‘The Lost Boys’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

The Lost Boys” falls into the category of a great horror film I have never seen before until now.  With its release on 4K and Halloween a little over a month away, I couldn’t wait to take a bite into this movie (see what I did there?).  Vampires, zombies and werewolves are familiar creatures used in horror films.  The thing which separates the good films from the bad are two things: the characters and the story.  Are we invested in the characters? Is there a compelling story? In the case of “The Lost Boys,” the answer is a resounding yes.  I loved this film, and even though I’m late to the party in watching it, it’s better late than never.

Lucy (Dianne Wiest) and her two sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) have relocated to Santa Carla, California following her divorce.  They end up living with her eccentric, oddball father played brilliantly by Barnard Hughes, and he doesn’t want anyone to touch his root beer or his Oreos.  He also spends a lot of time dabbling in taxidermy and often gives Sam some unwanted presents.  Sam is also flanked by his loyal dog Nanook, an Alaskan Malamute. Sam is doing his best to adjust to this beach town by catching up on some comic books. He ends up getting to know the Frog Brothers, Edgar and Allan, played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander, who know a lot about vampires and comic books.  Their performances are comedy gold in this film, and they are their own little “Strangers Things” group here.

Michael ends up falling for a young lady named Star, played by Jami Gertz. She hangs around a biker gang led by David (Kiefer Sutherland).  Something is clearly unusual and odd about them, but Michael is hoping that if they accept him, he can get to know Star.  Lucy ends up getting a job at the local video store which is owned by Max (Edward Herrmann).  Max is a dorky putz, but he means well and seems genuinely interested in getting to know Lucy.  This in spite of the fact that their dates usually always end up in disaster because Sam is convinced something is off with Michael.  Sam wants to protect Michael because that’s his brother, but he’s not entirely happy with how he’s acting lately.  Michael is sleeping all the time and coming home very late now that he has his new friends.

There is plenty to enjoy with “The Lost Boys,” but the key ingredient is the cast.  The actors really sell this material with just the right amount of humor and terror.  Director Joel Schumacher also knows how to get the most out of every single scene.  This film is 97 minutes and frankly, it is the perfect running time for a film like this. We get to know the characters, their dilemma unfolds, and it ends with a bang, literally and figuratively speaking. I really enjoyed the fact the filmmakers went with an R rating.  They build up to the violence, so it really means something when the bodies start to explode and heads begin flying off.  The special effects and make-up are top notch.  When you add in the fact this is a 4K release, everything is enhanced to an even greater degree.

The film also doesn’t lean in too heavily with the vampire gimmick.  Yes, there are characters who are vampires and there are rules to follow, but at the end of the day, it’s a film about a mother and her two sons trying to survive.  Dianne Wiest, a favorite actress of mine, is perfect as the concerned but confused mother.  The late Corey Haim is also top-notch here.  I know I’m singling out their work, but there is not a bad performance in this film.  It also helps that the atmosphere goes back and forth between day and night.  It’s an atmospheric and intense flick which hits all of the right notes you would want in a film like this. I went into it not knowing what to expect, and I ended up having a big smile on my face when the credits were rolling at the end.

“The Lost Boys” is an 80’s gem which deserves to be seen on 4K.  It’s one of those rare examples of a film where everything falls into place: the cast, the acting, the director, the writing, the blood and guts and the twists and turns.  The comedy is done at just the right moments without being too hokey or phony. The action and violence are really turned up a notch without being too much or overdone. This is the perfect Halloween movie to pick up in time to watch for the holiday.  Trust me when I tell you this: You won’t regret it, and you will love it. If you have already seen it, you will love it even more with the 4K upgrade.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-Ray: “The Lost Boys” is being released on a two-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital copy of the film as well.  It is rated R and has a running time of 97 minutes.

Video Info: The 4K of this film comes with stunning High Dynamic Range (HDR), and it looks incredible.  As I mentioned earlier in my review, the outdoor shots of California are absolutely stunning. When the film is darker and more brooding, it switches to that tone with its color palette.  This is a terrific-looking 4K, and I enjoyed taking it all in for the first time.

Audio Info:  I was hoping they would have a Dolby Atmos track as the audio is good but it’s a little inconsistent at times. It comes on a DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 audio track along with Dolby Digital audio tracks in French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

4K UHD Disc

·           Commentary by Joel Schumacher

Blu-ray Disc

·           Commentary by Joel Schumacher

·           “The Lost Boys: A Retrospective”: 24:00

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: A Director’s Vision”: 6:58

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: Comedy vs. Horror”: 4:44

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: Fresh Blood-A New Look at Vampires”: 4:23

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: The Lost Boys Sequel?”: 2:25

·           “Vamping Out: The Undead Creations of Greg Cannon”: 14:02

·           “The Return of Sam and the Frog Brothers: Haimster & Feldog-The Story of the 2 Coreys”: 4:30

·           “The Return of Sam and the Frog Brothers: Multi-Angle Video Commentary by Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander”: 18:23

·           The Lost Scenes: 15:16

·           Lou Gramm “Lost in the Shadows” Music Video: 4:35

·           Trailer: 1:26

Normally, I would complain about the fact they don’t have any new special features for the 4K here, but considering this was my first time watching the film, all of the special features were new to me.  There is a commentary track with the director and plenty of lengthy special features discussing the film.  Based on the quality of the movie, the 4K upgrade, and the special features, this one comes highly recommended as a day-one purchase.  If you are a horror enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to watch this film at the highest quality available.  As far as the film itself, there is so much to like about it. Even though the film is a vampire film, it doesn’t feel like a vampire film.  I felt the vibes of It and Stranger Things mixed with a family drama.  The acting is really, really good, and it’s a big reason why it’s such an effective film.  The kills featured in the film are also really grisly and blood-soaked.  I loved this movie! I’m really enjoying the fact that Warner Brothers Home Entertainment is going into their vault and releasing a lot of their older titles on 4K.  This is a top-of-the-line upgrade with bright colors and a vivid picture. If you are like me and haven’t seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to add it to your collection.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’

I pride myself on having a vast knowledge of movies. While my many of my friends stumble across a movie they don’t recognize, I am usually quick to name it even if I have never watched it before. Everyone is amazed at how I could know such things. Still, when it comes to older movies and the great filmmakers who ever lived, there are still many I need to catch up on.

One of those filmmakers I really need to catch up on is Akira Kurosawa who is considered by many to one of the greatest of all time. Until I saw “Ran,”, the only movie of his I had previously watched was “The Seven Samurai” which really is one of greatest movies ever made. Of course, I got exposed to the American remake, “The Magnificent Seven,” beforehand, but anyway.

“Ran” was the very last movie Kurosawa made on such an epic scale, and as amazing as it looked when it was first released, this is even more the case more than 30 years later. Kurosawa clearly had the power to request literally thousands of extras, and it is easy to see well-dressed studio executives looking at him to where, had he made this movie today, would have asked him:

“Can’t you just add all these people in with CGI? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper just to hire like 50 guys instead of 1200?”

If they didn’t ask them that, they would obviously come up with the obvious solution:

“We’ll solve it in post!”

Looking at the title and scenes from the movie trailer, I figured the title “Ran” meant the main characters were running from certain doom throughout like it was a big chase. This should show you what I know about the Japanese language, and that is not much. “Ran” actually means “revolt” or “chaos,” and Kurosawa’s movie is filled with so much of both to where this is ends up being a cinematic experience both physically and emotionally draining.

