7.20.2018

Blu-Ray Review: The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (Arrow Films)

Released in 1988, this is a film that I can remember always seeing on shelves of my local video stores back in the day. The name always struck me as sounding cool, but the cover art, a black and white silhouette photo if I recall, didn't tell me anything about the film in general so I just avoided it. Having finally sat down to watch it for the very first time, I can say that I regret that decision because I'm sure it would have been a personal favorite of mine growing up, had I seen it as a teenager. Because the truth is that The Navigator is a beautiful film all around. Truly unique in it's own very special way, full of gorgeous cinematography, strong performances and a story that took a direction that I had not expected. And that's a good thing. 

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead
Written and directed by New Zealand filmmaker Vincent Ward (What Dreams May Come), who's far too infrequent with his films, this medieval fantasy was such a refreshing breath of fresh air. The whole time travel angle completely caught me by surprise, and while the film spends equal amounts of time in the dark ages as well as the present day circa 1988, it's all handled with such care and precision that it's almost seamless. While not necessarily a big fan of medieval films, there's so much more to the film that it didn't bother me one bit. It helps that the film is a constant stream of stunning images courtesy of Vincent Ward and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson (Shine), who capture it all through black and white and color in a uniquely satisfying way. 
END SPOILERS



From what I understand, this cult classic never got a really good release here in the states that I know of. Which is a shame because it's hands-down one of the most visually stunning films I've ever seen, with every frame of film being damn near jaw-droppingly gorgeous. So to have to see this in such a bad state (meaning the old days of VHS), and worse yet, full-frame, is a travesty to all the work that went into this film. Thankfully Arrow Films is here to save the day, and let me tell you, they did a wonderful job. 

Presented in a stunningly impressive new HD transfer, The Navigator has never looked so good. Clean, crisp with a faint graininess that I just adore, you will never find a better looking presentation of this landmark film anywhere. It's also presented in it's original Mono Audio, along with English subtitles. While the technical aspects of this release are pretty great, it's not as comprehensive as some of their previous releases wherein you get a vintage made-for-tv documentary about Vincent Ward's life and career that was made in New Zealand, a trailer and a new "appreciation" interview by film critic Nick Roddick, who offers some insight into the films production and release. And that's pretty much it in the Special Features department. 


SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:

- High Definition Blu Ray Presentation

- Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)

- Optional English subtitles

- Brand-new "appreciation" interview by film critic Nick Roddick

- Kaleidoscope: Vincent Ward - Film Maker, a 1989 documentary profile of the director made for New Zealand television

- Theatrical Trailer

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey is set to release on Blu-Ray this Tuesday, July 23rd worldwide and can be purchased directly from Arrow's website HERE, or from any of your favorite online retailers. 

7.18.2018

Exit Wounds: Seagal's Last Hurrah



by robotGEEK

Having only ever seen this maybe once before, I was excited to go back to it because I remember it actually being pretty good, which isn't all that surprising if it weren't for the fact that he had 2 duds with Fire Down Below and The Patriot, preceding this release, even taking a 3 year break before coming back to this one. When you consider the fact that he typically releases anywhere from 2-6 films a year, this 3 year hiatus was a big deal. Anyway, moving on.

Produced by legendary action maestro Joel Silver, who made Seagal lose weight for the role, and directed by cinematographer (Speed, Falling Down) turned director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Doom), Exit Wounds comes to us courtesy of his On Deadly Ground screenwriter Ed Horowitz as co-writer, along with Richard D'Ovidio (Thir13en Ghosts). And guess what? It's a surprisingly badass actioner that showcases many of the qualities we grew to love about early Seagal flicks in the first place.



Having slimmed down for the role, and having cut his trademark ponytail, Seagal swaggers his way into an eclectic cast that includes DMX, Isaiah Washington, Bill Duke, Michael Jai White, Anthony Anderson, Tom Arnold, Bruce McGill, and Jill Hennessy. He seems a bit less cocky this time around (perhaps the 2 previous misfires humbled him a bit), and with the help of some fancy wire work, we get to see him actually perform "some" of his own fighting, which is kind of a big deal considering his legacy will go down as having used laughably inaccurate stunt-doubles for even the most mundane fighting. Don't worry though. There are still plenty of noticeable stunt-doubles for him in here; they're just not as hilarious as they've since become. But moving on. Seagal carries himself extremely well in here, surrounded by an insanely talented supporting cast in a story that moves along briskly, full of big-budget action set pieces filled with impressive stuntwork, a whole lot of fighting, and a fun vibe that permeates throughout it's short 101 minute running time. To put it frankly, Exit Wounds is one of Seagal's better films from his entire filmography, and might even be his last really great action flick.

