April 30, 2021
April 29, 2021
THE VIRTUOSO and the Chatty Cathy
Review by Tiger the Terrible😾
The Virtuoso starts off with a bang...literally...in more ways than one.
Our would-be protagonist and not-so-humble narrator is an assassin for-hire. We get a look at his handiwork when he applies some violent coitus interruptus with a high-powered rifle, taking-out his mark from a distance without harming the woman straddling him.
It’s the most shocking, outrageous and original scene in the entire movie. The rest doesn’t even come close.
Imagine a version of 1972's The Mechanic where Charles Bronson never shuts up. That’s sort-of what The Virtuoso plays like. Not that this unnamed killer (Anson Mount) converses much with the other characters. However, he talks our ears off with completely unnecessary voice-over narration, coldly mansplaining the meticulousness required for his profession, even as we’re watching him being meticulous.
But apparently not meticulous enough, when the next job results in collateral damage - a young mom’s violent, fiery death. It continues to haunt him and ultimately affects his decision-making. After giving the worst pep-talk of all time, his mentor (Anthony Hopkins) gives him a new assignment: To go to a small-town diner and wait for his next mark. He’s given no name or description, just two cryptic words...White Rivers. There are a few customers at the diner - all of whom could be potential targets - along with an wanton waitress (Abbie Cornish) who practically throws herself at him.
|"Lady, do I look like I want dessert?"|
It’s at this point when The Virtuoso not-only turns overly-serious, plausibility takes a backseat as the assassin starts picking-off his potential marks one-by-one. And for someone who’s simply identified in the credits as “The Virtuoso,” he doesn’t really demonstrate a lot of virtuosity. There’s also a far-fetched story twist brewing, which the narrative spoils way too early by clumsily-inserting several scenes of Hopkins seated at a desk with cellphones and a gun.
Speaking of Hopkins...aside from the aforementioned pep-talk - a Vietnam War anecdote that seems to go on forever - he almost literally phones-in his entire performance. Nice work if you can get it, but anyone expecting him to be a major player in the story will be sorely disappointed. Instead, we get Mount in nearly every scene, required to do little more than glower. Aside from a brief bout of remorse over killing the mom, his character is virtually expressionless...your standard-issue, high-tech, sharply-dressed killer-for-hire.
Brooding, implausible and devoid of engaging characters, The Virtuoso fails to deliver on the promise of its morbidly amusing opening sequence. A shame, really. Had it not taken itself so seriously, this could have been a fun little film.
April 28, 2021
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH Deserved More Oscars
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (Blu-ray Review)
FROM WARNER BROS
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😻
Shameful confession time: Prior to watching Judas and the Black Messiah, I couldn’t have told you who Fred Hampton was. Nor did I know much about the Black Panther Party beyond what I’ve seen in other movies, where they were always depicted as militant and dangerous. As far as my education goes, I’m of the age when high school history curriculum mostly consisted of everything white Americans did right and pretty-much ended at 1960.
I also have no idea how much of this biopic is historically accurate, nor would it affect my opinion if I did. It depicts Hampton and the Black Panthers as passionate activists rather than terrorists, yet fully prepared to go to war over systematic oppression endured by all minorities (not just African-Americans). As shown in the film, not-only is their distrust of the police well-founded, not much has changed in the 50 years since. Considering current racial tensions in this country - nearly all of it perpetrated by white authority figures - one can’t help but come to the conclusion that any dramatic liberties taken by the narrative are probably few and far between.
I do know one thing for sure: Judas and the Black Messiah deserved every Oscar it was nominated for and should have won more than it actually did (including Best Picture). In my opinion, it was also snubbed in a few other major categories, such as a Best Director nod for Shaka King, who creates an urgently-paced narrative structure remarkably similar to The Departed. I’m not yet ready to declare King the next Martin Scorsese, but when one considers his only other feature film was something called Newlyweeds, he manages to put together a relentlessly compelling film that’s not-only culturally relevant, it’s almost epic in scope.
Besides, Judas and the Black Messiah makes no bones about who the true villains are: The FBI, as personified by agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) and director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen). While Mitchell at-least comes across as human, Hoover is a broadly-drawn, one-note caricature. But since the film strongly suggests Hampton was assassinated by Hoover’s behest, depicting him as a bug-eyed racist gives hatred a face and renders O’Neal’s sins more forgivable.
Alternately eye-opening, enlightening and infuriating, Judas and the Black Messiah is also massively entertaining. Not only does it shine a light on an important African-American revolutionary - and reminds us that not much has changed since then - the film features vivid, engaging characters, authentic dialogue & production design and a killer soundtrack (both the score and H.E.R.’s Oscar winning song, “Fight for You”). Easily one of 2020’s best.