Kurosawa based the story on the legends of the daimyo Mori Motonari and of how he had three sons who were intensely loyal to him. This led him to look at the story a little differently and say the following:

“When I read that three arrows together are invincible, that’s not true. I started doubting, and that’s when I started thinking: the house was prosperous and the sons were courageous. What if this fascinating man had bad sons?”

Of course, anyone familiar with William Shakespeare will say that “Ran” is heavily influenced by the tragedy of “King Lear.” Indeed, the story very much resembles that of “King Lear” as we watch a powerful leader abdicate his throne, and he ends up being betrayed by his own blood in the process.

The powerful leader at the center of “Ran” is Hidetora, leader of the Ichimonji clan. The story starts with Hidetora abdicating his throne to his three sons Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. The majority of the power is given to Taro who is his eldest son, and Jiro and Saburo are ordered by their father to support him no matter what. Saburo, however, does not agree with Hidetora’s decision to disperse all of his powers, reminding him how his kingdom came about through his own treachery and massacre of others. Hidetora starts acting all uppity as if he’s a superstar celebrity who is not used to hearing the word “no” much, and he banishes Saburo from the clan as well as his servant Tango who speaks in Saburo’s defense. It’s amazing what breaking three arrows together can do to a man’s ego.

From there, it is a vicious downfall for Hidetora as he is banished from his kingdom ever so coldly. Many characters here profess to believe in a god, be it Buddha or someone else, and they pray for their assistance in this little world which is quickly collapsing. If there is a god watching over them, he, or she, is blind to their sufferings or deaf to their endless prayers. Hence, this is quite a bleak movie from a thematic and visual standpoint.

After watching “Ran,” I was compelled to learn more about it. While researching the movie more deeply, It turns out “King Lear” never really entered Kurosawa’s mind until he was deep into pre-production. Along the way, he did incorporate different elements of the play into it, and he had this to say about Shakespeare’s classic tragedy:

“What has always troubled me about ‘King Lear’ is that Shakespeare gives his characters no past. … In Ran, I have tried to give Lear a history.”

Now this is what gives Hidetora, among others characters, such gravity throughout the nearly three-hour running time. He was not a leader who earned his kingdom through family succession, but through the pillaging of villages and murdering those who were against them. Perhaps he would like to forget this, but his power and family are forever stained by his deeds, and he is reminded of this in the most painful of ways.

With this in mind, it is no wonder two of Hidetora’s three sons end up turning against him. What his legacy has taught them is you can’t get anywhere in life without beating the crap out of the other guy and stealing everything he and his followers have. Only Saburo is fearless and selfless in telling him this and of pointing out the fact he will always be seen as a killer. Saburo at least cares enough to tell him this instead of just sucking up to him like his brothers do. Some people hear the word “yes” once too often when they need some others say “no” every once in a while.

As we see Hidetora losing his mind and in a state of disbelief, I was reminded of Will Munny, Clint Eastwood character from “Unforgiven.” Both these characters become sick, and in their feverish state they become haunted by the lives they ended ever so coldly. They have tried to convince themselves they are not the same people they once were, and Hidetora appears to develop amnesia in an effort to block his mind of his past deeds. But nightmares abound in his sleep reminding him of the price he has yet to pay. You could even compare this character to Anakin Skywalker who becomes the very thing he fought against in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” In the process of trying to prevent the love of his life from dying, he gives up everything he believes in. Hidetora believes that by passing the leadership duties to his oldest son his clan will continue to prosper. The more we fear of something bad happening, the more likely that bad thing will happen.

Taking this into account makes me realize one of the most important elements in the Kurosawa movies I have seen; they are very dependent on the depth of their characters as much as they are on spectacle. Granted, this is only the second movie of his I have seen, but it feels like just enough to understand why his cinematic works made such a strong impression on Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (“The Hidden Fortress” is said to have been a huge influence on “Star Wars”). Most movies today are just about spectacle, and the characters are usually a distant second to it. But it is this focus on character which makes “Ran” so involving and gives its epic scope much more meaning.

But let’s talk about the spectacle of “Ran” which is incredible to say the least. One of the key sequences is the horrific massacre which takes place at the third castle where Hidetora takes refuge. What really struck me was how Kurosawa put Tōru Takemitsu’s music score over the sounds of violence perpetrated by his sons as it gives what is being presented to us with far more emotional power. Takemitsu’s music further illustrates the immense tragedy tearing this powerful clan apart which leaves Hidetora in an endless state of shock. Without the music, it would still be a cinematic high mark of capturing battle on celluloid, but it would not have the same effect.

The bloodbath of the massacre is made all the more vivid by Kurosawa as “Ran” was made long before the advent of CGI effects. With this sequence, Kurosawa brilliantly captures the ugliness and viciousness of war, and of the cruel nature which dominates these characters’ humanity.

All the acting is nothing short of excellent from as the entire cast invests each of their characters with various complexities which allow them to surprise us in unexpected ways. Hidetora is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, and he immerses himself completely into playing a man whose own pride and self-righteousness proves to be his undoing. Without saying a word in the last half of the massacre, Hidetora communicates his utter regret of his thoughtless decision making which has led to the decimation of what he once had. Nakadai makes Hidetora’s eventual descent into madness all the more vivid, and his performance never ever descends into camp.

I also loved Mieko Harada’s performance as Lady Kaede, Kurosawa’s version of Lady Macbeth. Through her deceitful ways, viciousness and endless manipulation, she always seems to get her way and turn the men around her into quivering jelly. Harada’s moments onscreen are among my favorites as she exploits the fears of the men around her and seduces them despite their mistrust of her. Never let it be said that Kurosawa ever writes weak roles for women because it certainly isn’t the case here. Lady Kaede wants to maintain her high status in the clan, and she is ruthless in how she pursues it.

You could say they don’t make movies like “Ran” anymore, but it did come out in a time when they weren’t being made much. For many, it serves as the culmination of all his talents, of what he has accomplished in his career, and of all the struggle and tears he shed while making this movie. During the making of “Ran,” Kurosawa’s wife passed away. By the time he got around to shooting the movie after working on the script for ten years, he was almost completely blind. Regardless of these setbacks, nothing stopped him from making this movie.

Years after its release, “Ran” stands as one of the classic movies from one of the best filmmakers ever. No one can or should doubt the heart and soul Kurosawa put into it for years and years, and getting to see it on the silver screen was a real treat. When all is said and done, the silver screen is where this movie belongs.

* * * * out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘The Room’ (2003)

After all these years, I finally took the time to watch Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” from start to finish. I have viewed some of its most infamous scenes on You Tube from time to time, but upon learning it was going to be showing at the Landmark Theater in Westwood, my procrastination in viewing it came to an end.

When I interviewed director Jan Komasa and actor Bartosz Bielenia about their religious drama “Corpus Christi,” I wore the following t-shirt:

The two of them got a huge kick out of this shirt and encouraged me to check this cult classic on the silver screen with an audience. The way they saw it, this is the best way to experience this hopelessly bizarre motion picture as it had already become the next generation’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Watching “The Room” just for the drama is not enough. It’s the audience participation which makes it all the more worthwhile as the most devoted fans are quick to seize the moment and celebrate this film’s most glaring mistakes with tremendous glee.

Wiseau, whose name is plastered over the opening credits, stars as Johnny, a man who is expecting to receive a big promotion at work and is madly in love with his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle). But at the same time, Lisa is having a torrid affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero, who I went to junior high school with, believe it or not), and this leads to inadvertently hilarious sex scenes which almost had me believing Wiseau and company were actually trying to sell “The Room” to Cinemax as opposed to a major Hollywood studio. Let’s face it, these “love-making: scenes are so ridiculously staged and choreographed to where they make the average episodes of “Red Shoe Diaries” and “Beverly Hills Bordello” rise to the level of high art. Watching Wiseau and Sestero make out with Lisa also reminded me of what Robin Williams once said:

“Men can’t fake orgasms! Who wants to look that dumb?”

