Pure exploitation from Jack Hill and friends in the Philippines
The DVD editions came out in June. Now it's on Blu-ray: Pam Grier made her first bid for B-movie stardom in the exploitation films for Roger Corman. "The Women in Cages Collection: The Big Bird Cage / The Big Doll House / Women in Cages" (Shout! Factory) is a trio of women in prison films, all of them featuring Grier, all of them knocked out in the Philippines. Videodrone's review is here.
Grier takes her first lead in the Jack Hill-directed "The Big Doll House" (1971), a minor classic in the genre that established the new rules of the game: abusive guards, lots of showers, late night groping, and the payback prison break. It’s pure exploitation and bit mean spirited, but it was a smash hit and started Corman’s New World Pictures in the WIP exploitation biz. Hill’s superior semi-sequel "The Big Bird Cage" (1972) elevates Grier to top billing as a mercenary/revolutionary in an unnamed South American country who (with partner Sig Haid) engineers a women’s prison break from the outside. Why? Because their rag tag soldiers are looking for revolutionary sisters to join their cause… and their beds. This is pure B exploitation powered with oddball humor—Grier and Haig’s first heist is a corker—and energetic action. The 1971 "Women in Cages," made between the two Hill pictures by veteran Filipino director Gerry (Gerardo) de Leon and featuring Grier as the sadistic head matron in a women’s penitentiary, fills out the triple feature.
The two-disc set features entertaining commentary by director Jack Hill (originally recorded for an earlier DVD release) on his two films. (My favorite tidbit: the location for the prison in "Bird Cage" was later used by Francis Coppola for Kurtz’s compound in "Apocalypse Now," where it looked much darker and more menacing.) New to the set is the 48-minute documentary "From Manila With Love," a detailed look at the making of "The Big Doll House" and "The Big Bird Cage," the films that reworked the WIP film as tawdry drive-in exploitation genre and launched Corman's New World Pictures.
The director talks about his first film in 21 years
"Road to Nowhere" (Monterey, reviewed on Videodrone here) is Monte Hellman's first feature in 21 years. The director of "The Shooting" and "Two-Lane Blacktop," a resolutely personal director who turned out drive-in pictures for Roger Corman and spent his career largely transforming work-for-hire productions into distinctive and mysterious films, spent years taking jobs as editor and second-unit director while one project after another failed to come together.
Among his projects during that time was working with the Sundance institute, where he helped a young filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino workshop a film called "Reservoir Dogs." Hellman signed on as executive producer and helped Tarantino get his film made. The role of educator and mentor eventually took him to CalArts, the private arts college where he has been teaching for the past six years.
"Road to Nowhere" is a welcome return by a master filmmaker, a film aware of its existence as a film, and his first digital production. Which he shot with a still camera, mind you, that he adapted to shoot a feature film. The result is imagery as rich as paintings. The 79-year-old rebel brings a whole new beauty to digital photography.
That's one of the things we talked about in my brief but lively phone interview with the director, along with the creative process and, of course…
What's in your DVD player?
I've been away for a month so I haven't actually haven’t had a DVD in my DVD player over that time. One of the last was "The Secret of the Grain." I was watching the Criterion disc. And there was something after that which I liked a lot, another Criterion disc, a Blu-ray of "Sweet Smell of Success."
You were very involved in the Criterion edition of your film, "Two-Lane Blacktop." In fact, you conducted and produced the interviews with Kris Kristofferson and James Taylor for the "Two-Lane Blacktop" disc.
I did about four pieces for the DVD and that was a lot of fun. In fact, I'm going to be doing similar things for Criterion releases of my two Jack Nicholson westerns, "The Shooting" and "Ride in the Whirlwind."
That's a scoop! Criterion hasn't even announced these discs.
They're a ways off. We haven't even closed the deal yet but we've talked about it and basically agreed. They're not going to be doing it until sometime in 2012.
Plus more "Gossip Girl," "the end of "Brothers and Sister" and the short-lived "Off the Map"
"The Event: The Complete Series" (Universal), the latest attempt to replicate the cosmic mystery and labyrinthine plotting of "Lost," did not quite turn out to be the event that NBC had hoped, and even after a mid-season adjustment, the epic alien invasion conspiracy thriller with the breakneck plotting momentum was cancelled after a single season (thus the subtitle: "The Complete Series"). Videodrone's review is here.
