Here’s what happened: The month got away from me. Simple. Some months are like biplanes the mighty Kong can swat away casually from his perch atop the Empire State Building. And then some months Kong has to fight Godzilla.
So the DVD/Blu-Ray columns are all coming in late this month — all but one — but as soon as this one’s done the rest will follow suit. It’s been a long wait but here they all are on one day. It’s a four-part series: Right now I’m going to run through everything that became available to buy or rent or mainline as of Tuesday July 8th. I’ll include pictures to make it pretty and inject my personal commentary where possible to make it stupid.
As always, if you click through the cover icons to purchase any of these items through us, you’re doing your friends at Daily Grindhouse a major solid. Help the mighty Kong stay in bananas! A healthy happy ape means more timely content for you to enjoy!
THE BABY (1973)
I wrote a bit about THE BABY in my tribute to journeyman director Ted Post, who left our world nearly a year ago. Ted Post did a lot of TV and he did sequels like MAGNUM FORCE and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. That’s what prompts people to use the term “journeyman.” Ted Post is interesting to me because THE BABY is not a movie your everyday journeyman makes. THE BABY is the story of a grown man who acts like a baby. He has an older mother, and adult sisters, and they too treat him like a baby. In fact they call him ‘Baby.’ THE BABY was released the same year MAGNUM FORCE was. It’s an incredible cult artifact as it is, something one must see to believe, but I suppose my only disappointment is that Clint didn’t star in this one too.
BAD GRANDPA .5 (2014)
The JACKASS brigade — director Jeff Tremaine, star Johnny Knoxville, and producer Spike Jonze — shoot a ton of footage every time they make a feature, so they usually throw together a bunch of scenes that didn’t make the theatrical cut for an after-the-fact DVD/Blu-Ray release. That’s what this is. If you liked BAD GRANDPA, chances are good you’ll like the after-birth. For my part, I loved it — not so much on a second viewing, but the element of surprise which is so big on these comedy stunts was huge with this one. That scene in the diner is something I laughed over for three days straight. I should have seen it coming a mile away and somehow I didn’t and the result was an infernal comedic bushwhacking. The heroic attempts of the filmmakers to stitch together a cohesive story out of the series of terrific pranks prove even more rickety on subsequent viewings, but Johnny Knoxville’s epic commitment and the truly admirable performance of ten-year-old Jackson Nicoll — sharp and daring — are what really keep it together. These newer sketches seem to feature more scenes of Irving Zisman’s ill-fated wife Gloria, played here by Spike Jonze, the brilliant prankster who is somewhat hilariously better known in his day job as a critic’s darling. Looks like it wasn’t enough for Spike to trick scores of hipsters into weeping over the love between a man and his smartphone — he couldn’t resist jumping into the onscreen fun too. Like Tremaine and Knoxville, Spike is a real-deal guerrilla artist. I just love the irony of people who waves feathers at BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and HER while sniffing at the JACKASS movies. It’s all the work of the same guy.
BAD WORDS (2014)
BAD WORDS is the directorial debut of comedic actor Jason Bateman, who has honed such an expert sense of timing as a performer — he’s really a precision instrument at this point — that any film he directs is immediately of interest. There’s a thematic consistency to the fact his film is about a troubled man who enters a national spelling bee, since the anatomy of words is the natural terrain of deft verbal actors like Bateman, with his ultra-specific diction. More often than not we’ve been lucky with which ones of our actors have become directors, and this in particular is an actor more reliably watchable than most. I’m curious to see this movie, but I haven’t yet.
BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981)
Severin, the great label behind this week’s Blu-Ray release of THE BABY, is also offering this 1980s slasher movie, with which I personally am unfamiliar. Luckily, Daily Grindhouse already has a review for us both to enjoy!
BLOODY MOON (1981)
Again, not one I have seen, but here’s a review of Severin’s new Blu-Ray!
BORN YESTERDAY (1950)
George Cukor was a masterful director of studio comedies and this is one of his more beloved pictures, based on a stage play and starring William Holden, Judy Holliday, and Broderick Crawford. For better or worse though, it’s not the one I immediately think of when I see the title. The 1993 remake starred Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, and John Goodman. You can’t help when you’re born.
