Last week, the dull thud of one of the worst box-office duds of all times reverberated from the U.K. to trade and gossip sites across the U.S. Momentum, a crime thriller that cost an estimated $20 million to make, returned a whopping $69 to its investors from its opening week’s run in 10 theaters. How is that even possible? The headlines I saw attached Morgan Freeman’s name to the report, as if he were somehow responsible for the Momentum’s disastrous performance … or lack thereof. Considering how little time the Oscar-winner is on screen, the blame should have been shared, at least, by leads Olga Kurylenko and James Purefoy. And, yet, that wouldn’t have been fair, either. No, Momentum is an example of a movie in which actors were betrayed by their director and writers, in addition to the total absence of positive buzz from earlier runs in such disparate markets as Russia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Toronto, the UAE and the Philippines, where the total gross failed to pass a million dollars. At a time when overseas returns are compensating for bad decisions made by pinhead studio executives here, how is that even possible? By the time Momentum was ready for Brit audiences to see, its distributor, Signature Entertainment, probably decided to cut its losses by refusing to waste another cent on marketing.
In the U.S., the Capetown-shot heist flick opened on Internet, cable and other VOD outlets, before being sent out on DVD/Blu-ray, where Kurylenko has earned a reputation as a reliable action star. Is Momentum really as bad as all that? Yes, but being instantly forgettable, the pain doesn’t last long. Kurylenko looks hot, as usual, playing Alexis Faraday, the infiltration expert of a high-tech armed-robbery crew, whose disguises appear to have been rented from George Lucas. In addition to a cache of diamonds, the robbers now have in their possession a computer file incriminating a U.S. senator (Freeman) in an international conspiracy designed to trigger another expensive war on terrorism, destined only to benefit defense contractors. He sends out a hitman, Mr. Washington (Purefoy), to find and eliminate the gang members holding the disc. Instead, he wastes time ogling Alexis, allowing enough time for a long and needlessly confusing chase to ensue between the sort-of good guys and the really bad ones.
Anyone who watched Showtime’s now-cancelled “Polyamory: Married & Dating” already knows how difficult it can be for multi-partner families to thrive in a society designed to promote monogamy, including newly legal gender-neutral marriages. The same problems that vex committed hetero- and LGBT couples – sexual, financial, hierarchical – are compounded in polyamorous settings. On the other hand, when things work out, the bliss can be magnified exponentially. Joanna Coates’ Amorous (a.k.a., “Hide and Seek”) moves the discussion from southern California to England, where four Londoners move to an isolated country cottage in an effort to escape the pressures and expectations of big-city life. In exercises that will seem extremely bizarre to people not accustomed to New Age tropes and adult-play therapy, the group fashions new rules and rituals to help them combat complacency and cynicism. The feeling-out process also includes becoming comfortable with each other sexually, by swapping partners and exploring unconventional relationships. There’s no guarantee it will work, of course, but the characters give it their best shots. The new personal and sexual bonds are tested by the arrival of an ex-lover, as was the case in “Polyamorous.” Josh O’Connor, Hannah Arterton, Rea Mole and Daniel Metz wouldn’t qualify as perfect-10s in most corners of the world, but that’s a good thing. By Hollywood standards, most of us wouldn’t make the cut in a beauty contest. The pastoral setting does add a make-believe aura to the fun and games, though.
Secrets of War
In such thrilling World War II movies as Black Book, Soldier of Orange, Winter in Wartime, and, now, Dennis Bots’ Secrets of War, Dutch filmmakers have demonstrated a remarkable ability to dramatize multiple aspects of the Nazi occupation simultaneously. Depictions of the resistance movement, threats to Jewish residents and German brutality toward the citizenry, in general, are common threads, of course, but we’ve also watched the war through the eyes of children, farmers, prostitutes and collaborationists … heroes, saints and finks. Based on a best-selling novel by Dutch scientist, politician and author Jan Terlouw, Winter in Wartime was the story of a 16-year-old boy who contributes to the resistance in any way he can, including rescuing British airmen whose flight paths take them over the Dutch countryside. The boy is conflicted, however, by his loyalty to his father, the mayor, who seemingly is only interested in maintaining the status quo between the town and the German Army. The lasting image I have of the movie is of the boy (Martijn Lakemeier) sneaking secret papers past German soldiers on his bicycle. Dutch children’s author and playwright Jacques Vriens wrote the book from which Secrets of War was adapted. The boys here may be younger, almost by half, but their everyday life in a rural village forces them to come to grips with issues related directly to the occupation and Holocaust.
