‘Beetlejuice’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

Your enjoyment level for Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice” is going to depend on how you feel about Burton as a director.  He is an eccentric director with a flair for style and bright, vivid colors.  However, in my view, I sometimes feel as though his characters and stories can distance themselves from audiences.  I realize he has many devoted fans and “Beetlejuice” is one of his most beloved films.  Whenever Halloween rolls around, I know it is a film which families sit around and watch together, even though there is an F-bomb and some odd innuendos which parents might find off putting to young children. As a first-time viewer of the film, I found I liked certain elements of it, but not nearly enough to recommend it or call it a Halloween classic.

One thing “Beetlejuice” definitely has going for it is the talents of Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and Winona Ryder.  Whenever they are on screen together, the film is really hitting the right notes.  The character of Beetlejuice, played by Michael Keaton, is barely in the film, which is odd considering he is displayed so prominently on the film’s poster and in its title.  It is more about the dilemma of Barbara and Adam Maitland (Davis and Baldwin) wanting to enjoy two weeks of a nice, quiet vacation at their Connecticut country home.  All of this is thrown for a loop when they get into a car accident and perish.

Now, they are ghosts that have returned to their home, only to find it has been taken over by the Deetz family, which includes Charles (Jeffrey Jones), Delia (Catherine O’Hara), and their daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder), although the film is quick to point out that Delia is the stepmother of Lydia.  Delia has plans of her own for the house with the help of her interior designer, Otho, played by Glenn Shadix. The father, Charles, is looking to make a real estate deal with the property and its surrounding areas.  Lydia is suspicious of the place when she notices the ghosts of Barbara and Adam looming over the house.  Here is the catch—Lydia is the only one who is able to see or notice them.

Since Barbara and Adam want the Deetz family out of their home, they are desperate to come up with any solution.  They enlist the help of Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), even though he comes with a lot of baggage, according to their afterlife caseworker, Juno (Sylvia Sidney). She is very familiar with all that comes with Beetlejuice and warns them to stay away from him.  In her mind, the best way to get this family out of the house is to find creative and simple ways to scare them into moving out.  When Barbara and Adam find this harder than they thought, they say the name Beetlejuice three times, and he appears ready and willing to help, as long as there is something in it for him.

The major problem with “Beetlejuice” is just that, Beetlejuice.  As an audience, are we supposed to like this guy?  He wants to get married to what we assume is an underage teenage girl.  He is very perverted around Barbara and is not all that funny or interesting. For the most part, as a viewer, I found him quite annoying on screen.  This is no fault of Keaton, as he is simply playing the character as best he can based on the screenplay he was given and the direction of Burton. Baldwin tries to carry the movie on his back along with the help of Davis, but their charms are not enough to make this film worthwhile.

It’s hard to deny the great make-up and special effects which are on display in “Beetlejuice.”  The concept for the film is rather creative as well.  The actors are ready and willing to do whatever they can to help the flick. However, because Beetlejuice is so obnoxious and the film is so over-the-top and filled with tricks, there is really no heart to the story.  It’s not scary or funny, so it fails as a horror/comedy.  It is nice to look at, filled with some clever scenes, and there is good acting on display.  In the end, this is not enough to save this film which relies too much on style instead of substance.

* * ½ out of * * * *

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4K Info: “Beetlejuice” is released by Warner Brothers Home Entertainment on a 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, which comes with the Blu-Ray and a digital code. The film comes in the following languages: English, Latin Spanish, Canadian French, and Brazilian Portuguese. It has a running time of 92 minutes and is rated PG.  The film is presented in 2160 Ultra High Definition.  With 4K, you can’t help but be impressed by the HDR (High Dynamic Range), especially on a film like this.  It really stands out.

Video Info:  The film comes on 2160 Ultra High Definition for the 4K Version.  The Blu-Ray comes in 1080p High Definition.

Audio Info: The 4K Audio is Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish.  For the Blu-Ray, it comes with Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 and Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French and Spanish. Subtitles for both versions are in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

Three Hilarious Episodes from the Animated “Beetlejuice” TV Series: “A-Ha!,” “Skeletons in the Closet,” and “Spooky-Boo-Tique.”

Theatrical Trailer

Danny Elfman Score Audio Track

Should You Buy It?

Much like my review of “The Goonies,” if you LOVE “Beetlejuice,” you will be very, very happy with the 4K update.  You might not be so happy with the lack of special features.  If they are going to upgrade a film to 4K, you would expect they would add some new special features which look back on the film.  This is not the case here.  If you are strictly in this for the visual and audio upgrades, you will get your money’s worth.  If you haven’t seen the film before and are not a Tim Burton fan, this film is not going to win you over. I would say rent it just to say you have checked it out as Halloween is fast approaching.

Phil Joanou on How He Came to Direct U2: Rattle and Hum

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place back in 2012.

Filmmaker Phil Joanou was at New Beverly Cinema when the theatre showed two of his films: “Three O’Clock High” and the U2 documentary “Rattle and Hum.” While most of the evening was spent talking about “Three O’Clock High” as it had arrived at its 25th anniversary, Joanou did take some time to talk about how he was hired by U2 to direct their first music documentary (or rockumentary if you will). The story ended up becoming one of the strangest and funniest ones told on this evening.

Joanou was busy doing post-production on “Three O’Clock High” when his agent got him a meeting with U2 on the day before the band had to leave America for Ireland. They had already interviewed a number of directors already, but Joanou said they hit it off to where they asked him, “can you come to Dublin tomorrow?” He said sure, but he had to call the producer of “Three O’Clock High” to explain why he had to leave post-production on a little early. The producer apparently was not too happy about this sudden opportunity, but Joanou got to go anyway.

