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THE HOT ROCK, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

Thursday, December 6, 2018

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE-FALLOUT: YOUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT



The MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series of films is an undeniable hit. Any series of films that can make it to six films qualifies. They’ve been able to do so with a continuing cast, adding members as they’ve gone along says a lot about the team behind the movies. That they’ve been able to go this far and continue to make exciting action packed films that don’t play to the lowest common denominator is something to be proud of. This week the sixth film in the series, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT makes its way to disc and odds are it will be this week’s hot rental.

At the end of the previous installment (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION) Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team were able to track down and capture Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) the man they felt was tip of the iceberg for a group known as The Syndicate, a criminal consortium many in intelligence didn’t believe existed. With Lane in custody that attitude changed and so did the Syndicate. With his capture the group is now a rogue terrorist group called the Apostles.

As the film opens Hunt is on a mission to buy 3 plutonium cores in Berlin. With Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) on his team he is caught off guard when the Apostles take Luther hostage. To save his life Hunt allows the plutonium to leave his hands and a new mission is assembled to track down nuclear weapons expert Nils Debruuk, a man who designed nuclear devices for John Lark. They do so in the hopes of using him to find Lark, a man they are certain has plans for those devises and the plutonium.

CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) is not pleased with this turn of events. In an effort to rein in the IMF team and save face she assigns Special Activities Director agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) to shadow Hunt and his team every step of the way. As the team shifts into gear to take on a different challenge their mission changes from moment to moment as new players enter the arena. When one contact they are supposed to meet is killed they set out after the killer, the mission morphing into something new.

Along the way the team encounters MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who we met in the previous film. But is she there to help or to hinder them? Cross, double crosses and triple crosses are found throughout the film and it isn’t until the final 30 minutes or so that we know just who is responsible for what and what they then intend to do. Needless to say it isn’t something good and is in fact devastating for the world. But isn’t that always the case in these films?

The movie is an action packed thrill ride from start to finish. But it’s not just those action fueled moments that make the film work on various levels. The movie works because it’s smart and has a deep story behind it. It works because you find yourself caring for the characters we’ve come to know and love in the course of six films. It works because it combines the action and intelligent story with humor and emotions, a difficult mix at best and one that they seem to accomplish with ease.

Cruise continues to show why he’s one of today’s top stars. He has a charisma about him that is undeniable. He also seems to have found that fountain of youth in his appearance that only Dick Clark seemed privy to. Still insistent on doing many of his own stunts he broke his ankle doing one of these, a painful item to watch is you go looking for it. In an interview the cast members when asked what he did after it happened said he got up and continued walking on it until the shot was done.

The rest of the cast is amazingly comfortable in their roles as well. Pegg remains the comic relief and does it well. Rhames is the tech wizard who cares more about his friend than many realize. Ferguson shows that she is worthy of being on the team and let’s hope she remains there if the series continues. And Cavill shows that he can handle a role other than Superman and do a solid job of it.

I’ve found I’ve been able to watch and re-watch all of the movies in the series and know I will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. They’re never tiring and always guarantee a good night’s film to watch. This one is no different. The only problem with the film is the same problem the others had. It ends and leaves you wanting more. So let’s hope that the success of this film ignites the spark for them to carry on. If James Bond can reach double digits then why not Ethan Hunt? 

MANIAC: A GORE CLASSIC



I can remember the first time I saw the movie MANIAC when it was released in 1980. Freshly graduated from college and working as an assistant manager for Loews Theaters I was able to see almost any movie playing at the time for free. This was on that we ran so I had that chance. At the time I thought it was terrible, a movie that was nothing more than a way for the effects work of Tom Savini to be seen. I’d seen clips from the film since but never sat through it again until this new release of the film from Blue Underground. It may have been that I’ve matured over the years or that I was watching it through different eyes. I found that the movie held up better than I expected and was better than I remembered it.

The movie tells the story of Frank Zito (Joe Spinell), a native of New York City abused by his prostitute mother at an early age who now scours the city streets for victims to kill. Zito is indeed a serial killer of the worst kind. This is because he not only murders the young ladies who are his victims but he scalps them as well. He then returns to his apartment and attaches the scalps to mannequins he keeps there.

Cruising Times Square back in the heyday of the grindhouse era, when drug users, pimps and prostitutes vied for space on the sidewalks and theaters ran terrible movies that allowed them all to do business there, Zito is approached by a young prostitute. Agreeing to her price and checking into a room he finds that he can’t function with her and in a rage strangles her. He then proceeds to scalp her, all on screen.

