No Blade of Grass
For hardcore moviephiles the Warners Archive Collection has been a godsend. Instead of mass producing everything the company owns, many titles have been released as VOD (Video On Demand) and, because of the lower demand, these are titles that may not have otherwise ever seen the light of day. These are DVDs that include no extras and usually haven’t been remastered, but are still very watchable and often have never been available in any form in the home viewing marketplace. Titles range from Hollywood classics (Tea and Sympathy) to both live action (Sheena) and animated television series (Pac Man the TV show!). But where they have really excelled is in films from the golden period of the '60s and '70s that have never had much home viewing distribution, ranging from the great (Dark of the Sun), the bad (Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze), and the weird (Brewster McCloud) to the culty (You’re a Big Boy Now), the gritty (The Outfit), and the forgotten hits (Freebie and the Bean, The Fish that Saved Pittsburg). Many of these have been films I saw and even obsessed over as a kid (I was dreaming for the Dark Of The Sun release). Most excitingly I’ve finally been given a chance to catch up with a post-apocalypse flick I vaguely remember from an old grainy bootleg VHS copy I saw many years ago. (My memories of No Blade of Grass have haunted me). This most recent viewing reconfirmed the scary power this movie still carries.
Hungarian born Cornel Wilde was a long time pretty boy jock actor. He got an Oscar nomination early in his career for playing Frederic Chopin in A Song to Remember in 1945, but besides a nice supporting turn in The Greatest Show On Earth most of his career was awash in B-swashbuckling adventure flicks. He had dabbled in directing throughout the '50s but it wasn’t until 1965 when he fully connected the dots with his survival action masterpiece, The Naked Prey (a film that has gotten the full bells and whistles treatment from the high-end DVD distributors Criterion). Five years later No Blade of Grass, continues on much of those same themes of man vs. his savage impulses, going even further with the violence and throwing in deeper groovy environmental paranoia.Continue Reading
Searching for Sugar Man
Like a real life Eddie & The Cruisers this British documentary by a Swedish director (Malik Bendjelloul) about a Detroit folk singer named Sixto Rodriguez who became an icon to a generation of white South Africans is both an in-search-of mystery and an inspirational tome to the power of music and survival. Searching for Sugar Man is another one of those documentaries that if it didn’t have “true story” stamped on it might be too crazy to believe. Not to mention that for someone my age to know that this person existed (and in my own childhood backyard of Detroit) and, like most of the world, am only now becoming aware of the stunning music that he created, it’s sad that Sixto Rodriguez's beautiful songs haven’t been on my heavy rotation all my life. But since seeing this movie they have become ingrained in my head and will never leave.
Coming out of nowhere for a handful of music business types in the late sixties, Mexican American Detroiter Sixto Rodriguez sounded like he could be the next big thing. He had a clear voice (that reminds me of Donovan) with sophisticated lyrics about love, heartbreak and socio-political ills in the Bob Dylan tradition. He recorded two albums and both were commercial flops. So Rodriguez (as he was known) went back to being an inner-city guitar-toting day laborer (and, of course, was screwed out of royalties for his songs). And that’s the end of that story. Or was it? Copies of the albums made their way into South Africa where they became massively popular to a generation of white Afrikaners who were coming of age and questioning the system of apartheid in which they grew up. A total police-state boxed-out from the rest of the world, South Africa was a little behind the times culturally and cut-off when it came to music information. The rebellion and loneliness in Rodriguez’s lyrics spoke to them. The rumor was that Rodriguez had dramatically killed himself on stage, putting an end to any kind of personal contact South Africans might have hoped to have with their idol. But the music lived on and came to define the decade for many.Continue Reading
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
Bold as it is to say, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is my favorite movie of all time. For me, it teeters in competition with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. And to be clear, just because it happens to be my favorite movie doesn’t mean that I think it’s the best acted, best scripted, best directed movie ever. (Although the directing is top-notch. More on that in a bit.) Movies are entertainment; their sole purpose is to entertain us. So for me personally, in terms of sheer entertainment value, I find nothing more entertaining than Sam Raimi’s sequel to his own break out independent hit, The Evil Dead.