Once in Dublin, Joanou said U2 interviewed him for five days about directing “Rattle and Hum.” Where the story goes from there is not what you might expect as the band kind of left him hanging.

Phil Joanou: They would take me to a friend’s house and then Bono and Edge would leave and I would have dinner with the husband and wife. After that they took me to a wedding and they left me there as well. I’m there in Northern Ireland and I’m all by myself at an Irish wedding and I’m like, okay great! I don’t know anyone here. I had to figure out how to get home. So, they would do weird things like that to me. They’d drop me off at a bar and leave me. This went on for five days!

After all this craziness, U2 came up to Joanou and said, “alright, you can do the film.” Joanou said that to this day he still does not know what the criteria was for them hiring him, but he described making “Rattle and Hum” as being an “incredible experience.” Looking back, he described the Irish rock band as having taught him so much while being on the road and in the studio with them.

“Rattle and Hum” was greeted with a critical backlash when it came out as critics accused the band of being too grandiose and self-righteous. Watching it today, however, is a different experience as “The Joshua Tree” tour, as it is presented here, feels far more intimate than any tour they have done since. The musical numbers are exhilarating to watch, especially in black and white, and their journey through the American music scene gives us a number of unforgettable moments. But moreover, it was especially great to see it on the big screen for the first time in many years. Concert movies like these really need to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

‘Patty Hearst’ – Based on a True Story, But in a Good Way

I have always been fascinated by the story of Patty Hearst, of how she was kidnapped by the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) in an effort to get some of their comrades released from jail. How she later joined the SLA in their fight against what they perceived as a fascist police state fascinated me even more. When I first heard about this event, probably around the same time the movie was released, I couldn’t help but wonder, how can someone who was kidnapped by people with guns suddenly join up with her captors? Can someone be changed into a completely different person in a situation like this? Taking all this into account, I wonder if makes sense we should prosecute someone for crimes they committed after being brainwashed and sexually abused by their captors. It’s such a strange story, and one ripe to be made into a movie. Thank goodness the story of her ordeal ended up in the hands of the great Paul Schrader, famed screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” and director of “Blue Collar,” Affliction” and “First Reformed.”

Yes, “Patty Hearst” is based on a true story, but this movie was made back in 1988 when that term actually meant something. Is this movie factually true to what happened to her in real life? I don’t know and, quite frankly don’t care. Movies based on a true story always have moments which are fictionalized or changed for dramatic effect. It is too easy to brand movies like these as “a lie” or “factually incorrect” to what actually happened. Movies cannot play a real story out the same way it did in real life because there has to be a structured story in place which takes you from point A to point B. In the end, the filmmakers need to be respectful of the facts, but they can’t just do it the same exact way it all happened. Besides, people will accuse the filmmakers of being too faithful to the original material, and this makes it all seem like a no-win situation. People making these kinds of movies are going to get attacked one way or the other, and there is no way around it.

“Patty Hearst” stars Natasha Richardson in her breakthrough performance as the title character, and the movie starts with her walking around the campus of UC Berkeley, giving us our first glimpse of her as a person. In a voiceover, she takes the first opportunity of many to break down preconceptions that may have of Patty Hearst who is the granddaughter of the famous publisher William Randolph Hearst. From the start, she makes it clear Patty was never spoiled and had a happy, normal childhood. These opening moments show how nothing could have prepared her for the kidnapping which would come to define her life.

What makes this movie so effective is the way Schrader manages to tell the whole movie almost entirely from Patty’s point of view. As a result, we end up experiencing what she goes through as she is thrown into the trunk of a car and driven off to a place where she is imprisoned in a tiny closet. Spending most of her time in this claustrophobic space, she becomes completely disoriented. Throughout, she is met by soldiers of the SLA who shout their beliefs at her, and she is made to believe she is the enemy. These moments are presented with the actors acting in front of a blindingly white backdrop which gives us a strong feeling of displacement as even we don’t know where we are. What keeps Patty going through this is her gnawing fear of being buried alive, and of her need to survive.

The fact Patty ends up joining the SLA in their “revolutionary” fight makes sense as it is presented here. Having been cut off from those she loves and being exposed to a whole other set of people and ideas, what choice could she have had? Seriously, it’s not like she had much of a chance to escape. In the end, the SLA is basically a cult, and like all effective cults, they broke down Patty’s spirit until there was nothing left. Everything from her life up to that point was made to seem false, and she had no way of believing otherwise. Her captors offer her a choice of joining them, or to go home. But by going home, Patty interprets this as being killed or even worse, being buried alive.

From there, the movie shows Patty going from terrified hostage to being a soldier for the SLA. The moment where her blindfold is removed and she is finally given a chance to look at her captors is actually a beautiful moment as it is made to seem Patty is now surrounded by people who are more loving than they are threatening to her. It is also a relief for the audience as we too are now out of the claustrophobic state of mind to where our eyes are wide open. From there, we are with Patty every step of the way to even after she is arrested and incarcerated for her involvement.

What really powers “Patty Hearst” is the performance of Natasha Richardson which is nothing short of remarkable. She takes Patty from being a helpless and frightened hostage to a believer, and then she takes her to being a martyr where she is broken down but given a chance to build herself back up again. In spite of all the media coverage this case was given back in the 1970’s, Richardson gives us a Patty Hearst who can be seen as a person with a heart, and not just as a blip on the popular culture landscape. She nails every emotional moment of Patty’s evolution truthfully, and she is utterly fascinating to watch throughout. In the movie’s final shot, it is just her face we see as she seems at peace with herself and of what she needs to do to show the world the truth of what she has been through, and she gives this movie the exact note it needs to end on.

