring Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Graham Phillips, Miles Robbins, Jimmy Bellinger, Sarayu Blue, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon, Hannibal Buress, June Diane Raphael. Directed by Kay Cannon. (2018/102 min). 


Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

While Blockers is sure to amuse its intended audience, the film doesn't make the most of its premise. The idea of three fiercely overprotective parents going to extremes to stop their daughters from losing their virginity is filled with comedic possibilities. But this is one of those movies where, almost immediately, we can think of how we would have done it differently.

What would have been really funny is if the parents simply mistook their kids' text messages for a sex pact. The extreme measures they take to prevent it could have been a clever and congenial comedy-of-errors just about any parent might relate to. But Julie, Kayla and Sam do indeed plan to lose their virginity on prom night; half of the film consists of the girls partying and puking with their dates. With the exception of Sam, the most insecure member of the gang (and questioning her own sexual identity), none of the teenage characters are particularly interesting. Blockers briefly addresses societal double-standards when it comes to attitudes related to girls' budding sexuality versus boys', but it's late in the film and more of an afterthought.

"From now on, I wrestle in these."
The parents' adventures range from humorously observational to ridiculously over-the-top, with much greater emphasis on the latter. As Mitchell, Kayla's sports-minded father who refuses to acknowledge she's becoming a woman, John Cena is sometimes quite amusing. Considering Cena's physique and WWE history, it's ironic that he's found his niche in comedy. Ike Barinholtz also has some nice moments as Sam's estranged, no-account father, evolving from a supremely obnoxious loser to the most empathetic character in the entire film. However, Julie's mom, Lisa (Leslie Mann), is the polar opposite. A single parent who fears her daughter will make some of the same mistakes she once did, we initially feel for her. But Lisa grows increasingly shrill and unlikable with every scene.

Despite a few fleeting attempts at poignancy, much of the humor in Blockers aims for the crotch, both literally and figuratively. The story is mostly a clothesline on which to hang a series of episodic, raunchy gags that could have been inserted into countless other explicit sex comedies. Some of this is very funny - Gary Cole and Gina Gershon are a riot as a pair of sexually-adventurous parents - some of it isn't. 

I sometimes laughed out-loud, as I imagine a lot of people will. Fans of films such as Neighbors, Girls Trip and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates won't have any complaints. As these things go, Blockers isn't bad, but considering the cast and inherent potential of the premise, it could have been so much more.

FEATURETTES - "Prom Night"; "Rescue Mission"; "Chug! Chug! Chug!" & "Puke-a-Palozza" (behind-the-scenes of the film's two biggest gross-out gags)
"THE HISTORY OF SEX WITH IKE BARINHOLTZ" and "JOHN CENA'S PROM SURVIVAL KIT FOR PARENTS" - Promotional sketches (Cena appears to be reading cue cards)
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Director Kay Cannon

June 25, 2018

SOYLENT GREEN and the Starbucks Solution

Starring Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young, Brock Peters, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotten, Paula Kelly, Stephen Young, Mike Henry, Whit Bissell, Dick Van Patten. Directed by Richard Fleischer. (1973/97 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON

"Soylent Green is peeeople!"

Everybody knows that, just like everybody knows Darth Vader is Luke's old man, Dorothy was only dreaming and Taylor has been on Earth the entire time. So quoting the final line in Soylent Green - memorably moaned by that master of subtlety, Charlton Heston - probably isn't spoiling the party. It isn't like the time I was watching Planet of the Apes on TV when I was 9-years-old and Mom came waltzing into the living room to smugly announce, "You know it's really Earth, right?"

What the fuck, Mom?

I didn't actually say that, of course, because I preferred my ass to be welt-free. The funny thing is, she knew Planet of the Apes' big twist without ever actually seeing the movie herself. That final image of the Statue of Liberty buried in sand became almost instantly iconic (without help from the internet). From that point on, the only people shocked by the film's climax were those fortunate enough to have seen it in 1968...and clueless nine-year-olds catching it for the first time on CBS...hopefully without their spoiler-happy mothers lurking about.

