Thursday, August 11, 2005

It Came from Netflix! Point Blank

I’ve been waiting quite a long while to see Point Blank, a very well regarded noir film from the ‘60s. It’s a movie I didn’t want to see pan and scanned (which was the TV/VHS format), so until it’s recent release in all its widescreen glory on DVD, I didn’t have a shot at it. I’m glad I waited.

Remember Payback with Mel Gibson? Point Blank is based on the same book by Richard Stark. This, in turn, is the pseudonym author Donald Westlake, best known for his comic heist books, employs when writing a series of incredibly hardboiled and gritty crime novels. Most of these revolve around an all but sociopathic career criminal named Parker, whose adventures continue today, as in this year’s Nobody Runs Forever.

In fact, both Point Blank and Payback are based on The Hunter, the novel that introduced Parker, although in Point Blank the character has been renamed Walker. While Gibson’s film took a more comic tack, the original reflects the tone of the novel to a far greater extent. Starring the superlative Lee Marvin, we follow Walker as he’s betrayed after a heist by his best friend and his own wife. He’s left for dead, but survives and returns not only for revenge, but for his share of the money from the heist they all pulled.

Marvin, needless to say, is perfect in the role. The rest of the cast is great too, including an incredibly sexy Angie Dickinson as Walker’s sister-in-law. Other familiar faces include Keenan Wynn, Carol O’Connor, John Vernon (his first movie), James Sikking, and, if I’m not mistaken, a young Michael Moriarty in a small role. The movie is all Marvin’s, though, and one of his best.

It was directed by John Boorman, who like his contemporary John Frankenhiemer (The Manchurian Candidate) produced some startlingly brilliant surrealistic films before losing control and producing startlingly awful surrealistic films. In Boorman's case, the awful films include Zardoz and The Exorcist II. Point Blank, though, is one of the brilliant ones.

The film is almost hypnotically weird. At one point Marvin sits next to his wife and silently stares forward, while she carries on her half of a conversation between them. Indeed, the insanely single-minded Walker is almost a zombie. There’s a great scene where Dickinson tries to literally beat a reaction or even sign of life out of him, only to fall exhausted to the floor without managing to do so. The film’s surrealism has lead some to posit that Walker died when he was betrayed, and that the movie’s events are merely his last imaginings. I’m a little too literal, though, so I’ll dismiss that stuff.

Much of this is discussed on a commentary track on which director Steven Soderbergh joins and shepherds comments by Boorman. Considering Boorham’s hilariously awful solo commentary on the Zardoz DVD, you can only be glad this is the case. Soderbergh freely admits that he used Point Blank as a template for much of his own The Limey, as would be immediately apparent to anyone who’s seen both films.

However, Soderbergh is perhaps a bit too much of a director, and mostly keeps the discussion aimed at technical matters such as the film’s admittedly fascinating color design. (And no, I’m not being sarcastic.) However, little attention is paid to the fascinating supporting cast. It made me wish for a second commentary with Quentin Tarantino, who undoubtedly could gush on about the actors alone for an hour and a half.

Anyway, a great, four star movie. For a fantastic double bill, watch this with the 1971 version of Get Carter, starring Michael Caine.

My interest in The Cave plummets to its death...

OK, there was a time when I was moderately interested in seeing The Cave, an under-the-earth monster movie that was suspiciously moved from a spring release date earlier this year to an upcoming August 26th one, instead.

Even so…monsters. Really, that’s enough to grab my interest right there, especially since I don’t see a spooky ghost kid in sight. (Been a lot of them lately, it seems.)

So a commercial came on for it last night, and I turned away so I wouldn’t see anything I shouldn’t (and which they surely would be dumb enough to show me anyway). And…my precautions were in vain. Looking away didn't preempt my hearing a major plot twist from apparently about halfway through the movie being blown in one sentence.

This provided several more reasons to think the movie will suck. First, the ‘twist’ is incredibly stale. Second, it’s no longer much of a twist if you reveal it in the friggin’ TV ads! Third, I’m not even sure why they’d do so. When they blew the “I see dead people” thing for The Sixth Sense, it was a novel plot device that drew a huge audience to come see the movie. In other words, it might have been a detriment to the film proper, but it made a lot of sense from a marketing standpoint.