In fact, aside from it being far better than I expected, there were quite a number of things that surprised me with this. Seeing Seagal actually do some fighting for one, or that the director had previously worked on some big budget films as a cinematographer, or that Seagal himself looked halfway decent. Sure he wasn't as thin as he was in Under Siege 2, but he looks a helluva lot better than he did in some of his films following this. Even his ridiculous toupee is barely noticeable here, where he keeps his hair a natural color instead of that fake gawd-awful jet black he uses now. But the biggest surprise for me was how good DMX was in this. For a guy who can't seem to stay out of trouble, he's a surprisingly good and confident actor, even when it comes down to not saying a word, but conveying emotion effectively through a facial expression. Hell, he even gets to throw down a few times with Seagal and holds his own. It's a shame he couldn't get his shit together, because he could very well have turned out to be one of the better rapper-turned-actor's out there.



Director Andrzej Bartkowiak handles the action well enough, but oftentimes turns to crazy Dutch-angle handheld camerawork a bit too often for my personal taste during the fights. Still, it's in the other moments of the film where he keeps a steady hand and gives the film a sleek polished look, which really helps the film a lot overall in looking like a classic big budget Joel Silver action film.

Ultimately, when you consider that most of his films that followed (and we're going on almost 20 years now) are crap, Exit Wounds begins to look more and more like Seagal's last hurrah in big budget quality action films that actually hit theaters. While Half Past Dead is technically his last theatrical release, that film was pretty awful from what I can remember. Exit Wounds is different. It's actually good, fun and delivers the action goods on a remarkable breakneck pace. It's a shame Seagal didn't stick with Joel Silver. It seems like he is exactly the force/influence he needed to keep him in check.

7.13.2018

Blu-Ray Review: Lionheart (MVD Rewind Collection)

MVD's Impressive 2-Disc Special Edition Release is a Must-Buy for any JCVD Fan

by robotGEEK

There's no denying that Lionheart is one of Van Damme's best and most loved films. Made and released in 1990, Van Damme was just breaking into superstardom. Having already made a name for himself with classics such as Bloodsport, Cyborg and Kickboxer, Lionheart would see him break out into the mainstream in a film that showcased his knack for working behind the camera (he already proved his editing skills were on point on both Cyborg and Bloodsport) as effectively as he has in front, by co-writing this film, designing the fight sequences and coming up with the story. And there really is a lot of Van Damme in this film. Whereas most would probably dismiss it as another typical underground fighting film, you can't help but feel how personal this one is to him.

Yet, despite it's reputation, it's never gotten a full-on upgrade until now. We've only had bare-bones releases on DVD in the U.S., and it was included in a 5-Movie Action Pack on blu that came with a hefty price tag. I know the German distributor Platinum Cult Edition, released an Uncut and Remastered HD Blu Ray a few years back, but that also came with a hefty price tag. So this would be our first official Blu-Ray release in the U.S., and the best part is that it comes packed full of extra's. Let's dig in.



Though I grew up on an insane dose of Van Damme and Seagal, it had been a long time since I'd seen it. So this was just the reason I needed to revisit it and I have to say, it hasn't lost it's ability to entertain. Not in the slightest. It was just as fun as it was all those years ago, 28 to be exact, and a pleasant reminder of a time when these types of films were big business, and crafted with care and precision. You can't say that about these films anymore. In fact, they don't even go to theaters anymore, instead going straight to streaming and home video.

While Lionheart is admittedly a simple premise, it's handled with professional care (surprising considering this was director Sheldon Lettich's first feature film) and offers a helluva lot of kickass fighting, intermixed with some family drama. Yet it's the fights that make the film and there is plenty to love in Lionheart, as each fight is distinctly different, culminating into a massive throw-down between Lyon (Van Damme) and Attila (Abdel Qissi). Overall it's a completely satisfying and highly entertaining film from Van Damme's Golden Era, full of heart, spirit, and a whole lot of awesome.

Just The Disc:
MVD pulled out all the stops on this one. Not only do we get a much-needed HD upgrade, but we get 2 different cuts of the film; the Theatrical Cut, and the Extended Cut. The Extended Cut is pretty cool, but you can tell what new scenes are included because they're not in HD like the rest of the film. And really, it's only a few seconds of extra footage at a time and really doesn't bring much to the experience. Cool to see for sure, but it doesn't make the film any better. In fact, after having finally seen this mythical cut, I know I'll probably just stick to the Theatrical from now on.

