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GRINDHOUSE: Schlock of Ages

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews with tags , , , on December 24, 2015 by Robert Morgan

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Once upon a time, more than eight years ago, the mighty filmmaking team of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaborated yet again on a project that paid homage to the drive-in exploitation movie memories of their youth. But this time instead of Rodriguez directing a Tarantino script or Tarantino doing a cameo in one of Rodriguez’s movies, the two teamed up to bring us a rare cinematic experience: an old school night at the movies, two features for the price of one, complete with fake trailers directed by the cream of the genre cinema crop sprinkled between the main attractions.

For inspiration, Rodriguez and Tarantino reached back into the past to the days when VCRs and DVD players were only gestating ideas and the only way to experience true B-grade cinema was to go to your rundown neighborhood grindhouse to catch a double or triple bill of the latest blaxploitation thriller, chop-socky adventure, and gruesome horror extravaganza.

In a grindhouse theater you got more than a few movies, you got the whole enchilada: trailers for coming attractions, cartoons, short films, restaurant ads, and a reeking ambiance that you can’t replicate in the privacy of your own home unless you want to get kicked out.

The aptly-titled Grindhouse turned out to be much more than a movie; it was both a love letter and the ultimate tribute to the forbidden fruits of cinema by a pair of adoring fans and first class filmmakers.

There’s a lot to take in here so I will break down the features one by one.

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Machete– True to form, we open with a trailer for a 1970’s-style action flick starring Rodriguez staple Danny Trejo as a Mexican day laborer hired by a mysterious well-dressed man (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a US senator. Sure enough Machete is set up for the big betrayal and left for dead. After recovering he sets out to take revenge on those behind the frame up with the help of a former comrade (Cheech Marin) who has since become a priest. Turns out our boy Machete is a former federale with expertise in guns and explosives, and is proficient in throwing his trademark machetes like a distant cousin to Trejo’s character in Desperado.

The gods of manly action classics would surely welcome Machete into their fold. The man’s a jack of all trades and Trejo looks and plays the part like a true master of adventure. From nailing two topless babes under a waterfall to leaping over an exploding barricade on a motorcycle blasting a Vulcan cannon, Machete brings the excitement. As it goes with any good trailer, this one leaves you wanting more. After the release of Grindhouse Rodriguez began talking about making a Machete feature for the direct-to-video market, but three years later it was released theatrically with Trejo fronting a truly mind-frying ensemble cast that included Jessica Alba, Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, and none other than Steven fuckin’ Seagal as the Mexican villain.

Rodriguez incorporated some of the footage he shot for the trailer into the full-length feature and though Machete was hardly a box office blockbuster it did well enough to spawn a belated sequel, the inferior (but still fun in its own way) Machete Kills. That one just bombed outright at the box office, making the chances of this gonzo action saga’s third installment, Machete Kills Again in Space, ever being made slim enough to fit into one of the crevices in Trejo’s face.

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Planet Terror– Rodriguez’s half of the Grindhouse power twosome is a unabashedly balls-out tribute to the sci-fi horror action movies of such genre greats as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, James Cameron, and Stuart Gordon. Set in a small Texas town over the course of one night, Planet Terror begins with the attempted sale of a deadly biological weapon known as DC2 (aka “Project Terror) to a Marine platoon led by the uncaring Muldoon (Bruce Willis). The sale goes south and in desperation military scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews), the man responsible for brokering the deal, shoots the canisters containing the virus. Project Terror is on the loose.

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Meanwhile, frustrated go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) has just quit her job and is sitting in a roadside BBQ shack owned by J.T. (Jeff Fahey…again!) when her old flame, the mysterious El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), walks in. Clearly the two have a complicated past. Wray offers to give Cherry a ride home. On the way Wray swerves his truck to avoid hitting something in the road and the truck flips over, crashing off the road. Cherry is pulled out of the truck by a group of shadowy figures and taken screaming into the night. Wray grabs a rifle and goes looking, and when he finds Cherry alive she’s missing a leg. The people who took her ate her leg. Wray takes her to the nearest hospital, presided over by cynical doctor William Block (Josh Brolin) and his anesthesiologist wife Dakota (Marley Shelton).

Dakota is currently planning to leave her husband and run away with her lesbian lover Tammy (Stacy Ferguson, aka Fergie), but her attempts to keep it secret from the good doctor aren’t working. Not to mention Tammy’s car has broken down and in trying to flag down someone to help her gets attacked and eaten by more people infected by the rapidly spreading DC2. Block attends to his friend Joe (Nicky Katt), who has a strange bite on his arm and some rather disturbing lesions on his tongue. Fearing the worst Block advises Joe to have his arm severed so the infection won’t spread to his vital internal organs. The local sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) and his two deputies Tolo (gore god Tom Savini) and Carlos (Carlos Gallardo, the original El Mariachi) arrest Wray for Cherry’s maiming not believing his wild story of the sickos who actually ate her leg.

