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Castle Keep (1969) | Burt Lancaster leads the charge in Sydney Pollack’s underrated anti-war satire

Castle Keep (1969)

Oh my Lordy, Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep is a revelation. First thing is the magical Michel Legrand score; second is the gorgeous winter imagery – shot with Panavision perfection by French New Wave legend Henri Decaë; and thirdly, the sterling cast of Hollywood heavyweights, including Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk, Patrick O’Neal and a very nutty Bruce Dern.

Shot in Novi Sab, Serbia using a Disney-like castle (supposedly made out of Styrofoam) as its centrepiece, this dreamlike anti-war satire takes a brave stab at adapting William Eastlake’s offbeat 1965 novel of the same name, which drew on the author’s experiences at the Battle of Bulge.

Castle Keep (1969)

Burt Lancaster heads the cast as the mercurial one-eyed Major Falcone billeting his remaining soldiers at the Ardennes castle of the Count and Countess of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont and Astrid Heeren).

With the castle’s position in the direct line of the German advance, Falcone prepares the castle for an assault; much to the concern of Captain Beckman (Patrick O’Neal), an art historian who is using the long waiting time to do an inventory of the castle’s art treasures which he wants saved.

Castle Keep (1969)

While Beckman and Falcone debate the castle’s fate, the war-weary ragtag squad consisting of a ‘22-gold carat Indian’, cowboy, cook, baker, and minister occupy their free time at a local whorehouse, which is being picketed by Bruce Dern’s band of hymn-singing conscientious objectors.

Although Castle Keep preceded Robert Altman’s groundbreaking M*A*S*H* by a mere five months, it bears much the same style of black comedy, albeit with a strong dose surrealism added in. And this comes from the fact that the film is being told from the perspective of Private Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr), whose wartime experiences have been turned into a book called – yep, you guessed it! Castle Keep.

Castle Keep (1969)

Among the visual highlights is the Red Queen brothel which, under Altman and Decaë’s visual eye, is turned into a dazzling jewel box hued in Bava-esque colours, and a comical scene in which a Volkswagen racing Beetle seems to have a mind of its own (ala Herbie The Love Bug) and refuses to sink after two soldiers try to shoot holes in it.

Castle Keep (1969)

Altman peppers the film with imagery that really bangs home his nihilistic anti-war message – best represented in a sequence in which Dern’s fundamentalist Lieutenant leads shell-shocked soldiers Pied Piper-liked through a street under attack – and an underlying theme about class: which bubbles through a sub-plot involving the castle’s aristocratic owners wanting to continue their bloodline by getting the young Countess (symbolising old Europe) to mate with the Major (aka the New World).

Castle Keep (1969)

Unlike M*A*S*H* however, Castle Keep was a flop on its release – probably on account of the film’s surreal, arthouse approach, and the dialogue – which comes off a little pretentious at times – penned by Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) and Altman’s frequent collaborator David Rayfiel.

Thankfully, however, Powerhouse Films have dragged Castle Keep out the shadows to present a region-free Dual Format Edition as part of the Indicator series so that cult film fans can reappraise this underrated cinematic gem. Now, if only I can find that score….

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Alternative 4.0 Surround sound track
• The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster (1972, 100 mins): audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London
• The Lullaby of War (2017, 18 mins): a new interview with actor Tony Bill, who played Lieutenant Amberjack, about his experiences making Castle Keep
• Eastlake at USD (1968, 29 mins): an archival, videotaped interview with author William Eastlake
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with Sydney Pollack and Burt Lancaster, and original pressbook material

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Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 | This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

This ‘sequel’ to Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s 1975 cult drive-in actioner Death Race 2000 is a hoot and a half – and finally consigns those dire Jason Statham/Luke Goss efforts to the wrecker’s yard.

Malcolm McDowall dials in another performance as the Trump-esque Chairman of the United Corporations of America who gets his bouffant comb-over in a twist when his four-time racing champion Frankenstein wants to retire from the ‘greatest pissing contest of mankind’ (aka the Death Race), which every citizen (now permanently unemployed) vicariously joins in via VR headsets.

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

Playing the man of many a spare part (and stepping into John Carradine’s black leathers) is Manu Bennett (TV’s Spartacus), who seems to be channelling Mel Gibson’s Mad Max as he sets off with his proxy Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller, Days of Our Lives) – who is secretly working for a resistance group – from Old New York to Los Angeles. But as they mow down ‘willing’ fans along the way to collect vital points, will trying to avoid some high calibre hospitality, hot on their tailgate is the genetically-modified superstar Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who’ll stop at nothing to beat them to the finish line…

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun that pays loving homage to the original (even down to the retro poster design), while also providing some thigh-slapping political satire by lampooning everything that is wrong with America today – from guns and religion to consumerism and social apathy.