Into this tragic love triangle comes a variety of characters, many of whom forget to close the door to Johnny and Lisa’s apartment upon entering it. There is Lisa’s mother, Claudette (Carolyn Minnott), who is far more concerned with her daughter marrying Johnny for financial security than she is in her recent breast cancer diagnosis. Then there’s Denny (Philip Haldiman), a young college student who is supported financially and emotionally by Johnny and is quite smitten with Lisa (who isn’t?). And let us not leave out Michelle (Robyn Paris) and Mike (Scott Holmes), the couple whose love for chocolate provides this movie with its “9 ½ Weeks” moment.

What can I tell you? “The Room” is filled with gloriously hammy acting and terrible one-note performances. Certain scenes are clearly shot in front of a green screen, and many images of San Francisco float cross the screen for the sake of making this movie look like it takes place in more than one room. Certain camera moves look to be shot on a tripod in need of some serious tightening, and the movie suffers from a terrible editing job as scenes feel as though they are put into the wrong place. To all aspiring filmmakers out there, you may fear your debut feature will look a cinematic abomination, but whatever happens, there is no doubt it will look far more professional than Wiseau gave us here.

And yet, as terrible as “The Room” is, watching it provided me with the most enjoyable times I have ever had at a movie theater. I haven’t laughed this hard at a motion picture since “Deadpool 2,” and unintentional hilarity hasn’t felt this inspired for me since “Troll 2” or Tyler Perry’s “The Single Mom’s Club.” Any film which has me laughing so hard to where I get lightheaded and almost pass out will always hold a special place in my heart, and this one is honestly no exception.

Granted, there are many movies out there which are truly awful, but the worst are usually multi-millionaire dollar feature films which are made with nothing more than the thought of a potential franchise that can keep the money train rolling in for years. Those ones end up having more money spent on promotion than on the actual movie, and what we get is an overhyped event where the anticipation proves to be more exciting than the final cut. Those are movies made without heart, and it shows in an inescapably depressing way.

When it comes to “The Room,” however, it is a movie made with a lot of heart but not a lot of thought, and it shows its heart right on its sleeve without any shame. The screenplay introduces us to far too many characters it can possibly deal with, and several subplots are never brought to a satisfactory conclusion. All of this reminds me of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” which has many of the same problems but had a slightly higher budget regardless.

Wiseau remains an enigma years after “The Room” was released as many wonder about his past and present. He certainly has an unusual look which some might scoff at, but to others it shows a life lived long and hard. Regardless, his line readings of dialogue are ever so memorable even if they show how he emotes more than acts. “You’re tearing me apart Lisa” will never sound the same when uttered by another individual, and another’s denial of not hitting another will sound hollow in comparison. While harsh criticism is needed in situations like these, they are not worth the trouble here as they would simply take away from our enjoyment of this cinematic spectacle, regardless of how poorly realized it may be.

A lot of people who aspire to make a movie many times do so to leave their mark on the world. Wiseau’s path in making “The Room” is not all that different from what Rudy Rae Moore aspired to do when he made his first “Dolemite” movie. While the finished result did not merit a single Oscar nomination, it left its mark on those who were quick to watch it. The same goes with Wiseau who wanted “The Room” to be an epic of sorts. Well, his work is epic alright, but not for reasons he intended. Still, his film has given millions of moviegoers great joy even if it was of the unintentional kind. Perhaps making any kind of mark with a motion picture like that is better than letting it sink into the realm of streaming where it could easily get lost in an overcrowded cinematic ocean.

While Wiseau is in intent on making us believe he always meant for “The Room” to be a dark comedy, it is clear he wanted this film to be something else. But whatever the case, it is a memorable motion picture which will never be easily forgotten, and you don’t want anyone to forget what you did, you know? Besides, the term “male bonding” will never sound the same ever again.

One other thing; I was reminded of the following dialogue between Teasle and Trautman from “First Blood” in which they talked about capturing John Rambo:

Teasle: “Are you telling me that 200 of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?”

Trautman: “You send that many, don’t forget one thing.”

Teasle: “What?”

Trautman: “A good supply of body bags.”

Well, when it comes to “The Room,” I say don’t forget this: a good supply of plastic spoons!

WRITER’S NOTE: I am not going to bother giving this movie a star rating. Seriously, what’s the point?

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Hardcore’ (1979)

Paul Schrader’s 1979 film “Hardcore” is one I have been meaning to watch for years. Many of my film friends have sung its praises, and I have been a big fan of Schrader’s work both as a screenwriter (“Taxi Driver”) and as a director (“First Reformed” and “Patty Hearst” among others). Regardless, this quickly became one of the many films I kept promising myself I would watch but never got around to it. But then one evening, I saw it was playing at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, and I realized the time had come to finally give it a look. Besides, this might be my only chance to see it on the silver screen.

“Hardcore” opens up on Christmas in Grand Rapids, Michigan to the tune of Susan Raye’s “Precious Memories.” Schrader quickly settles us into the peaceful and family-oriented environment which looks to be filled with church-going people who love and fear God in equal measure. You just might mistake it for the average Norman Rockwell painting which often gave us images that were all too wholesome to be believed. Everything looks to be together on the same page while singing faith-based songs and sharing in traditional ceremonies without question. Of course, it’s scenes like these that make me wonder when the cracks in this atmosphere will begin to show.

The main character of this piece is Jake Van Dorn (played by George C. Scott), a well-to-do businessman with strong religious beliefs. Originally, this part almost went to Warren Beatty, but as great an actor as Beatty, he would have been wrong. Scott is perfectly cast as he has the face of someone with deeply held beliefs to where questioning them could be hazardous to your health. Eventually, you know these beliefs will be tested in the extreme as the title “Hardcore” refers to more than the sexuality on display here.

Jake’s peaceful existence becomes undone when his daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) goes missing while on a church-sponsored trip in California. He enlists the help of the police, but after seeing all the photos on the wall of missing children, some of who still haven’t been found in years, he decides to hire a private investigator named Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) to dig a little deeper. But what Andy finds is something Jake never could have expected nor be the least prepared to deal with.

Watching Jake view a porno film in which his daughter Kristen is having sex with two men is an unnerving scene as Scott portrays a deep shock and grief which illustrates the living nightmare any parent would be thrilled to avoid. While it threatens to contain, as Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith would call it, “exquisite acting,” and the scene has become an infamous meme for many, I am curious as to what depths Scott dug to capture such an unforgettable moment of devastation. Such a scene is impossible to erase from the memory once it is viewed, and it comes to inform the relentlessness and anger he will come to experience up to the movie’s end.

From there, Jake ventures into the seedy underworld of Los Angeles, or the one which existed back in the 1970s. Like “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle, he is “God’s Lonely Man” as he ventures into a place he does not belong. His brother-in-law tells him early on that God is testing him, and it is clearly the case as ventures deeper and deeper into the city’s sleazy subculture where there are an endless number of sex shopkeepers, adult theaters, and massage parlors that do more for their clients than a simple rub down. At one point, he even disguises himself as a pornography producer in an increasingly desperate effort to find his daughter, and I kept wondering if and when he might give in to temptation.