In addition, Richardson is surrounded by remarkable character actors who have since become better known following this movie’s release. Among them is Ving Rhames in a pre-“Pulp Fiction” performance as Cinque, the leader of the SLA. Ving makes Cinque an intimidating force which you believe can hold all his followers at bay with even a little bit of effort. In effect, Cinque is the glue which holds the SLA together.

Also in the movie is William Forsythe, a terrific character actor who plays Teko, a most faithful follower of the SLA who tries to hold the movement together when its leadership suddenly falls apart. Frances Fisher, who would later co-star in “Unforgiven” and “Titanic,” plays Yolanda who ends up in a power struggle with Teko over the direction in which the SLA is poised to take. Through these two performances, we see how easily a group can quickly disintegrate when there is no real leader to keep them focused and together as a whole.

But of my other favorite performances comes from Dana Delany whose role as Gelina is a lovely delight. Gelina’s thinking is clearly warped beyond repair, but she presents Patty with the only real kindness she gets during her captivity. As Gelina, Delany gives us a character as giddy as she is dangerous to those around her.

There is also Jodi Long who plays Wendy Yoshimura, an SLA member who becomes disillusioned with the movement and of what they are trying to accomplish. Seeing the damage done, she is now more prepared to give up rather than face a pointless fire fight with the “pigs.” I really liked Long’s take on the character, and she gives us a strong human being who does not bend easily to the threats made against her.

“Patty Hearst” also features one of the most unique film scores I have ever heard. Composed by Scott Johnson, it is a mixture of both electronic elements and woodwind instruments, and the score helps Schrader in creating a disorienting environment which we and Patty are forced to endure against our will. I cannot think of another film score I can compare this one to. It was Johnson’s first and only movie score ever, and it was out of print for years. In 2007, however, it was finally re-released through Tzadik Records.

This material is perfect ground for Schrader to cover as a filmmaker and a screenwriter. From Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver” to George C. Scott in “Hardcore” and to Nick Nolte in “Affliction,” Schrader has long since been endlessly fascinated by individuals who are so alienated from the world around them to where they have long since descended into madness. Patty Hearst, as Schrader shows her here, does not become alienated from the world by choice, but by force, and her dire circumstances of joining a movement she has no business being in makes us wonder what we would do under similar circumstances. We never get to see the world outside of Patty’s point of view, so when she is brought back into reality, we are made to feel as bad as she does when she is made into a martyr in everyone’s eyes.

The movie got a mixed reaction when it was released back in 1988. From watching the movie’s trailer, I imagine moviegoers may have been expecting something more action packed when they walked into the theater. But what “Patty Hearst” really proves to be is a character study, and an endlessly fascinating one as well. While some may find this movie dull, I loved how it got into the inner workings of the SLA, and it made sense of how someone could be forced to join a group they never would have in a sane state of mind. How you view this movie may very well depend on what you are expecting from it.

I really liked what Schrader did with the story and characters. Had this story been in the hands of another director, it may have come across as more exploitive than anything else. Schrader, however, has far more on his mind than playing with all the titillating facts of this case. Throughout, he explores the evolution of a person who goes from being a victim to becoming a participant who later became a pariah, and he gets under the skin of his subject in a way others were unable or unwilling to do.

But what makes “Patty Hearst” work so effectively is the mesmerizing performance of Natasha Richardson. With her entrancing beauty and natural talent, she makes us want to follow Patty to the end of her journey. Whether we agree or disagree with what Patty did, we empathize with her and are forced to look at ourselves and wonder what we would have done in similar circumstances.

Richardson was so great to watch here, and she makes me want to watch this movie again and again. It was so tragic that we lost her at the age of 45, and years later we are still mourning her death. She left us with a great volume of work which deserved even more chapters than it was given.

After all these years, we still miss you very much Natasha.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘The Blob’ 1988 Movie and Blu-ray Review

The-Blob-blu-ray-shout-factory-cover

The following article was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

If you are a fan of 1980’s horror films, you know Shout Factory/Scream Factory gives them the proper treatment each and every single time as they are like the Criterion Collection for horror fans.  They go above and beyond the call of duty with their commitment to the audio and visual aspects of cult classic horror films, and they supply their Blu-rays with tons of special features.  They understand you want to know as much as possible about your favorite horror films, and they have done it once again with their collector’s edition of “The Blob,” a remake of the original film which starred Steve McQueen back in 1958.

With this version of “The Blob,” it shows the advancements made at the time in gore and special effects. I don’t think it is fair to necessarily compare the two films since they were released thirty-years apart.   One thing they both have in common is they are very enjoyable to watch.  I own both of them.  I have the Criterion Collection version of the 1958 film, and I am thrilled to add the remake to my collection from Scream Factory/Shout Factory.  The gore is also taken up a notch here, and it is sticky, gooey, bloody and completely over the top in the best possible way.

“The Blob” is, of course, a film about a disgusting life-form which comes to a town by the name of Arborville.  It is your normal town with a football team, local diner, police and cheerleaders, some of which you would just love to date.   Shawnee Smith plays Meg Penny, the local cheerleader who is your girl-next-door type.  Her father works at the pharmacy, and she is going on a date with football star Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch Jr.) when they notice something terrible happening all around them. The character blamed for all of this is Brian Flagg who is played by Kevin Dillon, brother of Matt Dillon, and from “Entourage.”  He is the bad boy with a motorcycle, and he has a total kickass 80’s haircut. The police can’t wait to put the blame on him, but he is completely and totally innocent.

