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July 1, 2019

A Binge too Far #5: The Beastmaster trilogy (1982 – 1996)

Dar (Marc Singer) and a tiger, in a frame from The Beastmaster (1982)
I sincerely don’t like the ‘sword and sandal’ genre, but since I was in the mood of catching up with it a little bit, I thought I’d give a shot at some classics; thereby I present you my views on The Beastmaster trilogy (1982 – 1996).
The Beastmaster (1982) poster

The Beastmaster (1982)

A king’s son, Dar (TV actor Marc Singer), is hunted by baddie priest Maax [Rip Torn, later in Men in Black (1997)] and has to flee away from his father’s kingdom and live with another family. When his father is murdered by savages, the male lead will discover that he communicates with animals so well that he can use them to ploy his revenge; therefore the title.

Shot in deserted valleys just outside California (doubling for epic locations from another time) by renowned cinematographer John Alcott [A Clockwork Orange (1971)], this looks way better than it has any right to (the budget was a mere $9 million). Its PG rating and humor reveal that it is indeed entertainment for the whole family (I mean, how could it not be with all those adorable cute animals leading the thing?), but the occasional boob glimpse (Tanya Roberts is here) makes this one for the whore family as well.

Written by Don Coscarelli (who also directed) and Paul Pepperman (based upon Andre Norton’s novel, albeit sans credit), this was a big box-office success (it grossed $14.1 million) and became a TV favorite as well, therefore a franchise was born.

Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal...
Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

The protagonist’s evil half-brother Arklon (Wings Hauser, no introduction needed) and his ally (and equally evil) witch Lyranna [Sarah Douglas from Superman (1978)] travel into the future (via a time portal) and arrive in present day Los Angeles in particular where they plot to purchase a neutron bomb. Dar (a now aged Marc Singer, looking ridiculous in hero attire) and his animal friends must stop them.

The Back to the Future trilogy (1985 – 1990) was a big thing back then, and this is the approach employed here by the story (it was written by Jim Wynorski and R.J. Robertson and it was turned into the screenplay by that same duo and Sylvio Tabet, Ken Hauser, and Doug Miles) and the promotional materials (I mean, check out the font and colors of the film’s title). This approach is nothing unusual in the world of exploitation cinema, and the faults of this particular entry is its running time, which although it is a bit shorter than the first film, it is still much too long for its own good.

This is probably because by that stage, the straight-to-video guys took over, and other than the aforementioned people involved with the script (a few of them need to introduction), you should note that this was shot by Rohn Schmidt [The Terror Within (1989)], edited by Adam Bernardi [Ghoulies Go to College (1990)], directed by Sylvio Tabet (the franchise’s producer; Jim Wynorski was originally slated to directed, but plans changed at the last moment, leading to a court battle), and  stars Robert Z’Dar [Maniac Cop (1988)], proving that things could indeed get cheaper. In an amazing meta moment, a theater marquee is advertising the current film! Made on a $6 million budget, it grossed less than $1 million, becoming essentially a flop.
Beastmaster III: The Eye of...

Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996)

Baddie Lord Agon [David Warner from John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994)] kidnaps King Tal [Casper Van Dien from Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999)], and now it is up to the poor guy’s brother and titular hero Dar (Marc Singer, looking surprisingly in good form) and his friend Seth (Tony Todd, looking much too elegant to be here) to save the day. Will they make it against the titular monster (Michael Deak, a monster never looked that much like a guy-in-a-suit since the glorious 1950s)?

By 1996 the straight-to-television had taken over, as this was directed by Gabrielle Beaumont (a craftsman that has worked exclusively for the small screen), and it comes complete with sill sound effects and laughable sets; hell, even the soundtrack by Jan Hammer is outrageously bad. And, I didn’t get the bromance finale at all, were the two male leads supposed to be gay? Thankfully, it is much shorter than the previous two entries.

Conclusion


Consisting of a good film and two monster dogs, Beastmaster is a classic franchise of its kind, so if you are a fan of the genre you should definitely check it out, although you probably already have. In 1999 the Beastmaster was turned into a TV series that lasted for 3 seasons, but this is a story that I will not be telling.

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June 1, 2019

Static Age #4

Jack Torrance (Steve Weber) in a frame from Mick Garris' The Shining (1997)
As nowadays I resort more and more to streaming rather than physical media, I decided to accompany the text mostly with relevant art and posters, rather than DVD and BD box-art, and I hope you enjoy!

The Shining (1997) DVD box art.
This Static Age’s spotlight goes to The Shining (1997) which is about recovering alcoholic writer Jack Torrance (Steven Weber) who moves temporarily with his wife (Rebecca De Mornay) and son (Wil Horneff) to an abandoned hotel in order to find inspiration for his next novel. However, what he finds is his personal demons that drive him mad as he becomes more and more dangerous for himself and his family. Based upon Stephen King’s legendary same-titled novel, this consists of 3 feature length episodes that were directed by his go-to guy Mick Garris, and they may be much more faithful to the source material than you-know which classic, but they’re not anywhere near as exciting.