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Back at the hospital Block discovers Dakota’s infidelity when the paramedics wheel in Tammy’s partially-devoured corpse. The sinister doctor attacks his wife with her own needles, numbing her hands, and locks her in a closet. In the midst of all this the infected start pouring in. Hague and his men are attacked at the police station but get some unexpected assistance from a more than capable Wray, who decides to head for the hospital to retrieve Cherry with Hague and the deputies riding along. Block finds Joe has become one of the infected and becomes one himself when his diseased former friend spreads virus-ridden goop all over the doctor’s face. Dakota manages to escape from the hospital but is forced to drive with two numb hands to pick up her son Tony (Rodriguez’s son Rebel) currently being watched by the Crazy Babysitter Twins (Electra and Elise Avellan, Rodriguez’s former stepdaughters).

Wray finds Cherry and sticks a table leg in the spot where her real leg used to be and the two of them flee the hospital, rendezvousing back at J.T.’s place with the sheriff, his deputies, and several uninfected townsfolk. With the number of infected growing by the hour, this disparate group must band together to fight the ravenous hordes hungry for their flesh and survive the night while trying to unlock the mystery of Project Terror’s origins.

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Planet Terror, much like his previous film Sin City, is Robert Rodriguez unleashed. This is the kind of full tilt boogie lurid and ultraviolent action splatter-fest that used to pour out of drive-in movie screens on hot summer nights and crowd the horror rack at your local video store. If this movie had been released in the 1980’s England would’ve proudly placed it on their “Video Nasties” list. Rodriguez has said before in interviews that he sees Planet Terror as “the lost John Carpenter movie between Escape from New York and The Thing” and that just says it all. He even composes, with a little help from his musician friends, a terrific musical score that recalls the great synthesizer scores of Carpenter’s earlier films.

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This is not a movie that plays by normal rules. Every person in the movie has the license to give free rein to become their inner superhero. People run up walls, shoot syringe guns, and use a rocket launcher on their leg to propel themselves into the air in order to blast a waiting group of pustule-oozing zombie Marines on the other side of a building. This is Rodriguez’s own comic book universe, his every cinematic fantasy made flesh, and it’s amazing. KNB EFX pulls out all the stops to provide the grisliest effects they have ever produced. This is one of their finest hours.

Rodriguez chose a fine cast to bring his B-movie archetypes to bold, colorful life. Rose McGowan gets one of her best roles in years playing the tough but gentle Cherry Darling. Cherry is given a clever running joke throughout the movie as she expresses her desire to become a stand-up comedian and tries to prove to an unconvinced Wray that she’s funny. But when her old boyfriend attaches a modified machine gun to her lonely leg stump Cherry enters the pantheon of iconic action heroes. She’s a goddess of destruction, and McGowan gives the part her all. Freddy Rodriguez (no relation) is not everyone’s first choice to play an unlikely action superhero, but as the versatile El Wray he certainly impresses. Running up walls, wielding some wicked knives, and keeping his ex-girlfriend calm and encouraged is all part of a night’s work for this pint-sized badass, even if that bit of peach fuzz on his chin doesn’t fool me.

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Marley Shelton, another member of Rodriguez’s ever growing repertory company, gets her fair share of moments to shine as the anesthetic gun-sporting wonder woman Dakota Block. At certain times she’s bears an uncanny resemblance to Uma Thurman, and that’s okay because I love Uma. Michael Biehn gives a commanding comeback performance as the hardened Sheriff Hague, all action and no bullshit. Jeff Fahey gets to play his role of grizzled barbecue gourmet J.T. with a welcome sense of humor. He has a great bickering chemistry with Biehn, who turns out to be J.T.’s estranged brother. Bruce Willis gets to play himself once again as the cold and cynical Lt. Muldoon, but why complain when he plays himself like a fucking pro? Naveen Andrews subverts the serious television persona he built on “Lost” with a cutting wit as the obligatory scientist who provides handy exposition, but he’s given a rather twisted character trait and Andrews is clearly savoring the opportunity to play such a useful bastard.

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The Avellan sisters are wonderfully gonzo as the sexy but goddamn insane Crazy Babysitter Twins. Tom Savini provides more comic relief as the dumbass deputy Tolo, but he gets his own shining moment when he dispatches a zombie with a brilliant gun move. Josh Brolin is a long way from The Goonies playing the sadistic Doc Block (“His prescription….pain!”), a role he sinks his teeth into with disturbing glee. Michael Parks returns to reprise his role as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw and gets to unload his six-shooter on a few zombies like the manly man he is.

