Netflix Streaming Theatre Vol. VIII

As for all the recent Netflix controversy, I can only say that 8 bucks a month to viddy dozens of films unavailable in any format is a steal. However, I’m not thrilled about Criterion leaving their berth. Thus a new batch of films flowing in an endless stream down my queue…

MACHINE GUN MCCAIN (1969) – I’ve had McCain on the Brain (not to be confused with that other con man), hypnotized by Ennio Morricone’s hyp hyp soundtrack, and awestruck by Netflix’s streaming HD print of this Italian gangster cheap epic. Fresh off his 1968 Best Supporting Oscar stint for THE DIRTY DOZEN and ROSEMARY’S BABY and his own FACES, Cassavettes was at the height of his game and power, and he apparently took on this lead for the bread as did Peter Falk, but they would forge a friendship leading to HUSBANDS (1970) and this film’s co-producer helped Cassavettes secure financing. So there. The script is sadly bare bones in insight and character, which is too bad since McCain has moments of being a fascinating creation. Cassavettes is unpredictable and has some great lines, especially his paen to Las Vegas: “It’s an attraction for sad, fat businessmen begging for more money…for hustlers, for thieves, for pimps. I love it!” Gene Rowlands is in there as his tough ex and you wish there was more script for them to chew. MACHINE GUN MCCAIN is set and shot in San Francisco, Vegas and Los Angeles, with actual local flavor, not to mention a great snapshot of the day (and stripper Carol Doda!). Suave Gabriel Ferzetti (right after OHMSS) shows up as the archetypal Don to dispense wisdom and death. Along with Morricone’s supremely catchy music, the modernist set design and Bava’esque lighting will hold your interest through the existential gangster shenanigans.

FIRE AND ICE (1983) – I haven’t revisited Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta’s celebrated animated collaboration since the day, so I was glad to recap my initial impressions. I’m one of the folks who rarely changes his mind about a film once I’ve seen it — I usually know if it works for me or not. And decades haven’t changed my take on this flawed, admirable effort. Frazetta is a perfect fit for the animation medium and thankfully, Bakshi left behind his semi-cartoony mix of the adult and childish to play it straight.  The story is a simple tale of good versus evil, of axes to skulls, of beasts versus breasts in a fantastic world of myth and magic.  The roto-scoping works well in the nifty battle scenes, but the characters are rather flatly drawn, lacking the shadowed depth they require. And sometimes the scenes look like the weirder episodes of Bakshi’s stint on the 1960’s SPIDERMAN cartoon (you knew it was a Bakshi episode if the backgrounds were psychedelic and the music was ominous). The best thing about FIRE AND ICE remains “Darkwolf,” a classic Frazetta warrior come to waking life, a heroic Death Dealer (if you know that famous print) looking cooler than ice in his lupus eye mask…

SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (1973) – Film Geek Admission: I still haven’t seen the original BLACKULA, apropos American International Pictures’ 100th film with one of their all time great exploitation hits and titles to ride the crest of the blaxploitation wave. Strange that Netflix streaming pulled the first but left its sequel in the queue. Rescued from limbo by voodoo, William Marshall again assays the role of Mamuwalde, his magesterial voice and presence a welcome entry in the 1970’s vampire era. Blacula searches for his true love, in this case played even more apropos by Pam Grier, who I didn’t even know was in this until the credits. What a perfect fit for the African Prince of Darkness! Directed by Bob Kelijan, who helmed the COUNT YORGA bloodsucker hits, there’s a lot of low budget drive-in fun to be had with this one (rated PG); betwixt the scary vampire attacks there’s some fun setpieces with Blacula taking on modern urban society. Marshall is a great undead hero who deserved better scripts and production values, but this is a nifty film from a more unique genre past.

THE HINDENBURG (1975) – This big budget Robert Wise addition to the 70’s disaster era is a rather forgotten, critically reviled film in his admittedly wonky output during the decade. I saw it as a tyke in the theater, being a bit of a morbid Hindenburg buff; revisiting it decades later, it holds up as a rather implausible attempt to explain what really happened on that deadly dirigible in 1936. Who knew that frustrated German officer George C. Scott uncovered a plot by radical William Atherton to blow up the jewel of the zeppelins? Along for the yearbook box all star ride are Anne Bancroft, Gig Young, Burgess Meredith, Charles Durning and Robert Clary (HOGAN’S HEROES). Sadly, the character interplay is on the tail end of an era where anybody could be forgiven for not caring. The Oscar winning visual effects by Albert Whitlock are quite majestic as shot under Wise’s epic eye with a lilting, lovely score by David Shire. I won’t spoil the climax but it involves a lot of black and white footage. I still recall the theater bursting into applause when the dog was announced as one of the survivors. Oh, the humanity.

WAXWORK (1988) – This fun, unique, clever horror film spawned a couple sequels and I haven’t seen it until now in a pique of 80’s nostalgia. I’m glad I did for it’s an affectionate genre comedy written and directed by Anthony Hickox, who throws in time portals, nifty spfx make-up, scary little people, black and white zombies, kinky bondage, David Warner and Patrick Macnee, along with some totally 80’s esthetics. I mean, this film is a veritable Monster Mash-Up infused with the proper geek spirit; it has a comic book style, and I was charmed by Hickox’s dedication to Hammer, Landis, Dante, Romero, Argento, Spielberg, Wells, and Carpenter in the end credits. A perfect Friday night pizza film.

