Welcome back to Daily Grindhouse’s sort-of-weekly, occasionally timely round-up of literally everything new in DVD and Blu-Ray releases. There’s so much noteworthy stuff out this month that I’m going to have to skimp a little on my regular sparkling and verbose commentary just to get the entire list out, but I’ll do what I can. The goal is to provide, not to deprive.
As ever, whenever you see something you might want to order, you can click through the cover icons of each title to order them through Daily Grindhouse. It’s quick, convenient, and a huge help to us. So click like the wind!
THE AVENGERS (1998)
I guess when a huge superhero movie called THE AVENGERS comes out and makes a billion dollars, it’s inevitable people are going to forget the one with Ralph Fiennes dressed like Odd Job and Uma Thurman dressed pretty much exactly the way Scarlett Johansson did in the more recent film of the same name.
But did you know the 1998 one has Sean Connery in a black teddybear suit, conducting a board meeting of fellow color-coded teddybears? Because I didn’t until today. Clearly you and I both need to be paying closer attention to the more foppish version of THE AVENGERS.
BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM (2014)
Saw a trailer for this one when I watched SON OF BATMAN recently: The story concerns a bunch of bad guys breaking in to Arkham Asylum, the famous institution where the Joker and the Riddler and all those guys get sent up every time they get whupped by Batman. It’s a fun idea, very DIRTY DOZEN, although one of the most prominent villains in this cast is Harley Quinn, who I can’t help but feel is a terrible character. Sorry! I know enough about comics to know that’s a highly unpopular sentiment. Obviously she’s in on this mission because she wants to go see the Joker, with whom (in case you don’t know) she’s unhealthily obsessed. Look, I’m not saying there haven’t been terrific Harley Quinn stories before, just probably not as many as most fans seem to think, and on a global level it bothers me that considering how few female Batman villains there are, people gravitate to the one who is entirely defined by another [male] character. Show me a Harley Quinn story you love that doesn’t have the Joker in it and you will have changed my mind. Harley Quinn is toxic gender politics, if you ask me. But let’s argue about it!
Fans of the video games will want to know that this movie is connected to that storyline, fans of the great 1990s animated series will love to know that Kevin Conroy does the voice of Batman, and fans of cool character actors will be glad to know that the voice cast also includes Neal McDonough, CCH Pounder, and Giancarlo Esposito.
BITTEN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (TV)
Should I be watching this? Apparently it’s a television series about a pretty lady who is sometimes a werewolf, which at this point even polar bears without internet access know are two of my most favorite things.
THE BLACKLIST: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (TV)
On the other hand, here is a television series about a pretty lady who sometimes works with James Spader, which is also an appealing premise to me, and I’ve already seen several episodes of this one, including the pilot directed by Joe Carnahan. THE BLACKLIST is on point when it comes to casting incredible guest stars, such as Isabella Rossellini, Tom Noonan, Clifton Collins Jr., William Sadler, Alan Alda, John Glover, Peter Stormare, and Ritchie Coster (from my beloved LUCK).
BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1976)
Guys, let me tell you: Googling this movie is not for everyone. I am hardly the squeamish sort, but that still frame up there is pretty much the only one I was willing to use for this column. Many may take this as a warning, but surely some will take it as a recommendation.
** PICK OF THE WEEK!! **
BREAKHEART PASS (1975)
Haven’t seen this one yet, but it’s a Western adventure starring Charles Bronson. So yes I will recommend it and then I will buy a copy for myself and after that I will in all probability recommend it again.
BREATHE IN (2013)
The reality is that any movie with those two actors up there is going to be worth watching, regardless of genre or situation. Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan. Yup, okay. You got my interest, pal. This is a relationship drama from the guys who made DOUCHEBAG, which is a movie you need not discount based on the title. It’s not what it probably sounds like. And while “BREATHE IN” makes me think immediately of a Black Star song, my guess is that the events of this movie (and its soundtrack) are equally unexpected and unexpectable.
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978)
Yes, that is Gary Busey. Next question?