The blob will eat and destroy anything that gets in its way. You never know when it is going to appear or when it will strike.  It is part of a political experiment being overseen by shady scientists with their own agenda, and they are not concerned about the people.  The blob started by attaching itself to an old man’s arm, and from there the devastation only increased.  It is self-aware enough to have a running time of 95 minutes so the pace is right on point, the kills are interesting and disgusting, and it never feels boring.

Major props go out to Shawnee Smith as she gives a truly committed performance which should remind you of her work as Amanda from the “Saw” franchise.  Kevin Dillon is solid as well because he knows how to make this character likable but with an edge. He is someone you would want on your side when the blob hits the fan, if you catch my drift.  The effects are also terrific considering the time period this film was released in. The only time the green screen is very, very noticeable is near the end, but even then, it is campy fun.

This was my first time seeing the remake of “The Blob,” and I love both movies.  It is great when they get a second home on Blu-ray as well as the proper treatment courtesy of Shout/Scream Factory. There is also just the right amount of humor when the moment calls for it as well.  Fun fact: The screenplay was co-written by Frank Darabont of “The Green Mile,” “The Walking Dead,” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” This flick is able to gross you out while keeping you entertained and laughing as well, and this is not an easy accomplishment to pull off.  However, everyone stepped up their game on this film, and it shows in the final product.  I cannot recommend this movie enough if you have not seen it in the past, or if you have seen it and want to own it in this tremendous format.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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Special Features:

Audio commentary with director Chuck Russell, special effects artist Tony Gardner and cinematographer Mark Irwin, moderated by filmmaker Joe Lynch

Audio commentary with actress Shawnee Smith

“It Fell From the Sky!” – an interview with director Chuck Russell

“We Have Work to Do” – an interview with actor Jeffrey DeMunn

“Minding the Dinner” – an interview with actress Candy Clark

“They Call Me Mellow Purple” – an interview with actor Donovan Leitch Jr.

“Try to Scream!” – an interview with actor Bill Moseley

“Shot Him!” – an interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin

“The Incredible Melting Man” – an interview with special effects artist Tony Gardner

“Monster Math” – an interview with special effects supervisor Christopher Gilman

“Haddonfield to Arborville” – an interview with production designer Craig Stearns

“The Secret of the Ooze” – an interview with mechanical designer Mark Setrakian

I Want that Organism Alive! – an interview with Blob mechanic Peter Abrahamson

“Gardner’s Grue Crew” – behind-the-scenes footage of Tony Gardner and his team

Audio Commentary with director Chuck Russell, moderated by film producer Ryan Turek

Theatrical Trailers

TV Spot

Still Gallery

Blu-Ray Info: “The Blob (1988)” is released on a Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray from Shout Factory/Scream Factory.  The film is rated R and has a running time of 95 minutes.

Audio Info: The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  For a film that is thirty-one years old, it sounds terrific.  All of the dialogue between the actors is easy to understand without any issues whatsoever.  When the gory scenes come up, they also have a real sizzle to them as well. Subtitles are in English.

Video Info: The 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is out of this world.  There are no signs of grain, dust, or dirt when watching this film.  It is incredibly clear and vibrant on screen.

Should You Buy It?

With so many special features on this wildly fun flick, it’s a no brainer when it comes to buying “The Blob (1988).”  I wish I had seen this movie sooner, but to be honest, I didn’t even know there was a remake of the original until recently.  I’m glad there is and that Shout/Scream Factory is there to make it available for purchase for hardcore horror fans such as myself and so many others out there.   The film is a gory ride which has a very satisfying and fun conclusion. You always get your money’s worth and then some with Shout Factory/Scream Factory titles, so you will not be disappointed when you pick this one up.  As a matter of fact, it would make a great double feature with the original flick.

 

The Ultimate Rabbit and Keon Kobra’s Live Commentary on ‘Night of the Demons’

Night of the Demons 1988 movie poster

I recently had the pleasure of checking in with Keon Maghsoudi (a.k.a. Keon Kobra), a most excellent friend of mine from high school. We joined up to do an online commentary on the horror movie “Night of the Demons.” Released in 1988, the same year we got “Child Play’s,” “Maniac Cop,” “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master,” “Phantasm II” and the completely unnecessary “Poltergeist III,” it was made for $1.2 million and shot over four weeks in South Central Los Angeles. Despite negative reviews from critics, it went on to gross over $3 million after its debut in Detroit. Since then, it has become a cult classic and was followed by two sequels and an obligatory remake.

Before Keon and I started, I admitted I had not previously seen “Night of the Demons.” I was aware of it, having seen its posters in newspapers and a trailer on television. But back then, I was only slowly getting into horror movies as they were the kind of cinematic experiences I was fascinated by but quick to avoid. These days, I look forward to them as I have long since become deeply fascinated by the dark side of humanity.

“Night of the Demons” tells the twisted tale of a group of high school seniors who decide to celebrate Halloween at Hull House, an isolated funeral parlor which (surprise surprise) is said to be haunted by evil spirits. Despite this, one of the seniors gets the group to participate in a séance which, as you can expect, leads to all hell breaking loose. This demon, which kind of looks like the anglerfish from “Finding Nemo,” rises up and begins to possess these foolish teens, and it is clear from the get go many of them will not survive the night.

This is one of those movies best watched with a group of friends as watching it by yourself serves as a reminder of how a party of one is not much fun. Director Kevin S. Tenney and screenwriter Joe Augustyn employ a large number of horror movie clichés to where we feel like we have a good idea of which characters will live and die. It’s almost like a guessing game as I was tempting to place bets as to which one would bite the dust first. I kept thinking it would be Stooge (played by Hal Havins). Was it? Watch the movie.

