Thursday, May 26, 2011

An American Demon - a memoir by Jack Grisham (2011, ECW Press)

What's better than when one of your favorite musicians/singers/artists for half of your life writes a memoir?  Not much.  Jack Grisham, the singer for legendary punk band T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty), The Joykiller, Tender Fury and Cathedral of Tears has had quite an interesting past.  I've read more than my fair share about stories, legends, rumors and surely many lies about him and was glad to finally hear the truth from the man himself.  I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Grisham back on August 4th 2001 when T.S.O.L. reunited after a long hiatus and came to play at the Met Cafe in Providence, RI.  He was gracious, appreciative and kind - everything you wouldn't expect from a punk legend.  I first heard of T.S.O.L. when I found an old Thrasher compilation (Blazing Wheels and Barking Trucks - Thrasher's Skaterock Vol. II) which had two songs by the band on it.  It wasn't until many years later, when I finally found a copy of the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack (one of the greatest soundtracks of all time), which had another T.S.O.L. track on it.  Oddly enough, these songs were all recorded after Grisham had left the band but when I did start buying their records, the stuff with Grisham instantly became my favorite.
Though An American Demon is a memoir, to call it non-fiction wouldn't be completely accurate.  Grisham has defended that the terrible, unbelievable and shocking stories in this book are true, it's just the way they are told that is fictional.  Grisham presents himself as a demon, a true creature from hell that has an untamable rage and hated for people.  Motivated only by self serving actions (stealing, fighting, fucking), this demon uses his powers get what he wants, when he wants and where he wants.  He even decides to become a singer as a way to attract a group of followers to carry out his mission of destruction. 
The way Grisham tells his story is inventive, compelling and a demented sort of way.  Using the guise of one of Satan's servants, he does an incredible job of bringing us into his world of sadism.  The best part about the book is that Grisham doesn't use this method to defend his actions, but rather to just tell a story.  There are parts that are embarrassing and despicable, but the author should be praised for his honesty.  Instead of most autobiographies, where the author tells about his troubles and tries to make excuses ("it was the drugs, man!"), Grisham makes no apologies.  Though I would have liked to have read more about Grisham's musical projects (which was apparently in the first draft of the book that he threw out), An American Dream is a book that you won't be able to put down once you start.
RATING:  10/10 - signed copies of the book are available here

Poor Pretty Eddie (1975, Richard Robinson)

 Released on April 26 by Cultra/HD Cinema Classics, Poor Pretty Eddie is a long lost, backwoods horror film.  I honestly hadn't heard of this film before recently but since I love "oh crap my car broke down in the middle of nowhere and the only people around are bat shit crazy" movies, I had to see it.  The fact it was being released in a DVD/Blu Ray combo pack and featured a bunch of bonus features also helped my decision to check this one out.

Singer and Actress Leslie Uggams (The Love Boat) plays Liz Weatherly, a famous singer who goes on a road trip to have some time alone.  Unfortunately her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and she seeks refuge at an isolated, run down set of cabins.  The owner is a washed up, ex-celebrity named Bertha (Shelley Winters) and she is accompanied by her wannabe country singin' boy toy Eddie (Michael Christian) and her servant Keno (Ted "Lurch from the Addams Family" Cassidy).  Bertha wants Liz gone asap because she is afraid Eddie will go for the younger woman.  Well folks, that is an understatement as Eddie assaults Liz and after one of the oddest court cases I've witnessed on film, he seeks to make Liz his bride.  Oh, did I mention Eddie has a thing for Rhinestone-Studded Elvis suits?

Poor Pretty Eddie is a shining example of how fun, sick and weird 70s exploitation cinema could get.  Filled with slow motion action scenes (even the actor's voices are in slow motion), some great performances by a great cast (look for Slim Pickens as the no good Sheriff) and a script that seems to go where you least expect it to - Poor Pretty Eddie is a wild rollercoaster ride.  My only real gripe with the film is that it gets a little too weird at times and loses focus (Eddie's "musical performances" for example).  Overall though, it should please any fan of backwoods horror, grindhouse, exploitation and 70's cult.  HD Cinema Classics breathes new life into this old B movie with a fantastic release.  The picture quality (especially for such a low budget film) is stunning and it includes a nice set of special features (commentary by film historian Joe Rubins and the film's cinematographer David Worth, an essay on the film, a trailer and a demonstration showing the restoration of the film for this DVD/Blu Ray release).