Tuur and Lambert (Maas Bronkhuyzen, Joes Brauers) are best friends, with fathers on opposite sides of the ideological fence. They’ve been left largely in the dark about the uglier aspects of the occupation, but can’t help witnessing such injustices as the Nazis’ seizure of farm animals and occasional arrest of the local priest for his anti-German sermons. The boys take sides when playing games with make-believe guns, but have no idea what’s really at stake in the war. Neither are they aware of the contents of the locked box cars on trains travelling from Amsterdam to the Germany. It isn’t until a clever student, Maartje (Pippa Allen), transfers into their school and becomes their best friend, that they’re introduced to the ugliest truth of the war, by far. Maartje’s parents have been arrested by the Gestapo, but not before they were able to arrange for her identity changed and lodging with relatives in the village. It isn’t until youthful jealousy rears its ugly head that the horrors of war are visited on the trio. One of the primary things working in Bots’ favor are locations in the Benelux countries that probably haven’t changed much since 1945. This is especially true in the vast network of caves actually used in the war to hide downed pilots, Jewish families and resistance fighters looking to move between Holland and Belgium. Secrets of War can be watched by parents and their older children without concerns about gore, the glorification of militarism or nightmare-inducing images of genocide. It adds a decent making-of featurette and Kate Tsang’s short film, “So You’ve Grown Attached,” about some of the vagaries of growing up, anywhere.
Grace of Monaco
If the Principality of Monaco didn’t already have a patron saint – Devote, 283-303 AD — Prince Albert II could have sent Olivier Dahan’s overly pious biopic of his mother, Grace of Monaco, to the Vatican for consideration as a worthy candidate. The only thing missing is a halo radiating over the head of Nicole Kidman, who plays the expatriate princess and, of course, Oscar winner. What American film lover hasn’t heard fairytale story of Grace Kelly of Philadelphia and Hollywood giving up her acting career to marry the monarch of a geographic entity still known primarily for a Grand Prix race and casino. Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth) must have been a helluva kisser, because he was no Prince Charming … or Cary Grant, for that matter. In the eyes of her filthy rich subjects, she was little more than a commoner. (Never mind that her personal fortune was greater than Rainier’s then-insolvent treasury.) Arash Amel’s heavily edited screenplay focuses less on the fairytale than her difficulties in adjusting to life as a subservient wife and the role she played in saving Monaco from being occupied by French forces. Charles De Gaulle wanted Rainier to begin taxing his subjects and contribute the revenues to his colonial escapades. Princess Grace would use her cinematic wiles to win world leaders’ support for breaking the French blockade and raise her profile as a great humanitarian.
By emphasizing this footnote in the history of celebrity diplomacy, screenwriter Arash Amel gave Dahan ample opportunity to level the playing field upon which the royal couple played their games, as well as the occasion for a rip-roaring speech before a room full of dignitaries that included De Gaulle, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Philip Delancy), Ari Onassis (Robert Lindsay) and Maria Callas (Paz Vega), who sang for her supper. Despite Dahan’s pedestrian direction, what stands out in Grace of Monaco are the lush settings, grand interiors and wonderful fashions. I would have liked to see more of the principality than is on display here, however. It’s an interesting place, with a splendid history, but you’d think it was an attraction at Disneyland, with Rainier left to impersonate the monarch in the Burger King commercials. The movie took a terrible critical drubbing when it opened the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, so much so that it was shown theatrically everywhere, except the U.S., where it opened on Lifetime a year later. Despite all of the negative word-of-mouth and tinkering, Grace of Monaco made $26.5 million at the international box office. Add the Lifetime, PPV and likely DVD/Blu-ray revenues to that figure and Weinstein Company shouldn’t do too badly. Certainly, they saved a few bucks by not adding commentaries or featurettes to the discs.