Director GJ Echternkamp and co-writer Matt Yamashita inject loads of black humour into the film and its characters, who are great fun to cheer on or boo as they traverse America’s re-named cities and states like Upper Shitville (Baltimore), New Texxaco (Texas) and MeatPakistan (Kansas).

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

Amongst the racers are hip-hop star Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku), whose latest hit song is ‘Drive… drive… drive… kill… drive…’; Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey), a bible-bashing interfaith wack-job who is a ‘magnet for heathens’; and ABE, a KITT-like artificial intelligence who has an existential meltdown when he accidentally impales his sex-mad proxy to the hood of his bonnet.

Turning up the Roid Rage to warp factor 10 is Burt Grinstead as the sexually-ambiguous Perfectus, who reminded me of a closeted version of Gerrit Graham’s glam rocker Beef in 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise, while Yancy Butler (of Lake Placid and Witchblade fame) is the tough as nails Alexis, a former network programmer who now leads the resistance – a bunch of leather clad muscle boys. But for me, it’s Shanna Olsen who steals the show as the Hunger Games-styled news anchor Grace Tickle.

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

Among the many funny lines are ‘It’s hard to turn global famine into click bait’ and ‘I’ll drink your tears Frankenstein and lick them off your handsome face’, but the most chilling must be, ‘The world is fucking crazy, a sane person doesn’t stand a chance’. Considering what America is going through now, it might just be true…

The late-great Ib Melchior gets a credit at the end for it was his short story The Racer that inspired Corman’s original Rollerball rip-off in the first place… now, does anyone remember sales people?

Death Race 2050 is out on Blu-ray and Digital Download from Monday 20 March 2017

DID YOU KNOW? You can watch the original cult action film here – in full!

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Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) | Is this THE cult movie to end all cult movies?

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

This is not a sequel. There has never been anything like it!
Cult film history was made when maverick sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer joined forces with fellow boob lover Roger Ebert for their 1970 Hollywood satire, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. A fusion of rock, horror, exploitation and musical, it was a project made entirely by accident by two outsiders whom 20th Century Fox bravely gave free reign to in a bid to reverse their dwindling box-office receipts. The result was a freakish creation indeed!

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

This time… they’ve really gone
This wild ride follows band mates Kelly (Dolly Read), Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Petronella (Marcia McBroom), and their naïve manager Harris (David Gurian), as they are taken under the wing of a egocentric LA music mogul, Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John LaZar). But temptation leads our Scooby gang astray (well they do ride around in a combi-van) and their individual fates are all linked to the colourful characters they encounter, including heiress Susan (Phyllis Davis), pretty boy gigolo Lance (Michael Blodgett), sapphic fashion designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin), porn star Ashley (Edy Williams), heavyweight champ Randy (James Iglehart), and dedicated law student Emerson (Harrison Page).

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Painted with a gaudy psychedelic palette, this demented parody of Fox’s pill-popping 1967 melodrama Valley of the Dolls cranks up the soap opera elements to camp excess, while Ebert’s tongue-in-cheek moralising script shines a cynical spotlight on the Hollywood dream factory and the hippy movement – which was dealt a final death blow in the wake of the Manson family murders, and which inspired the film’s OTT drug-fuelled climax.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

The first of the shock rock!
Ebert, of course, not only gave the film its satirical edge and comic tone, but also its immensely quotable dialogue. And he should have got a special award for coming up with lines like: ‘You’re a groovy boy, I want to strap you on sometime’ and ‘You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance’? It’s bonkers, brilliant, and the stuff of legend, as is the incredibly catchy hippy folk rock score.

With help from stoner band The Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Sandpipers, Stu Phillips (who gave us the Battlestar Galactica theme and also worked with The Monkees) and soul singer Lynn Carey (whose full throttled voice is the one behind Dolly Read’s lip-synching) produced one of the greatest film musical soundtracks of all time. Its so deserving of a Rocky Horror-styled sing-along screening.

And what do critics know anyhow! When BVD was released it was labelled ‘garbage’, ‘sick’, and ‘a totally degenerate enterprise’. But it’s now the ultimate cult movie and – if you look closely – you can see its progeny today in shows like Desperate Housewives and Scream Queens.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release features a gorgeous transfer and is packed with extras. Most of these were made back in 2006 for the DVD premiere, but they are a welcome addition (especially as Ebert and two of the cast members have since died), as is the DVD extras of The Seven Minutes (see my separate review). This one’s going straight into my Top 10 releases of 2016.