RATING:  7/10

Monday, May 16, 2011

Embodiment of Evil (2008, Jose Mojica Marins)

COFFIN JOE IS BACK!  Those are the only words I needed to hear to get excited for this release, the final piece of the Coffin Joe trilogy started in 1964 with the classic At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and 1967's This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (which I regrettably still have not seen).  Embodiment of Evil was originally released in 2008 and was finally released in the US by Synapse Films on March 29th.  But can it hold up the originals?  Most fans would fear after such a long hiatus that this would be nearly impossible.  We'll see.
Embodiment of Evil takes place 40 years after the supposed death of Coffin Joe (aka Zé do Caixão aka Josefel Zanatas - read the last name backwards).  We soon find out that Joe has actually been in a heavily guarded prison for the last 40 years and is to be released.  Though many people are against this, Coffin Joe is let go and instantly begins his evil ways.  Accompanied by his servant Bruno (Rui Rezende) and a group of devoted followers, Joe continues his lifelong goal of finding a woman to bear a son for him.  Soon the police, as well as relatives of some of Coffin Joe's previous victims are out for revenge and to put a stop to the inevitable bloodshed once and for all.
Jose Mojica Marins (who also directed and co-wrote the film) makes a welcome return as Coffin Joe in this long awaited sequel.  Marins doesn't miss a beat in portraying the "Embodiment of Evil" in this grisly tale of psychedelic horror.  All the nastiness from his previous performances is still there (even more so actually), as are those long fingernails!  *shiver*  Those things creep me out!  Vividly filmed in color (with some black and white mixed in the form of flashbacks and hallucinations), Embodiment of Evil's picture pops off the screen.  Also on display are some really sickening scenes of gore (entrails, eye gougings, impalements and much more!) that bring Coffin Joe into the 21st century.  Armed with a delightfully macabre script and a strong cast of victims, this film proves to be exactly what Coffin Joe fans have been waiting for.  Even those who haven't seen the previous CJ films will be able to follow along with his back story explained in detail.  Synapse's new DVD/Blu Ray combo release is impeccable featuring a crystal clear picture, 5.1 surround sound and a nice helping of bonus features including a making of featurette, footage of Marins at the Fantasia film festival and a trailer).
RATING:  8/10

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bob Dylan Revealed (2011, MVD)

Here we have another Bob Dylan documentary released by MVD - Bob Dylan Revealed (check out my review for MVD's Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Narrative 1990-2006 HERE).  MVD has released several Bob Dylan documentary DVDs and usually they focus on a specific time in Dylan's career.  This one however is an overview of Dylan's career from its inception to his Never Ending Tour.  Still, if someone is deserving of having every aspect of his career picked apart, it is Dylan.

Bob Dylan Revealed is an intimate portrait of one of the most important musicians of the last century.  This disc is comprised mostly of personal stories by those who have played with, traveled with, photographed or produced Dylan over the years.  The films starts with the early days of Dylan's career including how he was almost dropped by Columbia Records after his first album but was kept based on his songwriting skills.  Next is one of Dylan's most important periods - when he decided to go electric.  Then we are treated with stories about Dylan's infamous "motorcylce accident", the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, Dylan's beloved Desire album and the background of the song The Hurricane, becoming a Born Again Christian and more.  Featured are producers Jerry Wexler, musicians Scarlet Rivera, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Winston Watson, Pastor Bill Dwyer and many more.

Bob Dylan Revealed is a unique documentary, one that relies mostly on input from those people around to tell stories of their times with Dylan.  Obviously with this type of character study, many of the anecdotes could be construed as subjective but the stories are entertaining enough to keep viewers enthralled.  Other than the many interviews included, this DVD is chock full of rare performances and footage of Dylan from each period discussed.  As previously stated, this film spotlights several different parts of Dylan's career but some parts may be a little too specific for casual fans.  If you are a Dylan fan or love music documentaries like myself, then you can't lose with this one.  I personally thought it was a great watch and each personality was very entertaining and their stories important to the Dylan myth.