Planet Terror is pure fun for lovers of two-fisted action flicks and blood-and-guts horror alike. Lock up your inhibitions and have a great time.

POSTSCRIPT: 2015

To this day Planet Terror remains my favorite half of the Grindhouse double bill. I had the pleasure recently of watching the extended cut on the Blu-ray that was released nearly two years before the full experience finally made its way to the format. It’s some of the purest exploitation cinema made since the sleaze pit bijous and drive-ins were permanently shuttered and converted to flea markets and cost-free motels for squatters. It’s also the last truly great feature Rodriguez made. The spectacular box office flame-out of Grindhouse impacted him more than it did Tarantino; from that moment on the majordomo of Troublemaker Studios had to search for work at other studios or outside independent financing for his projects that held limited mass audience appeal.

His collaborator bounced back from Grindhouse‘s failure to connect with modern moviegoers by making two of the best and most successful films of his career, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. In comparison, Rodriguez’ Planet Terror follow-up was the episodic kiddie flick Shorts, released theatrically around the same time as Basterds in August 2009. The next year he made good on his promise to convert Machete into a feature and the result was a hugely entertaining B-action thriller on Terror‘s level that was cheaper to make and thus able to turn a profit during its theatrical run. But other films Rodriguez desired to make, like updated adaptations of Barbarella and Red Sonja, never made it out of Development Hell.

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Now for more trailers.

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ThanksgivingEli Roth’s contribution to the Grindhouse fake trailer reel is his homage to gruesome 1980s slasher flicks and a diseased little corker that lets loose some quality holiday-themed carnage. Using available members of his Hostel Part II cast and creating a small Massachusetts town in Prague, Roth lets loose his nasty and vicious imagination to give us a hint of what a funny gorefest he would make out of Turkey Day. The gore gags on display are priceless.

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Werewolf Women of the S.S. – Melding horror and Naziploitation flicks like Love Camp 7 and the infamous Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S., Rob Zombie creates the trailer for his ultimate grind house epic with the help of several members of his Halloween remake cast including Sheri Moon Zombie and Bill Moseley. Routinely dismissed as the least of the Grindhouse trailer collection, Zombie’s contribution is still a lot of fun complete with an out-of-left field cameo from Nicholas Cage as….Fu Manchu!

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Don’t – Last but not least is the jewel of the Grindhouse trailer reel, an uproarious send-up of ineptly marketed European horrors directed by Edgar Wright and starring most of his Hot Fuzz cast (you bloody well know who). A rapid fire anthology of intense horror mainstays underscored with an announcer (Will Arnett) screaming “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” Wright’s contribution is a twisted delight.

An explosive crash from Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (Grindhouse)

Death Proof – Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse pays unabashed tribute to the four-on-the-floor car chase epics of the 1960s and 1970s like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. Split into two tonally-different acts, the first focuses on a group of young women out for a night on the town: Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), visiting from New York; Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), a beautiful but occasionally insensitive local disc jockey; and Shanna (Jordan Ladd), their hard-partying friend.

At a bar they encounter Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a former movie and TV stuntman who enjoys hanging out in bars practicing his rusted pick-up techniques on the younger women who frequent the joint. Mike offers to give wisecracking hippie chick Pam a ride home, and this is where we the stuntman’s true colors. It turns out he likes jumping into his “death proof” stunt car and running down the ladies who don’t buy into his masculine wiles. After giving Pam her last ride, Mike turns around and speeds off after Arlene and company.

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Act two takes place sometime later. Mike is now in Tennessee stalking another small group of women, this particular bunch in town working on a cheerleader flick: actress Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), make-up artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), and stuntwomen Zoe (Zoe Bell) and Kim (Tracie Thoms). Zoe drags her friends up to the house of a creepy rancher who’s selling a 1970 Dodge Challenger. Ever since seeing Vanishing Point Zoe has always wanted to get behind the wheel of one of these mean machines. Leaving Lee behind to keep the creep company, Zoe and her two friends take the Challenger out for a test spin.

With Kim at the wheel and Abernathy riding in the backseat, Zoe climbs onto the hood to play “Ship’s Mast”. As the Challenge roars down the empty country highway, Stuntman Mike decides to join the ladies and give them a time to remember. Barely surviving, the ladies take it upon themselves to turn the tables on the fleeing stuntman. This time Mike isn’t getting away that easy.

