DVDActive Lost and Found: Part 2
It's time for round two of Gabe Powers' round-up of overlooked DVD classics...
I’m back with more overlooked favourites from my collection. If you missed my first ‘Lost and Found’ entry I’ll divert your attention here for a second. This time I’ve shrunk my scope to include only five features rather then ten, hoping that my increased focus will out-weigh the lacking volume.
Neil Jordon has become something like the unofficial biographer of Ireland over the last couple decades, especially for those of us not living in the country. The Crying Game and Michael Collins are two of the quintessential films about the area. The director also found great success outside of the region with films like Interview with the Vampire, but my favourite in his canon is the oft forgotten tale of a clinically psychotic lower class lad in Butcher Boy.
This devious dark comedy wasn’t even available on digital disc until quite recently, and has fallen by the wayside in the wake of less impressive Jordon films like In Dreams and The Brave One. Butcher Boy surely won’t appeal to every pigeon in the peanut gallery. It’s a pitch black look at poverty, childhood trauma, psychosis, and violence without the sap that usually goes along with it. The epic tale spins our hero into deeper and deeper dread, but Francie’s spirit and sarcastic wit will not be broken.
Butcher Boy is unmistakably a Neil Jordon film, dark, brooding, and trembling with surrealistic visual touches, but it’s also unmistakably charming, thanks in no small part to its amazing child lead Eamonn Owens (about fourteen at the time of filming), who all but disappeared off the face of the planet after the film’s less then spectacular theatrical splash. The whip smart narration by Jordon favourite Stephen Rea adds a layer of smooth coating to this sharp little pill.
Fleeing the scene of a botched bank robbery, the Clements brothers stop at an isolated homestead for water and supplies. While trying to steal horses the brothers murder the land owner, then go into the house and rape his wife Hannie (Raquel Welch). The bandits steal Hannie’s horses and burn her house down. Hell bent on revenge Hannie seeks the assistance of a bounty hunter named Thomas Price (Robert Culp). Price is hesitant, but Hannie’s persistence wins him over, and the duo soon sets off in pursuit of the outlaws.
Following the popularity of Spaghetti Westerns and Sam Peckenpah’s ultra violent takes on the genre, B-movies in America had a briefly renewed interest in cowboys and Indians. In emulation of films like The Wild Bunch and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly these films were often super bloody and super stylized, and because the cash-ins never quite get the point of the films they’re emulating, they were often super exploitative and bawdy. Hannie Caulder is a prime example of a country-fried grindhouse Western.
Hannie Caulder is also a film that’s appeal is almost entirely defined by the image of its print ads—Raquel Welch dressed in nothing but a Man with No Name poncho and a loaded gun belt. Welch’s nude hip holstering a loaded revolver, is there anything more beautiful then that? The image sets the film apart other American Westerns of the era, which were mostly focused on the dissection and revision of the genre’s clichés, but director Burt Kennedy’s film isn’t a one note song, it’s a well structured revenge drama with a spike of dry comedy.
The film isn’t as overtly stylized as a Leone film, and the story isn’t one to step outside of the rape/revenge subgenre, but the actors are a cut way above the norm, and the grit will burn your eyes. Welch and Culp are great as the stoic leads, and Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam all surpass expectations as the brutal but pathetically charming Clements brothers, but the entire show is stolen by Christopher Lee around the start of the second act. Bailey is quite possibly Lee’s finest non-villain film roles. The classic thesp shockingly pulls off a Mexican character despite his recognizable Britishness, and is probably the film’s most likable character.
The Quiet Earth
To those looking for a modest and classy Science Fiction thriller about the end of the world I present Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth. This taught and thoughtful New Zealand born flick exhibits all the grace and sorrow that was missing from 2007’s big budget I Am Legend adaptation, painting a dreadfully melancholy picture of a post-apocalyptic world. At exactly 6:12 am humanity is eradicated from the face of the earth, and research scientist Zac Hobson finds himself extraordinarily lonely. After months of wondering the country in a state of shock he finds two other survivors, a beautiful red headed woman and a young and virile Maori (New Zealand native) trucker. Suddenly the end of the world is reduced to a tense love triangle.
Unlike most post-apocalyptic thrillers this end of humanity scenario isn’t the result of a catastrophic virus, bloody war or atomic explosion. There aren’t any bloodthirsty ghouls, flesh craving zombies, or laser powered aliens left to torture poor Zac, there is only his loneliness, and later his jealousy. Social issues and dramatic relationships are explored in a satisfyingly adult fashion without awkward pretensions or too much cheesy, low budget action, and there is an outstandingly original scientific reasoning for this Armageddon.