Roger Waters: The Wall: Blu-ray
I Hope You Dance: The Power and Spirit of Song
How long future generations of musicians and actors will profit from performing rock operas and musicals identified with long-dead musicians pretty much depends on how long the heart of rock ’n’ roll is still beating. (Thank you, Huey Lewis.) Touring companies of “Hair,” “Godspell,”“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Tommy” and “American Idiot” and such “jukebox musicals” as “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Mamma Mia!,” “We Will Rock You,” “Fela!,” “Jersey Boys” and “Million Dollar Quartet” could probably go on forever, as well. I wonder if Pink Floyd’s magnum opus, “The Wall,” will survive after Roger Waters, David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason reunite with Richard Wright and Syd Barrett in Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven. Among other things, it’s difficult to imagine anyone outside of Las Vegas possessing the financial wherewithal to mount a production that would approximate the monumental concert experience memorialized in the Blu-ray/DVD “Roger Water: The Wall” and previous performance films. Moreover, it would be exceedingly difficult to assign to anyone else the personal story attached to it by Waters. It was informed, in part, by the wartime deaths of his father and grandfather, as well as he and Gilmour’s alienation from the band’s audiences on the 1977 tour. The magnitude of “The Wall” in concert is perfectly demonstrated in time-lapse featurettes showing the complexity of the seven-day process of staging it in a Buenos Aires soccer stadium. The “wall” separating the audience from the band – and other societal disconnects – stretches from one side of the stadium to the other, while the video screen and canopy tower over the grandstands. The lighting and other special visual effects, alone, would bankrupt several small countries. It’s an amazing show. The only caveat here derives from Waters’ choice of integrating filmed vignettes into the concert footage. While heartfelt, they disrupt the musical flow throughout the production. In them, Waters visits memorials at battlefields throughout Europe, while also flashing back to prominent moments in his past. “Roger Waters: The Wall” was shot during the sold-out 2010-13 world tour, which included 219 shows, in 4K and mixed in Dolby Atmos. The package adds UltraViolet access; a visit to the Bulgarian grave of anti-fascist writer Frank Thompson; and Facebook films.
I can’t immediately recall the songs on my digital playlist 15 years ago, but I know that it didn’t include Lee Ann Womack’s heart-rending Song of the Year, “I Hope You Dance.” I have nothing against Womack or the song. It simply wasn’t on my radar … or the satellite stations to which I was tuned. According to the evidence presented in John Scheinfeld’s I Hope You Dance: The Power and Spirit of Song, Tia Sillers and Mark D. Sanders’ crossover hit has had a significant impact beyond the folks who downloaded it from the Internet or chose it for their wedding promenades. The documentary explores how a song about hope, faith and optimism — just under five minutes in length – has changed the lives of several “real” people in profound ways. In addition to introducing us to a half-dozen of them, there are testimonials from Dr. Maya Angelou, Graham Nash, Brian Wilson, Pastor Joel Osteen, Vince Gill and Womack. It also showcases a new version by four-time Grammy-nominated artist, Mandisa. Instead of being sappy, the film feels as genuine today as the lyrics did when first heard.
It’s taken almost three years for Jehane Noujaim’s excellent documentary, The Square, to wind its way from Sundance to DVD. I suppose there’s a good reason for the delay, but I’ll be damned if I know precisely what it is. Here’s my guess: after its festival debut, late-breaking events in the “continuing Egyptian revolution” forced the Cairo-born filmmaker (Control Room, Startup.com) to update the ending of her finished product twice, before the crowd-sourced doc began its Oscar-qualifying runs in the fall and was picked up for streaming, on Netflix, in January, 2014. This meant that anyone whose interest was piqued by The Square’s Oscar, Emmy, IDA and Independent Spirit nominations, would only find it at Netflix, which, at the time, was transitioning from an all-mail to largely streaming service. The mass-distribution screener I received is from City Drive Entertainment Group and MVD Visual. In that 20-month interim, of course, the Arab Spring devolved into the ISIS Winter. The people Noujaim introduced us to in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, probably would want us to know that the revolution that began there in January, 2011, is still evolving. The Square’s abundant optimism flows through the hearts and minds of six very different protesters, who were there at the beginning and maintained their revolutionary spirit throughout the contentious struggles to come. They all had different reasons for coming to the original tent city, but shared a willingness to listen to the opinions of everyone around them, whether Muslim or Christian, left or right, young or old. That bond would be seriously tested twice more, at least, but Noujaim’s foresight held true. The DVD adds more than 90 minutes of deleted scenes and exclusive content.