Bonus Materials

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the main feature
  • Original 2.0 Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Audio commentary by Sheldon Lettich & Harrison Page
  • NEW - 'The Story of ‘Lionheart’' (HD) (All new documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew including JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME)
  • NEW - 'Inside 'Lionheart' with the Filmmakers and Cast' (HD) (Featuring interviews with cast and crew including JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME)
  • NEW - ''Lionheart': Behind the Fights' (HD) (Featuring interviews with cast and crew including JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME)
  • 'Making of' featurette (8:53) (SD)
  • Interview with Sheldon Lettich (25:52) (SD)
  • Interview with Harrison Page (13:05) (SD)
  • 'Behind the Scenes of the Audio Commentary' featurette (5:40) (SD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (SD)
  • Collectible Mini Poster

Aside from the Extended Cut being here, one of the highlights has to be seeing and hearing Jean-Claude do a new interview for this, something he rarely (almost never) ever does for his older films, which is really cool. He talks about how this film is somewhat autobiographical, which is why it was so easy for him to write. He also discusses how it pretty much catapulted his career and he was able to have some creative control and freedom in a few future projects, most notably Double Impact, where he re-teams with co-writer/director Sheldon Lettich the following year. You also get some great insight from the rest of the cast, as well as Lettich in all aspects of this production.

I think one of the most amusing aspects of revisiting this is getting to see some faces that I had completely forgotten about, or never noticed before. Like a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene with Jeff Speakman (The Perfect Weapon), Billy Blanks (Back in Action), and also Lawrence Bender, Quentin Tarantino's famous producing partner, here as an antagonistic bystander during one of Lyon's early fights.


While the film is pretty great all around, it's really the plethora of extra's that make this worth the purchase. I spent an entire weekend digging through everything and had a blast doing so. You also get a sweet mini poster to add to your collection too. So what are you waiting for?!

Lionheart is available now in a 2-Disc Special Edition directly from MVD HERE, or from any of your favorite online retailers for a suggested retail price of $27.99.

7.12.2018

80's Thriller Throwback: The Dead Pool

The Dead Pool, Dirty Harry's Weak Link

by robotGEEK

Every 5 years or so, I dig through the Dirty Harry franchise because let's face it, it's an excellent series of films and I always walk away having different feelings and favorite's than with my previous viewing. This time I was all about Sudden Impact, now my current personal favorite in the franchise, and the only one directed by Clint Eastwood himself. And of all the films, I rarely ever bother with The Dead Pool, because no matter how many times I watch it, I just don't like it. But, I always hope for that one moment where I'll actually enjoy it, that somehow I'll connect with it in a way I hadn't before. Let's dig in.

Unanimously regarded as the weakest Dirty Harry film, The Dead Pool made it's way into theaters in 1988, 5 years after the previous entry, Sudden Impact. After 5 films and 17 years, with each film being progressively better than the previous (in my humble opinion), the series ended with a thud rather than a bang, easily making The Dead Pool the worst in the series. At times it looks and feels like a Made-for-TV movie, and at others like a low-rent Dirty Harry, the film can't seem to make anything seem interesting as it trudges along in such a slow and sour pace that you can't help but wonder just what the hell happened to such a beloved franchise. I think for starters a lot of the blame falls on the shoulders of director Buddy Van Horn, Eastwood's stunt double and stunt coordinator for most of his films spanning nearly 50 years, who sat in the directors chair only 3 times, all Clint Eastwood films, including this one. Van Horn possesses no natural talent behind the camera, giving the film a cheap looking quality that comes across as something being made for television, or something sent direct-to-video. When you consider that every Dirty Harry film before had a different director, and was each distinctly visually impressive, this last entry really lets you down.



Aside from it's obvious issues, The Dead Pool manages to walk away with at least one saving grace, and that's the surprising bit of casting which includes a very young Jim Carrey, (before he was famous), who plays a drug-addicted rock singer, Liam Neeson, here as a sleazy low-budget film director, and a slew of other notable faces that have since gone on to bigger and better things. The real standout here though has to be Harry's new partner, Evan C. Kim, who's so damn likable, and in one scene, impressively takes down a suspect with his martial arts skills. How or why they didn't give this guy more screen-time just baffles me. While primarily a television actor, Kim more than carried the role as well as Eastwood and I would have loved to have seen more of his character. Hell, an off-shoot film built around his character alone would have been awesome.

17 years and 5 films is a pretty impressive tally. Sudden Impact (1983), the previous entry, was the most successful in the franchise, while this one was the least successful, only raking in 37 million on a 31 million budget. That's not a flop, but it's not a hit either, and Warner Brothers had high hopes for this one. It's a shame this ended the series on a low-note, rather than a high one. Eastwood did a phenomenal job on The Rookie, where he was both star and director, and I can't help but wonder what he could have done had he directed this one himself. Sadly I doubt it would have helped all that much because the script is a bit tedious, and the film just doesn't flow well. I'm glad it was the shortest entry, clocking in at an hour and a half, because by the halfway point, I was already ready to throw in the towel.



