Monday, August 3, 2020

Fool's Views (7/1 – 7/30) (Part 1 of 2)

Ouch, you're on my hair
"Ouch, you're on my hair...."

Howdy, folks!

July was a wild ride, for sure. With Chicago’s public library reopening, health coaching classes in full swing, the garden yielding organic bounty on the regular, and personal training sessions increasing on a weekly basis, life is being lived at a rat-a-tat-tat pace. And, as if anyone needed further proof that I clearly require supervision, with June Claude Van Damme in the rearview, the stage was set for the inevitable sequel:


(You know, sometimes I amaze even myself.)

With Hammer time, Robocops, Shogun Warriors, and an unexpected Al Pacino film festival trading beats with the ongoing correspondence course that is Accademia Giallo and no fewer than a dozen Stallone features (most of which I had never seen before), there was a little something for everyone.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) (1971) d. Bava, Mario (Italy) (3rd viewing)

As part of Ian’s ongoing exploration/education of the wild and wicked giallo world for Kicking the Seat, we returned to Maestro Bava for what is considered by many to be the first legitimate “body count” movie (13 memorable offings in all). The plot, by Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, and Filippo Ottoni, is an impressively tangled affair that requires a literal scorecard to keep track of who is killing who, much less why, with the emphasis clearly on the “how.” Special effects legend Carlo Rambaldi delivers some delectable gore and grue, including a now-legendary “double impaling” of two lovers in bed, although the presence of an especially clingy octopus in one scene very nearly steals the spotlight. The cast includes Claudine Auger (“Domino” from Thunderball), Luigi Pistilli (The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire), the fetching Brigette Skay (The Beast in Heat), and a very young Nicoletta Elmi, later to become famous as the striking redheaded usher in Lamberto Bava’s (Mario’s son) smash, Demons.

Ian, Bryan Martinez (The Giallo Room), and I settled in for a lively discussion of the evolution of the genre, Bay of Blood’s place within it, the film’s myriad alternate titles, and the age-old discussion of intellectual copyright when it comes to creative kills. (Hey, Sean Cunningham says he didn’t see BoB prior to making Friday the 13th and he hasn’t changed his story in 40 years, so I’m kinda inclined to believe him.)

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019) d. Pastoll, Abner (UK) (1st viewing)

Sarah Bolger (The Tudors) delivers a striking lead turn as a recently widowed English mother whose home becomes the refuge of a desperate drug dealer, Tito (Andrew Simpson), after he steals a load of product from a rival gangster (Edward Hogg). Tito demands that Sarah (also the character’s name) stash the stuff on the premises and allow him to come and go to make deliveries; in return, he’ll cut her in for a share of the profits, a deal which he actually makes good on and which his reluctant partner is in no position to refuse, considering her mounting expenses and the government’s unwillingness to help. Much more of a gritty drama with thriller elements than a full-on fright flick, director Pastoll and screenwriter Ronan Blaney throw in a couple of splashy flourishes that nudge the picture into the genre realm, including a memorable hiding place for a certain third-act pistol. Available now on DVD or streaming from Film Movement.

Kiss of the Vampire (1963) d. Sharp, Don (UK) (3rd viewing)



Monty Python: Almost the Truth (2009) d. Jones, Bill / Parker, Alan / Timlett, Ben (UK) (1st viewing)

Wonderfully affectionate and thorough (nearly six hours) celebration of the legendary comedy troupe from their individual formative years at university and early days of BBC sketch comedy to their own groundbreaking series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and subsequent bestselling albums, concerts, and celebrated trio of original feature films. Even the most die hard Python fan will come away with a few new stories they’ve never heard before and a renewed appreciation for the time capsule that captured the lightning.

RoboCop (1987) d. Verhoeven, Paul (USA) (5th viewing)

There aren’t enough superlatives to sufficiently shower Verhoeven’s Hollywood breakout hit, a pitch-perfect combination of futuristic sci-fi, cop drama, social commentary, cutting-edge special effects, and hilariously over-the-top splatter, flawlessly fleshed out by a superb ensemble of rising players (Peter Weller, Kurtwood Smith, Ray Wise, Miguel Ferrer) and seasoned veterans (Ronny Cox, Dan O’Herlihy, Nancy Allen). 32 years after its theatrical release, Arrow Video unveils the definitive collector’s edition, with a ridiculous amount of supplemental materials, including three separate cuts of the film (Director’s Cut, Theatrical Cut, TV version), three commentary tracks, and featurettes galore. This one has “must-have” written all over it.