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Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s idea of a chick flick. We are in the company of a group of fiercely-independent and intelligent women out for a good time who know very well how to take care of themselves. It’s a lot of fun to spend time with these lovely ladies because each group has their own authentic chemistry, aided by Tarantino’s trademark knack for meaty dialogue. Even if you’re a guy you can’t help but be carried along and feel like you’re part of each group.

That’s when Kurt Russell walks in. A true silver screen icon known for his defining roles in John Carpenter’s films Escape from New York, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China, Russell returns to the type of badass character that he built his career on. Stuntman Mike can go from affable and charismatic to cruel and violent when he gets behind the wheel of his “death proof” car to pursue his attractive quarry. Endowing his auto psycho with his trademark charm and good humor, Russell gives one of the best performances of his career.

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The true heart of Death Proof is Tarantino’s wonderfully-drawn female characters and the actresses he wisely chose to play them. Vanessa Ferlito is great as Arlene, the friend who finds herself simultaneously repulsed and intrigued by Mike. Sydney Tamiia Poitier, daughter of screen acting legend Sidney Poitier, has a ball playing the hot and slightly catty Jungle Julia who has no patience for people she sees through immediately. Jordan Ladd’s character doesn’t get much focus but she stills acts her heart out playing a lovable character. Making her second appearance in Grindhouse is Rose McGowan, playing a character whose sad beauty and endearing cynicism could almost make her a distant cousin to Cherry Darling, but does in fact serve her up as easy prey for the cool Stuntman Mike.

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In my opinion the actresses who turn up in Death Proof’s second half are the true stars of the movie. Rosario Dawson plays Abernathy as another in her staple of sweet and adorable heroines. It’s a wonderful role given personality and life by Dawson. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s vaguely naïve actress Lee is the “Shanna” of this act but she still gives a good show and doesn’t annoy. Tracie Thoms gives her character Kim a loving demeanor with a “don’t fuck with me” attitude on the side. She’s awesome.

The breakout performance of Death Proof, and indeed all of Grindhouse, comes courtesy of veteran stuntwoman Zoe Bell, a New Zealand native making her acting debut here. If you’ve ever seen Zoe in interviews then it doesn’t come as a surprise that her cute and friendly superwoman is essentially an extension of her own personality, and she does all of her own stunts to boot. Bell is the true star of this movie and deserves a long and fruitful career. How can you not love her?

Death Proof finds the equally admired and maligned Quentin Tarantino indulging in his fetishistic love for insane car chases, old school tough guys, and the bare feet of beautiful women. Recalling the good ol’ days when CGI was a laughable pipe dream and the stunts were done for real, the stunt work in Death Proof is first class, the real deal all the way. The car chases are thrilling and intense as the director puts you in the driver’s seat to experience the action first hand. The movie is an honest-to-Buddha rollercoaster ride that fully engages you on a visceral level with no breaks. Death Proof is a much different film from Planet Terror but it yields more than its fair share of rewards.

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POSTSCRIPT: 2015

In the years since the release of Grindhouse Tarantino has been brutally honest about Death Proof‘s place in his filmography, even referring to it as the worst movie he has ever made. Personally I would assign that dishonorable honor to Kill Bill V.2, but I digress. The filmmaker bounced back from the failure of his epic collaboration with Rodriguez by making two of the biggest hits of his career, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Prior to making Death Proof Tarantino had been working at a Malickian pace, but watching Grindhouse go down in flames at the box office seemed to have motivated the notoriously combative but gifted enfant terrible of cinema to get busy directing or get busy dying.

At first Death Proof appears oddly constructed in terms of its story, but that unconventional structure serves the film well if you accept it as two short films each with their own three-act layout melded together instead of as one film split into two distinct halves. The first half, set in Austin, TX, is set mostly at night and is designed visually to be a nihilistic slasher flick with a conclusion as inevitable as any scuzzy blood horror that spilled onto the movie screens in the genre’s heyday. The second, shot in the broadest of daylight with rural California standing in for rural Tennessee, is a full-speed rape revenge movie centering on a group of wronged women getting some wondrously cathartic payback against the perverted psychopath who tried to take away everything they had. Only in this case the rapist is a crazed ex-stuntman using his custom killing machine to batter what he perceives to be a lesser car driven by a lesser gender into nothingness and then bend them all to his sickening will.

It’s like Death Proof was one of those cinematic Frankenstein monsters that guys like Al Adamson and Sam Sherman used to stitch together out of pieces of movies that started production but fell apart and were left unfinished or were released but did absolutely no business. We accept that Russell is still playing Stuntman Mike in the second half, but he’s never referred to by that name (not even by himself) and he even drives a different car than in the first half. Is it possible then that we’re watching two different movies edited together to become one, with the scene with Shelton and the Parks men added to bridge the distinct narratives? Go into Death Proof with that mindset and it starts to make a little more sense. I feel a revisit is in order soon.