Ultimately it's a pretty big letdown for such an excellent franchise. While not terrible per say, it's surprisingly dull and doesn't hold a candle to any of the previous entries. The impressive casting helps a little, as does getting to see Harry one last time, but overall it's a shockingly tame film compared to any of the others. I'd like to think that Eastwood's excellent The Rookie (1990) is the final Dirty Harry film. That would have been a proper sendoff to a much beloved character.

7.06.2018

Richard Stanley's Hardware Now Available on Blu-Ray in a New 4K Scan via Roninflix!

by robotGEEK

Independent distribution company Ronin Flix has been stepping up their game these past few years, releasing hard to find and obscure gems on DVD and Blu-Ray, some of them for the very first time. Richard Stanley's sci-fi/horror/cyberpunk classic Hardware aka M.A.R.K. 13 is a little different. While it has been released stateside before on literally every format (except possibly BETA), with the most recent being the DVD and Blu-Ray from Severin Films back in 2009, this is the first time getting a brand new 4K scan of the original negative as far as I'm aware. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

Richard Stanley seemed to have come out of nowhere and delivered a visceral experience within the low-budget community that seamlessly blended cyberpunk, horror, and sci-fi in a way that hadn't been done nearly as well. One of the film's most impressive aspects is it's production design and visuals. For a film on a relatively low budget, it's an incredibly impressive film to look at. If you're a lover of design, this film will surely give you plenty to admire and gloss over. I've often felt that this film, more than anything, resembles a really great slasher, much in the same way James Cameron's original Terminator did. I think if you revisit this, you might notice the same thing. In any case, it's one of the best examples of what you can accomplish on a minimal budget (1.5 million) and a clear passionate vision.


This new 2-Disc release comes packed with extra's that were ported over from that Severin release, but this one also comes with deleted and extended scenes not found on that previous release, as well as having a run time of 94 minutes, making it a minute longer than Severin's Uncut Version. The new 5.1 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio & Stereo DTS Master Audio will surely be an improvement in sound quality over any previous version, with SDH English subtitles being available for the feature film only and not on any of the extra's.

Just The Disc:

  • DISC 1: Hardware, Audio Commentary with writer/director Richard Stanley, Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • DISC 2: New Interview with writer/director Richard Stanley, Interview with Iggy Pop, No Flesh Shall Be Spared - The Making of Hardware, 3 Richard Stanley Shorts: Incidents in an Expanding Universe - Early Super 8 version of Hardware, The Sea of Perdition, and Rites of Passage, Richard Stanley on Hardware 2, Vintage Hardware Promo Videos featuring Iggy Pop and Lemmy, Theatrical Trailer (English & German)
Miramax // 1990 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated // Color // English // Region A

Please Note: The Hardware Blu-ray is available for sale to customers in the US only.  Also, the Limited Edition magnet will be delivered in the same box with the Blu-ray.  Please use caution when opening the package to avoid damaging the item. 


This Region A 2-Disc Set (with reversible cover art) comes with a Limited Edition Slipcover and VHS style magnet while supplies last. Ronin Flix currently has it listed On Sale for a retail price of $34.99 with Free Shipping. I would strongly suggest grabbing it before they sell out, which I'm pretty sure they will. You can order directly from their official website HERE.

7.03.2018

Blu-Ray Review: Death Smiles on a Murderer (Arrow Video)

by robotGEEK

Much like Jesse Franco, Joe D'Amato was a highly prolific filmmaker spanning several decades, with nearly 200 credits to his name as a director, nearly 200 as a cinematographer, and nearly 50 as a screenwriter.....that we know of. The truth is, he used so many pseudonyms that we may never really know how many films he actually made and in what capacity, but what we do know is that D'Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) loved making films and worked relentlessly at a breakneck pace, sometimes directing up to 25 films a year. D'Amato dove into nearly every genre, sometimes even mixing them all together, but found his biggest success and cult status within the Italian Trash/Post Apocalyptic and horror genre's. While a lot of people would associate D'Amato with his erotic films, he would always find a way to infuse a lot of that in most of his other films, no matter the subject matter or genre. 