Shogun Assassin (1980) d. Misumi, Kenji / Houston, Robert (Japan/USA) (1st viewing)

Edited together from the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films (Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx, both 1972), this English-dubbed version became a theatrical sensation with its blending of classic samurai iconography, superb swordsmanship, and epic displays of arterial sprays, the latter of which almost resulted in the film landing a spot on the official BBFC Video Nasties list when it arrived on VHS. Tomisaburo Wakayama (real-life brother of Zatoichi star Shintaro Katsu) plays our portly and lethal antihero, the Shogun’s former decapitator who goes on the run (a relative term, since Lone Wolf’s gait rarely rises above that of a leisurely stroll) with his infant son. While purists may cry foul, Shogun Assassin's international success led many fans to discover the original LW&C features, all of which have been collected (along with SA) in a handsome three-disc package from Criterion

The Tin Star (1957) d. Mann, Anthony (USA) (1st viewing)

Following his celebrated collaborations with James Stewart, Mann partnered with another legendary leading man known for inherent onscreen decency for his latest Western venture. Henry Fonda stars as a former lawman-turned-bounty hunter who moseys into greenhorn sheriff Anthony Perkins’ dusty burg seeking recompense for his latest quarry and finds himself caught up with small-town politics, a murder case, a racist mob, a kindly widow (Betsy Palmer, 23 years before playing Mrs. Voorhees in Friday the 13th), and a Native American child. A terrific tale of morality and mentorship, with a cracking supporting cast that includes Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and John McIntire.


The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962) d. Zeman, Karel (Czechoslovakia) (2nd viewing)

Utilizing mind-blowing in-camera special effects, gorgeous matte paintings, and stunning colored filters, this exhilarating and slyly comic unfolding of Rudolf Erich Raspe’s nobleman’s legendary exploits is a master class in fantasy cinema perfection. Every single scene is heightened in some fashion, often purely for its own sake, yet rather than detracting from the narrative, the effects only deepen and enrich the spell. Having discovered Zeman’s Invention for Destruction (aka The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) last year, Criterion’s release of a stellar three-disc box set (consisting of these two films plus Journey to the Beginning of Time) could not have been timed more perfectly.

Film Adventurer Karel Zeman (2015) d. Hodan, Tomas (Czechoslovakia) (1st viewing)

A stellar introduction to the inexplicably neglected legend of special effects and fantasy filmmaking, tracking Zeman’s evolution from successful businessman to maverick cinematic innovator, dabbling in everything from commercials to short subjects to award-winning features that thrilled audiences the world over. In addition to talking heads Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, director Hodan creatively intersperses the archival footage with new material of a class of Czech film students attempting to recreate Zeman’s iconic scenes using the original techniques instead of digital trickery. Utterly delightful feature-length supplement included on the Baron Munchausen disc.


And Justice for All (1979) d. Jewison, Norman (USA) (5th viewing)

In looking at Al Pacino’s filmography, it was right… about… here, as harried Baltimore lawyer Arthur Kirkland, that we see the actor falling in love with his own speech patterns and physical mannerisms. It doesn’t help matters that married screenwriters Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain (their first, for which they were graced with an Oscar nomination) and usually reliable director Jewison deliver a cartoonish affair that can’t decide whether it wants to be a scathing indictment of the judicial system (with John Forsythe one millimeter away from twirling his mustache) or a spinning-plates farce complete with a death-defying, gun-toting judge (Jack Warden, having a high old time) and legal partners having mental breakdowns (Jeffrey Tambor, in his film debut) or a romantic comedy (Christine Lahti, in her film debut) featuring star-crossed lovers on either side of the system.

In the middle of it all is Pacino, rolling his vowels and enthusiastically changing up pitch and pace, playing AT a character for the first time as opposed to inhabiting it, an approach he continued to adopt more frequently. That said, he’s still plenty of fun to watch and his impassioned “You’re out of order! You’re out of order!” tirade that serves as our climax apparently dazzled enough folks to grant him a fifth (and last for over a decade) Oscar nod.

Cruising (1980) d. Friedkin, William (USA) (2nd viewing)

Friedkin, desperate for a hit after the box office flops of Sorcerer and The Brink’s Job, was persuaded by successful television producer Jerry Weintraub (himself looking for an in-road to features, having just produced the John Denver/George Burns hit Oh God!) to take a look at Gerald Walker’s novel about the gay S&M scene in New York City. Considering Friedkin’s first real taste of success came in the form of the film version of Matt Crowley’s hit play The Boys in the Band, he seemed the right man for the job. Once word got out about the subject matter, namely a serial killer preying upon the leather bar crowd and a (straight) undercover cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) sent in to suss him out, the gay community responded with outrage and protests before a single frame had been shot.