When you add every single element of this sucker up you have a cinematic experience unlike any other. Grindhouse is a movie made by film fans for film fans. I love it, and so will you.

THIS IS SPINAL TAP, Mark 2: The Elusive 4.5 Hour Workprint

Posted in Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2015 by Robert Morgan

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Once a film is finished shooting, the post-production team begins to assemble most of the printed footage into what is often termed a “rough cut” to give them a better idea of the editing task that lies ahead. The next step is usually to create a “workprint”, which pares down the rough assembly a bit and adds in cards indicating missing scenes and special effects footage and utilizes a “temp track” of music taken from other films for the soundtrack. From there the director and their team really go to work to whip the film into its final shape as the time counts down to its premiere.

Workprints are occasionally shown at test screenings so that audience reactions to what has been assembled so far can be used by the studio to impact the final cut in ways that can sometimes be positive, but are more often that not detrimental to the vision of the filmmakers. Sometimes, in the case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a workprint for a major Hollywood tentpole blockbuster wannabe gets leaked to the Internet days or weeks in advance of its theatrical release.

Even with the advancement of cutting edge home entertainment technology that allows deleted scenes to be included as extra features on DVDs and Blu-rays of the films they were cut from, these alternate cuts are highly sought out by collectors and hardcore film buffs for the footage they contain that has never been publicly released. You can typically find workprints for many a classic work of cinema hiding out on the web among the torrent sites and bootleg DVD retailers.

Every so often, a workprint manages to find its way onto a legitimate video release, such as the collector’s edition DVD and Blu-ray editions of Blade Runner. But most of the time you have to search high and low to find one that is snatched from the clutches of the studio that financed it, digitized, and set free for all eternity online. Case in point….the four-and-a-half workprint of This is Spinal Tap.

Few filmmakers make their directorial debut with a bonafide masterpiece, but that is exactly what Rob Reiner did when he made Spinal Tap. It was released to critical acclaim in 1984 and over the years became a highly quotable cult classic. There are good comedies, great comedies, and comedy classics. Spinal Tap is all three and then some. It was truly a collaborative effort between Reiner and his stars/co-writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. The characters had been developed for years even before the film was made, and by the time cameras the actors were so ensconced with their respective creations that they were able to ad-lib most of their dialogue.

Comedies, especially ones that rely heavily on improvisation, are often the most difficult kinds of films to edit unless they are rigidly scripted and performed from the very beginning. The final running time of Spinal Tap is 82 minutes, but there was enough material resigned to the cutting room floor to make a pair of sequels. None of the deleted footage ever saw the light of day until the 1990’s when the Criterion Collection released Spinal Tap on a special edition laserdisc that included about an hour of outtakes among their generous selection of supplements. This material also made the cut when the laserdisc extras were ported over for the DVD edition, one of Criterion’s earliest on the format. Both the Criterion laserdisc and DVD releases of Spinal Tap went out of print and became collector’s items that fetched high prices on sites like Amazon and eBay.

When MGM unveiled a digitally-remastered edition of Spinal Tap on VHS and DVD in 2000, both versions featured cut scenes from the film as a bonus feature. The VHS edition only contained around ten minutes’ worth, but you could find over an hour on the DVD. The same outtakes ended up as special features on the subsequent Blu-ray edition. To this day, no home video release of Spinal Tap has included all three hours (and change) of the deleted, extended, and alternate scenes from the rarely-seen workprint, but you can find a few excerpts floating around the web somewhere (I’ve included a few uploaded to YouTube here below). You may even be able to find the whole bloody thing.

I’ve seen it and it’s a shapeless mass of celluloid that only resembles the legendary comedy at the rarest of moments. There are plenty of moments that work, scenes that go on far too long, and jokes that land with a deafening thud. But a workprint is always far different than the final product. Watching one such as the 4.5 hour Spinal Tap gives you an insight into how crucial the editing process is when it comes time to reach deep into a miasma of improvisational comedy and pull out a classic of the genre that anyone who sees it will quote to their grave.

Just think of the workprint as the film equivalent of “Jazz Odyssey”.

This is Spinal Tap is now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment. Purchase your copy HERE.

THE LIMEY: Soderbergh + Stamp = Stone Cold Classic

Posted in Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2015 by Robert Morgan

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The Limey, directed by Steven Soderbergh from an original screenplay by Lem Dobbs, opens hard and fast and rarely lets up from there. As the Who’s “The Seeker” blasts away in the background we’re thrust into a opening montage depicting the journey of an ex-con named Wilson (Terence Stamp) from his home in England to the suntanned shores of Los Angeles. Wilson has come to the City of Angels for a reason: to find out the truth behind the death of his estranged daughter Jenny (Melissa George). After settling in he meets up with her friend Eduardo Roel (Luis Guzman), the man who sent Wilson the letter telling him about Jenny’s death and no stranger to being a “guest of the state” himself.