I also caught up with the following recent shows…

Created and written by Nick Antosca, and based upon the ‘Search and Rescue’ story by Kerry Hammond, the 3nd season of Channel Zero (2016 – present) is about young woman Alice Woods (Olivia Luccardi) who just moved into a small American town in which people disappear during a series of happenings that may all be due to the superficial presence of some mysterious staircases. Starring Rutger Hauer, and featuring Riz Ortolani’s theme song from Cannibal Holocaust (1980), SyFy’s original terror series are offering one more winner season.

Black Mirror - Season 3
The 3rd season of Black Mirror (2011 – present) anthological series is offering three more horror stories/episodes inspired by the dangers of technology. The first episode, ‘Nosedive’ is about a gorgeous woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) who wants to increase her social media rating and popularity and in order to achieve that she is forcing herself into a fake world of likability and pretensions, so terrifying in fact, that it may ultimately destroy her, in what has to be one of the series’ most intimidating stories, due to the fact that we’re not actually too far away from becoming the world it depicts. ‘Playtest’ is about American traveller Cooper Redfield (Wyatt Russell), who ends up penniless in England, where he takes a job as a game tester, only to find out that his worse fears will come to life and then some. ‘Shut Up and Dance’ is about several seemingly random people that get cyber-bullied into a scheme during which they would have to complete several tasks (as ordered by an unknown messenger on their mobile phones) if they want their secrets to remain secret. ‘San Junipero’ is an interracial lesbian love story, and I can only wish it would have been better, because as it is, it is the weakest entry in this season. ‘Men Against Fire’ is about soldiers fighting against some creatures called roaches (resembling a cross between vampires and zombies) and it is as awesome as it sounds. ‘Hated in the Nation’ is a feature-length masterpiece about an online game the hashtag of which allows you to vote for the public figure you would like to see dying next, and afterwards it employs technologically enhanced bees to do the dirty work.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 5
The 5th season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 – present) kicks-off with a double episode in which the titular heroes find themselves entrapped in a spaceship in outer space, and from then on a variety of adventures ensue, in what has to be the darker season of the series so far and for that we should be thankful. Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is a nerdy doll, as always. Plus, the season finale is so spectacular that would be worthy enough of a Marvel movie.

Powerless - Season 1
Created by Ben Queen, the 1st season of DC’s Powerless (2017) is set in a world where superheroes and super-criminals leave a lot of collateral damage behind them, and a company on the verge of bankruptcy is offering protection and prevention solutions, when young and ambitious Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) is hired in a top managerial position with dreams of changing the viability of the company, the behavior of the stuff, and maybe the world itself. This satire of superhero movies comes at the right time as the market is literally saturated by them (even if the only real competitors are the Marvel and DC properties), but its low budget, short running time, awful CGI, caricature characters (the stupid boss, the moody secretary, the funny black guy, the funny Indian guy, etc.), and standard jokes doomed it into failure, and it was canceled after this, its initial season. This is a throwback to awful 1990s television and we didn’t really need one. Adam West makes a very welcome cameo though.

Human Target - Season 1
Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg, the 1st season of DC’s Human Target (2010 – 2011) is about undercover bodyguard Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), who is assigned undercover to the most dangerous cases, involving breathtaking stunts. This is an all-around enjoyable action show that never fails to captivate its audience. McG was an executive producer. The show’s finale (an origin story of sorts, really) included a guest appearance by Armand Assante, but many other episodes benefit from guest appearances as well, by stars such as Lennie James, Mitch Pileggi, and William B. Davis.

The Day of the Triffids - Season 1
Based upon the same-titled Sci-Fi book, The Day of the Triffids (2009), directed by Nick Copus, is about a planetary event that blinds most of the Earth’s population, while in the meantime, the large and dangerous titular carnivorous plants escape from their facilities and prey among the human living. Radio producer/journalist Jo Playton (Joely Richardson) and Dr. Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) come to the rescue, but will they make it in this post-apocalyptic world? This television event (two feature length episodes) may be a bit rough around the edges (for example the CGI are really poor), but it is still captivating entertainment for fans of fantastic cinema. Although not exactly a masterful update, it thankfully comes with some clever casting choices (Brian Cox and Jason Priestley, for example).

But I also caught up with a few mainstream films as well…

Glass (2019) bored me to tears, and although it is not the only M. Night Shyamalan film that did so, it was the first Blumhouse Productions fare to achieve that, and I just hope the two don’t work together again. Sure, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis deliver winner performances, but right now they are both at their top of the game and they do this sort of thing in pretty much every film with which they are involved, so this cannot be enough of a reason for you to watch this. As far as superhero movies go, this is pretentious and formulaic, and you should pass.

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Blumhouse Production’s Happy Death Day 2U (2019), directed by Christopher Landon, returns to the original’s formula (albeit, a very original one at that), as we once again see the university’s promiscuous girl (the absolutely gorgeous Jessica Rothe) and her scientist nerd friends, trapped in another time loop, in which they will die several times, until the figure out a way to escape death once and for all. Combining comedy, commercial cinematography, and all around Americanisms, this is a joy to watch, as it is both quite unique within the slasher genre, and entertaining too.