Dread Central, in its review of the cult classic, described it as being “fun. Lively. A masterpiece, it’s not.” I think this perfectly sums up “Night of the Demons” as it was made not to ascend to the cinematic heights of “Lawrence of Arabia,” but instead to satisfy its core audience which was into blood, gore and hair/glam metal bands which the 1980’s was famous for producing. I want to thank Keon for inviting me to be part of this commentary as watching the movie with him proved to be a lot of fun.

As we watched the movie, I had its Wikipedia and IMDB pages up on my computer, and I found out the following:

  • Cathy Podewell, who plays the virginal Judy Cassidy, lived in Walnut Creek, California, a city not far from where Keon and I grew up.
  • Judy’s boyfriend, Jay, who is portrayed by Lance Fenton, played Kurt Kelly in one of the greatest teen movies ever made, “Heathers.”
  • Linnea Quigley, who plays teenager Suzanne, was 30 years old when she was cast. Quigley initially turned down the opportunity to audition as she felt much too old to play a teenager. Nevertheless, she was cast.
  • Quigley is best known for playing teenage punk Trash in “The Return of the Living Dead,” another in a long line of movies I still need to see.
  • This movie was recorded in Ultra Stereo. Remember Ultra Stereo? That seems to have gone the way of VHS tapes.

I have included the entire video of our commentary down below. I hope you enjoy it.

Click here to check out Keon Kobra’s Movie Review Strike!

Click here to check out Keon Kobra’s YouTube page.

Keon Kobra logo

Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Track 29’ is Bizarre and Compelling From Start to Finish

Track 29 movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written around the time this movie was to be released on DVD by Image Entertainment back in 2012.

Track 29” is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, but that’s probably because I am not very familiar with the work of director Nicolas Roeg. This is only the second movie of his I have seen, the last being “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and it helps to understand his filmmaking method before watching his work. Roeg’s movies are known for their kaleidoscope of images which are typically presented out of chronological order, and it’s left up to the viewer to make sense out of all the craziness they have just witnessed. Learning this helped me understand “Track 29” better as it is one of those WTF movies which willfully defy easy categorization.

This movie came out in 1988, and its DVD release coincides with Gary Oldman’s first ever Oscar nomination for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Oldman stars as a British orphan named Martin who has arrived in America to look for his mother. Upon meeting bored housewife Linda Henry (Theresa Russell), Martin is convinced she is his mom and tries to form the bond he has forever longed to have with her. But as the story continues, we wonder if Martin is real or if he’s just a figment of Linda’s imagination as his arrival coincides with her remembering the child she gave up for adoption years before.

The real pleasure of watching “Track 29” today is to witness Oldman at his manic best as he is a firecracker always on the verge of going off. The actor did this movie not long after he received critical raves for “Sid & Nancy” and “Prick Up Your Ears,” and watching all three movies together makes one wonder where he gets all his crazy energy from. Putting this in comparison to the more subdued work he does today as George Smiley or Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies makes one realize how amazingly far his range as an actor goes, and it makes me appreciate his work more than ever before.

Theresa Russell, who remains one of cinema’s most underrated actresses, is equally good as Linda even as she appears to be going over the top from one scene to the next. Throughout “Track 29,” Russell gives her role a strong conviction as she comes to grips with a traumatic moment in her life and a passionless marriage which has gotten to where she knows exactly what will come out of her husband’s mouth before he says it. Actors can look utterly ridiculous when they fall into the trap of playing the clichéd drunk or just running the gamut of emotions, but Russell holds your focus from beginning to end. She has always been one to take risks with each role she takes on, and this one is no exception.

Among the other actors to be found here is Christopher Lloyd who plays a role I never thought I’d see him in: the boring husband. From his roles in “Back to The Future” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” I’ve come to see Lloyd as anything but boring. But here he is amazingly bland as he takes more interest in his toy train set, which collectors of such things will be slobbering over once they see what he’s put together, than he does in his wife’s problems. Whether his character of Dr. Henry Henry (a rather unfortunate name) is having an affair with Nurse Stein (Sandra Bernhard) or making a passionate speech to the obsessive train car collectors of North Carolina, Lloyd inhabits this character fully and reminds you of what a great actor he can be.

Other excellent performances to be found in “Track 29” come from Colleen Camp as Linda’s friend Arlanda who reacts to her problems with utter bafflement, Sandra Bernhard who gets to indulge gleefully in her character’s brand of S&M, and the great Seymour Cassel as Henry’s boss Dr. Bernard Fairmont who reacts to his colleague’s bizarre behaviors with disdain and utter hilarity.

Roeg gives this movie many unforgettable images which come to illustrate the missing passion and meaning in these characters’ lives as well as the sheer violence hiding just below the surface. Watching it reminded me of “Revolutionary Road” and how Kate Winslet’s character was ever so desperate to escape the suffocating atmosphere of suburbia, but this story is given a more surrealistic quality as Oldman’s character descends into the mindset of a child who, when let loose, destroys things without a care in the world. Everything seems to act as an allusion to Linda’s unconscious desire to destroy the world she inhabits as it becomes her only way to escape it.

Image Entertainment released the DVD version of “Track 29” recently, and this is the best it has probably ever looked. As for extras and special features, this disc is frustratingly scant in those departments. It would have been nice to have a commentary track or at least some interviews with the director and cast to see how they went about making this bizarre motion picture and what their reactions were to it. The only real extras to speak of are a couple of trailers which precede the movie, and they are for the cult classic “Withnail & I,” Neil Jordan’s “Mona Lisa,” and “The Long Good Friday” starring Bob Hoskins. Coincidentally, these are three movies I still need to see.