Released in 1973, Death Smiles on a Murderer would mark his first entry in the horror genre, and did so with style and pizzazz. A hybrid of different themes and genre's, making it a mixture of eroticism, Gothic, horror, giallo, and thriller, Death Smiles on a Murderer honestly doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but is such a treat visually to look at and admire. A nearly incomprehensible smorgasbord of different storylines that make it hard to follow, DSonM is able to rise above those pesky little issues by being a surprisingly well-made film, with some impressive eye candy, and an effective mixture of different genre's thrown together in a dream-like world.




Just The Disc:


SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas
  • D’Amato Smiles on Death, an archival interview in which the director discusses the film
  • All About Ewa, a newly-filmed, career-spanning interview with the Swedish star
  • Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
  • Original trailers
  • Stills and collections gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

Arrow's new Blu Ray release of Joe D'Amato's first horror film comes in an excellent new 2K restoration from the original camera negative. The Gothic setting is captured gloriously in it's new 1080p transfer. The film comes in both an English language dubbed version as well as it's original Italian language version. For those of you who enjoy it's original language, there are English subtitles included as well. 






The extra's included are fun to dig through as well, with the "D'Amato Smiles on Death" interview being pretty fun as he discusses his career and experiences making this landmark film. I swear he looks like Robert DeNiro to me. The new interview "All About Ewa" where we get to sit down with the films gorgeously stunning Swedish lead Ewa Aulin is just as engaging and informative as she discusses her entire career and how she began as a model. Kat Ellinger's video essay "Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D'Amato" is probably the most impressive and rewarding in the bunch, where she goes through his entire career and I have to tell you, it's easily the most informative out of anything I've ever seen regarding D'Amato.

Joe D'Amato's Death Smiles on a Murderer is available now from any number of online retailers, as well as directly through Arrow's official website HERE.

6.29.2018

The Cult Corner: The Phantom (1996)


by robotGEEK

Back in the mid 90's, studio's were pulling obscure comic characters out of the vaults and realizing them as live action big budget films. Obviously, this was before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took the comic book film world by storm. But it was after Batman, primarily Batman Forever, which did rock solid business, so in the hopes of capitalizing on that success, studio's were looking for lesser known properties to bring to fruition. My guess is that these properties were far less expensive than say anything from Marvel or DC's catalog's.

Released in 1996, The Phantom ultimately bombed at the box office, not even making half of it's reported budget back, killing any chances of a reported trilogy. But does poor box office negate a solid film? Certainly not. Because despite some issues I had, it's still an enjoyable film. And you know, I do remember seeing this at the theater (I must have been one of the few), and remember actually being excited about it prior to it's release because it did look cool, or in the least...fun. But that was 22 years ago and I honestly don't remember a thing about it. And that's never a good sign, right? When I saw Hulu recently added it to their new lineup, my wife and I jumped right in hoping for the best. Let's dig in.



The Phantom, for all intents and purposes, is a very well made film. It's got a pretty impressive cast with some solid standouts for sure (Treat Williams is just the best, as is cult icon James Remar; I had no memory of Catherine Zeta-Jones being in this), and a surprisingly formidable hero with Billy Zane delivering a very likable performance. It's biggest issue I think is that it lacks any real excitement. Sure it has some action sequences, but none of it is terribly exciting or packs any sort of real punch. I never would have picked Aussie filmmaker Simon Wincer (Free Willy, Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man) as the director for something like this. I'm sure the attraction was that he had done a bunch of Indiana Jones Chronicles episodes and movies, therefor proving he could handle the adventure stuff, but he's also a terribly uninteresting director too. He's more of a serviceable filmmaker. He gets the job done, but there are no frills and thrills about it. So while the film may have all the bells and whistles of a big budget studio film (45 million was a lot of money in 1995/6), it doesn't carry any sort of visual flare. Sergio Leone, Joel Schumacher and Joe Dante were all attached to direct at different moments throughout it's long-gestating history, with Dante intending it to be more of a tongue-in-cheek film with a lot of comedic overtones.

Another issue is the script, here credited to Jeffrey Boam, a legend in his own right with The Lost Boys, Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Innerspace under his belt. So bringing Boam on board for this seemed like a no-brainer, yet in the end it's just okay. There's nothing that ever really stands out about this in any regards; certainly not the action, and it always feels like it's missing something. It's a shame too, because it has all of the right ingredients; exotic locations, a really fun cast, and a budget that allows for some major fun in the action and stunts department, but outside of an impressive moment in the beginning involving a truck on a collapsing bridge (William Friedkin's Sorcerer did it better), there's really nothing memorable about any of it.