"NCIS: The Eighth Season" (Paramount), which long ago spun off the sturdy but stodgy "JAG" and became one of the most successful scripted shows on TV, keeps on delivering the mix of joshing camaraderie, crack teamwork and clubhouse humor that made it a hit. Mark Harmon is flinty team leader Gibbs, Michael Weatherly the class clown heartthrob and movie buff Tony DiNozzo and Cote de Pablo the Israeli Intelligence veteran turned NCIS field agent Ziva David, but I tend to watch it for Pauley Perrette's goofy goth scientist Abby and David McCallum's forensic doctor "Ducky" Mallard. And I definitely prefer this to the self-serious "CSI" procedurals.
This season opens with Gibbs taking on the drug cartel that puts him and his father in the gunsights of a vindictive Mexican drug lord and features a two-part story that puts Director Vance (Rocky Carroll) and his history with the agency front and center and includes return visits from Ziva's father (Michael Nouri) and Tony's father (Robert Wagner). There is also a nice tribute to former co-star Sasha Alexander and her character, Caitlin, in an otherwise familiar episode gambit of a psychiatric evaluation for the team, and the season ends with a new squad, led by Sarah Jane Morris as Special Agent E.J. Barrett, taking over a difficult case.
24 episodes on six discs in a box set of three thinpak cases, with cast and creator commentary on numerous episodes and seven featurettes, from "Lights! Camera! Weatherly! Michael Weatherly Directs an Episode" to production interviews and a Q&A answering questions from the fans.
"NCIS Los Angeles: The Second Season" (Paramount) is the younger, prettier spin-off, with Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J chasing bad guys in the California sun. This is a slicker, sexier show with sun-baked outdoor action, a younger set of players than "NCIS" original recipe and cooler technology, all of which helped make this even more popular. What it doesn't yet have is the chemistry, though Linda Hunt provides a dash of spice as the unit boss who reveals peaks into her colorful past life through the season. Also features a guest appearance by NCIS Director Vance (Rocky Carroll), another bit with the parent show looking in on the offspring.
24 episodes on six discs in a standard case with hinged trays, plus commentary on one episode and five snappy featurettes (including clips from a table read of one of the scripts).
"Off the Map: The Complete Series" (Disney), the romantic medical drama from the creators of "Grey's Anatomy" about doctors who run from their demons and land in a remote clinic in the South American jungle, never even made it a full season, despite a cast of gorgeous young doctors (Caroline Dhavernas, Zach Gilford, Mamie Gummer, Martin Henderson, Rachelle Lefevre and Valerie Cruz) in a jungle paradise. All 13 episodes on three discs, plus two featurettes.
"Angry Beavers: Seasons 1 & 2" (Shout! Factory) features 26 episodes from the Nickelodeon animated series of the nineties. Four discs in a standard case.
"Gossip Girl: The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner) opens with a Paris fling before returning best friends Blair and Serena (Blake Lively and Leighton Meester) back into the heart of the rumor mill and gossip network that is the culture of the young and privileged of New York City. Gosh, it's tough to be rich, trendy and beautiful. 22 episodes on five discs, plus two featurettes.
"Brothers and Sisters: The Complete Fifth and Final Season" (Disney) ends the family drama starring Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Balthazar Getty, Dave Annable and Matthew Rhys as grown siblings and Sally Field as their mother. 22 episodes on five discs, plus commentary on one episode and two featurettes.
Al Pacino and friends in a special Q&A recorded live from Los Angeles
Just as Howard Hawks' original 1932 "Scarface," with Paul Muni as an Al Capone-esque gangster blasting his way to the top of the (under)world, is a defining film in the first blast of American gangster films, Brian De Palma's 1983 remake, starring Al Pacino as a Cuban refugee who swaggers his way to the top of the Miami cocaine empire, has become *the* defining gangster movie of the eighties, all excess and bloodshed in sleek Miami nightclub-chic fashions. Oliver Stone's screenplay embraces the garishness of the era and De Palma's sweeping style elevates it to a pulp epic: the tawdry, gaudy, vulgar underside of "The Godfather" for the go-go-go eighties. Love it or hate it, the film has become a part of the cultural lexicon.
It makes its Blu-ray debut on September, following a special event one-night-only digital screening in select theaters across the country on Wednesday, August 31.
In anticipation of both events, Al Pacino joined co-star Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham and producer Martin Bregman for a special Q&A in Los Angeles, streamed live via Livestream on the evening of August 23.
You can view a recording of the event here.
The first and only season of TV's other cancelled alien invasion series hits DVD
"The Event: The Complete Series" (Universal), the latest attempt to replicate the cosmic mystery and labyrinthine plotting of "Lost," did not quite turn out to be the event that NBC had hoped. Even after a mid-season adjustment, the epic alien invasion conspiracy thriller with the breakneck plotting momentum was cancelled after a single season (thus the subtitle "The Complete Series").