For 43 minutes, at least, the creative team behind the beautifully rendered documentary, Jerusalem – originally shot for 3D IMAX theaters – shows us a deceptively peaceful city, where men and women of several different religions worship openly, without fear of being killed for their beliefs or stoned for praying in the wrong place. This is a city where hope reigns supreme and fundamentalists don’t pray for the End Times to arrive, so they can get to heaven before the rest of us … or not. In that regard, Jerusalem may hedge the truth, but it’s a fib most of us wish was true. Daniel Ferguson, who’s worked on similar documentaries about the pilgrimages to Mecca, opens the gates to the city with the assistance of three teenage girls – Christian, Muslim and Jewish – who share with us their love for Jerusalem and it vibrant cultures. As was the case in his films about the hajj, Ferguson sought and was accorded exceptional access to the holiest of shrines and rites. But, before he could begin filming, he had to cut through what must have seem like miles of red tape at every turn. He takes us directly above the Temple Mount, by helicopter, and to foundation of the ancient city, where natural spring water still flows. He was allowed to spend the night among religious leaders at Christ’s tomb. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to Israel in my lifetime, but, at least, I’ve seen more of Jerusalem than I thought I would. The Blu-ray arrives with commentary, deleted scenes, several extended interviews, making-of material and a well-reasoned explanation as to why Ferguson chose to avoid the politics of hate in his film.
Goodnight Mommy: Blu-ray
When Mother (Susanne Wuest) returns to her isolated glass-walled summer home with bandages wrapped around her face, we, like her twin sons, Lukas and Elias, wonder what happened to her in the hospital. Was she in an accident? Has she undergone cosmetic surgery to repair damage done by an abusive husband or merely to maintain looks that once graced the cover of fashion magazines? The boys’ father isn’t around and there aren’t any photos of him on the walls. Mom seems lost in a world of her own. More to the point, however, is the almost telepathic relationship shared by the twins, who have full run of the gorgeous property, which lies between a pristine Austrian lake, thick pine forest and a carefully managed cornfield. By all outward appearances, they’re perfectly normal 9-year-olds, with imaginations that sometimes lead them astray. Because we’ve seen the kind of mischief twins get into the movies – those not made by Disney, anyway – we’re ready for anything. As much as Mother tries to distract their attention away from her face, she can’t keep the boys from wondering if she might have been switched with another woman while in the hospital. Their concern becomes especially acute after she appears to be favoring one of them over the other and forbidding the other to speak or wear clothes of his own choosing. In their minds, Mother is merging them into a single entity and they don’t like it. Considering how close we are to being in Michael Haneke territory, nothing ought to surprise us from this point forward. The boys become more conspiratorial, while Mother is too consumed with her self-image to recognize the signs of imminent danger. Goodnight Mother (a.k.a., in German, “I Spy With My Little Eye”) easily qualifies as “arthouse horror,” if only because of how writer/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz use the house’s unique architecture to add another layer of tension to the story. There’s no reason for other genre buffs to be intimidated by the fancy stuff, though. The Blu-ray adds an interesting conversation with the filmmakers.
Ed Kunkle, the antagonist of Hole, also has mommy issues. When he was young, she would tie him to a chair in a room full of wooden dolls and berate him. Guess what Ed grows up to be? Remember “Buffalo Bill” in The Silence of the Lambs? The two characters share several horrifying traits, including a fondness for sewing. Joaquin Montalvan’s follow-up to The Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher does a pretty good getting inside the mind of an ex-con who’s tormented by demons of his own making and others left behind from his mother, after he killed her. By the way, Ed’s weapon of choice is a sledge hammer. What distinguishes Hole from most other DVD originals is Montalvan’s ability to drive his narrative with something other than the periodic bludgeoning deaths of his victims. If the movie thrives on the many conceptual conceits he invests in the story, they sometimes feel gratuitously clever. Much of Hole was shot on what appears to be damaged film stock, while the soundtrack mimics the drone of defective brain cells reverberating through the skull of a maniac. Montalvan mixes colors and textures at will, usually, though, to good effect. He also bombards us with flashbacks, flash-forwards, visual references to other horror films and experimentation for the sake of experimentation. Paul E. Respass, who plays Kunklem, has appeared in the director’s last two films and seems comfortable in the role of the monster. The DVD adds commentary, a making-of featurette and “Ed’s Journal,” which re-creates a weathered facsimile of “Wisconsin Death Trip.”