In the end, despite my issues with it's overall aesthetic, it wasn't bad.....at all. In fact, it was quite a lot of fun. It felt like something Stephen Sommers would have made, sort of like what he did with The Mummy world he created 3 years later in 1999, only a lot tamer. And you can't deny the excellent cast here, who all bring their A-Game to the table, most notably a very fun Treat Williams as the villain, who coincidentally would work with Stephen Sommers 2 years later in the excellent Deep Rising. Everyone is just so much fun in here, and I kept thinking how constantly surprised I was with the faces that kept popping up, like legendary cult icon Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, here as The Great Kabai Sengh, a pirate that appears in the last act who brings a lot of fun to the experience where the film desperately needed it.

Overall a fun time. It's not bad in any light, it just feels like it could have and should have been so much better. I personally would have chosen a different director, and infused the film with more excitement, whatever that entails. If anything, it serves as an excellent time-capsule for the mid 90's, where comic book (in this case, comic strip) films were still hit-or-miss. The Shadow, released 2 years earlier in 1994, and The Rocketeer in 1991 are other excellent examples. They're fun little films that, despite not having done well upon their initial release (though The Rocketeer and The Shadow did turn a very small profit, but weren't the runaway successes the studio's had banked on. Dick Tracey did far better overall), and have retained a sort of cult status, and rightfully so. They're actually pretty good....considering.


6.27.2018

Blu-Ray Review: Last House on the Left (Arrow Video)

Arrow Pulls Out All The Stops For One of Their Most Impressive Releases to Date

by robotGEEK

There's no mistaking Last House on the Left's legacy as one of the most imitated and visceral horror experiences of all time. The film, especially at the time, was a tour de force of Grindhouse filmmaking that shook you to the core and offered you a completely different angle to the revenge genre that we really hadn't seen before. Sure, if you were to watch it for the very first time today it might come off as amateur and not nearly as gory as you'd expect, but by 1972 standards, it was genre-defining and blindsided an unsuspecting public. Wes Craven's unapologetic view of raw interpersonal violence became a genre-defining classic, paving the way for a new sub-genre in the horror field and countless imitators.

But it wasn't a runaway success initially. Digging through the ample amount of extra features located within this excellent Arrow release, I learned a number of surprising things. Like LHonL went through several name changes while still in theaters because it just wasn't pulling people in. The title that we all know so well now actually came from someone else other than Wes Craven. Or that the film itself came about because local Drive-In theaters actually financed it, as was the case for many low-rent films back in the day so they could throw it in as a second feature after their main attraction.



Regardless, LHotL has remained one of the most legendary horror classics for nearly 50 years and it's status only continues to grow, with the culmination of this incredible new Blu-Ray set courtesy of Arrow Video, which includes not only the film, but 3 different cuts of the film, including the legendary uncut version. You also get a plethora of extras to indulge in, and just speaking from experience, you will need an entire weekend at least to dig through all of it. So let's dig in.

3 DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
  • Three cuts of the film newly restored in 2K from original film elements
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • 6 x collector's postcards
  • Double-sided fold-out poster
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Limited edition 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower
  • Soundtrack CD

DISC ONE [BLU-RAY] - THE UNRATED CUT
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Unrated Version
  • Isolated score newly remastered from the original 17.5" magnetic tracks
  • Brand new audio commentary with Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes
  • Archival audio commentary with writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham
  • Archival audio commentary with stars David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln
  • Archival introduction to the film by Wes Craven
  • Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on the Left - archival interview with Wes Craven
  • Celluloid Crime of the Century - Archival documentary featuring interviews with Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunningham, actors David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler and Martin Kove
  • Scoring Last House - archival interview with actor/composer David Hess
  • It's Only a Movie: The Making of Last House in the Left - archival featurette
  • Forbidden Footage - the cast and crew discuss the film's most controversial sequences
  • Junior's Story - a brand new interview with actor Marc Sheffler
  • Blood and Guts- a brand new interview with makeup artist Anne Paul
  • The Road Leads to Terror - a brand new featurette revisiting the film's original shooting locations<
  • Deleted Scene: "Mari Dying at the Lake
  • Extended Outtakes and Dailies, newly transferred in HD
  • Trailers, TV Spot and Radio Spots
  • Image Galleries
DISC TWO [BLU-RAY] - THE 'KRUG & COMPANY' AND R-RATED CUTS
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Krug & Company and R-Rated cuts of the film
  • The Craven Touch - a brand new featurette bringing together interviews with a number of Wes Craven's collaborators including Sean S. Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin and actress Amanda Wyss
  • Early Days and "Night of Vengeance" - filmmaker Roy Frumkes remembers Wes Craven and Last House on the Left
  • Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out - unfinished short film by Wes Craven
  • Q&A with Marc Sheffler from a 2017 screening of the film at The American Cinematheque
  • Krug Conquers England - archival featurette charting the theatrical tour of the first ever uncut screening of the film in the UK
DISC THREE [CD] - 'THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT' ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
  • CD featuring the complete, newly remastered film score