Soylent Green is not as culturally revered as Planet of the Apes, though Charlton Heston was becoming cinema's apocalypse poster boy at the time. The film isn't nearly as much fun, either. In 2022, the world is severely polluted and overpopulated. While the wealthy live in relative comfort in luxurious high-rise apartments (complete with young concubines), most poor bastards dwell in crowded squalor. Suicide, however, is an option. Anyone sick of life can simply show up unannounced at their friendly neighborhood euthanasia clinic and peacefully end it all.

Livestock and crops are nearly non-existent and reserved for those who can afford 150 bucks for a jar of strawberries. Everyone else lives off of government issued crackers, Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow and everyone's new favorite, Soylent Green. In fact, Soylent Green proves to be so popular that people riot when food centers run out.

"Forget it, kid. I'm starting at QB today."
Frank Thorn (Heston) is a cop investigating the murder of a Soylent Corporation bigwig, who was bludgeoned to death in his swanky apartment. With the help of his researcher & roommate, Sol (Edward G. Robinson, in his final film), the investigation leads him to discover the Soylent Corporation's dark secret: the main ingredient of those delectable crackers isn't soy at all, but people who've been processed through the euthanasia clinics.

Soylent Green ain't exactly a feelgood film. In fact, it's downright depressing at times, such as when Sol finally decides to cash-in at one of those clinics. That scene is even more poignant when you realize Robinson was dying of cancer at the time. He and Heston were friends, so their emotions during his deathbed sequence were genuine. Elsewhere, the film is aesthetically drab & grimy, the tone relentlessly downbeat and pessimistic, its environmental message sobering. We're subjected to so much self-perpetuated human misery that when the big twist is finally revealed, perhaps we really aren't all that shocked.

Still, "Soylent Green is people!" more-or-less immortalized the movie, which has left its indelible mark on popular culture. For over four decades now, it has been referenced, name-dropped and parodied in countless films, TV shows and various other media. There's a metal band that took its name from the title. There are numerous Soylent Green food & cocktail recipes. Yours truly even owns a novelty t-shirt advertising Soylent Green cereal ("Now with more REAL PEOPLE in every bite!"). Neither my wife or daughters have ever sat and watched the movie, but even they know what Soylent Green is made of.

Extreme Hopscotch.
But getting back to the film itself...my pessimistic view of human nature has me wondering if Thorn's discovery would realistically make a difference. The film ends with Heston screeching that immortal, meme-worthy line to the masses, the camera freezing on his bloody, outstretched hand. This raises some troubling questions: What next? Is the Soylent Corporation held accountable for their awful secret? Does a shocked and outraged society rise-up against them? And if all plant and animal life are already on the verge of extinction, what are 40 million people in New York City alone going to eat instead? And if Soylent Green itself is so deliciously addicting, would anyone really care what it's made of?

It's possible people would be initially horrified, but I suspect most would soon bury that knowledge, just like we currently do while enjoying a hot dog. We've all heard horror stories and urban legends about McDonald's ingredients...worm meat, animal brains, etc. But even after Morgan Spurlock exposed the horrors of Value Meals in Super Size Me, McDonald's remained the biggest restaurant chain in the world because Quarter Pounders are still fucking awesome. Since Soylent Green itself looks more like Sun Chips than it does our loved ones, wouldn't most of us do the same, especially if the only other option is starvation?

Thorn spots a relative.
On a related personal note, yours truly is a coffee junkie. Ever since becoming addicted to it in college, I'm unable to constructively interact with others without starting my day with a cup or six. As an educator in the real world - of middle-schoolers, no less - I'm fairly confident this magic elixir is the only thing that prevents me from becoming a child murderer.

Starbucks, of course, is the evil Galactic Empire of the java-verse. For the longest time, I managed to avoid its insidious allure, dashing clear of the Starbucks in our Safeway parking lot, then juking like Walter Payton to avoid the second Starbucks inside the store. I thumbed my nose at franchise's hipster-baiting trendiness and the idea of shelling-out five bucks for what's essentially a glorified milkshake. I was also convinced most people patronized Starbucks so others could see they patronized Starbucks. After all, coffee is coffee. Anyone who needed whipped cream, sprinkles, syrup and cookie straws weren't hardcore coffee achievers...just candy addicts. To my utter disgust, Starbucks' grande-sized White Chocolate Mocha became my own wife's personal heroin. Worse yet, like the drug-addicted parents we educators are required to report to Child Services, she got our kids hooked on this shit, too.