Marvel’s Captain Marvel (2019) directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is about the titular superhero (the gorgeous Brie Larson), who as she finds her own powers has to fight her ex-trainer and super-villain Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and a horde of evil green aliens that resemble Nosferatu the vampire. Set for the most part in the 1990s, this is full of fun references to that decade, both technological (I really didn’t miss the computers of that era) and cultural (I really missed Garbage and Nine Inch Nails). The film’s build-up is very slow and boring, but the ending is quite satisfying. Oh, and Samuel L. Jackson is in it for a lot of its running time, instead of doing just his usual cameo.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)
And when I get bored by the mainstream stuff I catch up with (on those rare occasions that I do catch up with them, that is), I quickly resort back to exploitation favorites, and this time my relief was found in writer/director Jimmy Wang Yu’s unsurpassable Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976), a masterwork of martial arts, featuring a flying guillotine master against an one-armed boxer! This is grindhouse gold, and you should watch it immediately, in the unlikely case that you have not already done so.

And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following books…

Roberto Curti’s Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker (2017, McFarland) is an excellent and lengthy study of the Italian genre film maestro’s life and career, taking us from film to film and featuring critical analysis as well as interview excerpts from interviews with several of the master’s collaborators. Although I am not a big fan of Freda’s work (I only enjoy an occasional title of his, or two), Curti’s book is the definite authority on the subject, it leaves no stone unturned, and as such it should not be missed.


Roberto Curti’s Mavericks of Italian Cinema: Eight Unorthodox Filmmakers, 1940s – 2000s (2018, McFarland), is featuring eight essays on as many obscure filmmakers, including Pier Carpi, Alberto Cavallone, Riccardo Ghione, Giulio Questi, Brunello Rondi, Paolo Spinola, Augusto Tretti, and Nello Vegezzi. Packed with information, but also maintaining an entertaining narrative throughout, this is the acclaimed author’s best work to date, and will remain so until he tops it with his next volume.

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May 12, 2019

Phoenix Fan Fusion features Jeff Goldblum!


Phoenix Fan Fusion brings one of film's biggest names to Arizona this year. Jeff Goldblum's genre film resume is strong dating back to the 1980s with The Fly, Earth Girls are Easy, Jurassic Park, and more. He is most recently remembered for his fantastic role in Thor: Ragnarok.

If you can't make it Saturday, the con will also feature amazing guests such as Doctor Who's John Barrowman and Catherine Tate who also have memorable roles in Arrow and The Office, respectively. Huge stars such as Paul Reubens, Elijah Wood, and Billy Dee Williams will also be in attendance.

As it has in past years, the con will have plenty for fans to enjoy. Panels run nonstop, even after the exhibitor floor closes. Gaming events run throughout the show as well. There is plenty for every fan to see at the show. See you there!

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May 1, 2019

A Binge too Far #4: The Day the Earth Stood Still duo (1951 – 2008)

Gort (Lock Martin) in a frame from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
For reasons I cannot explain, and although I am a big Sci-Fi fan, I had neglected to see The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and its same-titled 2008 remake. I just corrected this wrong, and although not much has been left to say about the duo that hasn’t already been said, here’s my brief notes.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Set during the Cold War era, a few years after the end of WWII (World War II), this is about a spaceship that lands on our planet Earth, bringing the alien visitor Klaatu [Michael Rennie from The Lost World (1960)] along with his goon robot Gort (Lock Martin). When the duo’s messages of peace don’t work to the ever war-inducing earthlings, Klaatu will try to infiltrate our planet’s population by befriending a young boy, Bobby Benson [Billy Gray from Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)].

Based on the ‘Farewell to the Master’ story by Harry Bates, the screenplay by Edmund H. North [Patton (1970)] may be a bit too neoliberal for its own good (even though neoliberalism probably wasn’t a thing back then), what with the celebration of police via a supposed peaceful message, but that was Cold War-era America and those messages were the standard. On the other hand, Robert Wise’s [West Side Story (1961)] direction is top-notch, and he truly delivers a masterful work of science fiction. The soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann (no introduction needed) is probably the most iconic in the history of the genre.

Produced by Julian Blaustein [Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)] for 20th Century Fox on less than 1$ million, it went on to gross $1.85 million, it is now considered a classic of its genre and cinema in general, and should not be missed by anyone.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

When an alien spaceship lands in New York City, a bunch of scientists is gathered by the military, among them the female lead Dr. Helen Benson (the always drop-dead gorgeous Jennifer Connelly). The alien that comes out of the spaceship, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves, no introduction needed) comes in peace, but the ever trigger-happy U.S. military forces gun him down, prompting his gigantic robot to take action. Once Klaatu is captured by the U.S. government, he is subjected to some awful interrogation methods, and upon arranging his escape, he will try a different approach in order to deliver his message of peace.

Not so much a remake, but rather a re-imagination of the original, director Scott Derrickson’s [The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)] film is much more spectacular (what with the expensive CGI and multiple shootouts and explosions, etc.) but lacks in depth. The soundtrack by Tyler Bates is a winner though, even if not as iconic as the original film’s one. Produced by Paul Harris Boardman, Gregory Goodman, and Erwin Stoff, for 20th Century Fox, on a whopping $80 million budget, this went on to gross $233.1 million, essentially becoming a big blockbuster.