One of the most amusing aspects of nearly all the documentaries both new and archival, is the fact that one of the films stars, Fred J. Lincoln, who played Weasle in the film and was actually a porn actor and director in real life, despises this film. Every interview you see him in he blasts the film as garbage and hints not so subtly that he should have gotten a co-directors credit, since he claims that he is responsible for a lot of what happened in front of and behind the camera with things like showing them how to properly wield a chainsaw, effects tricks, camera setups, acting tips and so on. Yet in the same breath, he talks about it's abhorrent and vulgar quality, which I really can't understand since he was such a huge part of this films production. I mean, he was there and saw what they were filming and doing a large part of those moments himself. Lincoln also states that he's been asked for decades to attend conventions and autograph signings, but has always refused. Yet he's agreed to do sit-down interviews several times throughout the years for various releases of this film. So again, I'm a bit confused about why the constant bashing and refusal to participate in promoting it's legacy because of how much he despises it, yet he will do interviews.

Though I'd seen this film maybe once or twice before, having watched it again recently at an adult age, I was able to look at it in a completely different light. I can see now what Wes Craven was trying to accomplish, whereas before I took the whole semi-documentary approach as just being amateurish. And it still comes across as very amateurish to me even today. The editing is pretty all over the place and even though I understand a lot of the style was made up on the spot, it's the type of film that's painfully obvious that it's the director's first film. I understand the documentary-style approach gives it a raw look and feel, but it also works against it in my opinion. But those were my only real gripes because the performances, especially from the menacing David Hess (as the killer's leader), elevate the film significantly. And you have to remember, none of these actors were pro's. This was Hess's first film, and a few of the other's actually came from a porn background, while other's were acting for the very first time. I think one of the most amusing bits of casting was a very young Martin Kove (Rambo: First Blood Part 2, The Karate Kid) as a bumbling deputy.



One of the other elements that I hadn't appreciated before, but was just full-on in love with this time around, and that is the films score and soundtrack, all courtesy of none other than David Hess himself. Hess was a musician before he was an actor, and supplied all of the music found within the film, oftentimes purposely making the music choice for a specific scene juxtapose that very moment to an eerie effect. And guess what??? Arrow has included David Hess's incredible soundtrack and score on a separate disc located within this massively impressive set.

I could go on and on about this release, about all of the things I learned for the very first time, of all the things I re-discovered, about every facet of the production, but in this case, it's probably best you discover them for yourself. The mountain of extra content will make even the most jaded collector happy and it's a blast to dig through.

Last House on the Left is available from any number of online retailers and personally speaking, worth every penny.

6.22.2018

On Deadly Ground: Steven Seagal's Hilarious Masterpiece of Self-Indulgence

by robotGEEK

Holy shit. Where do I even start? On Deadly Ground is the only film from his Golden Era that I have avoided from the start. I've never seen it, because it just never looked all that interesting to me, even though I literally grew up on his films. But boy what a huge mistake that was, because having finally seen it for the first time at the ripe old age of 42, I can say that it was a blast from start to finish. But not for the reasons you may think.

On Deadly Ground is a masterpiece of self-indulgence. It's hands-down one of the biggest vanity projects I've ever seen on film, and it's all thanks to Steven Seagal, who literally makes himself out to be a mythical superhero in this film, to laughable results. Having been the director on this, I'm sure you can already imagine the standard mythical hero/secretive badass tropes run rampant in here, and they do, only they're dialed up to fucking 11 and it's hilariously epic.



First and foremost, On Deadly Ground is an environmental movie about a greedy Texas oil tycoon named Jennings (Michael Caine???), who is hellbent on moving forward with the planned installment of a new oil rig in Alaska, even though the equipment is faulty and will leak millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, causing insurmountable damage to the environment. Enter Forrest Taft, an environmental agent who, not surprisingly, is somehow also a secret DEA, FBI, EPA, NSA, IPA (get it?), CIA, and the list goes on and on. It's literally an insane smorgasbord of government credentials that never seem to end, with the topper being a moment in the film when the legendary R. Lee Ermey was talking about Forrest to another character and dotes this wonderful line of dialogue:
"My guy in D.C. tells me that we are not dealing with a student here, we're dealing with the Professor. Any time the military has an operation that can't fail, they call this guy in to train the troops, OK? He's the kind of guy that would drink a gallon of gasoline so he could piss in your campfire! You could drop this guy off at the Arctic Circle wearing a pair of bikini underwear, without his toothbrush, and tomorrow afternoon he's going to show up at your pool side with a million dollar smile and fist full of pesos. This guy's a professional, you got me? If he reaches this rig, we're all gonna be nothing but a big goddamned hole right in the middle of Alaska. So let's go find him and kill him and get rid of the son of a bitch!"