“FRED HAMPTON FOR THE PEOPLE” - Some of the cast & crew discuss the real Fred Hampton.
“UNEXPECTED BETRAYAL” - Similar to the featurette above, only focusing on Bill O’Neal.
April 26, 2021
CAST A DARK SHADOW & WANTED FOR MURDER: Two Restored British Thrillers
CAST A DARK SHADOW / WANTED FOR MURDER (Blu-ray Review)
FROM COHEN MEDIA GROUP
Review by Mr. Paws😽
Some aesthetic similarities notwithstanding, I don’t think either of these films really qualify as true film noir, despite what the cover and synopsis suggest. Still, both are solid mid-century British thrillers, each with vividly-depicted antagonists as the main characters.
Conceptually similar to Gaslight, 1955’s Cast a Dark Shadow has a young Dirk Borgarde as “Teddy” Bare, and right from the get-go, it’s obvious he has nefarious plans for his wealthy older wife, Monica, before he utters a single word. Our suspicions are confirmed a few scenes later when he arranges her death to look like an accident. But just his luck...he offs her before she has the chance to amend her will to leave everything to him. All he inherits is the house, while Monica’s estranged sister gets the fortune. Though family lawyer Mortimer (Robert Fleming) suspects foul play, Teddy’s already preying on the next gullible gal, Freda (Margaret Lockwood).
For the most part, it’s a pretty interesting story, further complicated by the arrival of Charlotte (Kay Walsh), who’s not what she seems. But it’s Borgarde’s off-kilter performance that ultimately drives the film. Sometimes he’s a suave smooth-talker, others he looks ready to come completely unglued, with a wide range of facial expressions obviously intended to make the audience privy to his real intentions. Subtle, the movie ain’t.
|"Just ignore that sign, baby."|
Definitely not noir, Wanted for Murder is fast-paced psychological thriller with an antagonist whose facade masks a seriously maladjusted psychopath. In some ways, he’s similar to Norman Bates - though not as introverted - and Coleman plays him perfectly. There’s also a bit of humor in this one, particularly when Conway is dealing with some of his bumbling underlings.
Though both films have been restored for this Blu-ray, I gotta say the sound quality of Wanted for Murder is terrible and ended up turning on the subtitles just to hear what characters were saying. Since there wasn’t the same issue with Cast a Dark Shadow, one must assume they did their best with the print they had to work with. Other than that, this is a good pair of lesser-known British thrillers.
TRAILERS FOR EACH FILM
April 24, 2021
Three's Not a Crowd in ANOTHER THIN MAN
ANOTHER THIN MAN (Blu-ray Review)
FROM WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Review by Mr. Paws😺
Here’s hoping Warner Archive is finally committed to releasing all of the Thin Man movies on Blu-ray.
After the first - and still best - was released back in 2019, I was reminded of just how timeless and funny these films are. But could I find any of the others - even on DVD - without skipping a mortgage payment? Sure, TCM has the occasional Thin Man marathon, but it just ain’t the same as binging on them whenever I damn well please. I guess I was just gonna have to wait & hope.
But this year, we’ve gotten two more in quick succession. The second film, After the Thin Man, arrived in January. Though not quite as fresh as the first film, as sequels go, it was a worthy follow-up and ended with Nora’s (Myrna Loy) announcement that a baby was on the way. In Another Thin Man, the Charles’s are now a family with little Nick Jr. (of course) approaching his first birthday.
But adding a kid to the mix isn’t some gratuitous plot device. It’s genuinely fun seeing Nick & Nora (and Asta!) adapt to parenthood in their own indubitably unflappable fashion. Speaking of Asta...the Charles’ perky pooch doesn’t take a backseat to the new arrival. He still has plenty of hilarious scene-stealing moments.
|Nick Jr. identifies a suspect.|
But as usual, the plot is perfunctory. What really matters are our two protagonists, who remain insanely likable, especially when engaging in playfully antagonistic banter with each other. Powell & Loy’s natural chemistry has always been the driving force behind the series and the addition of another Charles doesn’t detract from that. If anything, the kid makes them even more endearing.
And with this Blu-ray coming so soon after the last one, here’s hoping Shadow of the Thin Man is in the pipeline.
“LOVE ON TAP” - Musical short.
“THE BOOKWORM” - Cartoon short.