“Hardcore” was Schrader’s second film as a director, following his brilliant debut with “Blue Collar.” As with “Blue Collar,” he had quite the time wrangling his cast. Scott was said to have not gotten along with Schrader, and at one point promised the director he would finish the film only if he vowed never to direct another motion picture ever again. Well, we know Schrader promised Scott just that to get him back on set, but thank God the filmmaker never followed through on his word. This is just as well as we still had other films like “American Gigolo,” “Cat People,” “Light Sleeper” and “Affliction” to look forward to.

Indeed, this is a film that could have been upstaged by its behind-the-scenes drama which, in addition to Scott’s behavior, included an ending forced on Schrader by the studio. Indeed, the ending is “Hardcore’s” biggest flaw as it doesn’t jibe well with all which came before it, and it feels lazily staged with a shootout that feels tacked on above all else. It is thanks to Scott’s performance in the final moments that I am willing to forgive the conclusion as he keeps it from ringing completely hollow.

Still, I think “Hardcore” is a triumph for Schrader as it allows him to dig deep into themes he has explored in his many works such as the conflict between man and immorality. Moreover, there is authenticity on display here which would be hard to find today as Schrader managed to gain access to real-life sex houses and adult theaters to where there is no doubt we are dealing with the real thing and not just some cheap set. Certain sticky stains on the windows make this abundantly clear by the way.

Looking at the credits, Schrader had quite the crew to work with. The film was executive produced by John Milius who remains one of the best screenwriters ever, the score was by Jack Nitzsche who helps add even more of a lurid feeling to the sights Jake is forced to take in, and the cinematography was by Michael Chapman who performed visual wonders on both “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” Seriously, the color palette Chapman uses here aids the story considerably, and I cannot help but believe it greatly influenced the later works of Gaspar Noe and Benoit Debie.

I enjoyed Peter Boyle’s performance as private detective Andy Mast as he makes this character look all too comfortable in a city that thrives on decadence than what might appear on the surface. Even as Andy gives in to his baser needs and desires, he knows how the story is going to end and makes very few apologies for who he is. While the ending feels a bit too similar to the one from “Chinatown,” Boyle makes it work as his dialogue rings very true in a cynical and sad way.

But another performance worth singling out here is Season Hubley’s as Niki, a prostitute and part-time adult actress who aids Jake in his search. The scenes she has with Scott represent the best “Hardcore” has to offer as their dialogue regarding both sex and religion illustrates their differences and similarities in ways only Schrader could have pulled off. She fully inhabits this character to where I never doubted how much of a survivor Niki was and will continue to long after the end credits have finished.

Like William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” “Hardcore” is a journey into a subculture that no longer exists in today’s world. These days, it is much easier to gain access to pornography through the internet, and it makes me wonder how Jake would deal with a similar situation in today’s world. Things would be a bit easier to trace, and that’s even though some lost children might forever stay lost (please feel free to prove me wrong on this). As devoutly religious as Jake is, I imagine in a time where the world wide web and cell phones control our lives more than ever, he would most likely be more isolated and closed off from those around him than ever before.

“Hardcore” is indeed classic Paul Schrader even with its inescapable flaws, and I have no doubt “8MM,” the 1999 film directed by the late Joel Schumacher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker, would not have existed without it. “8MM” also pales in comparison to it by the way. I look at movies like these and wonder why studios won’t leave the filmmakers alone in making them. You know how dark the material was when you started funding the project, right? So why insult everyone’s intelligence by trying to make things a little less dark?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Even though “Singin’ in the Rain” is celebrating its 70th anniversary with this 4K release, in my 36 years on this planet, I have yet to see it until now. I was familiar with a few of the songs from the film, as they are part of cinema history, but I never sat down to view it from start to finish.  It’s better late than never!  That is the beauty of film: even if you think you have seen all of the classics out there, there is always one that slips through the cracks from time-to-time.  “Singin’ in the Rain” is one of the best 4K releases of this year so far with its vivid colors, lifelike images, and crystal-clear picture.  It is truly a treat to enjoy.

The film stars Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, a Hollywood stuntman and hoofer.  He is quite popular in silent films and lives by the motto, “Dignity. Always dignity.”  It’s appropriate for his performance in this film, as it’s dignified and classy.  You can’t keep your eyes off him whether he is dancing, singing, or acting.  He has the “it” factor on screen in this film. He was also the co-director on the film along with Stanley Donen. Don’s leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) is the complete opposite of him as she’s superficial, selfish and rude throughout their time together.  Monumental Pictures, the studio behind Lockwood and Lamont, tries to put out this image of the two of them together as a happy couple in order to better increase the gate on their films together.

Don, on the other hand, sees right through Lina and tries to distance himself from her as much as possible. Don’s best friend is Cosmo Brown, played brilliantly by Donald O’Connor. He’s always there to listen, come up with ideas for Don and support him.  He understands why Don has to get as far away as possible from Lina at times.  It causes him to jump into the car of Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a stage actress who doesn’t think too highly of the movies Don Lockwood is putting out there.  She is there to tell him the truth about exactly what she thinks of him, which opens up Don’s eyes, as he’s used to people telling him how great he is all the time. He sees she is talented and smart, and he quickly takes a liking to her.

With the success of “The Jazz Singer,” talking pictures are becoming more and more popular in Hollywood.  This puts Lamont and Lockwood in a position where they have to learn a new way of doing things. Don is a natural and is also willing to put in the work to adapt to the new way of Hollywood.  Lina, on the other hand, has a voice which is rough on the ears.  However, people are used to seeing the two of them in films together.  Because of this, Cosmo comes up with the idea of dubbing over Lina’s lines with Kathy’s voice in an upcoming musical.  This idea is spawned after the public laughs at a screening when they hear Lina’s voice and mistakes throughout one of their films.

Kathy and Don start to become closer and closer, which does not make Lina happy at all.  She is still unwilling to see her flaws or work on her craft to get better.  Kathy, on the other hand, is immensely skilled and talented.  I must admit I am not the biggest fan of musicals as it’s not one of my favorite genres.  The beauty of “Singin’ in the Rain” and why it’s a classic is the fact they know when to have music and dancing, but also know when to focus on the actors and give them the space they need to act and develop their characters.  When the musical numbers hit, they are out of this world.  The songs are memorable, and they will stay in your head after the film is over.  That is huge in a musical.

The dancing is also top-notch and terrific. There are certain scenes where they keep the camera on the actors dancing, and my eyes were glued to their movements and the poetry in which they were moving.  It was truly something to behold.  The amount of work, preparation, and time it took to pull this off is why people are still interested in watching this movie 70 years later.  It holds up incredibly well.  I’ve always been a fan of old-Hollywood.  The 50’s created some of the most iconic movies, and “Singin’ in the Rain” is up there.  I’m just disappointed it took me this long to check it out.  Now, I want to watch it again and again.

For me, the two stand-outs in the film are Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.  Kelly has an effortless charm and is so darn likable.  He’s the perfect actor for this role.  Reynolds is elegant and pure class in her role.  As an audience member, I was really rooting for them to end up together. Of course, the “Singin’ in the Rain” moment is one even I was familiar with, even though I hadn’t seen the film.  It’s a gorgeous scene to watch and it just put a big smile on my face.  This film has it all: humor, romance, heart, love and great, great music. People will still be talking about “Singin’ in the Rain” 70 years from now.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Singin’ in the Rain” is released on a two-disc combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 103 minutes and is rated G.  It comes with the 4K, Blu-ray and a digital code as well.

4K/Blu-ray Info: The film is released in 2160p High Definition, and it’s leading the way as one of the best 4K releases of 2022.  The film might be 70-years-old, but it looks incredible. With high dynamic range, you see every color come to life on screen.  This is a visual feast for the eyes.  As mentioned earlier, this film was made for 4K.  It is a huge improvement over the previous releases.