Also from exploitation specialist Wild Eye Releasing comes Killing Heat, an action flick with almost no action – until its half over, anyway – but plenty of disturbing attitude. Set in some infrequently seen Thai locations, co-writer/director/actor/producer/cinematographer Daniel Dahl’s thriller-without-thrills is so ludicrously scripted and ineptly made as to be laughable. And, it might have been funny, if its racism, sexism and violence weren’t so crudely drawn and executed. Imagine if the “two wild and crazy guys” from “Saturday Night Live” made a home movie while seeking “swinging adventures” in an exotic setting. And, I don’t mean Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd playing the Czech brothers … I mean the Festrunks, themselves. Here, Norwegian businessman J.D. is invited to Thailand by his bro’s for a bit of R&R after being fired from his desk job. For a couple of nights, they have a good time getting wasted, laid and tricked into paying for blowjobs by two of Bangkok’s famous lady boys. After one such debauched night out, J.D. wakes up in the jungle with no memory of how he got there. After raping a child – I’m not kidding – J.D. is forced to hightail it back to Bangkok, with half of the rural population chasing him. He manages to kill most of them with marksmanship that rivals Annie Oakley. Even the dubbing is horrible. The Festrunks couldn’t have made Killing Heat worse than Dahl already has, no matter how hard they tried. The only truly good idea Dahl has to offer comes in the final five minutes, but it’s too little, too late.
A Year and Change
Addiction: A ’60s Love Story
While it’s possible that fans of “How to Make It in America” and “One Tree Hill” will find something interesting in Bryan Greenberg’s performance in Stephen Suettinger’s unfocused rom/com/dram, A Year in Change, it isn’t likely that anyone else will. He plays Owen, an alcoholic vending-machine proprietor who’s squandered every opportunity in life, but feels as if there’s still time to sober up before things get too dire. That point comes when his ex-wife (Kat Foster) tells him that she’s landed a job in San Diego and is taking their son with her. It also coincides with him falling off the roof at a house party, while reaching for a bottle of beer in the rain gutter. If that weren’t sufficiently symbolic, Owen is required to endure several other indignities before the filmmakers deem him salvageable. Characters played Marshall Allman (“True Blood”) and T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”) have troubles of their own, but look so much alike I managed to confuse them halfway through the film. Besides nearly screwing up his relationship with his son, Owen also is required to misread every cue thrown his way by a lovely, recently jilted bank teller (Claire van der Boom), who’s far too good for him. Unfortunately, by the time Suettinger and Jim Beggarly’s script allows for Owen to redeem himself, we’ve given up on him.
The same caveat applies to Addiction: A ’60s Love Story. Only fans of “Pretty Little Liars” star Ian Harding – or Luna Lovegood, in the “Harry Potter” films – are likely to do handsprings over what they see in Tate Steinsiek’s debut feature. In it, Harding does an OK job as Max Bornstein, a Jersey boy who dropped out of college to pursue a career in the then-underground porn industry, a heroin addiction and broken marriage. Long after getting clean and sober, Bornstein wrote a book about his experiences, which, except for the porn, resembles every other memoir by a middle-class white guy, who fell in love with drugs and pissed away a fortune in friends and money before finding the light. His real talent was hiding his vices from his family, including his wife (Evanna Lynch), until his book was published. The DVD adds interviews.
The Hunting Ground
A few weekends ago, CNN aired Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s stunning documentary about rape on campus, “The Hunting Ground,” despite threats of legal action from a lawyer for one of the athletes specifically accused in it by a “survivor.” That player, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, had ducked investigations while enrolled at Florida State University and law-enforcement officials in Tallahassee failed to investigate the alleged rape. Once the national media caught wind of the allegations and began to smell something fishy about the ease with which FSU athletes have been able to avoid persecution on most crimes, the police announced that they had no reason to believe the sex wasn’t consensual, as Winston argued, and refused to press charges. If FSU was an isolated example of athletes being allowed to behave badly, Dick and Ziering (The Invisible War) probably would have been forced to leave well enough. Instead, they discovered a network of dozens of women, connected by the Internet, who were willing to come forward and tell the world how they were seduced by their assailants and abandoned by school officials. The patterns are all too familiar, as they largely involve officially sanctioned fraternities and athletes who traditionally have been given a pass.