Despite the lack of special features, “Track 29” is definitely worth a rental for fans of Oldman and to see him at his most emotionally unhinged in a motion picture. It may not reach the critical heights of Roeg’s other works like “Walkabout,” but it’s definitely for those who love films which defy conventional film narration. Lord knows we need movies like these every once in a while as things can’t stay the same forever.

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Roddy Piper Discusses the Fight Scene in ‘They Live’

They Live Roddy and Keith

While at New Beverly Cinema for a screening of “They Live” on June 10, 2012, Roddy Piper spent some time talking about how he, director John Carpenter and co-star Keith David staged the alley fight in the movie. At five and a half minutes, it remains one of the longest fight scenes in cinema history.

Piper said that while Carpenter asked him many questions in preparation for “They Live,” the director also made him watch “The Quiet Man” which starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Aside from its beautiful photography of the Irish countryside, the movie also had one of the longest fight scenes ever filmed. Carpenter was determined to make an even longer fight scene, and to that, Piper said, “Okey dokey.”

Another reason Carpenter asked him so many questions, Piper said, was because “he was trying to figure out whom to put with me.” Keith David ended up being his co-star, and Piper described him as a “220-pound dancer” and of how “he is like Mike Tyson and doesn’t know it.” He also went on to describe David as a “great and wonderful man” and that he “kept laughing at all my mistakes.”

Piper did have a hand in choreographing the fight, and much of the rehearsal between him and David took place in Carpenter’s backyard. He taught David how to throw and take a punch, but knowing how punches on camera can appear faked, Piper eventually told him:

“Listen Keith, just hit me. From here and down (pointing to below his neck and above his waist) just hit me and go as far as you can.”

Piper said David had no problem doing that.

In filming the fight, Piper said he and David worked on three sections of it, and that they took it as far as they could. The day after that, they worked on the close ups for the scene. Rumor has it that it took three weeks of rehearsal to get the choreography of the fight just right. The audience was shocked however to hear that, even with the fight lasting almost six minutes, five minutes were actually taken out of it.

“They Live” also inspired a parody on “South Park” in which Timmy and Jimmy duke it out in a shot-for-shot remake of Piper and David’s fight. Upon learning this particular “South Park” episode featured “little crippled kids” fighting, Piper said he felt so bad about it and refused to watch it for about ten years. What changed his attitude regarding the episode was when he was at an autograph convention a few years ago:

“There was a beautiful little kid in a wheelchair that came up and told me about it, and he was laughing his ass off! Then I watched it and, oh baby Jesus put the hat on, one got hit in the crouch and another with a wheelchair! So you know if he likes it then I like it too! I just didn’t want to offend him.”

Piper did talk about how “They Live” is on the verge of being remade, and this did not please any fans in the sold-out audience at New Beverly Cinema. Apparently the remake will not have a fight scene in it. While some were disappointed to hear this, it’s probably just as well. After watching Piper and David pummel each other with such raw power, it seems impossible to top what they did today.

They Live movie poster

Roddy Piper Revisits John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ at New Beverly Cinema

RODDY-PIPER-THEY-LIVE-10

It was a huge shock to hear of the sudden passing of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper who died on July 31, 2015 from a heart attack at the age of 61. Many of us remember him from his wrestling days with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) where he battled Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in the ring, and for also making Cyndi Lauper’s life (in her music videos anyway) a living hell.

But for me, I’m always going to remember him best for his performance in John Carpenter’s “They Live” in which he played a nameless drifter who discovers that the earth has been taken over by aliens disguised as rich people. While he may have seemed an unusual choice for a movie role, Carpenter said he cast Piper because he had life written all over his face, and that’s a quality that not enough people in Hollywood pay attention to these days.

The following is an article I wrote after I attended a special screening of one of Carpenter’s best movies.

They Live movie poster

Former wrestler and actor Roddy Piper visited New Beverly Cinema on June 10, 2012 to talk about his role in John Carpenter’s “They Live.” Once the film ended, Piper made his way to the front and leapt onstage and yelled out for all to hear:

“I HAVE COME HERE TO CHEW BUBBLE GUM AND KICK ASS!!! AND I AM ALL OUT OF BUBBLE GUM!!!”

This screening was put together by the horror convention Days of The Dead, and moderating the Q&A was Brian W. Collins from the website Horror Movie a Day. During the time he spent with the audience, Piper looked so incredibly happy to be there.

When Brian asked him how he got cast in “They Live,” Piper said he was doing Wrestlemania III and got asked out to dinner by Carpenter afterwards. Piper had, as he said, “been on the road since he was 15 years old,” and he admitted to the audience he “had no idea of who John Carpenter was.” But once he realized he was a movie director offering him the lead role in a motion picture, Piper was eager to work with him.

In talking about filming the destruction of the shantytown, Piper pointed out how many people in that scene were actually homeless and not your average Hollywood extras. He also said the filmmakers had to pay two gangs off so that, when they left at night, the trailers would still be there in the morning. Piper said he also knew the president of each gang, and that really helped.

Then there was the discussion about the “bubble gum” line which Brian heard was improvised by Piper. Piper confirmed it was his idea and jokingly described it as “lame,” and it came about when Carpenter told him just before the cameras started rolling:

“Roddy, you know you’re going into a bank, you got bullets on, you got a shotgun, you got sunglasses. You gotta say something because you’re not robbing it. Action!”

Piper said the line, and then Carpenter yelled cut and immediately said, “Lunch!”