NBC went all out promoting the show and the mystery, which it played up with a storytelling style that fractures the breathless energy of the crisis of the moment (it opens with an airline hijacking as terrorist attack) with flashbacks stairstepping back as little as a couple of days and as much as 66 years (the time of the first "event"), each flashback redefining the action at hand. But before long the secret settles into something at least vaguely familiar: an alien invasion, of sorts, with hundreds of human-looking invaders sent to prepare Earth for the sudden arrival of an entire race and captured by the American government, which puts them into a frozen Guantanamo for decades. You could call their escape another event.
Jason Ritter gets top billing in the ensemble as the scruffily handsome everyman hero rushing headlong into danger every episode to rescue his fiancée (Sarah Roemer). Laura Innes is the leader of the aliens, Blair Underwood is the American president and Zeljko Ivanek his unflaggingly loyal advisor (finally the eternal TV villain gets to be a hero again), with a parade of familiar TV faces coming and going through the twists and turns of a show that never seems to pause for a breath.
Plus "Troll Hunter," Jackie Chan's "Little Big Soldier and Morgan Spurlock selling movies
Tom McCarthy's "Win Win" (Fox), starring Paul Giamatti as small-town lawyer and family man, is a small film from with a big heart. Videodrone's review is here. "Road to Nowhere" (Monterey), Monte Hellman's first feature in 21 years, blurs reality and storytelling in beautiful and compelling ways. Videodrone reviews the film here and talks with director Monte Hellman here.
The films of South Korean director Lee Chang-dong have won acclaim and awards all over the world for their intelligence, compassion and emotional power. This week his two most celebrated films arrive on DVD and Blu-ray: "Secret Sunshine" (Criterion), a devastating drama of anger and grace that won the Best Actress award at Cannes 2007, and the sublime "Poetry" (Kino), which earned Lee the Best Screenplay award at Cannes 2010.
Jodie Foster's "The Beaver" (Summit), starring Mel Gibson as a suicidally depressed husband, father and businessman who channels his desperation to recover through a hand puppet, had the bad luck to be a hard-sell drama with black humor and a leading man with a private life far too close to his character's crisis. "There's a lot going on in Kyle Killen's script, and frankly, a lot of it comes off as direly underdeveloped in the way it plays out onscreen," offers MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "And for all that, the film has some bristling and moving scenes and certainly ends up being what you'd call a conversation starter." Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin and "Winter's Bone" golden girl Jennifer Lawrence co-star. The DVD and Blu-ray feature commentary by director/star Foster, the making-of featurette "Everything is Going to Be O.K" and deleted scenes.
"Henry's Crime" (Fox) is an indie caper comedy with Keanu Reeves as a man who serves time for a crime he never committed and decides to go ahead and rob the bank he was convicted of robbing when he gets. The film never quite comes to life according to MSN film critic James Rocchi, who complains that it "dawdles when you want it to jump, skips when you want it to sizzle." Vera Farmiga and James Caan co-star and Malcolm Venville ("44 Inch Chest") directs. No supplements to speak of on the DVD and Blu-ray releases, which arrived too late to review beyond a cursory look.
Morgan Spurlock has fun with product placement in "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" (Sony), a documentary that chronicles the efforts of director Spurlock to finance its production by selling product placement rights. "As agreeable as it is insidious, Morgan Spurlock's latest exposé of corporate control via immersive humiliation is his best, most formally inventive project yet," proclaims Village Voice film critic Mark Holcomb. Features commentary, a featurette, deleted scenes and (of course) commercials.
Norway reveals is greatest secret in "Troll Hunter" (Magnolia), a tongue-in-cheek mock-documentary in the "Blair Witch" mode transported to the snowy wilds of rural Norway. It's and "enjoyably goofy scare-pic," in the words of Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Steven Rea. It arrives on DVD and Blu-ray after a limited theatrical run and OnDemand availability. Features deleted and extended scenes, improvisations and bloopers, and behind the scenes and visual effects featurettes among the supplements.
Jackie Chan is the "Little Big Soldier" (Well Go USA), a hapless recruit who inadvertently captures an injured enemy general and take him home for a reward, in the comic war movie from China. "To Die Like a Man" (Strand) follows the struggle of a Lisbon drag queen pressured by his boyfriend to get a sex-change operation.
Great Britain and Down Under:
Jason Statham goes on an action "Blitz" (Millennium) as a volatile cop after a serial killer (Aiden Gillen) who targets police officers. Peter Mullan directs "NEDS: Non Educated Delinquents" (Tribeca), a drama about a promising student in the Glasgow slums who drifts into street crime without any support system to channel his talents. Ray Winstone and Temuera Morrison star in the New Zealand western "Tracker" (Lionsgate).