Conclusion


Whereas the 1951 film is a subtle classic of its genre (and an occasionally moody and quiet piece at that too), the 2008 remake is a bombastic multi-million dollar spectacle. They are both nowhere near my list of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi films from the past or the recent times, but they are still very enjoyable popcorn movies that you should catch up with, in the unlikely case that you haven’t already done so.

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April 1, 2019

Static Age #3

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Static Age’s third installment! You have asked me how I decide what shows go to the spotlight and which ones do not. For a TV series to go to the Static Age’s spotlight, it must have aired before the current millennium (i.e. pre-2000) and all of its seasons are reviewed. And the recent shows’ division is all about what I consider to be the golden age of television (i.e. post-2000) while only one season at the time is reviewed. The golden rule though is that all shows capsule-reviewed in Static Age are of first-watch variety only. No re-watching business here. Makes sense?

The Langoliers (2005) DVD box art.
This Static Age’s spotlight goes to The Langoliers (2005), a two feature-length (90 minutes each) episodes television special, in which all passengers of an aircraft disappear, apart from a few that get stranded in a seemingly abandoned airport full of mysteries. Based upon a novel by Stephen King (as was so often with those TV horror specials back then) by Tom Holland (who also directed, and for whom no introduction is needed), this scared the bejesus of many kids who caught it when it was first aired in the mid-1990s, but it hasn’t dated too well, and its special effects are unable to elevate above the SyFy-level bar. Still, it is genuinely creepy at times, so you might want to check it out if you like this sort of thing.

I also caught up with the following recent shows…

The 1st season of The Returned (2015) created by Carlton Cuse kicks off with a road accident involving a school-bus full of children that of course die. A few years later, and while their parents and the community mourn, the kids keep on showing up alive and well. More of a drama rather than a full-on horror series (the returning kids are not quite your usual undead), this is the U.S. remake of the same titled French series that I previously covered in this very column. It is suffering from a very slow tempo and an unnecessarily moody atmosphere, but a serial killer targeting members of the community livens things up a bit. It was cancelled after this initial season. The French version had a better cast.

In the 4th season of Peaky Blinders (2013 – present) the same-named Birmingham gang led by Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) is now broken apart and has left its criminal past behind. That is until a revenge from the past will come knocking on their door and will find them against the Sicilian mafia of Italy and New York.

Wolf Creek - Season 2 BD box art.
A group of tourists go on a tour of Australia, when their bus is hijacked by local serial killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) in the highly entertaining and quite addictive 2nd season of Wolf Creek (2016 – present), which is easily the best series to ever come from Down Under by keeping things local but also bearing a universal horror sensibility. It is also of great help that pretty much all characters are well-developed and sympathetic, so you actually get to care about them. Finally, the last couple of episodes feel entirely different from the rest of the series, mainly due to the change of settings.

In the 2nd season of creator Aaron Martin’s Slasher (2016 – present) a bunch of reckless teenagers end up killing a girl and hiding her body in the woods. Five years later they return to the scene of the crime in order to hide evidence, but somebody seems to know their secret, whilst offing people left, right, and center. A thousand times better than the first season, this is entertaining as hell. The editing goes back and forth in time, but the information given is really simple to process, so this doesn’t become distracting. All episodes directed by Felipe Rodriguez.

Channel Zero - Season 2 DVD box art.
Executive produced by Max Landis and with supervising producer Don Mancini onboard, the 2nd season of Channel Zero (2016 – present) is about a group of college students that enter the no-end house, in which six rooms cruelly await with bad intentions for their fate. Creepy as usual, and featuring an array of impressive one-shots, this one should not be missed.

The 2nd season of Black Mirror (2011 – present) is strong, stressful, and horrific in its exploration of the dangers of the new technology-depended world. It continues its anthology format and it is offering 4 episodes/stories. ‘Be Right Back’ is one of the best episodes and it is about a gorgeous young woman, Martha (Hayley Atwell) who just lost her boyfriend, Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), and tries to cure her mourning by signing up to an application that gathers data from the deceased’s online presence over the years and creates a bot that mimics him. ‘White Bear’ is a really terrifying episode about which one can’t say too much without spoiling it, so I’ll leave it for you to see it. ‘The Waldo Moment’ is a masterpiece of an episode, featuring the titular cartoon character which frighteningly becomes a huge political phenomenon and a multimedia franchise. The season finale, ‘White Christmas’ is somewhat of an anthology piece, and its format doesn’t work, nor does its lengthy running time, and it is a big contender for being the series’ worst episode yet.

Doctor Who - Season 2 BD box art.
The 2nd season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) sees the increasingly gorgeous Billie Piper returning in the role of Rose Tyler, whilst the role of the titular alien hero is now played by David Tennant who is the best of the recent Doctors, and one of the best in general too. The duo will embark to several adventures that range from plain fantasy to escapist horror, all in good British manner.