The Special Extras in full:
• Intro from John LaZar in which he screams, ‘BVD is finally here on DVD. You know it’s your happening and it freaks you out’.
Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley: Meyer’s biographer and various journos discuss his wayward career (which rode the thin line between genius and crazy).
Look On Up at the Bottom: The Music of the Dolls: My favourite extra explores how Stu Phillips’ score paved the way for women in rock like The Runaways.
The Best of Beyond: The cast and crew on their favourite lines, breasts and scenes.
Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby! This short doco looks at the 1960s counter-culture’s dark side.
Casey & Roxanne – The Love Scene: Erica Gavin and Cynthia Myers on their controversial lesbian scenes.
Screen Tests: Harrison Page and Marcia McBroom and Michael Blodgett (d 2007) and Cynthia Myers (d 2011) perform the same scene.
• Galleries: Behind the Scenes, Cast Portraits, Film Stills, Marketing Materials.
• Trailers
• Roger Ebert commentary (this is hugely entertaining and quite poignant considering Ebert was in grips of papillary thyroid cancer at the time, and had his lower right jaw removed in June 2006, which cost him his voice. Ebert died in 2013).
• Cast commentary with Erica Gavin, John LaZar, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page and Dolly Read.

Network (1976) | Sidney Lumet’s scathing television satire vents it fury on Blu-ray

Network (1976)

Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park!
In 1976, acclaimed American dramatist Paddy Chayefsky and film director Sidney Lumet, delivered a scathing attack on the medium in which they made their names, in the black satire Network.

Peter Finch won a posthumous Best Actor Oscar (he died while promoting the film in January 1977) as well as a Golden Globe and a Bafta, playing veteran anchorman Howard Beale, who, facing the axe, flips his lid and announces he is going to blow his brains out live on air – which sends his show’s ratings through the roof, giving ruthless suits, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, the perfect opportunity to exploit their ‘mad prophet of the airwaves’.

Network (1976)

Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script may have been an all-out rant against the power of TV media and those pulling the strings, but watching it today – especially in light of the News International phone hacking scandal and the recent Occupy Murdoch demonstration – it seems just as relevant, especially in regards to the lengths that media’s puppet masters will go to protect their shareholders.

Network (1976)

Faye Dunaway also scored an Oscar for her forceful performance as one of the TV chiefs, as did Beatrice Straight for her tour de force turn as William Holden’s neglected wife; while Holden puts in one of his last truly solid performances in his later career.

Although Lumet missed out on an Oscar nomination, he did score a Golden Globe for his incendiary direction; which includes an electrifying scene in which Beale’s evangelised viewers head to their windows during a thunderstorm to scream out loud: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’. So effective is this scene, you’ll find it hard to stop yourself from following in their wake…

Network (1976)

AARON SORKIN ON NETWORK
‘If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week. The commoditisation of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write The Internet.’ (Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom)

THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Network is available on Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, with a raft of new special features.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film, with uncompressed mono PCM audio and optional English subtitles.
The Directors: Sidney Lumet – a 1999 documentary featuring interviews with Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger and Christopher Walken.
Tune in Next Tuesday – a visual essay by Dave Itzkoff, the author of Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies.
• Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve artwork by Chris Walker
• Collector’s booklet, featuring new and archive articles, original stills and artwork.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxajGBZeQZc%5D

Society (1989) | Time to lube up! Brian Yuzna’s re-mastered slimy shock satire is a must-have on Blu-ray

Society (1989)‘You’re a different race from us, a different species, a different class… You have to be born into society’
Beverly Hills teenager Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) has it all: good looks, popularity, a cheerleader (Heidi Kozak) for a girlfriend – and a bad girl (Devin DeVasquez) sniffing around. But he’s seeing a shrink about feeling disconnected from his power-dressing parents and their well-heeled friends. When an audiotape implicates his family in a sick incestuous orgy, Bill decides to investigate for the sake of his sanity. But lurking beneath the surface of his glossy suburban world lurks something far more sinister than he could ever have imagined…

Society (1989)

‘The rich have always sucked off low-class shit like you’
Having won legions of horror fans around the world producing Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls in the mid-1980s, Brian Yuzna made his directorial debut with Society, a wildly original body horror shocker which has gone down in history as having one of the ickiest ‘climaxes’ ever conceived.

The film was made at a time when Reagan was passing the Republican baton to Bush Sr, Thatcher had Yuppie-fied Britian, and Dynasty and Dallas ruled the TV airwaves. Yep, the 1980s was all about money, power and privilege and Yuzna responded with this impressively vicious anti-establishment satire (which is still very relevant today) that plays like a flesh-melting horror version of Ferris Bueller meets Wall Street.