Tell me that's not the funniest shit you've ever heard! And this film is filled to the brim with this kind of ridiculous nonsense in trying way too hard to make Forrest Taft appear indestructible, or a badass. And in reality, all this movie does is make him more of a cartoon character and look the most ridiculous that he's ever looked, starting with his fringe-laced oversized ethnic jackets that he sports continuously throughout the film. There are also unintentionally laughable moments whenever Forrest shows up to do some ass-kicking or just a "really good job" where spectators will make hilarious comments meant to show us (the viewer) how great and badass Forrest Taft is, but only makes us laugh hysterically. Does it sound like I'm complaining? I hope not, because really these are all things that make On Deadly Ground as marvelous as it is. It's pure 100% Vanity Cheese and it's amazing!


Released in 1994, Seagal was on a winning streak, and had just starred in the biggest hit of his career with Under Siege in 1992. So allowing him the chance to direct isn't all that surprising considering. What "is" surprising is that despite all of it's unintentional hilarity, on a technical level, he did a pretty good job behind the camera, which is a shame he turned it into what it ultimately became. The fact of the matter is that he's actually pretty darn capable of directing a big budget film well, handling the action intensely well, making each kill brutal and indulgently violent. What's even more surprising are the moments when he gives the film a big epic feel, capturing the gorgeous landscape of Alaska. As a first-time (and only time) director, Seagal really impressed the hell out of me with this, even if in the end he ultimately made it all about himself.

Another standout here is the surprisingly killer cast. Sure there's Seagal.....being Seagal, only dialed up to 11, and don't get me started on Michael Caine, here as the evil and ruthless Texas oil tycoon. Under a pound of heavy makeup, dyed brown hair and eye lashes, and a clear face-pull to make him appear younger, his appearance is so jaw-droppingly jarring that you just can't help but stare at him and think to yourself "something doesn't look right". Then there's his odd accent, which you just can't figure out. But moving on.



The film is littered with surprising faces, like R. Lee Ermey for one, as the leader of a mercenary group whom Jennings (Michael Caine) hires to hunt down and kill Forrest. One member of his group includes a young and almost unrecognizable Billy Bob Thornton, bearded, a lot heavier than we're used to seeing, and with his original thinning hair. Rounding out the cast of regular faces is Sven-Ole Thorson (yes, Arnold's pal), John C. McGinley and even Mike Starr in a small role as an asshole racist bar patron who gets his ass handed to him by Forrest, and ends the fight with a hilarious line about "needing time to change". Because, you know, Seagal's ass kicking made him want to turn his life around and not be a racist bigot anymore, because he's that good. The gorgeous Joan Chen shows up as an indiginous native, and the only one in her tribe to speak perfect English, who ends up going along with Taft to help him with his cause. I have to say, I've seen her in a lot of different things, and I have never seen her act so well as she does here. It's the first time I've ever seen her deliver full sentences because usually it's just a few words in a hushed tone and I can't ever figure out if she can actually act or if she even has an accent. Believe it or not, this was the first time I noticed she could in fact act, and act well. The fact that it took a Steven Seagal flick to notice that blows my mind.

The film is littered with nonsensical exposition, like the fact that the indigenous tribe have a fully functioning snowmobile at their disposal, and somehow have fuel to make it work, makes no sense, especially when Forrest Taft had been utilizing dog sleds up until that point. There's another moment; actually it's the same sequence where Forrest beats the shit out of the racist bar patron, where he challenges this big, fat bigot of a man to a game of "slap the hands" (WTF??), where if Forrest is able to slap your hands before you can pull them away, he can punch you in the chest. Naturally Forrest is an ace at this girl's game, and the beat-down ends with the bully wanting to change his life. You can't make this shit up!

What is the essence of a man? Apparently playing the hand-slap game will tell you.


On Deadly Ground, quite frankly, is remarkable for a number of reasons. One, that it's actually competently made by a self-righteous first-time director. Two, that it's hilariously hedonistic to the point of almost being a parody. Three, the action, of what surprisingly little there is, is actually pretty badass and impressively brutal. Four, the casting, not counting an oddly out of place Michael Caine, adds a layer of a very specific 90's cool to the production. Five, and the most important of the bunch, is that it's just a very fun time from start to finish. It's a flamboyant mess all around and I loved every minute of it. Is it a great typical Steven Seagal action movie? No, but it sure is a helluva fun time watching this hot mess.