The twist featured in the commercial for The Cave, however, is pure boilerplate, and does nothing other than confirm my suspicions that the film will be another paint-by-numbers loser.

Having more or less given up on the film by that point, I watched the rest of the commercial, and saw a) way too much of the monster(s), and b) saw what is obviously supposed to be a big shock moment (several, actually, but one in particular), meaning it won’t be shocking anymore, and besides, it was ripped off from Deep Blue Sea, which again doesn’t fill me with confidence about the people who made this one. Oh, and the monsters seem to be (sigh) CGI.

Remember Alien? The ads featuring the screeching, pounding sound and elliptical flashes of the film that gave you a sense of its flavor without blowing nearly anything about it? All The Cave had to do was tell us…Cave…Monsters. That’s it. Everything else just lessens our ability to be surprised by and enjoy the film. And in this case (as in so many others), actually lets us know that this isn’t a movie we should be getting very excited about. Good promotional campaign, putzes.

Thanks for saving me the $10, folks.

Fab DVD news of the day...

According to the good folks at DreadCentral.com, the long-awaited DVD set for the quite fabulous Devil-in-a-Small-Southern-Town TV series American Gothic will be hitting shelves just in time for Halloween. The entire 22 episode run will be included.

Great stuff.

Today's Kong DVD-related item...

Click here to see the DVD cover art for Mighty Joe Young and Son of Kong, as well as the same directors' Last Days of Pompeii.

http://www.thedigitalbits.com/mytwocentsa107.html#son

As noted earlier, SoK and MJY will be sold separately, but the smart money is on the DVD collection that mates them with the two-disc King Kong set.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Awesome Kong DVD news continues...

Final and complete details on the Kong sets can be found here (if not at the top, keep scrolling down; there's a big piece of artwork featuring the version box sets, so you can't mix it).

I was excited to learn the other day that a third set of the DVD collection would feature not only the two discs for King Kong, but separate discs for Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Today, Digitalbits.com announced that the suggested price for the set will be about $40, which means you should be able to grab all three movies (and four discs) for under $30! Awesome!

Moreover, Mighty Joe Young has a bunch of extras: "Mighty Joe Young will include the 94-minute restored B&W film on video in its original full frame, with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio and English, French and Spanish subtitles. Extras will include audio commentary (by Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston and Terry Moore), 2 new featurettes (Ray Harryhausen and The Chioda Brothers and Ray Harryhausen and Mighty Joe Young) and the film's theatrical trailer."

Also out about that time is the proto-disaster epic The Last Days of Pompeii, also by Kong directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.

This week on DVD (08/09/05)...

With TV season sets arriving on a weekly basis, we might as well start noting those. The prize of the week in that regard is the short-lived but fondly remembered Profit, a blackly comic show set in the corporate world. It was undoubtedly too edgy for network TV, even Fox, and might have done better on HBO or Showtime, where shows with much smaller audiences can still be considered hits. Eight episodes, including the two-hour pilot, for around $20.

Other season sets this week include Columbo Season 3 (great stuff); Dallas Season 3 (and a collected seasons 1-3 set); Greatest American Hero Season 3; McCloud Seasons 1 & 2: McMillan & Wife Seasons 1 & 2; The Muppet Show Season 1 (yay); My Favorite Martian Season 3; Roswell Season 3; T.J. Hooker Seasons 1 & 2 (SHATNER!!);

The movie of the week is the super-cool-awesome kung fu/comedy/whatever flick Kung Fu Hustle. Features an audio commentary and a lot of other cool crap. Here’s a word of advice: Buy the widescreen version, fool! Available for under $20.

The B-movie of the week is Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues, the sequel-in-name-only to the popular ‘70s Bigfoot ‘documentary’ The Legend of Boggy Creek. MST3K will remember it being heckled by Mike and the ‘Bots. (The MST3K version is also available on DVD.) It’s available for around $10.