The 1st season of DC’s Birds of Prey (2002 – 2003) is set in a futuristic Gotham (yes, more futuristic than usual), when Batman has hung his cape, and his work is now continued by the titular superheroes, namely Black Canary (Lori Loughlin), Oracle (Dina Meyer), and The Huntress (Ashley Scott, always happy to show us her sexy belly). Developed by Laeta Kalogridis (her debut, before undertaking several more successful mainstream projects), this is as boring as they come, and it was cancelled after this initial season. The season finale is spectacular, and the employment of Tatu’s ‘All the Things See Said’ works miracles, but it’s still too little, too late.

But I also caught up with some mainstream films as well…

Aquaman (2018) R1 BD box art.
Each time I convince myself to check out the new multi-million dollar extravaganza, I realize why I try to avoid those in general. This time I was bored by DC’s Aquaman (2018) directed by James Wan, which is so bad that the less said about it the better.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Russian cop Ivan Danko who finds himself in Chicago, on the trail of a Georgian criminal (Ed O’Ross), in director Walter Hill’s Red Heat (1988), which comes with breathtaking action (shootouts, fistfights, car crashes, and whatnot), exceptional one-liners (Danko is particularly funny when he explains that Russians deal stress with vodka), and overall 1980s action awesomeness.

Set in 1987, director Travis Knight’s Bumblebee (2018) is about the titular robot that lands in California and finds solace at the company of troubled teenager Charlie (the gorgeous Hailee Steinfeld), until their peace is disturbed by the arrival of a duo of evil robots. This was unexpectedly fun (if I dare to say so, even more than the other Transformers flicks), what with the 1980s hard rock nostalgia and VHS tapes, but I’ll probably forget all about it by the time this article is published.

Bumblebee (2018) R1 BD box art.
The Banks family is about to get evicted when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) comes to the rescue in Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns (2018) which is this year’s ultimate feel-good movie. There is singing and dancing of course, but it’s all about the costumes here. You will be amazed.

Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt (2019) is about Motley Crue, a band whose music made them famous, and whose life made them infamous. Based upon the band’s same-titled collected autobiography, this may be era specific (from their rise on Sunset Strip, to the world takeover, to breaking up and reuniting for the first time), but the filmmakers couldn’t have done things differently, unless they wanted their film to be ten hours long. Yes, Motley Crue’s antics were many, and the film manages to navigate us through the most important ones. But aside the endless partying and groupies galore (a series of gags result in many laughs and a good time overall), this biopic is full of rich character development, about a gang (yes, they mostly resemble a gang, rather than a band) that took it to the top. And for us, the fans of their songs and their legacy, this is an invaluable film for which we are thankful. Well done!

And finally I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

20 years in the making, John Szpunar’s Blood Sucking Freak: The Life and Films of the Incredible Joel M. Reed (2018, Headpress) is about the legendary exploitation filmmaker. By combining interviews with him and several people that have worked with him, or were just casual New York characters, the book becomes an excellent oral history of a time gone by and greatly missed. Aside from the several amazing stories that we get to read about, the author also sat down with his subject and watched all of his films, providing commentary for each one of them. The filmmaker comes across as a dirty old man, and I am saying this in the best possible way, as this is the sort of characters we missed from New York’s 42nd Street heyday. Be warned though, that this is not a book for someone to be induced to exploitation film history, as the author is targeting mostly people in the know, and wastes no time for needless introductions for several genre film legends. Do yourself a favor, and buy this immediately.

Roberto Curti’s Tonino Valerii: The Films (2016, McFarland), is about the films the eponymous auteur has made during his career that spanned 40 years but was never prolific, opting for quality rather than quantity, a rare feat back in the day in Italy’s genre celluloid landscape. Valerii is better known for his western masterpieces (at least among those of us whose knowledge of the genre goes beyond the two Sergios), but he also tried his hand on other genres, including a very successful stint at a giallo. The book is well-structured, and takes us through a film-by-film journey, in which no stone is left unturned, as the author analyzes and gets to speak with the filmmaker. What’s more, the book also includes a thoughtful afterword by Ernesto Gastaldi, and about a dozen more interviews with people that have worked with Valerii, including Bud Spencer and Franco Nero. All in all, another excellent addition to Curti’s bibliography, and a treasure for genre movie fans and scholars alike.


Part autobiography and part history of pornography, Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography (2010, Headpress) takes through the author’s real-life journey into the magical world of smut as he writes about pretty much everything from the rise of the phone sex lines to the Traci Lords scandal and a lot of other things. The author used to edit several porn magazines and therefore has seen a lot and is much too happy to share them in this book. At 214 pages is a short and easy read, but I could only wish that the text was accompanied by pictures.

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March 25, 2019

King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen (2017) Documentary Review

I got the screener for this documentary last year, but being a lazy asshole, I never got around to it. With the recent passing of Mr. Cohen, I thought it was high time I STOP being a lazy asshole and view it. Now that I’ve watched it, I feel like even more of an asshole, and am sorry I took so long to experience it.

As someone who never really paid that close attention to the people behind the scenes of a movie (writer, director, cinematographer, etc.) I didn’t even know Larry Cohen’s name. I have, however, seen a few of his films, and they certainly have made a lasting impression.