Between my family, co-workers, acquaintances and friends, I felt like a single ship atop a sea of conformity, feeling superior the mindless sheep willing to wait in a twenty-minute line for something you could get at 7-Eleven for half the price. Whenever I was forced to feed my family's addiction by being the twelfth fucking car at the drive-thru - nearly every weekend - a small part of me wished the neighborhood euthanasia clinics in Soylent Green were real.

Then I received a Starbucks Christmas gift card from one of my students, who apparently assumed teachers must love Starbucks nearly as much as driving Toyota Priuses (you'd be surprised how many of my colleagues own one). I feigned gratitude with a polite smile while making a mental note to drop her grade to a C-. My family was happy, of course. For them, the only thing better than getting Starbucks while holiday shopping was free Starbucks while holiday shopping. So one weekend, card in-hand, we found ourselves in the nearest twenty-minute line at one of our local mall's 17 Starbucks stores. Being that I was exhausted from lugging around Old Navy bags and it didn't cost anything, I caved-in and ordered myself a grande cup of their strongest, darkest roast. "Would you like room for cream?" the bubbly barista asked. Fuck, no.

Sometimes it's a texture thing.
I took my first sip, and despite scorching my tongue, the heavens suddenly parted and the angels sang. This wasn't just coffee...this was nerve-jolting, eyeball-bursting COFFEE! Sweet ambrosia, where have you been my whole life? Even though I felt like I just joined the world's largest cult, I became an instant Starbucks convert. Sure, I had always managed to brew a decent cup o' joe at home, but it was mere Soylent Yellow compared to this. Today, whenever my wife and I go anywhere, be-it the grocery store or a trip to her mother's, our first stop is always the nearest Starbucks. Someday, I hope to stop at the Starbucks in our Safeway parking lot and pound-back a grande Dark Roast in time to order another one when we get inside the store.

If some nosey cop were to suddenly burst into the store with the ominous announcement that Starbucks' soaked its coffee beans in the blood of children to achieve their delectable distinctiveness, I'm not sure how much I'd really care. Sure, I'd be initially horrified because...you know, the blood of children. But what am I supposed to do...revert back to Folger's?  The prospect of shitting a coconut has more appeal. Besides, it's not like I'd be drinking the blood my children.

Starbucks: Brewed with the blood of children.
Additionally, if I were waiting in one of those twenty-minute lines and the manager came out from behind the counter with a bullhorn to announce, "The supply of Dark Roast has been exhausted," I'd probably incite a riot that would make the one in Soylent Green look like toddlers protesting naptime at a daycare facility.

Am I alone? From my own personal experience, I doubt it. Maybe Soylent Green's concept is actually more timely than we'd like to think. Sure, as 2022 rapidly approaches, it doesn't look like we'll be ready to make Grandpa part of our nutritious breakfast. But we might want to ask ourselves what horrors we'd be currently willing to accept in order to keep consuming the things we love.

June 23, 2018

WAIT UNTIL DARK and the Surprising Psychopath

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, Julie Herrod, Samantha Jones, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Directed by Terrence Young. (1967/108 min).


Review by Mr. Paws😺

Something occurred to me while recently revisiting Wait Until Dark. Though I would never claim to be the world's foremost film authority, I'm pretty damn knowledgeable, if I do say so myself. I haven't seen everything, of course, and there's even a dwindling list of undisputed classics I loathe to confess I haven't yet seen. So I could be wrong, but this might be the only dramatic film featuring Alan Arkin as a villain.

Not just a villain, but a cold, calculating psychopath...sadistic, apathetic and bereft of anything resembling compassion. It had been years - we're talkin' decades - since I'd seen the film and, quite frankly, completely forgot he was even in it. And having-since associated Arkin primarily with comedies, his performance as drug smuggler Harry Roat was as revelatory as seeing Henry Fonda gunning down a child in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Is it one of his best performances? Of course not, though retroactively watching him playing against type was especially fascinating.

"This'll get the gum off that chair."
Elsewhere, Wait Until Dark remains one of the greatest single-setting movies of all time, that setting being the small apartment occupied by Suzi Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) and her husband, Sam. Little do they know that a doll in their possession was used to smuggle drugs into the country. Two low-life crooks (Richard Crenna, Jack Weston) are blackmailed by Harry Roat to get it back. Taking advantage of Suzi's blindness, they set-up an elaborate ruse to gain access to the apartment while she's alone and search for the doll. But Suzi turns out to be smarter and more resourceful than they expected - her disability becoming an asset - particularly during the final act.