Although the official story is that she died in a car accident Wilson knows instinctively that his daughter was murdered. Jenny was romantically involved with Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), a record producer with decadent appetites and criminal associates. With the help of Eduardo and Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren), an acting teacher and another of Jenny’s closest friends, Wilson begins looking into Valentine and his illegal dealings hoping to find the answers he seeks, but they may not be the ones he desires.

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Structured as a standard revenge story and ultimately turning out to be anything but, the true brilliance of The Limey is in how it cleverly subverts those tired genre conventions into something wholly original. Before winning Oscar glory and making millions off movies such as Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh made this intimate low-budget drama virtually under the radar and there’s little surprise that it’s one of his best films. The Limey is a story about failure and regret, and the complex relationships between fathers and their daughters.

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At certain points in the film we flash back to Wilson’s younger years and Soderbergh uses this opportunity to seamlessly splice in footage of Stamp in the 1967 Ken Loach drama Poor Cow, in which he played a criminal not dissimilar from Wilson. The director also employs further editing tricks that work in favor of the story instead of hindering it, including the use of sudden time jumps that prefigure the innovative techniques Christopher Nolan would utilize for his breakthrough feature Memento.

Lem Dobbs, who prior credits include Soderbergh’s own Kafka and co-writing the sci-fi cult classic Dark City, contributes the lean, cool, and witty screenplay. Cliff Martinez, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and an accomplished film composer, delivers a great minimalist score. To populate his tale of revenge amongst the fringe dwellers and aging kings of Hollywood Soderbergh rounded up an all-star cast of iconic actors from the 1960’s and 1970’s, the time of the New Hollywood’s dawning.

Lem Dobbs created the role of Wilson with no one but Terence Stamp in mind, and needless to say in a career of many ups and downs this is one of Stamp’s finest hours. Bringing charisma and disarming Cockney humor to his character, Stamp molds Wilson into a genuine human being haunted by his failings as a father and not a engine of destruction with only payback in mind. But don’t let the creased face and graying white hair deceive you because this man is still more than capable of kicking all the ass and taking names he has to in order to get his answers.

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Peter Fonda is smartly cast as the record producer Terry Valentine trying to hold onto a piece of his long past heyday while indulging his tastes for younger women and keeping a few skeletons in his rather sizable closet next to his designer suits. The underrated Luis Guzman does solid work as Roel, one of the few good and honest people in Jenny’s life who by the end becomes one of her father’s few real friends. Lesley Ann Warren is given a rare chance to shine as an actress and here she plays her character of Elaine as a friend and surrogate mother figure to Wilson’s daughter who comes to help the aging criminal in his quest.

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Barry Newman, who may best be known for playing Kowalski in the high-speed 1971 cult classic Vanishing Point, is quietly effective as Avery, Valentine’s confidante and dirty-tricks man. Nicky Katt, who’s played in everything from Dazed & Confused to Grindhouse, is teamed with 1970’s cult cinema icon Joe Dallesandro as a pair of laconic criminals employed by Avery for his dirty work. The scene where Katt observes the goings-on on the set of a commercial is hilarious.

Did I mention that the one and only Bill Duke was also in this film? Yes, friends, the brilliant filmmaker (Deep Cover) and famed action flick supporting player (Commando, Predator) gets to share a single scene with Stamp where Wilson does most of the talking and Duke just sits in his chair and processes what he witnesses as only he can. It’s pretty goddamn glorious.

The Limey is a small gem of a film, brilliantly directed by Soderbergh on the cusp of his professional comeback and often overlooked because of the fact and skillfully played by a terrific company of actors. I highly recommend it.

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TAKE THE….Dadgum Elephant?!: The Godawful DARKMAN Television Pilot

Posted in Crazy Shit, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, TeeVee, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2015 by Robert Morgan

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When Sam Raimi came to Hollywood in the early 1980’s following the release of the original The Evil Dead, one of his dream feature film projects was a big screen version of the classic pulp magazine/radio/comic book crime fighter, the Shadow. Unfortunately for Raimi, the rights had been purchased by powerhouse producer Martin Bregman (Scarface), who would ultimately oversee the production of a Shadow film for Universal Pictures under the direction of Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) that was released in the summer of 1994 to middling reviews and box office and failed to spawn a new franchise.