This documentary doesn’t delve too deeply into his childhood and upbringing, but instills in us his early proclivity toward creativity and imagination. Though his career as a stand-up comedian didn’t pan out, the art behind performing and writing a good show definitely translated into his television and movie career.

It seemed natural, too, that his career evolved from writer, to director, and eventually producer. From what he (and everyone who knew him) said, he didn’t like other people screwing up his work, so why not just do it himself? That didn’t stop him from getting fired off a few jobs (when there was a separate production company involved.) But even so, by that point, he’d have gotten what he wanted from the show, and was then able to move on to other projects.

According to his second wife, he was a prolific idea man, and could write up to twenty-five pages every day!



I’m not going to discuss every film brought up in the documentary, or cover every detail explored. The one thing I really took away from this was a shared consensus on Larry’s genius. His films were powerful and raw; his creative eye allowed him to make a location as much a character as any actor in the film; his guerrilla warfare tactics on filming kept his movies more budget friendly, and it’s part of what makes his films so “Larry.”

On a more personal level, everyone interviewed for this documentary remembered Larry as a generous, kind, funny, sweet, kinda wacky, fearless man, and one of the most brilliant filmmakers to ever come around the scene. His style could never be reproduced today, which is a little sad, but also makes his legacy that much more enduring. For me, his movie, The Stuff, has always been, and continues to be, a favorite – even though, when I first saw it, I never understood its “wink wink” statement on consumerism and unethical business practices that were rampant in the eighties.



For anyone who wants to learn more about Larry Cohen, or would like a deeper look to his writing/directing life, this documentary is a must. Then go seek out his shows and movies. I know I will, and I’ll be able appreciate them from a perspective I didn’t have this morning.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Cohen.

5 Hatchets (out of 5)





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March 20, 2019

Movie Review: "Family Honor" (1973, Cinerama Releasing/Code Red)




…this reviewer?? Always been a highly devoted and respectably knowledgeable top-40 pop music lover…a progressive and well-versed fan of the more familiar, more popular, and often played music hits of countless high profile artists, stretching as far back as the golden age of ‘50’s pop and rock ‘n’ roll (…wasn’t even yet a twinkle in my parent’s eyes, back then…but nonetheless, God bless them for instilling a love of that era of music, into my appreciative listening repertoire). Hardly unusual...that scuffed, scratched and worn plastic dial on the car radio, or on the shoulder-straining portable ‘boom box’, was evermore ‘super-glued’ to the lower-band AM dial. Indeed, an almost religious disciple of the Sunday morning Casey Kasem top-100 countdown, back in the day when he reigned supreme over the radio airwaves. And those old-school TV advertised top-40 music collections from the ‘70’s, periodically released by Ronco and K-Tel (…yes, folks…only $5.99, per album or cassette tape…20 original hits, 20 original stars, like…)?? Yeah, (I) had ‘em all…

…now, y’all may roll your eyes at the mind-numbing, umpteenth time that the Lipps, Inc. version of “Funkytown” is toted out on the airwaves. For myself…hey, my toes, they’ll still be a-tappin’…again, and again, and again (...as I talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it…doo-doo doo doo doo, doo doo dah dee-doo…)…

…at home, the myriad collection of artists’ greatest hits albums, cassettes, compact discs…yeah, there might even be a dozen and a half or so of 8-track tapes, still buried in a box somewhere, too…far outnumbering the singularly themed releases, containing maybe one or two hits, and the rest of the lot…eh, likable, but for the most part, negligible and rarely heard. Even the hundreds…nay, even thousands of Frisbee-sized, black vinyl .45 RPM records…hey, a mere $1.99 each, at the long defunct Tower Records…with a top-40 hit on one side, and a notable, though slighted ‘other’ song…the lauded ‘B’ side, on the other…each carefully preserved in their own individual sleeves, and occasionally…the dust blown off those scratchy singles, and piled up on a turntable spindle, for successive, drop-sequential aural appreciation (…i.e., ‘hey Buddy!! Wanna come over and play some records??)…

…that been said…eh, every once in a blue moon…well, change-of-pace curiosity would momentarily take the driver’s seat, and invariably suggest that…hey, why not flip those dang .45’s over, like thin ebony-shaded flapjacks, and ‘cook up’ those lesser appreciated ‘B’ side puppies?? And the result of that revelation?? Well, more than often enough, you retain the artist’s intended heartfelt mood and fervor, but on a much more personal, ambitious, and meaningful level, though considerably less commercial and less prolific. The ‘A’ side…well, that’s for the dance-floor, arena rockin' general masses…but the ‘B’ side?? Perhaps advocated by the more ardent and appreciative of the artist’s following…something more personal, meaningful and diminutive, than the ‘preferred’ commercial piece…but no less reflective of the artist’s favored musical form or genre…

…from a cult film enthusiast’s point of view, this comparative observation might well seem not unlike…yeah, not unlike those well-paired old-school drive-in double features, of decades past…you know, where the first movie is a very commercial, higher-profile and higher budgeted film, within a specific genre…followed by, providing you stick around for it, the co-feature…usually within the same genre, to keep that momentum of flavor going, but on a much lesser, though no less ambitious scale & intent, budget and production–wise…