For a movie driven almost entirely by characters and dialogue, Wait Until Dark is
a textbook example of suspenseful, efficient storytelling. Tremendous performances help, of course. With all due respect to Breakfast at Tiffany's, Hepburn was never better than she is here. As Suzi, she may be hapless, but not helpless, and at-no-time are we less-than-convinced that her blindness and terror are genuine (her Oscar nomination was well-earned).

Wait Until Dark plays as well today as it did 50 years ago, not-to-mention a pleasant reminder that Alan Arkin could do scary as well as funny. And speaking of funny...dig that crazy mop-top! It's about the only thing that dates this classic cat-&-mouse thriller.

"LOOK IN THE DARK" - In this retrospective featurette, Arkin and producer Mel Ferrer talking about the making of the film.

June 21, 2018

Strange Doings in THE ENDLESS

Starring Justin Benson, Aaron Moorehead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple, James Jordan, Shane Brady, Kira Powell. Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead. (2017/111 min).


Review by Stinky the Destroyer🙀

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is expanding her horizons. Good for her.

I introduced her to horror movies at an early age. While it remains her favorite genre, she's become increasingly interested in science-fiction of the dark, brain-bending variety, perhaps due to the horror elements inherent in some of them. Since she really enjoyed recent films like Annihilation, Arrival and the underappreciated Life, The Endless sounded right up her alley.

What makes The Endless all-the-more impressive is that it was made for a fraction of the budget as those aforementioned titles. Ambitious films with limited resources must rely almost exclusively on the strength of their stories, and in their third collaboration, the directing team of Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead deliver an intriguing premise that defies spoiler-free description.

Casting themselves in the lead roles, Benson & Moorehead play - oddly enough - Justin and Aaron, two brothers whose lives have never fully returned to normal after escaping the grip of a UFO Death Cult. For closure, they return ten years later. They are welcomed back with open arms, yet something is amiss about their old friends, including the fact they've apparently not aged. Unusual, inexplicable events keep occurring - and re-occurring - in and around the camp. Still, Aaron wants to remain because he was always happier here than in the real world. Justin, on the other hand, becomes increasingly unnerved when he learns what's happening and the devastating implications of staying.

"Hey, I can't find the end of this rope. That must mean it's ENDLESS! Get it?"
To actually reveal what's going on would spoil the film's many surprises, which often lead us in one direction before throwing a wrench in our expectations (in the best possible way). The Endless reveals its secrets slowly, less concerned with making all the puzzle pieces fit than raising questions it sometimes prefers not to answer...not directly, anyway. The film's relative ambiguity is one of its biggest narrative strengths.

Even though the story and pace seem occasionally rambling, there is actually quite a lot happening in nearly every scene. But it isn't until after everything is said and done that we think back to a particular 'throwaway' moment and suddenly understand its importance.

Complex without ever becoming baffling, The Endless is dark sci-fi - with a few dashes of horror - that belies its relatively low budget with a great deal of imagination and creativity. Despite a deliberate pace, Lucy and I remained intrigued the entire time. And since the film doesn't play all its narrative cards the way we expected, we had a lot to talk about afterwards.

FEATURETTES - "Making Of" (a pretty extensive documentary); "Behind the Scenes" (in two parts, including outtakes); "VFX Breakdown"
"RIDICULOUS EXTRAS" - A variety of irreverent segments, including "auditions" and the directors discussing a previous abandoned project.

June 19, 2018

FURIOUS: A Snowbound 300

Starring Ilya Malakov, Polina Chernyshova, Aleksei Serebryakov, Aleksandr Ilyan Jr, Timofey Tribuntsev, Aleksandr Choi. Directed by Ivan Shurkhovetskiy. (2017/117 min).


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Furious brings two new things to the historical fantasy genre: a hero with short-term memory loss and a bear the size of an SUV. Elsewhere, prepare for some deja vu.

In the 13th Century, Evpaty Kolovrat (Ilya Malakov) is the fearless military leader of the army that defends Ryazan. He's their greatest fighter and most cunning strategist. There's just one problem: He wakes up everyday with no memory of who he is, the result of a childhood head injury.