After making Evil Dead II in 1986 for the legendary Dino De Laurentiis, Raimi signed on with Universal to develop a film project based on a superhero idea of his own – a tale of a scientist who develops a revolutionary formula that can repair damaged skin for only for a maximum of 99 minutes and must use that formula in a complicated revenge plot against the gangsters that destroyed his laboratory and left him burned beyond recognition and for dead. Incorporating elements of the Batman comics, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Phantom of the Opera among many other influences, Raimi teamed up with four other screenwriters – including his own brother Ivan Raimi (with whom Sam wrote Army of Darkness and Spider-Man 3) and Chuck Pfarrer (Red Planet) – to flesh out his amalgam of ideas into the story he titled Darkman.

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Raimi initially cast Bill Paxton, the future star of his celebrated adaptation of A Simple Plan, in the title role of Dr. Peyton Westlake, the disfigured scientist hellbent on brutal vengeance, and a young up-and-coming actress by the name of Julie Roberts as the girlfriend he inadvertently places in harm’s way as a result of his actions. Due to scheduling conflicts the roles had to be recast hastily; Roberts went on to star in the movie that kicked her career into overdrive, Pretty Woman, but in the process Raimi gained two future Hollywood heavyweights in the form of Liam Neeson (replacing Paxton as Westlake) and his old friend and former roommate Frances McDormand as Westlake’s besieged lady love.

Darkman was not the first time Raimi and McDormand had worked together; after playing the female lead in the Coen Brothers’ classic film noir debut Blood Simple, she popped up briefly as a nun in the opening sequence of Raimi’s post-Evil Dead stab for Tinseltown legitimacy, the frenzied, failed screwball comedy Crimewave.

Released in the final days of the summer of 1990, Darkman wasn’t an instant smash hit as Universal and Raimi had hoped. However it did manage to dethrone the season’s reigning box office champ, the supernatural romance Ghost, and with a final domestic gross of $33 million it earned a tidy little profit since it only cost $16 million to make. Five years after Darkman‘s theatrical release, excellent video rentals and sales and the film’s status as a modest ratings success on network television convinced Universal execs to green-light a pair of sequels to be produced for the studio’s home video division.

Since they weren’t going to have but a fraction of the budget Raimi had at his disposal the first time, Neeson was replaced in the role of Westlake by South African actor Arnold Vosloo. Vosloo had previously appeared as a secondary villain in John Woo’s first American action feature, the Raimi-produced, Pfarrer-scripted Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Hard Target. Bradford May, a veteran cinematographer who worked mostly in television but also shot the 1987 kid-friendly horror-comedy The Monster Squad, was drafted to direct the sequels which were released on VHS and laserdisc in 1995 and 1996 and enjoyed a fair amount of success with critics and fans of the original.

After Darkman III: Die Darkman Die the franchise ceased to exist. A remake/reboot has been hinted at over the years, and it may likely happen, but there hasn’t been any movement for quite some time. Let’s hope it stays that way. The original was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory in February 2014 in a jam-packed special edition package. You can order that disc HERE.

In between the release of Darkman and the two direct-to-video sequels, Universal commissioned a pilot for a half-hour television series loosely based on the original in 1992. Raimi and his producing partner Robert Tapert lent their names and credibility to the questionable endeavor, while Christopher Bowen (Tomorrow Never Dies) took over for Neeson as Dr. Westlake and Kathleen York (Crash) was drafted to play a new character named Jenny. For some odd reason, the only actor from the movie to appear in the pilot was Larry Drake, so memorable in Darkman as the odious villain Robert G. Durant, the exact same role he was playing in the much cheaper TV version.

The pilot cannibalized the movie for stock action footage, and even a shot from the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner makes a jaw-dropping appearance in the beginning. The movie footage looks terribly out of place when you consider the lower-budgeted scenes shot for the pilot. Everything is barely held together by Bowen’s ponderous narration. For that part we can place the blame on Robert Eisele, who wrote the pilot script and served as an executive producer alongside Raimi and Tapert, and the direction was handled by ace music video helmer Brian Grant. The 22-minute final product never made it to air.

I have included two separate embeds from Dailymotion and YouTube for your viewing displeasure. Enjoy….or don’t.

Molto Sangue: Behind-The-Scenes Photos From Italian Horror & Exploitation Cinema (NSFW)

Posted in Crazy Shit, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Uncategorized on January 21, 2015 by Robert Morgan

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Greetings, my fellow mutants and maniacs. If you’re like me you hear voices in your head all the time telling you to dress stray dogs up as famous comedy teams of the silver screen and write love letters to the Hamburglar. Also, you love all, most, or some of the great genre films to emerge from Italy over the past six decades. Bertolucci, De Sica, Fellini? Nice guys I’m sure, and capable of making fine films that more often than not lull me safely into the magical land of Oedipal dreams. Just kidding….or am I? When I think of the best the Italian cinema has to offer I think of fountains of brightened gore, offensive gender politics, gunshots that rip flesh from bone, morally dubious heroes, and children with five o’clock shadow. The great shit.