...(…sigh…OK, so I’ve had better lead-in’s…hey, doing the best I can, with what I’ve got, focusing on this ‘lil’ film that could’...gimme a break, will ya'?? But, then again...sheesh!! Talk about a shortcut, by way of Albuquerque…LOL!!!)…

…Scruffy and shaggy New York police officer and Army veteran Joey Fortunato is in the throes of dilemma and conflict. You see, some seven years previous, his father…a well-respected and seasoned cop, himself…was reportedly set up, ambushed and brutally killed in the streets, in cold blood by the local mafia. Since his father’s well-mourned passing, Joey’s mother and his uncle…both devoted Catholics, and both direct descendants of Italian immigrants…have relentlessly scolded, ranted at, and pressured him, insisting that he seek out ‘eye for an eye’ justice, and outright kill his father’s murderers, if at the very least, for the sake of the family’s honor (…uh, roll credits). Unfortunately, given a police officer’s morality and limitations, Joey finds himself hard pressed to act according to his mother’s wishes, as although everyone on the streets seems to know who killed Joey’s father, there appears to be no definitive proof that Carlo Regatti, the local mobster high-lord, was responsible for the contracted hit…
…in hopes of appeasing his mother and uncle to some degree, Joey reluctantly instigates his own covert investigation of his father’s murder; unfortunately, in the midst of having heavily roughed up and hammered one of Carlo’s loyal cronies for information, Joey is suspended, and forced to surrender his badge and gun, in response to his unorthodox and unauthorized actions. And to make matters worse, in pursuing and stalking Carlo from the shadows…seen just enough to let a progressively angered and enraged Carlo know that he is being pursued and stalked…not to mention, rousting and scaring one of Carlo’s business gatherings, with the blast of a sawed-off shotgun…Joey finds himself propelled to the number one spot, on Carlo’s hit list…
…keeping himself covert and in the shadows, Joey finds momentary solace, and a sense of personal progress in taking in and helping out a destitute, young and sickly waif of a drug addict, whom he is surprised to find out, he once went to school with. However, the well-intentioned headway efforts in getting the girl clean are short lived, when Joey returns home from his continued investigation, and finds that the girl has died…or rather, has been killed via overdose, by the ordered hit-man sent to his apartment to kill him. And to make matters even worse, the mob boss Carlo is also inexplicably found brutally killed, with the murder having been set up to suggested that Joey had perpetrated the killing. Despite all of this, as well as the fatal possibility of now getting killed by either his misdirected fellow police officers, or the now-vengeful quite mobsters…Joey nonetheless carries forward with his 'investigation'...sawed off shotgun in hand...realizing all too well at this point, that there is clearly more than meets the eye, with regards to his father’s death, and any involvement with or by the mob…
…thinking back and recalling those bygone classic times of drive-in cinema…say, back in the late ‘60’s to early seventies (…at the time, as a snot-nosed kid, seated on the backseat car window ledge, folded over the car roof, and getting a slight crick in the neck…my view, nonetheless unswervingly transfixed on the towering movie screen before me, reflecting back onto the car windshield), there was no mistaking those great, high-profile, big studio crime dramas, released at the time. Coppola’s “The Godfather” & “The Godfather, Part II”…Sidney Lumet’s “Serpico”…Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”…among countless others. The unnerving, albeit transfixing viciousness and grit of inner city intrigue and crime…a grim, grating and chilling city street borough ‘brrr’ to the mind, like being ‘forced’ to bite the concrete curb. The ruthless & ambitious criminal agendas and attitudes portrayed…outwardly, one can’t help but entrust that these ‘goodfellas’ would invariably be squelched by the local John Q. Law; however, in the alternate interim, one cannot help but feel an underlining measure of precarious glee and satisfaction, in seeing the bad guys do their thing…
…and after having let loose an exasperating breath of relief, once the final credits begin rolling on the screen…unclenching from a mentally, even a bit physically exhausting cinematic experience…hey folks, it’s intermission time. Time to get that last little walk and stretch, before the next movie…not to mention, gotta drain the ol’ lizard…maybe get one of those greasy ratburgers, or some of that cardboard crusted pizza…and quickly saunter back to the car, with hopes that the next feature film will continue the engaging momentum, having been instilled by the first movie…
…more than often enough, that second feature…given an ideal exhibitor’s pairing…does that very thing, albeit on a lesser budget, lesser profile and lesser production fervor. Trouble is…although they may well perform in that intent…well, who actually remembers by name, those ideally paired, lower-tiered, under-the-radar flicks, which often play for the mere moment, then disappear into obscurity, leaving perhaps a faint whiff of ‘…say, I remember seeing this great little movie, way back when, when it played with (fill in the blank)…but I be damned if I don’t remember the title”??...