THE CHILDREN’S HOUR (1961)
One of the last few films in the long Hollywood career of William Wyler, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR was based on a Lillian Hellman play and adapted by John Michael Hayes, scriptwriter for Hitchcock on REAR WINDOW, among others. It turns out this story is a rare early instance of homosexuality being discussed in mainstream films — a character accuses Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine of being romantically involved, though it’s only a lie told in anger. Quite honestly this is the first I’ve heard of this film, so I can’t say how artfully it navigates such [wrongfully] then-forbidden subject matter. With the names involved, it seems fair to have high hopes.
I like the look of this movie. Matthew Jensen, the cinematographer, recently shot CHRONICLE and just wrapped the new FANTASTIC FOUR movie. The trailer to FILTH makes the movie look fantastic. It makes me want to watch the movie. I like James McAvoy, but not in everything, and my interest in Irvine Welsh’s work has never ventured past TRAINSPOTTING, and while Danny Boyle is one of my very favorite filmmakers, this will be the first I’ve seen from director Jon Baird. With me, promise of a great-looking picture can tip the scales from uncertainty into certainty — I will see this one.
FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1962)
Not the most famous of the Elvis Presley musicals so there’s not much illumination coming from my end, but completists will be all over this like peanut butter on a banana sandwich, and Florida does look particularly nice here. It’s always fun to see character actor Jack Kruschen (THE APARTMENT).
A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 (2014)
Well, if Shawn Edwards is willing to put his name out there to call this movie not just ‘hilarious’, but also ‘funnier and more outrageous than the first’, and then to add an exclamation point — “!” — then you just know it’s got to be a heaping pile of dogshit steaming on the sidewalk in the cold morning air. Some guys are only in the game for the complimentary tote bags.
For starters, if you have any problem looking at Tom Hardy’s face for an hour and a half, look elsewhere for your filmed entertainment. I don’t have that particular problem but there are several actors I’d prefer not to stare at for so long — everybody’s got their something. For me, I’d happily argue that this is the movie where Tom Hardy establishes he’s the real deal, particularly if you haven’t yet seen his transformative work in BRONSON. There are more great screen performers than we like to think, but there are not so many performers who can hold down a screen on their own. Writer-director Steven Knight, who wrote the must sees DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and EASTERN PROMISES, has constructed an actor’s vehicle (sorry) of the rare sort where the audience is looking at little else besides the actor’s face for the entire running time. There are cutaways, in passing, to the road outside the car, but for the most part the camera is situated inside the car with its driver, a man named Ivan Locke. Unlike most men who movies are about, Locke is an ordinary man, a person you could meet, not much of a fictionalization. He seems to be well-off, and is clearly highly competent, and until the events of this film, considered by everyone to be professionally dependable, and technically he does look like a movie star dressing down, but other than that, this is a recognizably human character. The story concerns Locke’s drive to be present at the birth of a child who is the product of an affair, a one-time slip in the life of an otherwise reliable family man — or so it may seem. Character will out.
Steven Knight cleverly chooses for Locke the profession of construction planner; as he drives across England at night he’s determinedly making calls to ensure the flawless coordination of a career-dependent concrete pour first thing in the morning. This is a terrific metaphor, foundations. Locke is a loving father to his two sons but now he’s having a third, and he won’t be absent for this son the way his father was absent on him. So you could say Locke is skipping out on a building foundation in order to be present for the foundation for a life. Or you could more cynically interpret these events to be the unraveling of an orderly life — the highly respected and successful professional working father, in a race to ignore his own pained origins, ended up making a misstep which undid the entire social construction of ‘Ivan Locke’, from the foundation on up. In an otherwise flawless effort to avoid being like his father, a single mistake laid bare and undid the entire enterprise.
But the overall feeling of LOCKE the movie isn’t one of negativity; in fact by the time Locke utters the instant-classic line “Two words I learned tonight – Fuck Chicago” this audience member was punching the air in exhilaration. It’s interesting how that happens, since unlike the many reviewers whose pull-quotes are being used to sell LOCKE as a suspense thriller, I spent most of the film in a twilight state. The expertly delivered elements of the film — Knight’s suave high-wire of a script, Hardy’s largely-motionless, emotionally-moderate, sonorous, intentionally calming performance; the masterfully-timed, nearly-invisible editing by Justine Wright; the almost-undetectable-feeling score by Dickon Hinchliffe; the collusion of Knight’s direction and Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography and the somber sound design and even the essence of Locke’s car itself — all of these have a tangible effect, making the car a contained environment, just short of a hyperbaric chamber, putting the focus exclusively on the conversations Locke must have with his wife and his sons and his mistress and his assistant and his superior and his various business connections and so on. Rarely has a film about a night drive felt this much like a night drive. So while the premise — Tom Hardy is the only actor on screen for the entire show! — is really an incredibly-stagy, conspicuously anti-cinematic visual risk of the sort Hitchcock liked to dare himself with (a la LIFEBOAT or ROPE), the overwhelming impression LOCKE leaves is one of verisimilitude and empathy. The film feels realer than just about any other I’ve seen anywhere in 2014. Like life itself, there’s nothing easy about that.