A few days later he packs up a shotgun in a violin case and heads out to find a new victim. This time he watches as a couple exit a local disco and head down under the Verrazano Bridge. The couple (with the guy being played by Savini himself) begin to make out and progress to sex until the young lady sees Zito looking in through the window. Demanding that they leave Savini turns on his headlights to see Zito standing in front of the car. He leaps on top of the hood, raises his shotgun and literally blows off Savini’s head. (An interesting side note is that Savini was doing the stunt and makeup here shooting a replica of his own head).

The media is flooded with news of the killings but people continue to live their day to day lives. Zito cruises Central Park soon after and notices a young woman taking photographs. He learns that her name is Anna (Carline Monroe) and finds her address. Pretending that she lost something (which he actually took) he goes to her place to return it and they become friends. But it isn’t long before his killing ways begin again and the question becomes how safe Anna is with him.

When I saw the film years ago it just seemed like one killing after another with no story beneath it all. This time around I realized that there was one just not a typical surface story. Instead we were being provided a glimpse into the mind of a serial killer. The story was written by Spinell who had a fascination with serial killers. He did his homework here, finding that most of the known killers at the time had mother issues and applied that to the script. Several scenes in the film, including one where he sees his mother reaching out from her grave as a corpse to pull him in, display the emotional impact she had on him. This is a tortured character whose background formed what he is today. While horrified at his actions there is a certain amount of sympathy one feels for this character.

Made on a meager budget director William Lustig found ways to shoot the film with more style than one would expect from a film named MANIAC. Himself a New Yorker and a fan of the 42nd Street location and era he used that spot for full effect. The area has changed dramatically from what it once was, cleaned up and corporatized by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The film captures the look and feel of that area for those who never saw it. For me that offered another interesting feature to the film, a depiction of the city of New York City that is totally unlike that shown by director Woody Allen in the movie MANHATTAN released a year earlier. That these two version of the same city coexisted is fascinating.

The movie is also a showcase for Tom Savini. I’ve heard people who watch the film today talk about how fake it all looks but these are people raised on CGI blood and gore. Savini did all what is seen her with practical effects which is to say if you see it here it was done while it was shot. In one of the extra he notes that the majority of them were done with basic items he had in his kit. That’s amazing when you watch the film.

Blue Underground is doing this one right with an astounding package here. To start with, like their release of ZOMBIE, they’re offering it with two covers, at least one of which is a lenticular cover. Inside there are three discs. One is the soundtrack of the film, the second is the movie itself with a few extras and the third is jam packed with a number of extras. The film itself is a 4k restoration from the 16mm negative of the film and it’s never looked better.

The extras on hand here a numerous. They include an audio commentary track with Lustig and producer Andrew W. Garroni, an audio commentary track with Lustig, Savini, editor Lorenzo Marinelli and Joe Spinell’s assistant Luke Walter, new MANIAC outtakes, NEW “Returning to the Scene of the Crime” a short with Lustig revisiting the locations the film was shot at, “Anna and the Killer” an interview with Munro, “The Death Dealer” an interview with Savini, “Dark Notes” an interview with composer Jay Chattaway, “Maniac Men” and interview with songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky that answers the question was their song based on the movie, “The Joe Spinell Story” a look at the life of the star, “Mr. Robbie” a MANIAC promo reel, MANIAC publicity, MANIAC controversy (the film was nearly banned due to the excessive violence), theatrical trailers, TV spots, radio spots and a collectable booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold. Wow. That’s a ton of extras and will take you longer to sit through than the movie itself.

It’s nice to be able to revisit movies like this and rediscover them through a new set of eyes. Our lives affect the things we watch and there are movies we may have hated at one time or found little use for that turned out to be much more than we remembered them being. This is one of those movies. If you are easily offended or prone to nausea while watching gore filled effects then you may want to miss this one. But for fans of the film and horror fans in general this is one you need to pick up.

ZOMBIE: RENEWED LIFE FOR THE DEAD



Horror fans are a different breed. They will wait in lines at horror conventions for hours just to say hi and meet the star of some low budget horror film made 30 years ago. They will seek out their favorite films and if not available are willing to pay outrageous amounts for a bootleg version of the film. So when a new version of their favorite movie comes out, even if they already own it in one form or another, the odds are good they will fork out the money for this version. And in some cases, as with the new release of ZOMBIE from Blue Underground, it is worth the investment.