…”Family Honor”…coined herein on this reviewed blu-ray release as merely “Honor”…much like one of those quirky character actors, whom one recognizes by sight, despite being unable to place an immediate name with the face…is definitely one of those films…
…interestingly enough…and most likely, the resourceful, well-scribed credit to the writer & director team of Clark Worswick and Louis Pastore (…who would tag-team their well-matched efforts again, some 13 years later, for the equally under-appreciated, extreme balls-to-the-wall espionage crime thriller, “Agent on Ice”)…’Family Honor’s sometimes claustrophobically photographed (…uh, you can’t tell me that ol’ Quentin Tarantino wasn’t influenced by this film, to some degree…that closed-in, circling 'round-the-table dialogue scene between gangster goons and mob accountants, or that DIY 'shooting up the junk' snippet, is a dead giveaway), wonderfully thick and atmospheric, albeit economical 17-grit grating (…hey, don’t knock the ol’ 17-grit sandpaper, now; it’ll deftly put a deep, slivered texture in the wood grain…as well as un-obstructively take off the top six layers of skin, with one swipe…Yikes!!), hard-nosed city street attitude is rendered in not so much the rough and deteriorated locales and visuals, but in the damn realistic exposition of the film’s no-holds-barred characters…
…really…the film’s main ‘setting’ is outwardly and liberally flavored the cold and ruthless inner-city asphalt streets of New York, as one might suggest...the outskirts city structures, the ratty and decrepit suburban slums, apartments, et al…and indeed, that may well be where they filmed the movie’s various scene proceedings. However, with the clearly economical, minimally budgeted photography and production values herein…hey, “Family Honor” might have been generically, albeit suitably filmed in just about any big-city Anywhere, USA…and rather, it’s the emotionally driven, hard-nosed, slightly over-the-top characterizations, which convincingly sell the film as a born & bred New Yorker, in as far as to say that when one watches the film, one doesn’t so much see actors playing the characters on the screen, than more so one might genuinely believe that these were real people we are seeing. Even the setting’s early ‘70’s wardrobe attire is picture perfect timely, in that respect, if you consider the clunky-bulky police uniforms, as well as the swag rock star-like gangster suits and hairstyles (...hey, them thugs gotta be hip wit' da' times, right??). Uh, yeah…it’s that thickly, deliciously realistic, and New York-style gritty…
…with stand-out performances from, for the most part, a surprisingly untried cast, heavily mustachioed actor Anthony Page…who would go on to portray further gritty, inner-city characters, including a powerhouse performance in 1981’s “Prince in the City”) leads the proceedings, as the staunchly charismatic Joey Fortunato…our disgraced, though no less determined police detective…torn between the law-abiding values of justice, and the insistent demands of family honor (…uh, roll credits), which would see justice swiftly stricken, no matter the cost (…I can’t help but quote Sean Connery, in his role as Malone, from 1987’s “The Untouchables”, who poignantly said, “…what are you prepared to do??”). Despite being virtually the only films to their credit…Vera Visconti, William Paxton and James Reyes nonetheless make their film roles herein, unique unto themselves, as…respectively…Joey’s mother, his uncle Tony, and the enraged & vengeful mafia boss, Carlo Regatti. And kicking her early acting chops into gear…a young and spunky Toni Calem, playing Carlo’s overly sheltered school-age daughter; she would continue taking on roles in gritty urban settings, with her television and cable work on shows like “Baretta”, “Kojak”, “Starsky & Hutch”, and much later, a prominent role in the acclaimed HBO series, “The Sopranos”…
…the spotty, synthesizer score ideally accents the rough, tough and grimy events that unfold…but of a much more ironic note, music-wise…why, we have famed rock guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Leslie West, of the ‘70’s hard rock group, Mountain (…oh, c’mon folks!! Surely, you remember the hard-geared, heavy rock smash, “Mississippi Queen”…hey, ‘more cowbell’, right??), strangely cast (…yet not so strangely, considering the rockin’ big hair of the mafia goons, in this flick) as a ‘blink, and you’ll miss ‘em’ walk-on part, as a background mob gangster…
…Code Red’s salvaged print of “Family Honor” is as deliciously gritty, grimy and bottom -of-the-barrel scuzzy as the film itself; but then, to clean up and remaster this particular film, might well instill some wrongful injustice in the overall drive-in flavor and experience of the film. Surprisingly enough, the promotion and distribution of this film (…by famed independent Cinerama Releasing, who that year, was also representing classic cult hits like “The Harrad Experiment”, “Walking Tall”, “The Mack”, and the equally obscure, under-appreciated & almost forgotten  horror/comedy, “Arnold”) was measurably faltered, commercially…which might well explain the film having been slipped through the cracks, discarded and unjustly buried…

…nonetheless, “Family Honor” is that rare-occasioned second tiered flick…that forlorn, negligible and seemingly disowned .45 ‘B’ side, at it were…which in it’s own right, proudly and shamelessly stands out, even in the spotlight snatching light of higher-showcased, bloated budgeted films of it’s like…

…a cool, late summer evening’s bumper-to-bumper drive-in double feature of Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”, followed by Clark Worswick’s “Family Honor”?? Oh hell, yes…I’d buy that for a dollar…or maybe even $5.50, a carload.....


TEXT HERE

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