RATING:  8/10


Brian Eno - 1971-1977: The Man Who Fell To Earth (2011, MVD)

Coming May 17th from MVD, the first ever documentary on one of the most important musicians/artists of the past 40 years - Brian Eno.  Best known as an early member of Roxy Music and as a producer for Coldplay and U2, Eno's influence over music as we now know it is incalculable.  I first found out about Eno through his collaborations with David Bowie and from there delved into his solo albums.  I was very excited to finally be able to learn more about this enigmatic genius courtesy of this DVD.  I have been a fan of his music for more than half of my life and used to fall asleep to it every night (and still do on occassion).
The Man Who Fell To Earth is an appropriate title for a Brian Eno documentary, mainly because he is such a unique artist who seems almost otherworldly.  Starting out as musician with no formal training and unable to read sheet music, Eno manipulated instruments and recorders to make new sounds never heard before.  After tensions arose between Roxy Music front man Bryan Ferry, Eno left to start his own solo career.  After a pair of well received rock albums (Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy), Eno released his masterpiece, Another Green World, which single handedly introduced Ambient music to the world.  Eno continued by producing emerging avant garde groups and releasing a series of albums under his own vanity label Obscure Records (distributed by Island Records), further spreading this new sound to the public.  Finally, David Bowie hired Eno to help him move towards the music Eno had already been creating on three of Bowie's best loved records (Low, "Heroes", and Lodger).
MVD should be applauded for releasing this well deserved documentary on the most important years of Brian Eno's career.  At a whopping 154 minutes, this DVD collects lots and lots of rare performances, interviews and footage filmed in the studio showing Eno doing what he does best.  Also included are interviews from several of his collaborators, friends and music journalists.  No stone is left unturned here in this compelling look at how Eno came to be a purveyor of electronic music and an innovator in the recording studio, proving that you didn't have to be accomplished to make important and beautiful music.
Pre-order Brian Eno - 1971-1977: The Man Who Fell To Earth HERE

RATING:  10/10

The Night Shift (2010, Thomas Smith)

Based on their well received short film from 2009, The Night Shift marks the first feature film from independent film making group Fighting Owl Films.  A new entry in the Zom-Com genre (or I guess Rom-Zom-Com), The Night Shift was directed by newcomer Thomas Smith and features a talented cast of actors, many of whom also did work behind the camera as well.  The film has been getting some good reviews and has started screening at festivals (go HERE for upcoming showings).  I was lucky enough to receive a screener for the film, allowing me to avoid the contact of other humans.  Yay!

The Night Shift follows the cleverly named, undead cemetery guard Rue Morgan (Khristian Fulmer) whose job is to not only keep people out of the graveyard at night, but keep the residents in!  He has a major crush on Claire Rennfield (producer Erin Lilley), who is his boss during the day and is unfortunately still alive.  Rue's friend, a limbless skeleton named Herb (voiced by Soren Odom), helps to keep him entertained when things are slow.  Too bad the pesky zombie Roderick (Jonathan Pruitt) is planning some supernatural hi jinx in order to win over Rue's job and take advantage of a portal to another world that happens to be in the cemetery.  Did you catch all that?

The Night Shift was a funny, action packed little film with a lot of potential to be a cult classic.  The story was unique and the acting was all very professional.  I'd have to say my favorite part of the film was definitely Herb.  There is just something about talking skeletons that makes me laugh until it hurts.  My only minor gripe about the film was that at 2 hours long it could have been a little shorter.  Don't get me wrong, the story definitely had enough substance to fill out the running time and there weren't really any slow points but I just have trouble sitting still for 2 hours.  Overall, I really enjoyed the film and hope that it finds an audience that feels the same way I do.  With all the crappy DTV horror garbage being put out today, it's nice to see something as original and entertaining as The Night Shift.

RATING:  8/10

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ron Howard Action Pack (Eat My Dust! / Grand Theft Auto) (2011, Shout! Factory)

Coming May 24th from Shout! Factory's Roger Corman Cult Classics line is a 2 DVD collection featuring Eat My Dust! (1976) and Grand Theft Auto (1977), two of Corman's best loved films.  Best known for their star Ron Howard, Grand Theft Auto also marked Howard's directorial debut for which he would eventually be acclaimed for.  At the time these films were made, Ron Howard was a hot commodity thanks to his appearance on the popular TV series The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, so it was only natural for Corman to scoop him up to star in Eat My Dust!, which went on to be a big money maker.  This set features both films and a ton of bonus features, some of which are brand new!