LOVE STREAMS (1984)
John Cassavetes was near the end of his career when he made this movie, which was produced by Golan-Globus of all people. By most accounts this one is among Cassavetes’ very best, and holy God that’s saying a lot. I haven’t seen it — yet. This is a ten-pound ‘yet’ for me.
MAN HUNT (1941)
German-Austrian director Fritz Lang made some of the greatest and most important films ever — METROPOLIS, M, THE BIG HEAT — and here’s the logline of MAN HUNT: “An Englishman goes behind enemy lines to assassinate Hitler.” How can you stay away?
MONDO MAGIC (1976) (DVD ONLY)
The term “Mondo” generally indicates a highly-specific genre of Italian documentary film which tends heavily toward the exploitation end of the spectrum and more often buries the needle. I’m having a lot of trouble finding out much detailed information about this particular title which probably means it’s wilder and more shocking (seriously) than most. In this case please consider that a warning. (Also, to some of you maniacs, a sincere recommendation.)
MOTEL HELL (1980)
MOTEL HELL does indeed, as the Scream Factory cover artwork promises, feature a pig-headed maniac wielding a chainsaw. That’s the dessert, but the meal itself is made up of many disparate courses which you would not want to speed through. I’m sort of at a loss to describe MOTEL HELL by conventional means; the very best I can manage is to suggest that this is what a John Waters remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE might very vaguely resemble. That’s overly simplistic and reductive and really, lumping this film in with the rest of the slasher genre of the era would be lazy categorization. MOTEL HELL is simply a really weird, strange movie, and from me that’s generally a major compliment. Paul Freitag-Fey has a review, which means your quality of life is best served by reading it.
** PICK OF THE WEEK!! **
MR. MAJESTYK (1974)
To have not seen a Charles Bronson film based on an Elmore Leonard story is like a hole in my soul. We had previously talked about doing MR. MAJESTYK during the last iteration of the Daily Grindhouse podcast (next iteration coming very soon, I promise!) but the lures of oddities like RAW FORCE and THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE proved too much. Clearly a grievous wrong must soon be righted.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014)
My niece, six years old, has been going through a prolonged phase of absolute disinterest in movies. Part of this is explained away by her discovery of video games and part is obviously due to the appeal of summer and being outside. It was only this morning I discovered that there was a specific movie that incited this indefinite hiatus. She told me she saw MUPPETS MOST WANTED in camp, and something about it, something she refuses to name, upset her so much she won’t go back, not just to this movie, but to any movie. This is going to have to be another thing I will blame on Ricky Gervais.
** PICK OF THE WEEK!! **
OUT OF THE PAST (1947)
[Sigh.] [Swoon.] Okay. Buy this. Just buy it. I’ve heard the picture quality is divine. This movie would be magic even if it were projected upon Vince Vaughn’s forehead, but the idea of its images being perfected for the Blu-Ray format is as irresistible as air. Here are plenty more words.
Horror movie about pregnancy and miscarriage. Not generally my thing, but you never know.