The first Evil Dead was the culmination of years and years of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tappert honing their filmmaking skills by cranking out numerous short films together in school. Pooling together a budget from investors primarily consisting of dentists, they managed to make a little indie movie touted as “the most grueling experience ever!” An endorsement from Stephen King early on solidified The Evil Dead’s cult status. So several years later, after Raimi and the Coen Brothers had a creatively unsuccessful studio experience making the feature Crimewave, Raimi went back to the ol’ cabin and decided to sequelize his big break out movie with Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.Continue Reading
If my 12-year old self thought it was even remotely possible that several of my favorite Marvel superheroes would not only have their own solo movies fronted by big Hollywood celebrities, but one day all appear in the same movie as one big multi-movie universe event, I would’ve lost my mind. And, hell, even now in my 30s the fact that The Avengers movie exists makes me lose my mind! Back when Marvel kicked off the first batch of their self-produced films with Iron Man, the slim glimmering hope that it would lead to The Avengers was there, but I don’t think any of us comic book fans actually thought it would happen. The fact that it did, and that writer/director Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, managed to pull it off and make it into one of the biggest and thoroughly entertaining action blockbusters of the summer is a miracle.
What’s great is all the other Marvel movies have been leading to this. If you’ve been watching along with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, then this movie is all pay off from everything you’ve seen before. Yet it simultaneously works as a stand alone film that any viewer can watch and enjoy because of how well Whedon balances each character's introductions and screen time. It’s similar to watching any ensemble flick and wondering where all these characters came from before the movie. In this case, those movies exist and you can go back to them! But alas, let’s focus on the one at hand.Continue Reading
One of the most magical theatrical experiences I ever had was catching a super advance screening of Bubba Ho-Tep at an event that star Bruce Campbell had attended to intro his most famous feature film, The Evil Dead. Bruce brought it along as the surprise first half of a double bill and, for the unsuspecting audience, we had no idea of the absurd, scary and hilarious ride that we were in for. I often wondered if this experience skewed my love of the film more toward the favorable because of the whole night surrounding it, but I have since revisited the movie numerous times and I still love it just as much as the first time I’d seen it, if not even more!
It opens with a title crawl that gives us the following definitions:Continue Reading
Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers
After both the box office failure and predominantly negative (and unfair) critical reviews of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, the future for the Halloween franchise seemed unsure. Original creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill never intended or wanted to do Halloween II. They would have preferred their Michael Myers story be a single film and instead they wanted to continue the franchise as a series of stand alone horror tales that all took place on Halloween. But when Halloween III failed to launch this version of the franchise, producer (and Godfather) of the Halloween franchise Moustapha Akkad decided it was time to go back to the basics and bring back Michael Myers.
The opening of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is not only one of the most beautiful introductions of the entire series, but it perfectly captures the odd underlining uneasy feeling of the fall season. It’s a series of primarily landscape shots setting up Halloween, the holiday. Decorated pumpkins are set up at stoops, a gust of wind blows through the fields and the overall sense of dread that comes with the Halloween is palpable.Continue Reading
It’s pretty interesting to look back now in retrospect at Halloween II knowing what we do about other successful horror franchises and realizing that at the time of its release there had never really been any previous attempt in horror history to continue a story involving a modern day bogeyman. Back when John Carpenter unleashed the original Halloween into theaters in 1978 to an unsuspecting audience, it became not only the most successful independent feature of all time (and held that record up until The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999), but also became easily the single most influential film of the entire '80s “slasher” craze that would follow. (Even if Carpenter did lift quite a few bits from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, the predecessor to Halloween). No one, including the filmmakers, the producers or investors could’ve ever predicted just how vast the success of Halloween would be, and so, they never, ever intended on doing a sequel.
But just as the '80s came, suddenly sequels didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Hell, Jaws had a sequel just a few years shy of the start of '80s and that did really well, so with the new crop of baddies showing up in such films as Friday The 13th, The Burning and My Bloody Valentine, why wouldn’t the studio want to bring back Michael Myers? And so, much to the reluctance of John Carpenter and Debra Hill who instead wanted to turn the Halloween franchise into a series of unrelated horror stories that took place around the famed holiday (and which they would attempt to do with Halloween III: Season Of The Witch), instead Halloween II became a direct sequel to their original, picking u...