Eat My Dust! stars Ron Howard as trouble making teen Hoover Niebold who works odd jobs at the local racetrack.  Hoover is in love with Darlene, a beautiful blonde who he would do anything for, which he proves by stealing a race car and taking her and some friends for a joyride.  Hoover's father, the sheriff, tries to protect his son while also trying to catch him by enlisting a group of racers, including the stolen car's owner Big Bubba Jones (The Partridge Family's Dave "Reuben Kinkaid" Madden).  Hoover proves to be an ace behind the wheel, destroying anything in his path (including an entire farm!), but will it be enough to win Darlene's heart?

Grand Theft Auto stars Howard as Sam Freeman and Nancy Morgan as Paula Powers, a pair of lovebirds from different backgrounds.  Nancy is from a wealthy family and is supposed to marry rich snob Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke).  Sam and Paula decide to steal her father's Rolls Royce and elope to Las Vegas.  Of course Paula's parents are outraged and put up a reward over the radio to whoever can catch her.  This causes a mass hysteria for anyone with a set of wheels, which only gets worse when her intended husband puts up his own reward.  Can this young Romeo and Juliet make it to Vegas or will they be caught by one of the bounty hunters?

Shout! Factory have outdone themselves again with this exhaustive set of two 70s Drive In Classics deserving of a special release.  Collecting numerous special features from previous releases (interviews, trailers, making of featurettes, commentary with Ron Howard and Roger Corman and a separate commentary with Rance Howard, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush and Ben Haller) as well as a brand new interview with Ron Howard and new Anamorphic Widescreen Transfers, this 2 DVD set is a must.  Of the two films, I prefer Eat My Dust! for its non-stop action and more innocent feel, but they are both a lot of fun.  Car chases (and crashes) and zany characters make these films perfect for any fan of drive in flicks, cult movies, car chases, action or comedy pictures.

Pre-order this set from Shout! Factory HERE 


Eat My Dust! - 8/10

Grand Theft Auto - 7/10

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I Vinti (The Vanquished) (1953, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Have you ever loved a director before seeing any of his/her films?  I have.  Michelangelo Antonioni.  This probably makes no sense to most of you and you are wondering if I've been sniffing roach spray again.  This crazy notion of mine began with Antonioni's Red Desert.  When that film was released last year by Criterion, I read a little bit about it and was intrigued.  I still haven't seen the film but I started reading more about it and checked a few of his other films out of the library (L'Avventura, La Notte, L'eclisse, Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point, The Passenger).  Once again though, for some reason I just never got around to watching them.  Now, with I Vinti just released by Raro Video, I finally made it a point to check out this great director.  It was a wise choice.

I Vinti (The Vanquished) begins with a prologue describing how the well off youth of today (by today I mean the 50s when this film was made) were turning to delinquency, partially to rebel against their well-to-do families and partially out of their inability to distinguish between media (films, books, news) and reality.  This perfectly sets up the three parts that comprise the film.  The first, set in France, centers around a group of friends going on a hike in the country.  Though seemingly innocent, it turns out that the group is plotting against one of the teens.  The second story, which takes place in Italy, is about a family whose college age son has gone missing.  After calling the police to investigate, it turns out that the missing boy is not the innocent lad they thought him to be.  The last story, based in England, follows a fame-hungry man who acts as if he won the lottery because he stumbled upon a dead body and gets his story in the local newspaper.

I Vinti is pretty close to being a masterpiece of "misunderstood youth" films.  The stories all have important messages and they all keep the viewer guessing throughout.  I'm not a big fan of Hollywood remakes but the whole time I was watching this, I kept picturing an updated version with today's biggest actors (especially Simon Pegg in the role of the "lucky" corpse finder).  Though like all classic movies, this film really doesn't need to be improved upon.  The way the youth are portrayed in this film, basically spoiled young brats who turn to crime out of boredom and rebellion, is not your typical "teen drama".  Raro's new DVD is another excellent release, complete with a slew of bonus features (interviews, short films, extensive booklet) as well as a beautiful looking uncut print of the film (as presented at the 1953 Venice Film Festival).  Needless to say, not only will I continue looking forward to Raro's future releases, I will finally start checking out some of Antonioni's other works.

RATING:  9/10