I've been hitting up my slightly used borrowed Laserdisc player all week. It's been great to see some classic films that aren't yet available on DVD. Why aren't they on DVD? An excellent question, one I'm not really sure I can answer. For some odd reason, the cost of putting out a new DVD version of some of these movies must outweigh the expected profits.
I know this is true for some films in which music rights are an issue. If a 60's film has a lot of classic rock songs in it, for example, the original contracts probably didn't allow for those song rights to be extended to a DVD release. So a separate contract would be required for every musical act appearing in the film, which gets really expensive. And if the film you want to release isn't going to be a huge seller, it might even prove more expensive than the total profits would would make in the first place.
But that's not really an issue with the movies I'm going to review, which don't have a lot of pop music or imagery they'd have to pay extra for. I suppose it's possible the studios or whatever simply don't think there's a large enough audience out there for older films on DVD...
Anyway, here's three not-on-DVD yet interesting movies I watched this week, in order from best to worst.
Fistful of Dynamite (Duck You Sucker)
Of all his great, sweeping epic films, this is probably Sergio Leone's least well-known work. It's also his most politically aware, funny and idiosyncratic. The year is 1913: Rod Steiger plays a Mexican bandito (yeah!) with a large family, who heists the railway cars of wealthy aristocrats and dreams of robbing the Mesa Verde Bank. James Coburn plays an Irish terrorist and explosives expert on the run from the British government, hiding out in Mexico and hoping to join the revolution. Together, they join forces and plot against the oppressive Mexican government.
This movie absolutely rocks. It's got tons of exceptionally well-staged action and effects, terrific chemistry between the lead actors, it's funny and it has real heart. This isn't just some grandly designed piece of gimmicry, with Leone showing off the skills he had by this filmmaking point (1968) honed considerably. It's a really genuine human story filled with historical insight and a wry sense of humor.
Paul Schrader was kind of a creepy guy back in the 70's. He pretty consistantly wrote terrific, intsense dramatic thrillers, but a whole lot were about some disaffected guy going on a killing spree. There was Taxi Driver, obviously, which found crazed ex-Vet Travis Bickle plotting to assassinate a politician and save a young prostitute. Then there's Hardcore with George C. Scott hunting down his lost daughter in LA's porn underworld.
But perhaps the most kill-crazy of all the Schrader killing sprees is this nasty piece of work from 1977, the year before I was born. William Devane plays Maj. Raines, a Vet who, as of 1973, has just returned from a several-year stint in a hellish Vietnam POW camp. He's not home for a full 24 hours when his wife announces she wants to leave him. The next day, he's the victim of a home invasion robbery in which thugs kill his wife and only son, and churn up his hand in a garbage disposal.
So, then he and his new hook-hand and his POW cellmate Tommy Lee Jones go on a murderous rampage. I mean, wouldn't you? The movie is mean, short and bracingly violent. It's a movie that seems decidedly angry both about the Vietnam War and about the anti-war movement at home. Plus, it just has a lot of interesting, small observations about the nature of homicide.
When Jones and Devane sneak into a brothel armed to the teeth, one of the whores asks them what they're doing..."We're gonna kill a whole bunch of people," Jones replies in the nonchalant voice you'd use to order a tuna sandwich.
This 1983 Michael Mann-directed schlockfest is so bad, it goes right past good and back to bad again.
Really. At about 45 minutes in, I actually thought the film was The Shit Cinema Classic, the ultimate awful 1980's monster film. It's not really that bad, though, nowhere near the depths plumbed by films like The Apple and Can't Stop the Music. It's certailny notable as a blight on Michael Mann's filmography, a massive genre misstep from an established and (deservedly) beloved director.
See if you can believe the guy who directed Heat and The Insider made the following film:
The year is 1943. Nazis control musch of Eastern Europe. In Romania, an ancient castle is to serve as a barracks/stronghold for a legion of Nazi troops, under the cruel command of Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne!). When Kaempffer's men start dying under mysterious circumstances within the castle, he brings in a Jewish doctor, fresh from a death camp, to solve the crime (Ian McKellan!). Eventually, the doctor discovers that the castle was designed to house a Golem, a monster spoken of in Jewish mysticism who smotes the enemies of the Jews, and he ends up encouraging the Golem to go and kill as many Nazis as possible.
And this is when the movie starts to get weird.
See, the natural enemy of Golems in the movie turns out to be this weird alien-looking guy from Greece (Scott Glenn!) with no name. He travels to Romania, has graphic on-screen sex with McKellan's daughter and then attacks the creature with atrocious early 80's laser effects.
Seriously, the effects in this movie are among the worst I have ever seen. This makes Turkish Star Wars seem like...well, seem like Star Wars. I've seen more realistic images in an amateur Photoshop contest.