But with the help of his wife, it all comes back to him when it really matters, such as when a Mongol army - led by Batu Khan (Aleksandr Choi) - approaches the city. The Golden Horde, as they are called, have been sweeping across Russia, conquering every city that stands up to them. Kolovrat, Prince Yuri and several other trusted warriors go out to meet Khan in hopes of avoiding any bloodshed.

That doesn't happen, of course. Otherwise, no movie.

Well, somebody ate the last powdered doughnut.
The small band of Ryazanians escape, but the Horde destroys the city and slaughters nearly everybody, including Kolovrat's family. Despite being hopelessly outnumbered and getting little help from neighboring cities, Kolovrat and his crew plan to distract the horde so the remaining survivors can escape.

Kolovrat's unique neurological issue is the most original aspect of Furious, which doesn't actually factor into the story much. The rest is highly derivative of300 in look, style and basic narrative (only with a lot more snow). There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. The movie is certainly pretty to look at and features plenty of slow-motion, gravity-defying action, but the CG-driven, comic book artifice that made 300 unique in 2006 is no longer as captivating.

"I ate the last powdered doughnut."
Still, despite an inauspicious start, Furious ends up being fairly watchable. Whether or not it's re-watchable is another story. Visually, we've seen it all before in movies with characters more interesting than Kolovrat & crew. On a side note, the film may be of additional interest to heavy metal fans, since none other than Serj Tankian of System of a Down composed the score.


June 18, 2018


Starring Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, Claire Trevor, Daliah Lavi, George Hamilton, James Gregory. Directed by Vincente Minneli (1962/107 min). 


Review by Mr. Paws 😸

Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas) is a hot mess. He used to be a big star, making several movies with lecherous director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson) before having a whopper of a falling-out (Kruger slept with his wife). Now Jack's in a sanitarium, recovering from a nervous breakdown, likely stemming from alcoholism, a bitter divorce and a car crash that nearly killed him.

Then Jack gets a telegram from Kruger, who offers a few weeks' work on a film he's directing in Rome. Though he has reservations, it's an opportunity for a comeback, of sorts. Soon after arriving, however, he learns the production is in trouble and the Italian studio financing the film is breathing down Kruger's neck to complete it on schedule, even if it's terrible. Worse yet, the job Kruger promised is as a dubbing supervisor.

"Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lady. A whale of a tale or two."
Meanwhile, Jack's wild ex-wife, Carlotta, is also in town with her new wealthy husband, but tries to tempt Jack into being her personal man-toy. The film's male star, Davie Drew (George Hamilton), is hopelessly in love with Veronica (Daliah Lavi) and goes off the deep end when he learns she's been seeing Jack, further hampering production. Kruger's nasty wife continually berates him for his womanizing. After Kruger suffers a heart attack, Jack offers to finish directing the film out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

If all this sounds like some kind of soap opera, you wouldn't be too far from the truth. Based on one of Irwin Shaw's pulpier novels,Two Weeks in Another Town is textbook Hollywood melodrama: Not much depth, but plenty of big performances, beautiful people and behind-the-scenes bad behavior (at least as it was depicted in the early 60s). Douglas is his usual intense self, while Robinson is wonderfully self-absorbed and conniving. Most of the women are little more than window dressing, but Cyd Charrise looks like she's having fun as Carlotta.

When all is said and done, we don't walk away with much. Two Weeks in Another Town doesn't say anything about the movie business we didn't already suspect. But there's some fun to be had in the film's kitschier moments, and though it's a relatively minor entry on everyone's resume, at least it's seldom boring.


June 16, 2018

LIONHEART (1990): The Touchy-Feely Fight Fest

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Ashley Johnson, Brian Thompson. Directed by Sheldon Lettich. (1990/104 min). 


Review by Tiger Longtail😼

Of all the films Jean-Claude Van Damme appeared in during those early low-budget years, Lionheart is probably his best. Considering the quality of those chopfests (or lack of), "best" might be a relative term. But not-only does it include all the prerequisite pummeling that fight fans expect, this one actually has a fairly interesting story (albeit a familiar one), along with some characters whose personalities extend beyond their fists.