Submitted for your approval are fourteen behind-the-scenes photos from some of the best Italian horror, crime, sci-fi, and western films ever made.

Let’s start off with a trio of pics from the making of Lucio Fulci‘s supernatural zombie masterpiece The Beyond. Here we have Cinzia Monreale, who played the mysterious blind woman Emily (under the Anglicized pseudonym “Sarah Keller”), taking a cigarette break while the German Shepherd who played her on-screen guide dog Dickie minds his own business. Still, better watch that dog closely.

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In this pic Fulci and his crew set up a shot on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in southern Louisiana, the world’s longest bridge to run continuously over water.

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Here’s a shot of Fulci and company filming a scene in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

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Ruggero Deodato‘s classic gut-muncher Cannibal Holocaust contains some of the most unpleasant scenes ever put to film. One featured a woman from a tribe of Amazonian primitives being raped with a sharpened rock as punishment for adultery and then murdered. It’s pretty rough to watch, but judging by this picture it couldn’t have been too difficult to film (at least for the crew – the actress forced to spend her screen time laying in mud, maybe not so much).

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Memorably released to U.S. drive-in and grindhouse theaters under the title Make Them Die Slowly, Cannibal Ferox was director Umberto Lenzi‘s (Nightmare City) attempt to capitalize, and perhaps improve upon, the international success of Deodato’s groundbreaking Holocaust. It has more than its share of gruesome set-pieces, some of which were a source of contention between Lenzi and male lead Giovanni Lombardo Radice. At least in this pic the two collaborators were in good spirits during filming. Radice would eventually disown his part in Ferox though he did reunite with Lenzi to record an audio commentary for the laserdisc and DVD releases of the film more than fifteen years after it was originally released.

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The lovely Zora Kerova, a veteran of Italian exploitation cinema with credits including Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagus (released in the U.S. as The Grim Reaper) and Fulci’s The New York Ripper, suffered the most agonizing death scene of all the characters in Ferox. In this respect Deodato’s film couldn’t come close to topping what Ferox appallingly wrought. Here Kerova gets prepared for her big scene.

Zora Kerova - Cannibal Ferox, 1981.

A post on Italian horror and exploitation is naked without at least one mention of Dario Argento. In this shot the legendary lunatic of garlic-flavored gory giallos sets up one of the bravura death scenes in his colorful chiller classic Suspiria.

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Fernando Di Leo, the master of the brutal Italian crime epic, directs Woody Strode for a scene in The Italian Connection.

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Ruggero Deodato returns, this time posing with modern horror icon Michael Berryman on the set of his mainstreamed 1985 jungle cannibal actioner Cut and Run.

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Just for fun here’s one of the more gruesome moments in the uncut Cut.

If you look closely you can see the quick and painful death of what remained of Willie Aames‘ soul. And thus that day was born….Bibleman!

Mario Bava directs the eternally gorgeous Barbara Steele in his 1960 breakthrough Gothic chiller Black Sunday.

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Depending on the day and the mood I’m in, I tend to prefer Luigi Cozzi‘s fast, cheap, and childishly offbeat Star Wars rip-off Star Crash to the real deal. If you’ve never seen it I welcome you to check out my EuroCultAV article The Ten Reasons Why Luigi Cozzi’s Star Crash Is Infinitely Better Than The Original Star Wars and then order either the top shelf Blu-ray or DVD editions currently available from Shout! Factory.

For your perusing pleasure I present three behind-the-scenes stills from the making of Star Crash. In the first Cozzi gives direction to stars Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, and Judd Hamilton.

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Munro (far right in here barely there heroine’s costume) prepares to film a first act action scene.

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Finally we have a shot of Cozzi on set with character acting demigod Joe Spinell, cast wisely as the film’s over-the-top camp villain Zarth Arn.

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To close things out we have a picture taken during the production of a film that can’t exactly be classified as exploitation but was made by a master of Italian cinema and deserves a bit more attention. Sergio Leone (center) commiserates with stars Rod Steiger (left) and James Coburn (right) on the set of his final spaghetti western, 1971’s Duck, You Sucker (a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite). Leone’s long-maligned farewell to the genre he helped revive and redefine for countless generations of western lovers was recently released on Blu-ray. I highly recommend that disc.

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Addio per ora, cari amici.