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by Michael Barrett

31 Aug 2015


Now on Blu-ray are gorgeous HD transfers of two 1970s Italian genre films from director Umberto Lenzi. He made Gang War in Milan and Spasmo one after the other, but in a logical world he’d have made them in reverse order, for Spasmo  is the last of his string of early ‘70s giallos while Gang War  is the first of ten gangster/cop thrillers he’d make before the end of the decade.

Gang War in Milan  focuses on Salvatore Cangemi (Antonio Sabàto), a handsome, high-living pimp from Sicily who, while supposedly running a wholesale produce business, markets a different kind of flesh entirely. He’s suddenly muscled in on by a dapper Frenchman (Philippe Leroy) who wants to partner with the whores to distribute heroin. The gang war is on, with the prostitutes’ bodies as the battlefield. The police are a virtual non-factor as the story’s parable of unrestrained capitalism winds toward cynical if credible “tragedy” about the replaceability of bosses and the transactional nature of love and sex.

by Michael Barrett

20 Aug 2015


Convoy  is another of those movies that divide the auteurist from the average filmgoing hedonist. To the ordinary viewer, it’s one of many 1970s vehicles (no pun intended) where cars or trucks speed and crash primarily for the delectation of Southern drive-ins, only it doesn’t happen to star Burt Reynolds or come from Roger Corman. In other words, it’s a throwaway, a project tossed together to cash in on C.W. McCall’s 1975 hit song of the same name, now with new PG-rated lyrics.

Yes, but: to the fans of Sam Peckinpah, this is the spectacle of a great director slumming. Since he couldn’t help making personal cinema, it kicks up plenty of his dust, not least in his distinctive style of editing action by intercutting regular and slow-motion bits from different angles. This recognizable and effective trait analyzes the violence in a self-conscious “alienating” way while making it more vivid and disorienting in the cinematic approximation of an adrenaline rush.

by Michael Barrett

18 Aug 2015


Cinematically, each era produces bits of musical nonsense that could only have come from that time. Just as Breakin’ 2: Electric Bugaloo  could have only been made in 1984, Oh, Sailor Behave! can only hail from 1930, a moment in the talkie transition marked by creaky stage properties of forgettable songs, unfunny schtick, and impudently, gloriously inane plots. The taste for lavish musicals died as quickly as it flowered in that year, and the result is a movie that, while intended for Technicolor, was released in black and white. It’s now available on demand from Warner Archive, looking and sounding none too spiffy for its obscurity in the vaults.

by Michael Barrett

17 Aug 2015


Although the leering poster for this movie promises something naughty while the trailer calls it “hilarious” and “riotous”, this is a comedy of misunderstanding and discomfort that’s almost not a comedy, except in the broadest sense that nobody dies. This slice of midcentury unease is now available on demand from Warner Archive.

Jim Fry (Jose Ferrer) is a complacent manager in a company of obtuse import where he’s worked for 15 years. He and his wife of nine years, Ginny (Gena Rowlands in her film debut), have arranged their lives into such a clockwork routine that no dialogue is necessary for the lengthy opening sequence of waking up (from twin beds), showering and eating breakfast. If you’re an arty film buff who’s seen Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, where the characters make and eat breakfast in real time, it’s strangely reminiscent and almost avant-garde.

by Michael Barrett

13 Aug 2015


Beefcake star Cornel Wilde took control of his career in the mid-‘50s by becoming one of the actors who founded his own company to produce vehicles for himself, usually co-starring his wife Jean Wallace. His first such effort for Theodora Productions was the terrific noir film The Big Combo, and that same year he undertook his feature debut as a director, Storm Fear. He’d consistently be drawn to rugged, violent themes in which his directing style was vigorous and confident. And knowing his strengths as an actor, he was prominent with his shirt off.

Among its other remarkable qualities, Storm Fear  was the first feature from a hot young writer of TV plays, Horton Foote, who was several years away from an Oscar for To Kill a Mockingbird  and many more years from another for Tender Mercies. Even though Wilde’s film is a mere melodrama of criminals holing up in a family’s remote cabin, the characters are packed with enough backstory and complicated relationships to choke Tennessee Williams. Poor choice of words—let’s say enough to make Tennessee Williams blanche. Oh, let’s make it Eugene O’Neill. In any case, Foote was working from a novel by Clinton Seeley.

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