The horror, the horror:
"The Bleeding House" (Tribeca Films) is an American indie horror about a troubled, isolated family and a mysterious visitor who arrives like a judgment. C. Thomas Howell and Corbin Bernsen star in "House of Fallen" (Phase 4), about fallen angels disguised as humans. "Super Hybrid" (Anchor Bay) is a driverless car on the prowl for unsuspecting human victims. "Closed for the Season" (MTI) is a haunted amusement park that terrorizes its customers.
After 21 years, Monte Hellman is back fine form. MSN has a review and a film clip
"Road to Nowhere" (Monterey), Monte Hellman's first feature in 21 years, is as dense, enigmatic and challenging as his early masterpieces, "The Shooting" and "Two-Lane Blacktop."
See an MSN exclusive clip from "Road to Nowhere" below, after the jump.
It's a film about making a film and a film within a film, with an unknown actress (played by Shannyn Sossamon) hired to play a role in a film based on a murky true story about a politician who embezzled $100 million and disappeared with a young woman. From the opening scene, as a journalist drops a DVD (titled "Road to Nowhere") into a laptop and watches a film (complete with fictionalized credits) roll out, the lines between the characters, the actors and the levels of stories within stories are blurred. The mystery of the missing politician and the stolen money that inspires the screenplay segues into a story about the mystery of cinema and the nature of stories and storytelling.
There's plenty of nods to films and filmmaking and the conventions of storytelling laced through the picture via film clips and layered references. Self-reflexivity is not an end to itself but Hellman weaves the references back and forth between "reality" and film representation, actors and characters, and playing roles within roles, with a pattern akin to an optical illusion. We're never really sure what we're looking at and trying to piece together our understanding of the story is part of the engagement.
That may frustrate viewers looking for guidance and, well, Hellman isn't big on clarity or momentum, but it fascinates me. His images are as rich as paintings and at times about as still as paintings as well, which draws attention to the smallest details of a scene. Most contemporary American filmmakers seem unable to stop and watch a character simply be in their environment. "Road to Nowhere" film revels in stillness and restraint, both from the camera and the actors (watch the clip below for an example). Hellman finds the most revealing moments between the beats of action, where characters at rest let their facades down.
Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and the cast help Tom McCarthy deliver a winner
Tom McCarthy's "Win Win" (Fox), starring Paul Giamatti as small-town lawyer and family man, is a small film from with a big heart. Which sounds like a promotional cliché but it's true in the case of this low-key family comedy, a compassionate portrait of fallible people trying to do their best under pressure.
Giamatti, at his self-effacing, genially gentle best, plays an elder lawyer with a struggling practice and a head coach of a failing high school wrestling team. In a moment of desperation, he petitions the court to become guardian of an aging client (Burt Young) but reneges on his promise the old man. Meanwhile he and his wife (Amy Ryan) take in the man's grandson (Alex Shaffer), an easy-going runaway who suddenly showed looking for a place to stay while his mom is in rehab, and the kid with surfer dude looks and attitude proves to be a wrestling star in his own right.
There's a certain inevitability in the plotting that unwinds like you might expect but McCarthy's interest is always in the characters (including a delicious turn by Bobby Cannavale as Giamatti's best friend and Jeffrey Tambor as the assistant coach) and their integrity. The fallout when truths are revealed are genuinely painful but McCarthy plays it less as a big dramatic showcase than a personal betrayal of trust that has to be earned all over again. This film's idea of a win-win ending skips the feel-good fantasy and delivers a story that feels honest and earned. Videodrone's pick of the week.
""Win Win," featuring a near-definitive likeable schlub lead performance from the great Paul Giamatti, is maybe the most deft and smoothly enjoyable picture to come from the writer-director, in spite of some of its more obvious ploys," writes MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "The thing is, McCarthy's screenwriting is so supple, his characterizations so well-observed and sharply detailed, that none of the little story dovetails… seem at all contrived or forced."
The supplements are little slim here. There's no commentary or "making of" featurette and just the briefest of interviews carved down into promo-sized videos. At six minutes, "Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni discuss Win Win" is the most substantial of the supplements and the writers reveal a little of the personal inspiration for the film (they were high school buddies and teammates on the wrestling squad, wouldn't you know), while the other two pieces ("David Thompson at Sundance 2011," a profile of the young supporting actor, and "In Conversation with Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti at Sundance 2011") are under three-minutes apiece. There are no major revelations in the two very brief deleted scenes, but they are enjoyable little slices of character.