One audience member asked Piper if he did his own stunts in “They Live,” and he admitted he did all of them except for when Meg Foster pushes him out the window. Piper, however, also said if it was the last shot of the movie, then they would’ve let him do it. Speaking of Foster, he confessed he did indeed trip out over her eyes because they are so beautiful. Looking back, he marveled at how she brings you right in with those eyes.

We never do learn Piper’s character’s real name, and he is called Nada in the end credits which in Spanish means nothing. In describing Nada, Piper said, “You don’t know where he came from, you don’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, you don’t know why he’s wearing a wedding ring. You know nothing about him.” Carpenter told him the thought behind this was if you don’t know anything about him, it makes him more intriguing to where you want to watch more.

Piper ended the evening by speaking profoundly about his role:

“Nada is you, he is every one of you, not blue collar or white collar. He’s you and that’s why you know nothing about him because it depends on if it’s you, then that’s what’s about him. He’s supposed to represent everybody, not just America, but everybody in the world. And that’s kind of why you as an audience fill in the nothing with whatever ethics and morals you’re fighting for at the time.”

Upon hearing of Piper’s death, Carpenter said he was “devastated to hear the news of my friend Roddy Piper’s passing today. He was a great wrestler, a masterful entertainer and a good friend.”

RIP “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

Renny Harlin and Steven E. de Souza Look Back at ‘Die Hard’ & ‘Die Hard 2’

Die Hard poster

Steven E. de Souza and Renny Harlin dropped by the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood back in 2009 to talk about the making of “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2.” Both films introduced us to modern action hero John McClane, a man more real and human than the muscular superheroes played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. They also inspired a most popular concept in movies; the lone warrior fighting overwhelmingly bad odds. The audience at the Egyptian clearly had seen both these movies hundreds of times, but seeing them on the big screen made them seem more exciting than ever.

In talking about the genesis of “Die Hard,” de Souza said it was based on Roderick Thorp’s novel “Nothing Lasts Forever.” The filmmakers followed the book closely, but there were differences: John McClane was older and visiting his daughter, not his wife. Also, Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson) was originally a cab driver, but the character was turned into a cop as the CB radio craze had long since ended. The writers also dropped the ticking time bomb as well. De Souza also explained in writing the screenplay how he made Hans Gruber the protagonist and John McClane the antagonist. Basically, while Gruber is dragging out time, McClane is busy trying to foil his plans.

In casting “Die Hard,” de Souza admitted Bruce Willis, best known back then for starring on the television series “Moonlighting,” was not the first choice. Frank Sinatra had first dibs as “Nothing Lasts Forever” was a sequel to his movie “The Detective,” but he felt he was too old to play the part. Offers were made to Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan and even Richard Gere, all of whom turned the role down as they found McClane to be too passive.

Die Hard 2 poster

The conversation moved on to “Die Hard 2” which de Souza said 20th Century Fox decided to move forward with a week after the original opened. Harlin said he had just finished making “A Nightmare On Elm Street 4,” one of that franchise’s biggest hits. This led to him getting many offers as the thinking is studios proclaim you a genius when you have a hit movie. Harlin said he still doesn’t understand the thinking behind this. 20th Century Fox had offered him “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” and gave Harlin total freedom in filming a movie which featured, as he put it, “girls in bikinis.” The studio bosses liked what they saw and gave him “Die Hard 2” to direct, and Harlin began shooting it two weeks after “Ford Fairlane” wrapped.

Harlin remembered “Die Hard 2” as being so hard to make and that even Joel Silver came to admit he put too much on his plate. As nervous and excited as he was about doing it, Harlin bemoaned his misfortune at shooting during what he called “least snowy winter ever.” He and the production team looked everywhere for snow and couldn’t even find any in Colorado or Montana. In Spokane, Washington, they finally lucked out with lots of snow and were set to start filming, but a sudden heat wave melted it all on the very next day.

Both Harlin and de Souza said they saw “Die Hard 2” as a comedy which makes sense when McClane says, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” Bruce Willis, however, didn’t see it as a comedy and initially refused to say the “yippee kay yay” line again since he already did in the first film. Harlin said Silver eventually convinced Willis to do a take his way and then another take Harlin’s way. Indeed, it works well as a comedy as McClane’s bad luck is impossible to ignore. Harlin did however credit Willis for the “just the fax ma’am” line.

Thanks to de Souza and Harlin for dropping by. Seeing “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2” on the silver screen was a great treat. After all these years, they remain exhilarating action movies to watch.

 

Why ‘Bull Durham’ Remains My Favorite Sports Movie

Bull Durham movie poster

This was one of the few R-rated movies my parents let me see long before I turned 17. Of course, I was already sneaking into R-rated movies before I reached that age. I’d buy a ticket to “Ghost” and instead walk into the theater showing “Marked for Death.” I guess my mom and dad decided, since I was watching all these movie review shows like “Siskel & Ebert” and “Sneak Previews,” and I had seen this movie’s trailer numerous times on the Movietime Channel (long before it turned into E! Entertainment Television), that the damage to my fragile little mind had already been done. Then again, it’s not like they were exposing my brother and I to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Had they done so, it would have scarred us for life!

When I first saw “Bull Durham” on VHS, I was already very used to the Hollywood sports movie formula where the hero suffers a crushing defeat and has to build themselves back up again to an audience-pleasing finish. When I was younger, I was far more comfortable knowing how a movie would end, and I wanted them all to end the same way. It feels like this with today’s generation of audiences as they thrive on repetition in stories and of the good guys beating the villains we are led to believe good will always triumph over evil. When you’re young, you have yet to learn that in reality the bad guys get away with a lot before anyone notices, especially if they have corporate and/or political connections.