The Blu-ray comes in 1080p High Definition. The 4K comes with the following audio formats: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Mono, Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, French and Spanish. For the Blu-ray, it comes on DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. The subtitles are also in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

Commentary by Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Stanley Donen, Betty Camden, Adolph Green, Baz Lurhmann and Rudy Behlmer

“Singin’ in the Rain:” Raining on a New Generation Documentary

Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

If you are a hardcore physical media collector like yours truly, this one is a no-brainer.  If you have seen the film before and don’t own it, it’s an even bigger no-brainer.  The one disappointment I always bring up with some of these 4K releases is they are still using previously released special features.  I know it’s a 70-year-old film, but I still think you can add a modern-day special feature with new interviews from film historians and actors to the 4K release instead of just recycling the old ones.  For the price point and the look of the film, Warner Brothers has knocked it out of the park with this 4K release.  It’s simply mesmerizing.  As far as the film itself, it’s one of the greatest of all-time for a reason.  If you own a 4K TV and player, this is the movie you need to buy right now.  You won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen.  This one comes highly recommended!

**Disclaimer** I received a 4K/Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

As a film lover and someone who considers themselves well-versed in the world of cinema, I’m sad to report this was my first-time watching “A Clockwork Orange.” I feel like no matter how many films you have seen, there are usually a dozen or so that have just slipped through the cracks. This is the 50th anniversary of this Stanley Kubrick classic and, as a first-time viewer, I can’t imagine the impact it had on viewers when it first came out. I know from reading up on it, it was quite controversial and misunderstood, but it ended up gaining a cult following. After watching it last night, I can’t wait to watch it again.  Kubrick is truly a genius when it comes to cinema. There is always so much happening in his films, but everything is happening for a specific purpose.

The first forty-five minutes or so of “A Clockwork Orange” are a little out there and a little frustrating from a narrative perspective. The film is set in a dystopian Britain where a group of young gang members run around terrorizing anyone who gets in their path. For example, when they run into a homeless man, they beat him up simply because they find it amusing and comical.  In another instance, they go out of their way to create chaos and havoc for a writer and his wife by attacking them in the middle of the night.  One night, this group of four young men takes it too far when one of their members, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) ends up killing a wealthy woman. His three fellow gang members leave him behind, the police catch him, and he is sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

The early part of “A Clockwork Orange” is not necessarily hard to watch as I’m used to movie violence, and it takes a lot to upset me or really get under my skin.  It’s more so that Alex and his “droogs” are unpleasant to spend time with, which I would venture to guess was Kubrick’s intent as a filmmaker. This film is based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. I think they could have trimmed out some of their antics in the film as, at times, it’s beating the audience over the head with violence and becomes repetitive and dull.  However, when Alex is sent to prison, it is when the film becomes really, really interesting and takes off.

After being well-behaved in prison for two years, Alex hears about this experiment which allows someone to be cured almost instantly of their bad thoughts and impulses. They start to think and behave without any lust or violence.  The experiment exposes them to footage of violence, rape, and other heinous acts.  When they see this footage, they start to become sick.  Because of this, if they ever have the urge to misbehave again, it is quickly stopped because of how they feel after the aversion therapy.  The prison chaplain tries to warn Alex against it by telling him the good should come from inside of him and the choices he makes.

What happens from there makes for an incredibly thrilling and intense final act. The beauty of a Kubrick film is the details all around you that are happening in a scene.  For example, when Alex returns home, the way his house is shot is gorgeous.  Kubrick is never afraid to use colors and lots of them. He knows the beauty of imagery, color and scenery, and it makes the scenes much more effective. There is also his use of music.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to “Singing in the Rain” or anything from Beethoven again without thinking of this film. There is a purpose for everything in his films from a visual and audio standpoint.

I could go on and on about “A Clockwork Orange.”  The best praise I could give the film is that I want to watch it again and again.  Kubrick was a true visionary of cinema.  This film also has a lot to say about politics, drugs (think of the milk featured here), violence, sex, karma and so much more.  After I woke up today to write this review, the film was still in my head.  His films really stay with you and mess with your head in the best possible way.  On 4K, the brightness is taken to a whole new level.  I know I’m stating the obvious here, but Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” is a masterpiece. I absolutely loved this film.  It’s a great reminder of how great movies will always stand the test of time, no matter when they were released.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-Ray Info: “A Clockwork Orange” is released on a 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It comes with the 4K, Blu-ray, and also a digital copy of the film as well. It has a running time of 137 minutes and is rated R.

Video Info: The 4K of the film comes in 2160p Ultra High Definition with a ratio of 16×9 1.66:1.  If any film ever deserved the 4K treatment, it is “A Clockwork Orange.” I plan on watching the Blu-ray of the film at some point, but the high dynamic range and the colors are on full-display with the 4K.  The film is mesmerizing to watch on 4K. This is the reason why more and more people are getting 4K TV’s and players for films like this. They were made for 4K.  There is no other way to watch it at home. The Blu-ray of the film comes in 1080p High Definition with a ratio of 16×9 1.66:1.

Audio Info: The audio for the film is presented in DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English, French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish as well. This applies to both the 4K and Blu-ray discs.

Special Features:

Commentary by Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman

Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange [2000 Channel 4 Documentary]

Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange

Turning Like Clockwork

Malcolm McDowell Looks Back

O Lucky Malcolm!

Should You Buy It?

According to the press release, the special features are the same released on the previous Blu-ray of the film, which is a bit of a bummer.  One would have hoped they would have done an updated version of the special features, especially with it being the 50th anniversary of this film.  If you haven’t seen “A Clockwork Orange” before, you are missing out! I can vouch for that.  This one is a no-brainer to add to your collection for the film itself and the visual aspects of 4K. 

This film is going to stay with me for a long, long time, and I get to watch it again on Blu-ray and 4K.  I can even watch it on my iPad because of the digital copy which comes with this combo pack.  However, as Spike Lee says, do the right thing and watch it on 4K. There will never be another director like Kubrick.  Kudos as well to Warner Brothers for their recent upgrades of classic films like “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” They are on a roll lately!

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘When a Stranger Calls’ (1979)

The original “When a Stranger Calls” from 1979 is a horror movie I am tempted to say I have seen many times already. This is because the scenes with Carol Kane playing a babysitter who is menaced by an anonymous caller who taunts her endlessly as he constantly asks if she has checked on the kids are scenes I have watched from time to time. It’s those scenes which keep getting presented on shows which celebrate the scariest horror movie moments, and it was featured in the documentary “Terror in the Aisles.” Even Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson paid homage to it in the “Scream” movies, and they did to such a powerful effect. Those scenes were enough to frighten me to my very core as being alone in the house was always deeply frightening to me when I was young, and the sound of silence can make things seem even more unnerving as it can get punctured at any given second.

Truth is, I never watched “When a Stranger Calls” until now. I finally took the time to watch it when I found it was available to stream on Amazon Prime. Like many movies I watch on this particular streaming service, I figured I would just watch it for a few minutes and then turn it off, perhaps hoping to watch the rest of it later. But in the end, I found myself watching it to its brutal conclusion, and this proved to be for better and, especially, for worse.