While it’s extremely difficult to differentiate between consensual sex between overserved and often underage students, it’s difficult to argue against the intention of frat boys chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal,” for all the world to hear. The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates how little support university officials will accord victims – women and men – when alumni money and prestige is involved. There’s also the testimony of parents, fathers mostly, who had watched helplessly as their precious daughters were vilified and bullied by Internet fiends and ignored by college administrators. Detractors have complained about the film’s structure and FSU president John Thrasher called The Hunting Ground “inaccurate and incomplete.” Like other officials mentioned in the film, Thrasher lacked the courage to appear on the follow-up program CNN arranged to address such complaints. As for questions raised by critics, they didn’t prevent Producers Guild of America from nominating the film for its top documentary award or Oscar nominators to include it on their short list.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats: Blu-ray
Wake Up and Kill: Blu-ray
The Amazing Doctor G
For a short story first published in the August 19, 1843, edition of the Saturday Evening Post, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” has enjoyed a long and fruitful life on the screen. Nine of them, at least, not including the parodies that followed very closely in the wake of the story’s publication. The idea of commissioning different artists to freely adapt “The Black Cat” isn’t new. Universal Pictures released a “Black Cat” in 1934 and 1941, and borrowed from the story for “Maniac,” also in 1934. In 1962, Roger Corman and Richard Matheson’s Tales of Terror combined “The Black Cat” with “The Cask of Amontillado” and sandwiched it between adaptations of “Morella” and “”The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” The 1990 film Two Evil Eyes presents two Poe tales, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and “The Black Cat.” The former was written and directed by George A. Romero while the latter was written and directed by Dario Argento. Arrow Video’s lavish Blu-ray box, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats” goes all giallo on us with Sergio Martino’s kooky 1972 thriller “Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” and Lucio Fulci’s nasty 1981 take, “The Black Cat.” It’s funny how movies that once looked so cheesy on VHS become classic with 2K scrubbings from the original camera negatives and hi-def presentations. Martino’s contribution puts a hippy-dippy spin on the tale, as well adding sexy star turns by Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Angela La Vorgna and Dalila Di Lazzaro. Fulci’s contribution brings the story and the cat to an estate in rural England. Patrick Magee is outstanding as the mad psychic, who thinks he can control the cat’s killer instincts. The package arrives with new interviews with Martino; the featurettes, “Dolls of Flesh and Blood: The Gialli of Sergio Martino” and a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring Martino’s unique contributions to the giallo genre and historian Stephen Thrower on “Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci”; reversible sleeves featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; and a limited-edition 80-page book, featuring new writing on the films and Poe’s original story.
Also from Arrow Video and Italy, Carlo Lizzani’s Wake Up and Kill (a.k.a., “Wake Up and Die”) chronicles the exploits of the notorious armed robber Luciano Lutring, who, during the 1960s, committed more than 100 armed heists in Italy and on the French Riviera. Like Jesse James, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, Australia’s Ned Kelly, France’s Jacques Mesrine and Canada’s Edwin Boyd, Lutring was afforded a Robin Hood-like mystique by the media. Dubbed “the submachine gun soloist,” because he kept one in a violin case, Lutring’s stylish career lent itself to exploitation by filmmakers and Wake Up and Kill began production only months after his arrest on September 1, 1965. Compared to the poliziotteschi to come, in the 1970s, Wake Up and Kill is a no-frills account not only of Lutring’s spree, but also the glamorous singer (Lisa Gastoni) who became his moll. Robert Hoffman bears a closer resemblance to James Dean than Lutring, who died a free man in 2013, at 75. (The same can be said of Alain Delon, about his portrayal of the “gentleman thief” in Jose Giovanni’s 1975 thriller, Le Gitan.) Lizzani’s career spanned nearly 60 years, beginning in post-war neo-realism (Bitter Rice), moving on through giallo, cops-and-robbers and spaghetti-Westerns (Requiescant, The Violent Four), topical dramas (Love and Anger, Kleinhoff Hotel) and documentaries (Celluloid). Wake Up and Kill was scored by Ennio Morricone (Once Upon a Time in the West), co-scripted by Ugo Pirro (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), shot by Armando Nannuzzi (The Damned) and co-starring Gian Maria Volonté (The Death of Mario Ricci). That’s a lot of fire power for a movie that some might construe as a genre flick, albeit one that was hugely popular in Italy. The Arrow upgrade, as usual, is excellent, and it arrives with a short English-language version.