Sometimes a movie has many of the right elements but it somehow never manages to click. Immediately, you see Nicolas Cage is starring in a movie called RAGE and your imagination runs wild. What you probably don’t want is a somber crime drama that looks for all the world like it was made in 1993, with a restrained and Caged-up Cage performance. It’s kind of the way DRIVE ANGRY promised one thing with the title, and then for some reason had Nic doing a quieter, Bronson-esque thing from behind dark glasses for most of the running time. RAGE wasn’t even the original title — at some point somebody realized that they probably ought not go with TOKAREV if they wanted anybody at all to see it. (“Tokarev” refers to a brand of automatic weapon, which makes plenty of sense if you’ve seen the movie, but none if you want to appeal to a mainstream American audience.) Ultimately, RAGE is a throwback, a low-key action vehicle with honorable intentions and at least an idea of a statement about violence and revenge. It’s surprisingly watchable. It doesn’t feel like any of the good Nicolas Cage action movies, but it feels weirdly like one of the better Steven Seagal movies. There are people in the cast you like. Actors like Rachel Nichols, Danny Glover, Peter Stormare, and Pasha Lychnikoff (you’d know him by face) are way better than the material they’re given here, but they’re all regular faces in movies like this one and they’re all fun to watch. I even like the climactic plot twist, not because it isn’t somewhat predictable but because it gives the movie a bit more moral heft than most modern-day B-pictures. It’s just that moral heft isn’t what was promised. The whole thing feels muted and vaguely disappointing, since with a title like RAGE you expect more bombast, particularly considering the name above the title. Also, despite the Blu-Ray cover up there, I don’t think Nic Cage walks away from an explosion in this movie. Although maybe I forgot already.
THE RAILWAY MAN (2013)
Despite a compelling premise concerning history and vengeance and the name Frank Cottrell Boyce (CODE 46, MILLIONS) in the writing credits, I can’t seem to get myself interested in seeing this one. Maybe it’s because the pull-quote references THE KING’S SPEECH. Maybe it’s because I’m generally bored by Colin Firth. Sorry! I’m sure he’s a great guy. Maybe it’s because I’m weirded out and confused by the fact that this looks for all the world like a Weinstein movie and it turns out to by a Lionsgate joint. None of those are strong reasons to object, but neither are they disastrous or infuriating enough to draw my morbid curiosity, like, say, a Tyler Perry action movie.
THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIA (1969)
Good news for people who like movies with Anthony Quinn jumping…
Van Damme does not look excited to be carrying that T-shirt gun.
THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984)
There’s so much to say about this movie, but that still frame up above seems to say more than any ten thousand words ever could.
VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)
Now this is one of the most widely-known Elvis musicals there is, largely due to the title song which basically has become the theme song to an entire city. And that’s beautiful packaging, very classy-looking, but really, the best advertising in the world is a 23-year-old Ann-Margret.
AND NOW… CARTOONS AND KID STUFF!
LOONEY TUNES PLATINUM COLLECTION: VOLUME THREE
That’s a still from “Bully For Bugs”, one of the fifty cartoons in this collection. I love that one — that bull was a great, intimidating adversary! There are some other stone classics here, including “Hair-Raising Hare”, “Bugs And Thugs”, and “High Diving Hare”, but you may want to start with the first two volumes before ending up here. You may. Really, you can’t go wrong.
THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD / FUN AND FANCY FREE
The Disney version of the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ story is iconic and I think even Tim Burton would be willing to call it the best ever (so far).
It’s bears. You know, just bears. Bears.
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971)
Angela Lansbury in cartoonland — that’s what came out of the 1960s, apparently.
Haven’t seen this one: Where’d my man get a red elephant? Is he tripping off jungle-mescaline?
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2004)
Always liked to see these three team up, although this comes from 2004 and not 1954 so who knows if it lives up to the vintage stuff. If you see it, let me know. Also please let me know why Mickey has a standard outfit of pants and no shirt, and Donald has a standard outfit of shirt and no pants, and Goofy wears both. I could never figure out what was going on there. Obviously there is some value placed on wearing clothes in their world, since Goofy has all of his bases covered, but in that case, Mickey and Donald are inarguably partial-nudists. Forget the Pluto-Goofy dog/dog question, THIS is the brain-smasher to beat.
YOUNG JUSTICE: SEASON ONE (TV)
I was always a Marvel guy so I can’t explain the appeal of a team of sidekicks, but everyone’s got their something.
AND NOW… SMUT AND ADULT STUFF!
TINTO BRASS: MAESTRO OF EROTIC CINEMA
As far as I know (which is very little in this case), Tinto Brass is an Italian filmmaker whose most notorious picture is 1979’s CALIGULA and who continues to work today. I haven’t seen any of his films yet but I will admit I enjoyed Google-Imaging these titles.
Titles, I said.
BLACK ANGEL (2002)
Not always easy to know how to leave a column, but this is a fine end.
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