The ‘80s camp classic Night in Heaven hits the shelf, starring Leslie Ann Warren as a teacher trapped in a loveless marriage who learns that her hunky student Christopher Atkins (who else?) is a STRIPPER BY NIGHT! Complications of the Erotic Kind inevitably ensue. Under $10.

Our good friends at Anchor Bay allow us to drop in on The Dead Next Door, a 1989 zombie apocalypse flick. The disc includes a director’s commentary and a documentary and other stuff. You can find the DVD for under $10.

The ‘60s ‘former respected actress playing a crazy killer’ genre hit one of its peaks with Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, featuring some ax murders that shocked audiences at the time. The stellar cast includes Bette Davis, Agnes Moorehead (wasn’t she a Bond Girl?), Bruce Dern, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, George Kennedy, Victor Buono, Mary Astor and Cecil Kellaway. It was directed by Robert Aldritch. Available for under $10.

Fans of really old disaster movies will want to check out In Old Chicago, which tells the tale of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Great Fire. Starring Tyrone Powers and Don Ameche. Available for under $10.

A serial killer stalks an all night grocery store in the 1988 slasher flick Intruder, starring Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and Ted Raimi. Available for around $10.

The appropriately campy biographical TV flick Liberace hits DVD, starring a scarily on the nose Andrew “Scorpio” Robinson. Under $10.

The proto-corporate-rat-race movie The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is out, starring Gregory Peck. Under $10.

Masochists will want to check out Oh, Heavenly Dog, in which sleuth Chevy Chase is killed (yay!) and returns as pooch Benji (seriously) to solve the crime. Co-starring the no doubt highly embarrassed Jane Seymour and Omar Sharif, and directed by the appropriately monikered Joe Camp. Under $10, but there are other costs to consider, like that to your brain.

Project Grizzly is a documentary about a guy who survived a bear attack and decided to build himself a Mecha-like anti-bear suit.

Anchor Bay also attends The Rites of Frankenstein, another Jess Franco masterwork starring, who else, Howard Vernon. This one sound wacky even for Franco. Around $10.

Fans of old fashioned crooning will enjoy the Soundstage: Chris Isaak concert. Around $12.

If you’re desperate for a DTV Blade/Underworld knock-off—sneers the guy who watches every single DTV killer shark movie that comes out—look no further than Vampire Assassins. About $15.

The movie The Volcano Disaster…well, I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Still, it must be a great movie is the box promises, “should appeal to fans of…THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.” Were there fans of The Day After Tomorrow? I shouldn’t blow this tremendous plot twist, but the hero is stymied by a “corrupt mayor.” Brilliant!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nice work if you can get it...

Per Entertainment Weekly: Fox, in keeping alive the corpse of That '70s Show following the exit of the inexplicably popular Ashton Kutcher and, far worse, Topher Grace (an actor with possibly the deftest comedy chops of his generation), has offered co-star Danny Masterson a 15 Million Dollar salary to return for the series' final year. I repeat: $15,000,000.

Trying to keep something as delicately balanced as an ensemble series going after key players leave (or die, as with Phil Hartman in the until-then superlative New Radio) almost never works. I'm sure Masterson appreciates it, though.

Cool Drive-in Theater News for East Coasters!

Per the invaluable Dvddrive-in.com:

"If you’re on the East Coast and want to relive the classic drive-in days of yesteryear, The Starlight Drive-In in Atlanta has just the thing! This Labor Day weekend (September 3rd and 4th) they’ll host the 6th annual “Drive Invasion” and this year’s big screen features are DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE, MADHOUSE, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, SPIDER BABY, FOXY BROWN and BLOOD BATH. The showings will also include vintage drive-in trailers, and the guests of honor will be Jack Hill, Sid Haig and Robert Quarry. Live bands, car shows, motorcycle shows, and more fun round out the entire weekend. We can’t wait! For more information, check out the Drive Invasion website HERE."

Yet even more DVD announcements...

Still your beating heart, for the Blind Dead Collection is due on September 27th. The five disc set features the complete quartet of the atmospheric Euro zombie flicks, and an extra DVD of extras. Check out that groovy packaging! The complete details of each separate disc can be found here. The set is selling on the Net for about $60-$70. See DVDpricesearch.com for the best deal.