As for the Muscles from Brussels himself...Lionheart is arguably the first film where he's really required to truly act...you know, with emotions 'n stuff. As such, he isn't half bad. Who knows...maybe it was this performance that persuaded studios to take a chance on him in bigger things like Timecop, Universal Soldier and Hard Target.

Jean-Claude feels left out.
Van Damme, who apparently came up with the initial story, plays Lyon Gaultier, a French Foreign Legion deserter who comes to the U.S to see his dying brother, who was burned alive during a drug deal gone bad in Los Angeles. Needing quick cash, Lyon ends up participating in underground fights to earn money to get to L.A. He meets Joshua (Harrison Page), who arranges a big money bout run by wealthy and conniving socialite Cynthia (Deborah Rennard).

After arriving in L.A., Lyon is too late to see his brother, but his niece and estranged sister-in-law are in financial dire straights, so he resumes fighting, with Cynthia arranging bigger and more dangerous matches (and has-since dubbed him Lionheart). Meanwhile, a few thugs from the Foreign Legion are looking to bring him back to face the consequenses for deserting. Cynthia convinces them to wait until after one last fight - which she's anticipating he'll lose.

Dirty Dancing II.
Of course, the numerous fight scenes are Lionheart's strongest asset. They're all well-staged and take place in some interesting locations, such as a mansion swimming pool. Van Damme, of course, engages in plenty of what he does best: punching, kicking, collecting contusions. But unlike, say, Bloodsport, at least the downtime is watchable. Lyon's developing friendship with Joshua even manages to be engaging at times.

One of Van Damme's better early efforts, Lionheart is a good choice for inclusion in the MVD Rewind Collection. And as usual for this series, it's been nicely restored for Blu-ray and includes a lot of bonus material that's as substantial and entertaining as the movie itself.

"THE STORY OF LIONHEART" & "INSIDE LIONHEART" - Two lengthy and entertaining retrospective documentaries featuring some of the cast & crew, including director Sheldon Lettich, producer Eric Karson, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard and, of course, Van Damme (who seems to be lost in his own world).
2 ARCHIVE INTERVIEWS - With Sheldon Lettich and Harrison Page
AUDIO COMMENTARY (Extended version only) - By Sheldon Lettich & Harrison Page
BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF THE AUDIO COMMENTARY (really) - Five minutes of Lettich & Page in a recording booth, beginning their commentary.

June 13, 2018

SUPERCON and the Not-So-Fantastic 4

Starring Ryan Kwanten, Maggie Grace, Russell Peters, Brooks Braselman, Mike Epps, Clancy Brown, John Malkovich. Directed by Zak Knutson. (2018/100 min). 


Review by Fluffy the Fearless😼

The concept of Supercon is one you'd think would be impossible to screw up. God knows the whole comic-con/cosplaying subculture is ripe for satire and good-naturing ribbing. And with a cast like this, how could it be anything but a goofy good time?

But I laughed exactly once during the entire film, when an autograph-seeking little girl utters a single-word throwaway comment after being dismissed by her celebrity idol. This scene comes at the very end of the movie. The preceding 100 minutes are an interminable parade of obnoxious characters, cheap gags, idiotic slapstick and overall mean-spiritedness.

A shame, really...the plot itself is a great idea: a group of disgruntled, has-been celebrities (the kind who show up to sign photos for extra cash) conspire to rob Supercon, a popular convention from which they were all just fired. But rarely does the story or script take advantage of the humorous opportunities inherent in its setting and the fans who frequent these things.

Clancy Brown has a ball...or two.
What we get instead are screaming characters, bathroom humor, racial slurs, sex jokes, gay stereotypes and a running gag in which everyone refers to one of the main characters as "Ball Cancer Boy." Nearly every scene goes on forever without ever being as funny as the writers think they are, and all remaining plausibility flies out the window once the actual heist begins.

None of this is the cast's fault. Overall, the performances are actually really good (Clancy Brown comes off best as an aging, narcissistic TV star), but the self-impressed script completely wastes their talents. And what the hell is John Malkovich doing in this? Did he lose a bet or something?

Supercon might amuse undemanding middle school boys, but anyone looking for wit, clever satire or even well-staged physical gags will likely feel short-changed. Considering the premise, this is a sadly-squandered opportunity.