“When a Stranger Calls” starts off with Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) arriving at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano and Rutanya Alda) to babysit their children while they are at a party. Everything starts off fine with Jill relaxing at the residence and speaking with her friend about the latest gossip at school. But while working on school assignments, she starts receiving phone calls from a man who keeps asking her if she has checked on the children. As the calls keep coming at her with the volume of each ring getting increasingly louder, Jill hears the man saying he wants her blood all over his body. To her credit, she does the smart thing by calling the police who attempt to trace these calls to their source. Of course, then they discover that the caller is actually inside the house…

The opening 12 minutes of “When a Stranger Calls” have long since become iconic as it does provide audiences with one of the most terrifying scenes in a horror film, and it does so without any blood or gore. Director Fred Walton does a brilliant job of setting up this babysitter in a normal home environment which is no different from the ones we have lived in, and the silence of them when the stereo isn’t on and playing the top 40 hits proves to be quite deafening. With scenes like these, we are reminded of how what we don’t see proves to be more infinitely terrifying than what we do.

But therein lies the problem with this film, it peaks too soon. Once Jill’s horrifying predicament comes to an end as she runs straight into private investigator John Clifford (Charles Durning), the story then moves to a number of years later when John is obsessively pursuing the man on the other end of the phone line, Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) who has just escaped the insane asylum he was committed to. What results from there is frustratingly dull as “When a Stranger Calls” wastes fine actors in a movie which looked to promise so much more than it ends up giving.

It really sucks to say this as this film features a very talented cast who do give the material their all despite it being so lackluster. Durning gives us a fully realized character who is ever so obsessed about capturing the man who laid waste to a family in the worst way possible. Beckley, who died six months after the film’s premiere, does a strong job of inhabiting such an insane and unstable character in Curt to where I never caught him overacting. We also have Colleen Dewhurst on board as Tracy Fuller, a person who comes into contact with Curt in a rather ambivalent fashion, but once she does, things become far too predictable.

“When a Stranger Calls” does eventually return to Jill’s life years later when she is married and has children of her own, and this does result in a much-needed increase in suspense and tension as we are reminded of the hell she went through. We even get one highly effective jump scare, but it all leads to a conclusion which proved to be deeply unsatisfying.

When it comes to Kane, she is the best thing this movie has to offer. She has long since proven to be a tremendous comedic talent in movies like “Annie Hall” and “The Princess Bride, the TV shows “Taxi” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and she was fearless in her portrayal of one of John Munch’s ex-wives on “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Here, she goes from playing a young student and babysitter to a woman still dealing with the trauma and guilt over a horrific event. Kane looks like an ordinary person here which helps to make her terrifying ordeal feel even more real, and she inhabits Jill with an unshakeable fear as the phone rings louder and louder and the calls get more and more threatening. Her performance is tremendous as she made me feel Jill’s fear and desperation throughout.

Now as much as I try to view a movie for what it’s trying to be instead of what I want it to be, I cannot help but think of how much better it could have been. Frankly, I think it should have focused more on Jill and how she deals with all she has been through. It could have been something along the lines of David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” reboot which catches up with Laurie Strode 40 years after her near-death encounter with Michael Myers. This would have been more enthralling as Kane is so good here, and watching her trying to process all she has been through is far more interesting than following a cop obsessed with catching a killer.

It also would have helped if Curt had been kept in the shadows, like the alien in “Alien,” the thought of him proves to be more haunting than his appearance. Some people want to see the monster right away, but like the anonymous truck driver in “Joy Ride,” a strange voice can be far more unnerving. The fact the filmmakers give Curt a face within the first half hour just killed much of the suspense and terror they thought this movie would have.

Having finally watched the original “When a Stranger Calls,” I can see why it still resonates strongly with horror fans, as those first 12 minutes are truly terrifying. While the rest of it doesn’t hold up, the opening has long since enshrined the movie as a classic scary flick in the eyes of many. It even got a sequel, albeit a made for cable one, in 1993 with “When a Stranger Calls Back,” and both Kane and Durning returned to reprise their roles. And yes, there was an inevitable remake of it back in 2006, but judging from its trailers, the thing looks like a Noxzema commercial disguised as a horror flick.  

But seriously folks, 12 great minutes does not a good movie make, and this one had the potential to much better than it was. The more I think about “When a Stranger Calls,” the more a certain question comes to mind; Is this film a cinematic example of premature ejaculation? Seriously, I’m asking for a friend.

* * out of * * * *  

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Dr. No’

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008 when I was way behind on my 007 watchlist. RIP Sean Connery.

I keep hearing over and over telling me Sean Connery was the best James Bond and still is. And yet after all these years and so many 007 movies later, I have only seen a few of the ones starring Connery. Until yesterday, the only ones I had seen all the way through were “From Russia With Love” which remains one of my favorite Bond movies ever, and the rogue Bond “Never Say Never Again” which brought Connery back to the role for the first time since “Diamonds Are Forever.” The James Bond I really got weaned on as a kid was Roger Moore who played the character like a flamboyant playboy who got caught up in events he looked as though he had no business getting caught in. Nevertheless, Moore managed to get the job done even as the franchise started to descend into parody.

Yesterday, New Beverly Cinema, my favorite movie theater in Los Angeles, had a double feature of the first two Bond movies ever made: “Dr. No” & “From Russia With Love.” I had seen bits and pieces of “Dr. No” previously, but never the whole way through. Watching it today, this 007 adventure seems like an average Bond with the megalomaniac villain bent on world domination. I was starting to get sick of this in the last few films which starred Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming’s famous spy. Every once in a while, I like to see Bond go head to head with a villain who is not looking for an infinite level of power, but instead one whom he just wants revenge over like in “License to Kill.”

It helps, however, to keep in mind what action movies were like before James Bond came along. Compared to “Dr. No,” they were nowhere as gritty. Shooting female characters in a film was not allowed back in 1962, and this Bond quickly did away with this unwritten law. There was a lot more going on than just your average good guy here. While it might appear to be something of an average film for those seeing it today, “Dr. No” was in many ways a groundbreaking film which led to a franchise which has lasted longer than so many others.

OK, I am in agreement, nobody played James Bond better than Connery, and this is even though I consider Daniel Craig to be a very close second. His very first appearance as 007 in “Dr. No” was truly brilliant as you could see him at the card playing table, but you did not see his face until he uttered one of the most famous lines in cinematic history:

“Bond. James Bond.”

My dad is always telling me what made Connery so great in playing Bond is that he was so believable in how he could romance a woman one second, and then slap her when she was holding back information from him. There was a raw danger which Connery brought to this iconic character, and he set the bar almost impossibly high for the others who inhabited Bond after him. When he lets a driver take him to his destination, even though he knows this driver is up to no good, shows how quickly Bond can change from being suave and debonair to lethal and dangerous in a heartbeat. Connery’s Bond kept his cool and managed to get his way in the end. The bad guys think they have him cornered, but this is what he wants them to think.

It is endlessly interesting to see how the Bond movies have evolved since “Dr. No.” It remains the only 007 film to not have a pre-titles scene which the others are famous for having. It just goes right into the gun barrel opening in which Bond shoots right at us. The titles look cheesy today as “Dr. No” and “007” are put everywhere on the silver screen. It was the first of many opening credits sequences designed by Maurice Binder, and this one remains the most disjointed of the bunch. It goes from the unforgettable Monty Norman theme we all know to three men superimposed over the credits to the tune of “Three Blind Mice.” The audience at the New Beverly laughed at this part, and I couldn’t help but laugh myself. Things have changed a lot since “Dr. No” came out.

Seeing Bond flirt for the first time with Miss Moneypenny (the late Lois Maxwell) here makes me miss the banter these two characters have had from one film to the next. Miss Moneypenny was not in “Casino Royale,” and I have no idea if we will ever see her again in the future. But seeing these characters here for the first time reminded me of how great and fun their banter was until M made her buzz Bond in for his next assignment. Just when things got interesting between the two, business comes to obliterate pleasure.