Fans of silent comedy will welcome Kino's The Harold Lloyd Collection 2, out on September 13th.

Sony will be releasing the entire series of the enjoyably awful King Kong cartoon series, memorable for it's villain Dr. Who (!), for turning Kong into Gentle Ben, and for it's unforgettable theme song. ("You know the name, of, King Kong/You know the fame, of, King Kong/Ten times as big as a maaaaan.") It's due out in November.

Criterion will be releasing a new, updated edition of the essential Jean-Pierre Melville French noir classic Le Samourai in October. Criterion will also be releasing (under the collection title Rebel Samurai) a set of '60s Samurai movies, including including Masaki Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion , Hideo Gosha's Sword of the Beast , Masahiro Shinoda's Samurai Spy and Kihachi Okamoto's Kill! Each film is also available by itself. Finally, in even better news than the Le Samourai reissue, is Criterion's new, more elaborate release of the classic suspenser The Wages of Fear, remade by William Friedkin as Sorcerer.

Finally, a zillion more TV season sets have been announced, including season one of The White Shadow.

Further DVD announcements...

The big gorilla (ha ha) of DVD announcements is discussed below. However, here's some other stuff due out.

Aside from the King Kong DVD due out to coincide with Peter Jackson's upcoming theatrical version, fans of the Kiwi director will be glad to learn of a new director's cut release of his pretty fun earlier film, The Frighteners. Apparently an earlier laser disc release featured a four hour (!) making of documentary. Will it be ported over to the DVD? (Probably not, since apparently this will be a single disc release. Morons.) Details to follow.

In the "Whatever, Dude" catagory, there will be a new, 2-disc "unrated" (see my earlier discussion of faux 'unrated' versions') edition of the greatest movie ever made, Alien vs. Predator, out in November. Details can be found here (under the Kong stuff), but the set is insanely loaded. I might have to try to rent this only to hear the commentary track Lance Henriksen participates on, although I haven't actually seen the movie yet. I know, my bad.

In better movie news, the long-awaited special edition of Mike Judge's cult comedy Office Space hits shelves on Nov 1st. Per Digitalbits.com: "In addition to a new anamorphic widescreen transfer and audio commentary with writer/director Mike Judge, look for the Out of the Office: An Office Space Retrospective with Mike Judge documentary, the film's theatrical trailer, deleted scenes (including Peter Lies to Lumbergh, Happy Hour and Chotchkies, Peter Goes off on Nina and Tom's Mixed Heritage Called into Question), DVD-ROM extras and more."

Meanwhile, Dark Shadows fans will be glad to hear that the complete set of the 'revival series,' presumably the updated show with Ben Cross that ran several years ago, is to be released in October.

King Kong DVD news gets even better...

[See directly below for previous post on Kong DVD.]

Per Digitalbits.com, here's the coolest part, as a previously unannounced third package is discussed:

"and finally a 4-disc collector's box set which includes the 2-disc King Kong DVD along with The Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Each version will contain the same two Kong discs (just the packaging and the "in the box" extras differ). All I can say is it's about damn time. Very cool news indeed."

Obviously I concur.

Here's the rest of the piece, with some very cool details:

"The Hollywood Reporter has posted a feature story on Warner's new 2-disc King Kong DVD (yes, that's the classic 1933 Kong), which is at long last expected to street on 11/22. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is helping to produce extras for the forthcoming edition, even as he works on his own theatrical remake. Specifically, Jackson is working on a new 2-hour/7-part documentary, RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World, that will be included on the set. Among other things, the documentary will include a segment on the infamous "spider pit" deleted scene (including a recreation of the lost footage). Other extras on the Kong release will include a documentary on director Merian C. Cooper, trailers for other films by Cooper, and audio commentary by legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, actress Terry Moore and special effects guru Ken Ralston. Warner's King Kong will be available in no less than THREE versions - a 2-disc special edition, a 2-disc collector's edition packaged in (according to the story) "a collectable tin and including a 20-page reproduction of the original souvenir program, postcard reproductions of the original one sheets, and a mail-in offer for a reproduction of a vintage 27-by-41-inch movie poster."

That's just too fantastic for words.