AT LONG LAST LOVE (1975) – Now this is what Netflix streaming is all about: a beautiful print of Peter Bogdanovich’s infamous critical/box office disaster still unavailable on DVD. A clear attempt to solidify his realm as the Hollywood auterist wunderkind by duplicating the madcap musicals of the 1930’s, replete with Cole Porter tunes and live, non-synched, singing by stars not known for their vocal chops, a conceit that accounts for the film’s odd nature. Starring Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn and Duililo De Prete (who he?), the shapeless plot involves ensuing wackiness among the wealthy and ne’er do well, merely an excuse to string together dozens of Porter songs with dance. It’s hardly the horror the Medved brothers described in their Golden Turkey awards, and Reynolds is swell in his Clark Gable-esque role, but there’s zero emotional connection to these characters, so fossilized is the plot in 30’s conventions. The lack of any irony is rather charming as is Bogdanovich’s stab at introducing a new generation to the pleasures of the screwball musical at a period when 30’s pop deco was chic — yet it was THE STING (1973) that better captured the espirit of old-school Hollywood. Lazlo Kovac’s camera is super, the sets are swanky and the choreography is sodden, while the music numbers aren’t so bad it’s good, only odd and unmoving. Probably the film’s most successful element is John Hillerman playing the archetypal butler with all the witty aplomb that he would build his later TV career on. The Netflix version is a hefty 2 hours but there’s apparently an alternate ending on another version. Here’s Mr. Peel’s more in-depth look along with a fascinating discussion about the film’s pro and cons. AT LONG LAST LOVE may not be de-lightful but it is de riguer cinephillic viewing.

THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) – For some reason, the dominant memory of my first and only visit to Universal Studios way back in 1980 was the enormous billboards for upcoming releases for THE NUDE BOMB, FLASH GORDON and THE BLUES BROTHERS. I was already a big fan of John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd’s SNL rhythm and blues alter-egos, especially when I saw how seriously they took the music. While some critics wrote them off as White Boys Trying Too Hard, their film and LP success opened some previously shuttered doors to the real blues men and women who inspired Jake and Elwood. In a detailed American Film magazine (RIP) from 1982, director John Landis said he and co-writer Ackroyd conceived of THE BLUES BROTHERS as a Road-Show musical epic replete with intermission which the studio nixed and a lot of footage vanished in an emulsion black hole. And the film feels like an epic with its long quiet 70’s intro leading to the great iconic head-on shots of Jake and Elwood Blues — Landis’s signature image. The simple story as we know is the destructive brothers finding redemption through saving their Chicago orphanage. I love the absurdist humor throughout mixed with some of the best car chases committed to celluloid with the stars actually driving the cars at 100 mph through the streets of the Windy City. Then of course, there’s the music. Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, James Brown and Aretha Franklin tearing up the screen in fun musical numbers, well-staged by Landis along with the Blues Brothers own terrific songs, including the classic “Rawhide” scene. While the script never explores Jake and Elwood given the movie’s scope, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd are at their peak. I never fail to laugh non-stop when Henry Gibson and his neo-Nazi partner plummet endlessly to their Wagnerian doom.

TAM LIN (1970) – AKA THE DEVIL’S WIDOW, a truly obscure supernatural pop thriller directed by Roddy McDowall (the reason he wasn’t in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) starring Ava Gardner and Ian McShane at the same time he was in PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU, along with a host of worthy English character actors. TAM LIN is a more apropos title given its gallic theme and misty ambiance, the unusual oblique tale of a young man possessed — or not — by a vengeful older woman..or is she a witch? McDowall was already known as a respected photographer so it’s no surprise he tried his hand at directing (this production scared him from trying again) and he displays a keen compositional eye with a penchant for bitchy wicked wordplay, albeit in a mod millieu. The strange film, a psychedelic product of its time, sat on the shelf until good ol’ AIP recut and sent it into drive-in oblivion as THE DEVIL’S WIDOW and in 1998, Martin Scorcese uncovered the original elements for a brief VHS release. And this is the good-looking version available on Instant Watch, which you should now.

MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (2010) – Directed by Mark Hartley, who did the fantastic Ozploitation documentary, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2008), trains his outre eye on the Filipino film industry that thrived in the late 60’s and 70’s. Slick, thorough and well-clipped, Hartley includes interviews with legends like Joe Dante, Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Dick Miller, Colleen Camp, Roger Corman, John Landis (who says, “I love Roger but he is so full of shit!”) and even Eddie Romero, who directed such gems as BEAST OF BLOOD and THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE. I appreciate that the documentary points out the irony of exploitation revolution films versus the oppressive Marcos regime that gladly assisted the producers. Presented in glorious HD. Grime-O-Vision!


9 Responses to “Netflix Streaming Theatre Vol. VIII”

  1. prig numero uno Says:

    “The Sting” was released in 1973.

  2. bah humbug, i wish i had netflix streaming theatre

  3. You can now ‘instant’ THE MANCHU EAGLE MURDER MYSTERY CAPER from Netflix!!

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