April 23, 2021
April 22, 2021
The Brawling Babes of SWITCHBLADE SISTERS
SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (Blu-ray Review)
FROM ARROW VIDEO
Review by Tiger the Terrible😼
Of course, one could easily argue that without Quentin Tarantino’s ringing endorsement, Switchblade Sisters would have faded into relative obscurity, simply one of countless other ‘70s exploitation flicks promising to serve-up sex and violence in equal measures.
That’s not really intended as criticism, since the film is actually pretty-well made for a brawling babes B-movie. But the fact remains it was Tarantino’s stamp-of-approval which prompted fans, cultists, critics and historians alike to re-assess this film’s importance, influence and - perhaps most significantly - themes of female empowerment.
After viewing Switchblade Sisters for the first time, I doubt co-writer director Jack Hill had anything but profit in-mind. Still, I was a bit surprised that, for a film loaded with gangs, guns and girls, Hill obviously has more reverence and respect for his female characters than the male ones, who are simplistically depicted as thugs, horndogs, dim-bulbs or cannon fodder.
The girls are mostly cartoon caricatures, too, especially gang leader Lace, comically overplayed by Robbie Lee. But the big difference is that they’re strong, assertive and - despite some hot-for-the-70s outfits and an implied rape - aren’t really exploited for their visual assets. In fact, if it weren’t for the language, the film might even squeak by with a PG-13 rating today. Maybe it's that aspect which ultimately left its indelible mark on someone like Tarantino, who’s always created strong, sexy female characters without ever actually sexualizing them.
|"Bitch, these ARE my jammies!"|
In addition to a pretty impressive transfer, Arrow Video includes another fun batch of bonus features. Most of them are older but no-less interesting, some of which might help the viewer appreciate the film a bit more. Speaking of which, I’m kinda surprised the audio commentary Tarantino did for a previous DVD wasn’t carried over to this one. He is the movie’s biggest fan, after all.
“WE ARE THE JEZEBELS” - An entertaining 40-minute doc featuring interviews with director Jack Hill, producer John Prizer, stunt Coordinator Bob Minor, production designer B.B. Neal and actors Joanna Nail, Asher Brayner & Chase Newhart.
ARCHIVAL 1990 INTERVIEW - Director Jack Hill and actors Robbie Lee & Joanna Nail.
ARCHIVAL 2007 INTERVIEW - Director Jack Hill and actor Joanna Nail.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By historians/critics Samm Deighan & Kat Ellinger. It’s definitely worth a listen, but it’s too bad the commentary Tarantino did for the original DVD release isn’t included.
TRAILERS - From various Jack Hill-directed films, including The Jezebels (this film’s original title).
PHOTO, POSTER, LOBBY CARD & HOME VIDEO GALLERIES
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET - Featuring two retrospective essays and a new interview with director Jack Hill. Also includes photos, cast & crew credits, Blu-ray credits.
REVERSIBLE COVER - Features new and vintage cover art (we kinda like the new one!).
April 21, 2021
April 20, 2021
DEEP BLOOD and the Great Shaming
DEEP BLOOD (Blu-ray Review)
FROM SEVERIN FILMS
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😼
“Get back to the harbor immediately, Shelby! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
“Get back to the harbor immediately, Shelby! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
That line from Deep Blood now ranks right up there with “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” as one of my all-time favorite quotes from a shark movie. I’m even thinking of slapping it on a t-shirt. What makes it so damn funny is the context: Late in the film, a well-meaning dad (Shelby) takes teenage son Ben & his buddies onto the ocean to kill the shark that gobbled down one of their friends. When a police copter approaches the boat, one of the officers grabs a bullhorn and shames Shelby like a stern parent. But it must have worked because Shelby does-indeed return to shore as ordered, he and the boys looking as if they’ve just been grounded.
The reason I quoted it twice is because the exact same bullhorn-berating scene is repeated only seconds later. I don’t know whether or not that was intentional, since this is Joe D’Amato we’re talking about and he was never renowned for his meticulousness. It’s quite possible he spotted the error in the final print and decided “aw, fuck it,” the same way a seventh grade slacker can’t be bothered to proofread. At any rate, Joe should have been ashamed of himself!