“Bull Durham,” however, forever changed the way I looked at sports movies in general. It didn’t always have to be about training montages and the build up to the big game. Instead, it was about the reality of the game itself, and of the various personalities inhabiting it. Whether or not the characters get their big moment at the end, their victories and accomplishments were never about coming out on top or being the best. The real victory came from struggling through one important stage in your life, and surviving long enough to get to the next. Or, in other words, closing one chapter in your life and moving on to the future.

Most baseball movies focus on the major leagues, but what makes “Bull Durham” especially unique is it is about the minor leagues. Writer and director Ron Shelton based this film on his own experiences in the minors which he played in for several years, and he shows it to be a much looser environment and one which is far more fun and carefree. The baseball stadium may be smaller, but the connection between the players and the fans is more intimate and not engulfed in corporate greed or network contracts. Still, all these players see getting to the majors, which they refer to as “the show,” as their holy grail, the one thing they feel destined to get to at some point. The sad thing is, many of them will never make it there.

“Bull Durham” focuses on three characters throughout: Crash “the player to be named later” Davis played by Kevin Costner, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh played by Tim Robbins, and Annie Savoy played by Susan Sarandon. LaLoosh is the star pitcher of the Durham Bulls and is about to make his professional debut. When he does, he ends up, as Millie (the incredibly cute Jenny Robertson) says, pitching the same way he makes love, “All over the place.”

Hence, veteran catcher Crash is brought in to teach LaLoosh how he can control his pitching, and to get him prepped for the major leagues. During this time, the two of them will meet the high priestess of baseball, Annie Savoy. Her church is the one of baseball, and she hooks with one guy a season to help them with their playing and to expand their mind. This player also gets to share her bed with her, and considering just how amazingly hot Sarandon is in this role, it looks very foolish to even consider turning her down.

At the age of 14, I may not have understood all of what “Bull Durham” was about, but it was not a movie as disposable as a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Shelton offers us a closer look into the world of baseball than I could have expected to see back in 1988. The intimate details of the minor leagues make it very unique among other films of its genre. You also get to learn the importance of the relationship between the pitcher and the catcher, and of how one better not cross the other if he is looking to win.

Aside from the main players, the other team members are individualized to where you can tell one from the other. There’s the one player who swears by the bible and wants all his fellow teammates to follow in his righteous path. Then you have another who uses a necklace with a cross to bless his baseball bat, and who later needs a live rooster to take the curse off his glove. Crash Davis also shows an alternative way to get a rainout which results in one of the movie’s funniest moments.

Kevin Costner was perfectly cast as a veteran baseball player, and he also had the athletic ability to hit a ball right out of the park during filming. In “Bull Durham,” Costner gives us a man knowledgeable of the majors and the minors, and through his eyes he shows us the yearning he has to get back to “the show” as he was there once for 20 days, the greatest days of his life. You can only imagine how much he is working to get back there, but it seems more like a mirage that gets further and further away from him as time marches on.

Looking back at Tim Robbins’ performance, it is clearer to me now he had the toughest role to play in “Bull Durham.” Throughout, he has to take LaLoosh from being a wild and crazy guy on and off the baseball to someone more mature and ready to enter the majors. Robbins makes the transition look seamless, and it was the first indication of the brilliant actor we now see him as today. Seeing him again in “Bull Durham” after all these years is a kick because he is so loose and fancy free.

But seriously, the most memorable performance comes from Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy. To say Sarandon is sizzling hot remains an understatement as she captivates the audience in the same way she reels in Robbins and Costner. With this character, Shelton gave us one of the most original female characters ever seen on the silver screen. Annie is a strong female, and Sarandon succeeds in making Annie this and more. It may almost sound ridiculous to have a character believing in the “church of baseball” when you look at it on the page, but once Sarandon utters those words which start off “Bull Durham,” you never doubt that she fully believes in it for a second. After all these years, it is still a travesty she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for her performance.

But the real star of “Bull Durham” is Shelton, and he sees a lot of Crash Davis in himself. After this film came out, he became the go to guy for writing sports movies. You never get a “Rocky” like movie from him, and the characters he creates are rich, complex, and they always have such fantastic dialogue coming out of their mouths. This great talent of his led him on to make “White Man Can’t Jump” where Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes were as brilliant at hustling on the basketball courts as they were at verbal sparring with each other and their opponents, “Tin Cup” which left me thinking Costner and him should make as many movies together as possible, and “Cobb” with Tommy Lee Jones which may very well be the definitive anti-sports biopic of all time.

Incidentally, the commentary track he did for the DVD remains one of my all-time favorites. Throughout the movie, he strips away the mythology of other baseball movies to give us an idea of what the game is really like. I also loved how he talked about the fight to get Robbins cast even though the studio didn’t view him as a big enough star. The way they saw it, the audience would never believe Sarandon would ever fall for a guy like him. This led Shelton to bring up how he is godfather to one of their sons.

Shelton also pays great respect to the other actors like the late Trey Wilson who is so good here as the coach, and to Robert Wuhl whom he cast despite him giving the worst audition of any actor he had ever seen. He also lays bare how much he loves making movies and how much he hates the business.

Shelton may have never made it to the majors, but his experiences allowed him to give us “Bull Durham,” one of the funniest and most irresistibly sexy films of all time. I still see it as my all time favorite sports movie, and I don’t care how much more acclaim “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” have over it/ Besides, where else will you find a movie about minor league baseball? Oh yeah, there’s “Major League: Back to The Minors,” but who’s in a hurry to see that?

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