For better or worse, the completed product isn’t nearly as shocking a portrait (at least to 2020 eyes) as feared; it’s also a deeply flawed effort that raises more questions than it answers, which feels strange on the part of Friedkin, who also scripted. While the brutal murders depicted are unnerving and the you-are-there dance club scenes feel both exotic and authentic, we never find out if Burns is actually having sex with men, if he’s enjoying it, if he’s discovering a latent bisexuality, if he’s exploring his own murderous tendencies, nothing. We only know that he’s “changing,” a fact that he points out to his girlfriend (Karen Allen, in a sorely underrepresented character). Part of this may have to do with the nearly 40 minutes that Friedkin was asked to trim by the studio and the MPAA, and since we’ll never know what those missing moments showed, it’s hard to judge.

One thing we can say is that Pacino looks deeply uncomfortable throughout the picture, and we’re never sure if Burns is just a really bad undercover cop or if we’re seeing an actor ill at ease with his choices. (Apparently, Richard Gere was Friedkin’s first choice, but Pacino used his influence to secure the role… and then later had second thoughts, according to the director on the newly issued Blu-ray from Arrow Video).

The Local Stigmatic (1990) d. Wheeler, David F. (USA) (1st viewing)

Al Pacino and Paul Guilfoyle (Session 9) play a pair of symbiotic English sociopaths who indulge in mind games and wordplay while engaging in perversely brutal acts of violence against random victims. This filmed adaptation of Heathcote Williams’ play was an apparent passion project for Pacino, who reportedly used his acting fees from Dick Tracy to finance the nine-day shoot. Pacino had played the role onstage in a 1969 Off-Broadway production, but at 50 seems far too old for the feckless, amoral youth he’s supposed to be, while Guilfoyle, an undeniably fine actor and nine years his co-star’s junior, is slightly more age-appropriate but never really seems at home either. Compounding the issue is Wheeler’s decision to stage the scenes in a flat, uncinematic manner and the fact that Pacino rarely has success with accents. The end result is an unsatisfying and rarely seen curiosity item (and literal museum piece – Pacino donated a copy to MOMA).

Scarface (1983) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (6th viewing)

Confession: I’m at a loss for the cultural love affair with this film and its lead character, Tony Montana. The latter is a caustically venomous self-serving egomaniac, sociopath, and psychopath with no redeeming values while the vehicle that surrounds him is a laborious and overladen drama constantly lathering over and over in its own excess. Some have theorized that it is Montana’s rags-to-riches tale that appeals, but it’s an ignoble path strewn with hideously mangled corpses, illegal drugs, and cohorts as shamelessly immoral as himself. Does anyone really choose to identify with this individual as someone to emulate or admire? On a slightly less pessimistic note, if the melodrama and moralizing are the attraction, does it really need to take three indigestion-inducing hours to remind viewers that crime doesn’t pay?

De Palma is at his grandstanding zenith, with powerhouse production values, saturated colors, and bravura camera moves (courtesy of cinematographer John A. Alonzo), while Oliver Stone’s F-bomb-bastic script is full of sound and fury signifying nothing we didn’t already know. All of the resulting characters are overblown cartoons played by talented actors intent on outdoing one another with tics and sneers and bellows and horrendous accents, with Pacino standing atop the pile with automatic weapons, a tankerload of chutzpah, and a snoot full of blow.

The entire interminable exercise is as empty, soulless, and numbing as Giorgio Moroder’s dated synth score, which may have in fact been the point but that doesn’t make it any more watchable for me. Yes, I’ve seen it on six separate occasions, which may seem counter to my qualms. Each time I enter hoping that I’ll finally see what everyone else is seeing. Hasn’t happened yet.


Cliffhanger (1993) d. Harlin, Renny (USA) (2nd viewing)

I remember seeing this back in the cinema when it first came out and thinking, “Wow, this is super dumb and John Lithgow is not as good an actor as I thought he was.” 27 years later, Lithgow is still munching on the scenery (which is no surprise anymore because that’s what he does) and it’s still super dumb and its violence needlessly cruel. Watching it with the Harlin/Stallone commentary, however, afforded me a (slight) respite from the terrible dialogue and ridiculous plotting, such that I could appreciate the splendid stunt work and cinematography atop legit mountain ranges (Italy’s Cortina d'Ampezzo Dolomites standing in for the Colorado Rockies).

The Expendables (2010) d. Stallone, Sylvester (USA) (2nd viewing)

This one annoyed the crap out of me a decade ago, simply because it seemed like such a missed opportunity. You get all these tough guys together and instead of having a lark, it slogs and slugs its dogged way through explosive set-piece after set-piece in search of a consistent tone. With expectations properly managed, it was slightly more enjoyable this time, knowing it was merely an origin story for the hi jinks to come.

The Expendables 2 (2012) d. West, Simon (USA) (2nd viewing)

And here they are! With Sly out of the director’s chair, things get a lot more zippy and pippy. The sequel to 2010’s love letter to aging '80s action stars ups the cool factor by adding Jean Claude Van Damme (bad guy) and Chuck Norris (good guy) to the ensemble and bumping up Bruce Willis and Ah-nold from cameos to supporting parts. Stuff frequently blows up real good, the body count is redonkulous (with completely superfluous CG blood squibs and splatter), and the dialogue feels written by third graders with groan-inducing one-liners... just like the good old days?