John Wayne plays a Chicago cop who heads to Great Britain in order to extradite an American criminal, played by John Vernon, one of the decade’s great bad guys. I never knew how badly I needed to see this movie until I saw the above still-frame: Aren’t you dying to know what those two are talking about?
You had me at Robert Ryan. One of the most under-discussed of the great studio stars and a master of noir performance, Ryan is one of my all-time favorites. In this movie he plays a deranged take on Howard Hughes, as a rich and controlling man who refuses to let poor Barbara Bel Geddes leave him for James Mason. It’s a source of constant fascination to me that Robert Ryan, who by all accounts was a good man, an ethical man, was so peerless at playing absolute bastards. You can see a decency in his face, which is all the more compelling when his characters commit awful deeds. I haven’t seen this film as yet but it’s very easy for me to expound upon Robert Ryan, who is well overdue for a rediscovery.
FLOWERS OF EVIL (2013)
Anime is a blind spot for me but the style of this series looks intriguing, and I continually admire how the Japanese are so amenable to exploring sophisticated themes through animation. In America, it’d better have superheroes or funny animals if you want anyone at all to see it.
HIDDEN KINGDOMS (2013)
That photography looks phenomenal! Very unusual and angular approach. It’s tough to differentiate between nature documentaries most of the time, particularly when they arrive courtesy of the BBC. Professionalism and clarity are the order of the day, and it makes sense — we just want to see animals. Even the idea of stylization is an inviting one. If I had the power I’d get Sam Raimi or John Woo to do a nature documentary. Then again, John Woo’s got you covered already, as long as you’re into doves.
JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013)
For an extended look at this documentary exploring an epic sci-fi film from a great filmmaker which never actually came to oass, read the Daily Grindhouse review!
KID CANNABIS (2014)
This looks way more low-rent than it is — it’s actually based on a true story as reported by Rolling Stone, and it’s one of three feature films from director John Stockwell scheduled for 2014 — I’ve seen one of them, IN THE BLOOD, already. Still, that has to be the worst title I’ve seen so far this week.
LAKE PLACID (1999)
Weak sauce as a horror movie, LAKE PLACID is diverting and enjoyable as a quirky comedy that happens to have a gigantic reptile in it occasionally. I liked it when I saw it theatrically. Director Steve Miner has horror pedigree but writer David E. Kelley is strictly TV — is he the one to blame for making Betty White a pottymouth? Because it started right here and it hasn’t stopped ever since. Some people are easily entertained. I can’t judge. Most people are easily entertained by Betty White using toilet language, and I’m easily entertained by gigantic reptiles. So LAKE PLACID, having something for everybody, is hard to be too hard on. It helps that the cast is truly impressive — Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson, Mariska Hargitay, a particularly remorselessly scene-swiping Oliver Platt, and a particularly remorselessly adorable Meredith Salenger. Somehow there were three sequels. I can’t speak to those. Maybe Paul can — check out his take on the new LAKE PLACID Blu-Ray.
THE LOST MOMENT (1947)
In 1945, THE LOST WEEKEND was released, quickly finding its place in the ranks of American classics. Two years later came THE LOST MOMENT, entirely un-connected but perhaps harder to take seriously; it’s maybe a bigger deal to lose an entire weekend than just one moment, since one weekend is full of ’em. My goofy vamping aside, THE LOST MOMENT would appear to be worth a second look. A Walter Wanger production, it’s a moody suspense film based on source material from Henry James, whose work inspired the inarguable classic THE INNOCENTS. Along with that intriguing cover image, Olive Films is doing a great job getting me interested all over again in searching out older films I haven’t seen or even heard about.
MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID (1948)
Another Olive Films release, this is a romantic fantasy film, written by the legendary screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, about a dissatisfied man who finds love and new purpose when he meets an actual mermaid. Yeah, I know it sounds like SPLASH. This came first, though I do have to admit John Candy normally gives the edge to any movie he’s in.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUMES 1 & 2 (2013)
Boy, the Google search sure was interesting on this one. Just when you think you’ve seen it all…
** PICK OF THE WEEK! **
POINT BLANK (1967)
Lee Marvin is the carcharodon carcharias of movie stars. He’s the one guy who makes Bronson look like the beta male, the one who makes Eastwood like a pretty boy. He played killers with authority — no movie magic required– easily stealing every movie away from John Wayne they ever made together. As an actor he had presence from the start, as a presence he was coolness incarnate. To his non-violent roles he brought the possibility of violence, to his violent roles he brought unprecedented realism. Like almost all apex predators in nature, Lee Marvin projected calm; he appeared to be dispassionate right up until the second he erupted — note how quick and how savage is every Lee Marvin action scene. The coolness is in how rapidly he could recompose himself after his characters lashed out, noting how effective and how definitive was his every strike. Every Lee Marvin performance is worth watching, even essential, but it’s possible the two films he made with John Boorman, 1967’s POINT BLANK and 1968’s HELL IN THE PACIFIC, are the definitive Lee Marvin showcases. The latter is important as a two-man existential parable encapsulating the actual experiences of its two stars, Marvin and Toshiro Mifune, both veterans of the second World War, on opposing sides. POINT BLANK is an adaptation of The Hunter, the first novel by Donald Westlake under his pen name of Richard Stark featuring the character of Parker, a relentless career criminal. There have been several films made from this source material since, and in fact Westlake envisioned Parker as resembling Jack Palance, but to legions of fans Lee Marvin played the decisive version of the character — there has rarely been a better match of star persona to written creation, and Boorman’s direction ably synced up with Marvin’s invested performance. Lee Marvin was determined to get this story on screen and he saw to Boorman’s hiring. Their creative partnership here resulted in something more ambiguous than many of the best noir films, a genre already steeped in ambiguity. Many have theorized the entire film constitutes the imaginings of a dying man; others speculate upon why Marvin was drawn to this story in the first place, invoking the fact that Lee Marvin is one of the few stars of violent films who had actually committed killings in his life. All of that subtext is ripe for examination, and nearly fifty years later, it’s still available to be parsed. POINT BLANK is endlessly fascinating for its intellectual terrain, yet ironically it works just as well for its visceral pleasures: Everything that’s there to ponder psychologically and philosophically is also available to be enjoyed by the animal brain. Angie Dickinson is gorgeous, as are the full-color locations, the great John Vernon makes an odious villain, the action scenes are thrillingly brutal, and Lee Marvin as cool as icy hell. The film can be watched multiple ways. POINT BLANK exists in the mind and it exists in the viscera, and not easily shaken from either.
RADIO DAYS (1987)
Guys, I’m not a Woody Allen fan. I’m sorry. I’m just not. And after talking at such length about something I love as much as POINT BLANK there’s even less of a chance I can muster up any energy to talk about a Woody Allen movie. So sorry. You’ve got The New Yorker for that, I guess.
** PICK OF THE WEEK! **
THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (2014)
Gareth Evans is a new action director to take very seriously: He’s world-class. 2009’s MERANTAU was plenty promising, showcasing star Iko Uwais and the Indonesian martial art pencak silat, and 2011’s THE RAID: REDEMPTION delivered and then some. It was one of my top ten films that year. Evans’ next directorial credit after THE RAID was ‘SAFE HAVEN‘, the piece he co-directed with Timo Tjahjanto for the anthology V/H/S/2. All on its own, SAFE HAVEN made my top ten list last year. Evans’ style has potency, a rare quality among younger directors, especially those working in the genres of action and horror. As genre directing has trended towards the over-use of hand-held camerawork, much has been lost in the crucial areas of clarity, continuity, and identification — if I can’t entirely see what’s happening or who it’s happening to, it’s harder to stay involved on any level. By contrast, Gareth Evans creates immediate empathy in an audience for unfamiliar actors playing characters who only just appeared onscreen a moment ago. Through smartly-chosen camera angles and clever deployment of tactile elements and arts like sound, Evans can put you in a room — think of the early scene in the first RAID where the villain murders a row of captives only to run out of bullets before the last, how much you feel for that final man despite not even knowing his name. There’s a similar scene in the new RAID film. It still works. Evans’ approach to action is elemental. So everything that was so effective about the first works about the sequel. The key word is “more.” THE RAID 2: BERANDAL is nearly an hour longer, with twice the characters and a more complex storyline, such as it is. Where the earlier film showed the events of one particularly arduous day, the sequel covers a longer expanse of time. Whereas the earlier scenario was confined to one building, THE RAID 2 opens up the action. There’s a car chase now. The villains are more vicious this time around, if that can be believed. The redoubtable Yayan Ruhian, so indelible as “Mad Dog” in the earlier film, plays a similar role here, only to be overcome by the new breed of vicious killer. There’s even a bit more black humor in the sequel, much of it courtesy of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, the film’s signature characters. (Better to experience those two without benefit of much foreknowledge.) The end result of all this “more” may be a faint sense of exhaustion, even among die-hard fans of THE RAID like myself. For my part I’m all RAID-ed out. These are arduous films — for the viewer alone! One can only imagine how it feels for the active participants. Don’t get me wrong: I love THE RAID 2 and it’s clearly one of the superior action films of the year. It’s only that I’ve been through a long onslaught of fists, bullets, stabbings, and hammerings and now I’d like to see what this gifted filmmaker can do next. A third RAID film is planned; hopefully after that there’ll be a return to horror. Or a monster movie. Or a Western. Or a musical. The sky’s the limit, really.