The great Spanish actor Fernando Rey has done outstanding work in such noteworthy films as The French Connection, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, That Obscure Object of Desire, Tristana, Elisa, My Life, Seven Beauties and Don Quijote de la Mancha. He’s been directed by William Friedkin, Luis Buñuel, Frank Perry, Robert Altman, Carlos Saura, Lina Wertmüller and Orson Welles. In the same year that Rey appeared in Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, he played the title character in a James Bond parody, The Amazing Doctor G, which also was sold as “The Two Crazy Secret Agents,” “Two Mafiosi Against Goldginger” and “Goldginger.” The Bond books and movies have been satirized endlessly since the early 1960s, often very well. From the appropriately named Cheezy Flicks – a distributor that specializes in such amusingly toxic fare — The Amazing Doctor G is not one of them. By comparison, it makes Austin Powers in Goldmember look like Commedia dell’arte. The evil Doctor Goldginger is planning to take over the world by brainwashing important leaders from around the world and start a war between the USA and the USSR. Upstaging Rey at every turn are photographers Franco and Ciccio, who are kidnapped by Goldginger. Sicilian comedians Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia play the foils to Goldginger and Agente 007 (George Hilton). These sorts of parodies were churned out for popular consumption during a period roughly spanning the end of Italian neo-realism and the rise of spaghetti-Westerns and giallo.
For many people, World War II began well before the attack on Pearl Harbor forced the hand of a divided Congress. It’s one of the things Americans can learn in new movies from Korea and China, where Japanese imperialist forces were making life miserable for the native populations long before December 7, 1941. The overall quality of the war pictures that find their way to the U.S. is excellent, with larger than ever budgets for talent and special effects. At 140 minutes, Choi Dong-hoon’s Assassination may seem like too daunting a test for Americans whose knowledge of what transpired in the Pacific Theater is necessarily limited to the Allies’ tortuous island-to-island march to victory. In 1933, much of Korea’s resistance movement is in jail or hiding in Manchuria. A group of exiled rebels have been instructed to return to Korea to assassinate the governor of the Japanese garrison in Gyeongseong and a pro-Japanese Korean business tycoon. Before they can begin, however, an elderly hero from an earlier resistance movement is recruited to break three specifically trained fighters from jail and take them to Shanghai, before re-entering Korea. One is a petite woman sharpshooter, who will have less trouble clearing security personnel than the men. Once inside Korea, however, they are required to deal with the added inconvenience of ferreting out an informer. Freelance assassin Hawaii Pistol and his sidekick Old Man have been hired to intercept the assassins. It’s complicated, alright, but there’s plenty of time to sort things out and the tension is relieved by more than a few light-hearted moments.
All About E
After watching Louise Wadley’s sure-footed buddy/road picture, All About E, I wondered what a 2015 remake of Thelma & Louise might look like if the protagonists were allowed to fall in love on their journey, naturally and without the angst usually associated with coming to grips with one’s sexual identity. They wouldn’t kick Brad Pitt out of bed for eating crackers, but they’d sure as hell not leave him in the same room with their money. Would the dynamics between Harvey Keitel’s sympathetic Detective Hal Slocumb and T&L change if he learned that the outlaw buddies had become don’t-give-a-shit lovers? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they wouldn’t feel it necessary to take the plunge into the canyon after their goodbye kiss. Maybe they’d call Gloria Allred, instead. In All About E, Mandahla Rose plays the title character, a Lebanese-Australian lesbian, who is the star deejay at a Sydney nightclub frequented by gay men, including her red-haired BFF, Matt. She’s lost her interest in a music career and her blond lover, Trish, has split for an Outback farm to escape the drama. One night, E finds a bag full of suitcase full of cash, lying there for her to steal it. When she learns that it belongs to her boss, a gay hoodlum, E decides to grab Matt for a road trip to the unknown. After visiting her parents, who’d love for her to pick up the clarinet again, E&M head for the farm for a possible reconciliation with Trish and a showdown with her very pissed-off boss. Things don’t work out exactly the way E imagined they would, but the ending is satisfying, anyway. The DVD adds interviews with Wadley and the filmmakers.