For those who never saw the original it was the somewhat recognized unofficial sequel to George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, only because that film was called ZOMBI in Italy and this one was released there as ZOMBI 2. Once again the dead have risen to feast on the flesh of the living. But that’s as close as it gets to the Romero classic.

Director Lucio Fulci, a well-known name among horror fans and especially those who love Italian horror films, brought about a different sort of zombie in this film. Taking the old school zombies of the past, those infected by voodoo, and combining them with Romero’s zombies, those infected by being bitten, he combined them to create something just as chilling.

The film opens with a sailboat arriving in New York harbor, drifting along with no apparent crew. When the harbor patrol investigates one man is attacked and bitten by a very large zombie. As he makes his way to the other officer he’s shot numerous times before falling over the edge of the boat and into the harbor.

Things move from here to a newsroom from there where journalist Peter West (Ian McCullough) is being sent to follow up on the story investigating the boat. He meets the owner’s daughter Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow) who says she hasn’t seen her father in months. The clues they find lead them to the Caribbean island Matul. There they hitch a ride with vacationing couple Brian Hull (Al Cliver) and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay) to reach the uncharted island.

They arrive to find the island nearly deserted. One of the few people they find is Dr. David Menard (Richard Jordan) who has been running a hospital and investigating the cause of the voodoo problems there. Prior to their arrival he was arguing with his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos) who wants to leave the island, fearful of what is killing off the native population. The locals blame voodoo but he believes it is something else. The question comes will the group survive to find out?

The movie has several memorable moments that fans of the film have long remembered. Perhaps the most interesting is when Susan is attacked while scuba diving by an underwater zombie she escapes from when he finds something more worthwhile to eat, a shark. Yes that’s right, a shark. Another is one of the most stomach churning scenes put on film as Paola is attacked by zombies. When one breaks through the slats of her shutters and grabs her by the hair, he slowly pulls her closer and closer to the splintered remains, her eyeball nearing it an inch at a time. Fulci does not allow the viewer to pull away nor does he Paola.

The film was a huge hit in Italy and around the world. It was also a part of the infamous Video Nasties in the UK, movies that were banned from being released there in any format including tape at the time. But that didn’t keep those fans from finding a way to see it or to own it. Now it’s considered a classic of the genre.

Blue Underground has gone to painstaking lengths to present the film in pristine format with a 4K Restoration from the uncensored original camera negative, the first time this has been done. The film has never looked better and if, like me, you first saw this in a drive-in the difference is noticeable. There is a second disc that is just the soundtrack for the film. In addition to that they’ve included a ton of extras, so much so that they needed to be placed on a third and separate disc. My favorite among those is ZOMBIE WASTELAND, interviews with some of the remaining cast members done at Cinema Wasteland in Cleveland back in 2010. I’ve gone to this convention several times and it is one of the best.

But there are more extras than just that. There is a new audio commentary track with Troy Howarth the author of SPLINTERED VISIONS: LUCIO FULCI AND HIS FILMS, an audio commentary track with star Ian McCulloch and Diablik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater, “When the Earth Spits Out the Dead” a new interview with Stephen Thrower author of BEYOND TERROR: THE FILMS OF LUCIO FULCI, theatrical trailers, TV spots, radio spots, a poster and still gallery, an introduction to the film by Guillermo del Toro, “Flesh Eaters on Film” an interview with co-producer Fabrizio de Angelis, “Deadtime Stories” interviews with co-writers Elisa Briganti and the uncredited Dardano Sacchetti, “World of the Dead” interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production & costume designer Walter Patriarca, “Zombi Italiano” interviews with special make-up effects artists Gianetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani and special effects artist Gino De Rossi, “Notes on a Headstone” an interview with composer Fabio Frizzi, “All in the Famiy” an interview with Lucio Fulci’s daughter Antonella Fulci, “Zombie Lover” in which Guillermo del Toro talks about the film, a collectable booklet with a new essay by Stephen Thrower and the cover is a lenticular cover. Blue Underground is doing this film right.

Horror films may not be your type of film but if you know someone who loves them then I would suggest that you make this an item for them to find beneath the tree this Christmas. The iconic images that most horror fans recognize from the film will have them delighted when they unwrap this one. And who knows, you might just decide you enjoy it as well.