In “Dr. No,” Bond actually gets to bed several different ladies instead of just one. Connery makes seduction look so easy to pull off. The fact such seduction is not this easy in real life is utterly frustrating. This lucky bastard of an Oscar winning actor had quite a selection before he came to meet the first Bond woman ever, Honey Rider (Ursula Andress), whose entrance in a flesh colored bikini is still one for the ages. This also marked the first time Bond actually sang, and he has not sung since. I can’t help but wonder if this was a good or bad thing. Then again, I can’t quite picture Timothy Dalton singing “Thunderball.” As for Brosnan, I never want to hear him sing again after “Mamma Mia.”

One of Bond’s first death-defying moments involved a tarantula, and just typing out this particular spider’s description sends shivers down my spine! UGGH! This may have been why I never bothered to watch “Dr. No” earlier in my life. Those damn things creep me out like nothing else. Seriously, get that creature away from me! Easily one of the scariest moments in any Bond movie, the tension escalates so quickly to where the rest of this movie can never quite match it. Still, it wouldn’t be the last time we saw spiders in a Bond movie. My brother covered my eyes during one scene in “Octopussy” which included them. I think it is just as well that he did.

Watching “Dr. No” was fun, and it is an excellent Bond movie in many ways. Time has not been exactly kind to it though. We can see the green screen being used, so we have to snicker some. The pace is a lot more leisurely, and no Bond movie can move so slowly these days. Norman’s Bond theme is played endlessly here to where we threaten to get sick of it. But decades later, it is impossible to tire of this theme as it is to tire of John Carpenter’s theme to “Halloween.”

The print New Beverly Cinema had of “Dr. No” was in peak condition, and it was a recent printing down for the occasion of United Artists’ 90th anniversary. It was great to see it on the big screen all the way through instead of just on television. From here, the Bond series had nowhere to go but up. The formula was more or less perfected with “From Russia With Love,” and the producers did not mess with this formula until after “Die Another Day.” I enjoyed “Dr. No,” and I love how it paved the way for many more exciting adventures with this British spy. May there be many more in the years to come.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘The Killing Fields’

I remember renting this film from Netflix a few years ago and telling my friends what I was about to watch. I got a good dose of jaws dropping open and many of the same responses:

“Oh, that’s a fun one!”

“Go into it with a strong stomach. There are scenes in it that will pulverize you!”

“Not a fun movie!”

I remember hearing a lot about “The Killing Fields” when it was first released back in 1984, but it took me until recently to finally sit down and watch it all the way through. From a distance, it looks like another in a long line of movies about the Vietnam War and of the terrible damage it left in its wake. But in actuality, it takes place in Cambodia when the country is in the midst of a civil war with the Khmer Rouge regime; a result of the Vietnam War spilling over the country’s borders. It is based on the memoirs of award-winning American journalist Sydney Schanberg who was a correspondent for The New York Times, and of how he spent years reporting the endless fighting and bombing which took place in Cambodia and Laos. Along with photographers Jon Swain (Julian Sands) and Al Rockoff (John Malkovich), he works to capture the reality of this horrific situation as it escalates into something far worse, and before the United States military can sanitize what is being presented for public consumption.

But as much as “The Killing Fields” is about what happened in this conflict, it is really at its heart a story of friendship between Sydney and his translator, Cambodian journalist Dith Pran. Together, they work to get to the unvarnished proof of the situation and risk their lives in many instances. In the process of escaping Southeast Asia with their lives, Schanberg helps Pran’s family escape, but as the Americans get ready to leave, they are forced to give up Pran as the new regime wants all Cambodian citizens to be returned to them. This leads to a guilt ridden Schanberg spending as much time as possible searching for Pran through humanitarian services and government officials. While he does so, we watch Pran being subjected to forced labor under the “Year Zero” policy the Khmer Rouge initiated to destroy the past and start a new future.

The scene where Dith Pran stumbles upon the corpses left to rot in the Cambodian fields is where the movie gets its name, and these images will never leave my mind. In that moment, director Roland Joffé captures the vicious and evil nature of Pol Pot, Cambodia’s answer to Adolf Hitler. What happened in these fields is no different from what the Nazi’s had done to the Jews during World War II. But what’s even worse is this same kind of ethnic cleansing is still being exacted in different parts of the world today. Some might foolishly think the events of “The Killing Fields” have no real relevance to what we are suffering through today, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, with this movie, we get depressing proof of how history repeats itself.

What gives “The Killing Fields” even more emotional heft is that Haing S. Ngor, who plays Dith Pran, went through the same ordeal as did his real-life counterpart. It is impossible to watch Ngor here without knowing he shared a horrifyingly similar experience as he had to convince the soldiers he was an uneducated peasant. Had they realized Dith was really an intellectual and a reporter, he would have been killed right on the spot. Ngor was not a professional actor when he got cast, so he doesn’t act as much as provide an undeniably human face of what Cambodians were forced to endure when the Khmer Rouge came to town, and he gives what is undoubtedly one of the bravest performances I have ever see. Forget the Oscar; Ngor should have received the Purple Heart!

But as great as Ngor is, let’s not leave out the other actors whose work is every bit as good. Sam Waterston plays Sidney Schanberg, and this was long before he got involved in that long-running show with the overbearing “chung CHUNG” sound. Waterston does exceptional work capturing Schanberg’s relentless quest for truth and presenting it for all the world to see. Throughout, we see him stubbornly pursue whatever sources are available to him regardless of how it puts his life and the lives of those close to him in constant mortal danger. This later leads to a deep sense of guilt as he encouraged Dith Pran to stay with him even though he was at greater risk than anyone else in his circle. Waterston captures the complexities of a reporter who sees the importance of getting at the heart of a story as well as the large cost which becomes all too difficult to deal with.

In addition, we have John Malkovich in one of his earliest roles, and we see the unrelenting intensity he brings to Al Rockoff as he quickly recovers from an explosion which goes off right next him. Almost immediately, Malkovich jumps right back up to take as many photos as possible. Julian Sands also has one of his earliest roles here as fellow photographer Jon Swain, and this was long before he got stuck in those “Warlock” movies. Plus, you have Craig T. Nelson on board as Major Reeves, the face of the military officials who work to cover up American mistakes while maintaining whatever control they have left over an increasingly chaotic situation.

And then there is the late Spalding Gray who co-stars as the U.S. Consul, and his experience of making “The Killing Fields” ended up inspiring his one-man monologue “Swimming to Cambodia.” Hence, another career was born thanks to this movie which led to many more immensely entertaining monologues performed by him until he left us ever so tragically.

Looking back, it’s surprising to see “The Killing Fields” marked the feature film directorial debut of Roland Joffé. From watching this, I figured he had been directing motion pictures already for decades. Nothing on display here ever feels like it was staged or overly rehearsed. Joffé makes you feel like you are watching a very in-depth documentary which no one else could have pulled off, and that is saying a lot.

Joffe was also aided greatly by Director of Photography Chris Menges, who won an Oscar for his work here, as he captures a land and a time which is anything but sentimental. Composer Mike Oldfield, best known for composing and performing “Tubular Bells,” also provides an original sounding film score which heightens the horror and unrelenting chaos consuming Cambodia and those unlucky enough to be stuck there.

All these years later, “The Killing Fields” remains an immensely powerful cinematic achievement, and I wonder if people still think about it as much as they did back in the 80’s. Ngor, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (I was rooting for Pat Morita who was nominated for “The Karate Kid“), was murdered during a robbery in downtown Los Angeles outside his home in Chinatown. Knowing he survived the horrific fate which consumed and destroyed the lives of many Cambodians only to have his life cruelly ended in such an utterly senseless crime makes watching this film today seem all the more tragic.