That daffy bit of dialogue is part of what makes Deep Blood such a hoot. This Italian Jaws rip-off - one of many - was actually shot in Florida with American actors, so there isn’t the added fun of atrocious dubbing. However, the performances are often hilarious, especially the “teenage” cast who ultimately take it upon themselves to try and destroy the Great White Shark that’s been killing their friends and neighbors (armed with enough dynamite to level Madison Square Garden, I might add). There’s a good reason why most of these actors remained anonymous.
|This guy didn't wait an hour after eating.|
Elsewhere, mediocrity reigns. The film is occasionally dull as dishwater and nearly all the shark scenes consist of stock footage. But in addition to the performances, things are often livened by goofy subplots: the girl who forces her boyfriend to choose between her and the shark; the bully whose merciless cruelty throughout the film is forgiven with just a handshake (probably because he has all the dynamite); the boy who’d rather play golf than go to college; the father and son who declare their mutual hatred before immediately apologizing to each other; the sheriff who makes Buford T. Justice look like Frank Serpico. These subplots are actually more like sketches, since D’Amato doesn’t stick with any of them very long.
Speaking of our esteemed director...considering Joe D’Amato’s somewhat infamous reputation in exploitation circles, one would assume Deep Blood is chock full o’ boobs, blood & body parts. On the contrary, the film has no sex or nudity, and aside from a bit of (pink) blood in the water, it ain’t really all that violent, either. Even compared to the PG-rated terror of Jaws, the whole thing is pretty benign. For curious D’Amato fans, this news will come as a massive disappointment (maybe that's why he originally directed it uncredited).
Still, Deep Blood boasts just enough camp value and unintentional chuckles to make it worth checking out, if only to see Shelby get publicly shamed by the law...twice (even though he wasn’t doing anything illegal!). Though it’s been nicely restored by Severin Films, this disc is sadly lacking any bonus features besides a trailer. Too bad...I would have loved to hear what some of the surviving cast had to say about their 91 minutes of fame.
Now excuse me while I go have that t-shirt made.
April 19, 2021
EACH DAWN I DIE is Gangster Movie Heaven
EACH DAWN I DIE (Blu-ray Review)
FROM WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Review by Mr. Paws😺
When we think of classic tough guys from Hollywood’s golden age, four names should immediately come-to-mind: Bogart, Cagney, Robinson & Raft. If they don’t, you obviously haven’t seen enough movies.
And when two or more of ever them teamed up for a film...man, you’re talking gangster movie heaven.
One such slice of heaven is 1939’s Each Dawn I Die, featuring the irresistible pairing of James Cagney and George Raft. Cagney plays somewhat against-type (at the time) as Frank Ross, an ambitious, dedicated reporter on the verge of exposing a corrupt district attorney. Instead, he is framed for manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
While his girlfriend, Joyce (Jayne Bryan) works to prove his innocence, Ross befriends notorious mob boss “Hood” Stacy, currently serving 199 years. Ross may be ‘fresh fish,’ but he’s resilient and learns the ropes of prison life quickly, which includes keeping your mouth shut. When a stoolie is murdered, Ross assumes Stacy did it but says nothing, even though ratting him out could lead to an early parole.
Impressed by his loyalty, Stacy comes up with an elaborate plan that might not-only lead to Ross’ release, but nail those who framed him in the first place. But it involves Ross fingering Stacy for the murder so both can be part of a trial outside the prison walls. The plan, however, goes awry. Stacy manages to escape, but Ross ends up back in prison. Denied parole and regularly abused by guards, prison life starts to harden him. Still vigilant, Joyce tracks down Stacy and reminds him of his obligation to prove Ross’ innocence.
|"Did you wash your hands or just get 'em wet?"|
Running a lean, mean 92 minutes, Each Dawn I Die showcases two of Hollywood's greatest classic tough guys in top form. Their undeniable chemistry is a hell of a lot of fun to watch and the main reason the film works so well. It’s a match made in gangster movie heaven and a must-own for anyone who loves the genre. In addition to a great Blu-ray transfer, this disc boasts more substantial bonus material than the typical Warner Archive release, if not related to the film itself, then at least from the same era.
“STOOL PIGEONS AND PINE OVERCOATS: THE LANGUAGE OF GANGSTER FILMS” - A terrific retrospective doc on the impact and influence of naturalistic dialogue used in many early gangster pictures, featuring interviews with various contemporary critics, writers, directors and actors.
“BREAKDOWNS OF 1939” - A hilarious 15-minute blooper reel compiled from WB releases of that year. Also includes Porky Pig’s infamous “son of a bitch” gag.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT - “A Day at Santa Anita.”
2 LOONEY TUNES SHORTS - “Each Dawn I Crow”; “Detouring America.”
2 TRAILERS - Reissue trailer for Each Dawn I Die, and one for Wings of the Navy (the WB movie playing in the shiv scene in Each Dawn I Die).
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By film historian Haden Guest.
RKO RADIO SHOW VERSION - With George Raft & Franchot Tone.