RIGOR MORTIS (2013)
RIGOR MORTIS played last month at the New York Asian Film Festival. If you missed it there — I did! — then this is fortuitous timing. It’s a spooky, moody update of the hilarious and fun MR. VAMPIRE franchise. I’ve been critical in the recent past of moody updates of fun things (oh hello!), but in this case I will allow it, as I am absolutely curious as to how they made ‘hopping vampires’ fierce and frustrating.
** PICK OF THE WEEK! **
SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981)
Essential. Grab it. If you like action movies and character actors with real character, I mean even a little, just pick this movie up. This is primo Walter Hill. I wrote a longer celebration of this film for Daily Grindhouse, so please take a moment to look it over.
STAGE FRIGHT (2014)
I didn’t love this movie but I love that they tried it. The horror musical is a rough prospect, but the payoff is cult immortality. We’re talking about movies like PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, two examples from which STAGE FRIGHT owes plenty. Hell, with its lovely redheaded lead and a bucket of red stuff balanced precariously on a rafter, there’s even some CARRIE here, which itself became a musical. Brian De Palma ought to get some royalties off this thing, that’s for sure. This isn’t on that level — the songs are effective enough I guess, and there’s some style to the moody slayings, but overall De Palma’s perch is secure. Still, I recognize and admire the gumption — it’s hard enough to make a movie, let alone a horror film, let alone a first feature. To add song and dance numbers and choreography on top of all that is seriously gutsy. Give this one a shot if you can’t stand jazz-handsy musical theater and you’ve always wished a masked madman would arrive to crash the show. There’s some value to that.
THE TIME MACHINE (1960)
George Pal was an animator and filmmaker who dreamed big — before THE TIME MACHINE he made another H.G. Wells adaptation, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. This was the epic studio film-making of its time. I guess it would look quaint to kids nowadays and quite frankly it did to me when I was younger, but I’ve always appreciated the imagination and ingenuity it took to realize practical effects long before computers were a factor. Honestly there’s a spookiness and a magic to even the cheapest-looking stuff if it’s inhabited right. I’ve never seen THE TIME MACHINE but I seem to be talking myself into it as I go.
THE VANQUISHED (1953)
No more familiar with the work of Antonioni as I was the first time it came up during the course of this column, but this one has a pulpy premise that intrigues: Three separate stories of young people committing murders — an anthology on a theme of violence.
VIOLENT SATURDAY (1955)
Speaking of violence, here’s a movie with the word in the title and the aforementioned Lee Marvin in a supporting role. I’d say it qualifies. Writer Sydney Boehm earlier found success with THE BIG HEAT, a film with a breakthrough villainous role for Lee Marvin. This film is officially on my radar.
LE WEEK-END (2013)
Jim Broadbent is awesome. This film looks pretty quaint and extremely French, but Jim Broadbent is an effective tonic to such things. Factor in Jeff Goldblum giggling in the lower right-hand corner and I’m strangely intrigued by something I wasn’t a minute ago.
Okay, that’s our first of four installments. When in doubt, watch POINT BLANK. I’ll be back in a matter of moments with another lengthy list of picks and recommendations.
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