Zoolander: SteelBook Edition: Blu-ray
As most of the civilized world already knows, Zoolander No. 2 arrives February 12, in time for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and the Feast of Saint Valentine. As far as I know, neither Sacha Baron Cohen nor supermodel Bruno make appearances in it, although it would be fun if one or both of them did. I suspect that diehard fans already own the Blu-ray or DVD edition of the outrageous fashion-industry comedy, which share most of the same bonus features. Zoolander: SteelBook Edition, available only at Walmart until February 2, adds footage of Owen Wilson and Justin Theroux rehearsing their “epic” breakdance fight, under the direction of Ben Stiller, and an alternate version of the brainwashing sequence told through storyboards. What makes it giftable, though, are a collectible Zoolander headband, embellished with Derek’s world-famous coif; a look at “Zoolander No. 2”; and a coupon worth up to $8 towards a ticket to see the new film in theaters.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIV
The Bold Ones: The Senator: The Complete Series
Angry Birds: Toons/Piggy Tales/Stella
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Revenge!
Shout Factory’s latest compilation of intergalactic schlock, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIV,” puts a tight focus on American International Pictures and its ability to change the way teenagers, especially, watched movies during the 1950s youthquake. The major studios tight grasp on available screens had been loosened significantly by new anti-monopoly laws and drive-in theaters provided a home away from home for kids anxious to taste the newfound freedom provided by access to automobiles. It’s not a new story, but one that’s fun to revisit on film. The titles represented here follow Samuel Z. Arkoff’s “formula” for producing a successful low-budget movie: action, entertainment, revolution, killing, oratory, fantasy and fornication … not necessarily in those exact words or order of preference. The selections include Roger Corman’s Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (a.k.a. “The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent” ) and The Undead; Bert I. Gordon’s War of the Colossal Beast; and Edward L. Cahn’s The She-Creature. The longest of these is 77 minutes, which affords plenty of room for a second feature, intermission, previews and, perhaps, a cartoon. They also provide plenty of excuses for necking through the dull parts. In a fresh interview, Corman allows that “Viking Women” severely tested his ability to work with advanced special effects on a miniscule budget. A lengthy featurette discusses AIP and its place in cinematic history.
Timeless Media Group adds to its “Bold Ones” collection that includes complete-series sets of “The Bold Ones: The Lawyers,” featuring Burl Ives, Joseph Campanella and James Farentino; “The Bold Ones: The Protectors,” with Leslie Nielsen and Hari Rhodes; and “The Bold Ones: The Senator,” with Hal Holbrook and Sharon Acker. “The Bold Ones: The New Doctors,” with E.G. Marshall, John Saxon and David Hartman, has yet to be shipped. Produced by Universal Television, the series were broadcast on NBC from 1969 to 1973, using the same wheel format that worked for “Columbo,” “McCloud” and “McMillan & Wife.” Instead of relying of being tied exclusively to crime-solving and personality-driven themes, “The Bold Ones” developed stories inspired by headline-making events, without stereotyping the characters. Examine the credit lists and you’ll find the names of veteran actors alongside those of such up-and-comers as Michael Ritchie, Steven Bochco, John Badham, Richard Donner, Will Geer, Georg Stanford Brown and Fred Williamson. They’re still fun to watch.
Originated in Finland, “Angry Birds” has grown from a single video game, in 2009, to a marketing phenomenon, in 2010, to a huge multimedia franchise, today, with a 3D feature film scheduled for May, 2016. There are almost too many non-gaming spinoffs – from toys to soft drinks to theme parks — to count. We’re talking billions of downloads here, folks. On March 16, 2013, “Angry Birds Toons,” a TV series based on the game, made its debut on Comcast’s Xfinity On-Demand, Samsung Smart TVs and Roku set-top boxes. “Toons” is available on mobile devices, by an additional Toons channel on all of the Angry Birds apps home screens. In April, 2014, Rovio released “Piggy Tales,” a stop-motion animated series that tells the stories of the Minion Pigs’ life. Stella and her five BFF’s have been given their own series as well. The new DVDs include, “Angry Birds: Stella: The Complete First Season,” “Piggy Tales: The Complete First Season” and “Angry Birds Toons: Season Two, Volume One.”
In the episodes included in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Revenge!,” Leo, Raph, Donnie and Mikey encounter new mutants, time travel and take on new Earth-threatening enemies. The two-disc collection contains the final 12 episodes (67-78) from Season Three of Nickelodeon’s hit animated series. Some of the new and old mutants are Muckman, the Mighty Mutanimals, Mondo Gecko, Serpent Karai, the Mega Shredder, Tiger Claw, the Creep, Bebop and Rocksteady. The DVD adds special features and a Leonardo zipper-pull gift with purchase.