Actor Bruno Lawrence is a perfectly unlikely Sci-Fi hero, and a much more believable character then Vincent Price or Charlton Heston (who both starred in their own I Am Legend adaptations). Though Will Smith did impress in his ultimately weak film, Lawrence’s portrayal (which won him the New Zealand Academy Award) is simply invigorating. There are only two other actors in the entire film, Alison Routledge and Pete Smith, but these heartfelt and realistic performances, coupled with sharp editing and impressive cinematography make what could’ve been an incredibly boring feature consistently compelling.
The Quiet Earth was left unreleased and unloved on US DVD for a very long time. Though available in the UK and Australia, it wasn’t until 2007 that Anchor Bay finally set up a R1 release. The disc came out to little or no fan fare, contrary to the studio’s usual internet blitzkrieg. The disc was re-released in March of 2008, for a low price, and I highly recommend seeking it out.
Running Down a Dream
Despite counting myself as an unstoppably loyal fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I found suspicion in this Best Buy exclusive documentary I had heard nothing about before its release. A second look at the box revealed two strange and compelling facts—the film was four hours long, and it was directed by Peter Bogdonavich, the Peter Bogdonavich. A vote for top ten of the year at CHUD.com was the last straw, and I’m here to pass the word along.
Tom Petty has been atop of my favourite bands list since I was old enough to appreciate music that wasn’t sung by Muppets. Even during my revolting high school punk rock phase, when I gave away all my ‘sell out’ music, I held fast to the Heartbreakers. I learned to play guitar from a Greatest Hits songbook, first using Petty’s rhythm parts, then learning Mike Campbell’s leads when I got better. The tale of Running Down a Dream wasn’t news to me, I’d already read up on the band’s history, and even seen a lesser documentary on the Disney channel several years ago. Though I’m positive most viewers will be enthralled by the behind the scenes story, I was instead reminded on a very personal level not only why I fell in love with Petty’s music, but why I fell in love with music in general.
Though the film is long, the pacing is quick and the story is wholly captivating. Petty’s career has survived three very shaky decades of pop music, and though Bogdonavich is careful to maintain focus, the group’s history is very much a product of rock history, whether they were going with or against the grain. Though Bogdonavich’s (and in turn my) point of view may be skewed by love of his subject, Petty’s effect on the popular music landscape is huge and his story is important in that respect. The only things missing from this comprehensive study are Petty’s acting endeavours ( The Gary Shandling Show, The Postman, King of the Hill), and his work on the She’s the One soundtrack. The four disc DVD set comes with a full, thirtieth anniversary concert and a soundtrack CD.
Perdita Durango (aka: Dance with the Devil)
In honour of Javier Bardem’s well deserved Best Supporting Actor win at this year’s Oscars I’ve picked one of his more overlooked (perhaps rightfully in some circles) films. Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia’s ( Accion Mutante, 300 Balas, the fantastic El Crimen Ferpecto) semi-sequel to David Lynch’s semi-successful Wild at Heart has been fairly compared to both Lynch’s prequel and Tarantino scripted, Tony Scott directed True Romance, but I think it’s got something more.
Perdita Durango is a two plus hour festival of debauchery, sex, graphic violence, filthy discourse (in two languages), and touchy taboo smashing. Iglesia mocks Mexican Catholicism, paints his thrill killing Santeria practitioners as heroes, laughs at rape (which was a big problem with the censors in Britain), and even makes a plot point out of a human embryo packed semi-truck (they’re being used for skin crème). Perdita Durango doesn’t just pass the lines of decency, it skids ass first across them like a dog with worms. The whole film, including Bardem, then un-famous James Gandolfini, and Repo Man director Alex Cox, goes so far over the top some viewers might want to look away, but a grounded and angst ridden career best performance from Rosie Perez (not to mention a whole lot of her naked bottom) will pull them right back in.
And on the personal end, Perdita Durango was filmed in my home town of Tucson, Arizona. The only US availability, under the title Dance with the Devil, is non-anamorphic and cut for content (both the R and unrated versions). My friends at xploitedcinma.com have a few different versions on tap, including the uncut (though also non-anamorphic) UK release I used for this article.
Hopefully cutting these lists down to five will ensure I update them more often, as I still have a lot to share. Thanks again to my friends at xploitedcinema.com for the uncut copy of Perdita Durango, and remind readers that they also carry multiple versions of Hannie Caulder (which is as yet still unreleased in the United States). I welcome feedback and suggestions for future entries, and I sincerely hope my choices will make a few movie nights a little less boring.
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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