As for Joffé, he went on to direct “The Mission” with Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons which received critical acclaim. But then he helmed the dreadfully miscalculated adaptation of “The Scarlet Letter” which changed the end of the book and added more sex to it for all the wrong reasons. Then he went on to direct “Captivity,” a movie so blatantly unwatchable I turned it off after less than 20 minutes. You look at “The Killing Fields” and then at “Captivity,” and you wonder what the heck happened to this guy.

I am really glad I finally took the time to watch “The Killing Fields” long after its original release in 1984. Even if its Best Picture montage give away the film’s ending, it did not take away from the experience of watching it. This proved to be not just a great directorial debut, but a great collaboration of artists who completely sucked you into the reality of a place and time many of us would never want to experience up close. So many years later, this is a cinematic masterpiece which forces you to experience what people go through. There’s no way to come out of “The Killing Fields” without being deeply affected by it.

I desperately tried to resist using this cliché, but I have to say it; they don’t make movies like this anymore. With Hollywood’s constant obsession with comic book and superhero movies, let alone the latest unnecessary remake, you have to wonder if we will ever see a movie like “The Killing Fields” ever again.

* * * * out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘The Grey Fox’

I remember when this film came out in 1982. I was a big fan of movie review shows like “At the Movies” back then, and the scene where Bill Miner tells an unsuspecting passenger about how he used to rob stagecoaches always stayed with me. As a result, when the opportunity came to watch “The Grey Fox,” which Kino Lorber has just re-released in a new 4K restoration, I jumped at the chance. The question was, do I put this film in the “No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now” category of this website, or in the one known as “Underseen Movies” as it has been said the film only grossed $5 million worldwide. Well, considering how I remember when it was first released 38 years ago, I think the former category makes the most sense.

“The Grey Fox” stars Richard Farnsworth as Bill Miner, a stagecoach robber who eventually became known as “The Gentleman Bandit” after masterminding 26 robberies and for originating the command, “Hands Up!” As the film opens, Bill is being released from San Quentin Prison after a 33-year prison sentence, and he is also heading straight into the 20th Century, a period in time which he may not be the least bit prepared for.

Bill seems to get off to a nice start as he takes a train ride where a fellow passenger shows him a device which peels apples very quickly, and he seems amiable even when he tells this passenger how he once robbed stagecoaches. But while his sister gives him the warmest of welcomes, her husband, well aware of his past crimes, is not quick to show Bill the same kind of welcome. Bill is eager to show him he is worthy of his attention, and the next day he begins a new job which has him shucking oysters.

Things look to be going okay, but then Bill sits down in a movie theater which is playing “The Great Train Robbery,” the classic film which is especially famous for a scene where an actor shot his gun right at the camera. As we look at Bill’s face, we see a passion arise in him to where he becomes intent on resuming his previous career sooner than later. His sister begs him to stay, but he tells her, “I have ambitions in me that just won’t quit.”

Most films from the 1980’s take their sweet time in showing their main character start off being released from prison and adjusting to life as a civilian before giving up and returning to a life of a crime. Back then, you did not need to speed everything along to get to the good stuff, and learning of a character’s history and experiences proved to be rewarding in a way which added to the cinematic experience. Of course, as time went on, filmmakers are obligated to move through the story at a rapid pace even if we do not have time to catch our breath. What is interesting here is how the filmmakers of “The Grey Fox” do not hesitate to move past Bill’s attempts to live as a peaceful civilian in very quickly in order to see him return to his previous occupation as a robber. If there were any other 80’s films which pulled off such a feat, I have yet to watch them.

In many ways, “The Grey Fox” is an anti-western along the lines of Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” as Bill’s exploits are not as spectacular as this genre may suggest. His initial efforts to rob trains of their valuables proves to be unsuccessful as he is confronting by those who are not quick to give up anything without a fight. While his exploits may have made him infamous in the past, he is now living in an age which is far more eager to stop crime than celebrate it. As a result, he flees to Canada to see if he can have more success there as his passion for adventure usurps most other desires in his life.

“The Grey Fox” was directed by Phillip Borsos who had previously found tremendous critical acclaim in Canada with his short films “Nails,” “Spartree” and “Cooperage.” “The Grey Fox” marked his feature film directorial debut, and it proved to be a resounding triumph as he created a wonderful character study of a man trying to survive in a time he is not fully prepared to live in as he goes back to what made him famous, or infamous, in the first place. Along with cinematographer Frank Tidy, he perfectly captures the beauty of the Canadian wilderness which anyone can get lost in, and serves to illustrate how isolated Bill has been over the years. I have yet to view this film on the silver screen as the world is still in the grips of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), but I do hope the day will come when I can.

Borsos would go on to direct “The Mean Season” which starred Kurt Russell, and anything with Kurt Russell in it has got to be worth seeing. His last film was “Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog,” an innocent adventure film which came out at a time when younger audiences were starting to get more cynical about the family movies being released in theaters. I remember when an English teacher I had in college remarked at how the film’s trailer was playing and of her observing teenagers a couple of rows ahead of her who remarked at how it looked “lame.” She would go on to say how our generation was being mediatized to where we had been forever robbed of our innocence.

What a shame Borsos’ life got cut short at the far too young age of 41 following a battle with acute myeloblastic leukemia. He still had a lot to give to us from behind the camera.

But let’s be honest, the real star of “The Grey Fox” is indeed Richard Farnsworth who is unforgettable to where it makes perfect sense why he was cast as “The Gentleman Bandit.” Having started out as a stuntman who later became an actor and appeared in movies such as “Gone with The Wind,” “Red River” and “The Wild One,” he had already been working in show business for years when he got this role. Vincent Canby was correct in describing “Farnsworth” as being “remarkably appealing with a face the camera adores.” The actor, who passed away back in 2000 after a painful battle with cancer, certainly had a face which had life written all over it, and it is the kind of face Hollywood does not value as much as it used to.

Farnsworth creates a lived-in portrait of a man who is famous for being a robber, but who ended up spending more time behind bars than he did robbing stagecoaches. From start to finish, he nails the complexities of Bill Miner who proved to be a genuine, thoughtful, gentleman-like, loving, and at times quite the dangerous individual. And those eyes of Farnsworth’s are beautifully indeed as he lets us into his soul to show a life still yearning for adventure and a connection with someone which can possibly give him something to live for other than robbing trains.

The actor also has some terrific scenes opposite Jackie Burroughs who portrays feminist photographer Katherine Flynn. They have instant chemistry together, and their dialogue feels real, genuine and not the least bit manipulative. When the truth of who Bill is comes to the surface, we can see in Burroughs’ eyes how Katherine cannot simply tear herself away from him. Bill is one of the more unique individuals she could ever hope to meet, and Katherine knows she will likely never meet someone like him ever again, so why stop things there?

Well, it took me almost 40 years to sit down and watch “The Grey Fox” after that movie clip I saw on “At the Movies” was forever burned into my conscious mind. I think it is safe to say it was well worth the wait. Lord knows I would never have appreciated it on the same level when I was 7 years old, so it’s nice to catch up with it now long after my view of movies had evolved to another level. It is a beautiful relic which deserves to be embraced by a new generation of film buffs. I do hope you take the time to see it whether in a theater or by virtual cinema. With this new 4K restoration, it is now more beautiful than ever.

* * * * out of * * * *

Please click here to visit “The Grey Fox” page at the Kino Lorber website.