The Expendables 3 (2014) d. Hughes, Patrick (USA) (1st viewing)

Against all odds, the third time is actually the charm. Despite overpacking the roster with a new (and younger) team of faces to join the old guard, Sly and co-screenwriters Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger somehow manage to balance the scales such that everyone – including new to the crew veterans Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, and Mel Gibson – gets a moment in the sun, with a perfect balance of comedy, action, and heart. It’s kind of a miracle that it works as well as it does, and I’m stunned that this one got the least critical love.

Oscar (1991) d. Landis, John (USA) (1st viewing)

Gangster Angelo “Snaps” Provolone (Sylvester Stallone) promises his dying father (Kirk Douglas) to leave the world of crime and become an honest businessman, despite having no experience in the non-rackets world. Despite being touted as “Sly Tries Comedy” and failing miserably at the box office, I was pleasantly surprised by how nimble Stallone is within the farcical milieu, aided by a marvelous supporting cast that includes Chazz Palminteri, Peter Riegert, Kurtwood Smith, Maria Tomei, Yvonne De Carlo, Vincent Spano, William Atherton, Mark Metcalf, Harry Shearer, Martin Ferrero, Tim Curry, and Flash Gordon’s Princess Aura herself, Ornella Muti. Based on a play by Claude Magnier and adapted by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland. Definitely worth a look.

Over the Top (1987) d. Golan, Mehahem (USA) (1st viewing)

Yes, it’s the arm-wrestling movie from Cannon with Sly as the most sensitive truck driver ever, trying to secure the affections of his estranged son (David Mendenhall) despite the efforts of the boy’s cold-blooded grandpa (Robert Loggia). Equal parts oh-so-earnest tearjerker and blockheaded action flick, stitched together with a jukebox-ready 1980s soundtrack featuring such time-honored earworms as Kenny Loggins’ “Meet Me Halfway” and Sammy Hagar’s “Winner Takes It All.” Yet, as goofy as it all is, Golan somehow manages to wrest an impressive amount of tension from the big Vegas championship tournament. (Considering how many times the announcer tells us it’s a “double elimination tournament,” was anyone else really confused that the final bout is decided by a single match…?)

2020 Totals to Date: 242 films, 169 first time views, 76 horror, 2 cinema


  1. Great to see you discovering more and more by Czech maestro Karel Zeman. His works are of high esteem in European cinema history.

    Such an eclectic bunch you managed to watch again. I'll have to take some time off to check out that BoB podcast; I noticed the things runs over an hour, haha.

    Some interesting Pacino choices there too. About Scarface: I think you are actually seeing the film everyone else is seeing; you just can't agree with it. The majority is mainly seeing it through different eyes, or perhaps with their good eye closed, if you will. I should revisit it too, as I surely won't be looking at it through the eyes of a teenager anymore either.

    You managed to have me wanting to check out those two Expendables sequels now. And maybe even try giving Over The Top a watch. But... I might be Doing the Dolph first, hah.

  2. I am utterly stunned that I didn't find out about Zeman until last year, considering he is right in my stop-motion wheelhouse. Guy needs a better transatlantic publicity agent.

    Because it's not my beast, I can't apologize too much for the length of the podcasts. But, yeah, who has an hour to listen to me babbling on?

    That's the thing: I am really trying to see the movie everyone else is seeing and loving. I mean, yes, there's a lot of sassy tough talk and gunplay and terrible accents, but it's not like people love it as a Turkey - they seem to think it's a genuinely good movie.

    Doing the Dolph is something I don't know that I can join you for. Honestly, with the exception of "Don't Kill It" that I saw at BIFFF in 2017, I don't know that I've ever seen a straight-up Dolph vehicle, where he's the main attraction. That said, he's great fun in his supporting roles for The Expendables movies, and the sequels are increasingly more satisfying movies for my tastes.

  3. I don't mind listening to you babbling on at all; it's just that I need to remind myself to click play on this Giallo podcast some evening. I'm sure your insightful talkage will make an hour fly by.

    Doing the Dolph should actually be a walk in the park, no? I mean, the guy never stopped making movies, haha. Year after year, sometimes more than one film per year. You can pick some randomly, with your eyes closed. Haven't seen 'Don't Kill It' myself yet, which I know I should, since I've heard good fun things about it. A Mike Mendez film, right? But wait a minute, you have seen Dark Angel aka I Come In Peace (1990) for sure. Right? At least one main Dolph attraction checked!

    1. Yes, indeed. I had forgotten that one!