Society (1989)

Not surprisingly, Yuzna’s lubed-up fist up at everything that America stands for didn’t go down well with US cinemagoers – when it eventually got a cinema release. They were also more shocked by Baywatch hunk Billy Warlock getting tongued by Tour of Duty‘s Ben Meyerson than by anything else in the climatic orgy scene in which all manner of aberrant sex and gender blurring went on. Thankfully, European audiences ‘got it’.

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For me, this was the film to seek out when it landed in my local video store in the early 1990s, and it was just to see that outrageously inventive centrepiece. But I was hugely disappointed. Not by the SFX (which rocks) or the story (which is way ahead of its time), but by the terrible VHS print, which was all dark and muddy. So, it’s a big thumbs-up to Arrow whose specially commissioned 2k transfer looks bloody terrific – especially so in that all-important climax. I just can’t believe I’ve had to wait 25 years to see Yuzna’s insane masterpiece as it was meant to be. But it’s been worth the wait.

Society (1989)THE ARROW FILMS RELEASE
• Director approved restored and re-mastered 2K digital transfer, featuring original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) and optional subtitles, available on Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD)
• Audio commentary by Brian Yuzna NEW (very informative)
Governor of Society – NEW interview with Yuzna (The best of the bunch).
The Masters of the Hunt – NEW featurette including interviews with Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell. (Candid and excellent)
The Champion of the Shunt – NEW featurette with FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson (SFX fans rejoice!)
• Celluloid Screams Festival 2014 Q&A with Yuzna
Society world premiere backstage conversation with Yuzna (Wow! Yuzna in top form)
Persecution Mania – Screaming Mad George music video (I wanted more of these!)
• Limited Edition (3000 only) Digipak packaging featuring artwork by Nick Percival, collector’s booklet and the official comic sequel, Society: Party Animal.

Society also screens at the BFI Southbank on Thursday 16 July (8.30pm) and Sunday 19 July (6pm)

The 10th Victim (1965) | It’s the Pop Art and deadly bullet bra that makes this 1960s sci-fi satire so achingly cool

10th-VICTIM-LENTICUALRSHAM500

IT’S THE 21ST-CENTURY AND THEY HAVE A LICENCE TO KILL
In the near future (from a retro 1960s perspective that is), war and violence has been replace with The Big Hunt, a government-backed televised sport in which players take turns to be either Hunters or Victims in a hunt to the death which offers a huge cash reward and lucrative advertising deals.

The 10th Victim

Huntress Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), whose weapon of choice is a double barrel bikini bra gun, scores a major deal with the Ming Tea Company to kill her tenth victim live on camera at Rome’s Temple of Venus. When the Big Hunt computer selects famed hunter Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) as the victim, Caroline poses as a TV reporter wanting to run an exposé on him. Unsure as to whether she is his hunter, Poletti is reluctant to take her down, especially when he starts falling for Caroline. But with a vindictive ex-wife wanting his assets and an impatient mistress (Elsa Martinelli) waiting in the wings, the Italian playboy soon discovers he has more than one reason to watch his back…

The 10th Victim

POP (ART) GOES THE SEX FARCE
For this 1965 Italian comedy sci-fi, director Elio Petri adapts Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story, The Seventh Victim, into a parody of the Euro spy craze (that came in the wake of the Bond films) and Italian rom-coms (of the kind that often featured Marcello Mastrioanni being chased by women), as well as a satire on bourgeois consumerism.

For his achingly cool visual palette, Petri dips his distinctive brush into contemporary popular culture, drawing on haute couture, modern design and Pop Art imagery to create a gorgeously framed Vogue fashion spread brought to vibrant comic book inspired life. Ursula Andress looks absolutely stunning here in André Courrèges‘s Space Age fashions, thanks to Fellini’s favourite cameraman, Gianni Di Venanzo, who also gives Rome a wonderfully futuristic look. And because Italian cinema just wouldn’t be the same without its iconic mood music; Piero Piccioni gives us a catchy score, with Italian songstress Mina providing the high-pitched harmonies.

The 10th Victim

The Tenth Victim harks back to man being hunted for sport pictures like 1932’s classic The Most Dangerous Game, but with a 1960s-futuristic spin. Petri fittingly places much of the action in the shadow of that last monument to gladiatorial conquest, the iconic Coliseum, while taking pot shots at television elimination shows which, frighteningly, is becoming a reality today. But the sci-fi on display here is nothing like the dark dystopian nightmares of similarly themed films like The Running Man, Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. Instead, Petri opts to tell his story as a romantic comedy that’s more about love, marriage and divorce than futuristic fights to the death (there’s not even a drop of blood in sight). Still, this madcap saturated supercolour sci-fi sex farce is so retro cool, you’ll want to screen it over and over…

The 10th Victim

THE UK RELEASE
The Shameless Screen Entertainment dual format release is sourced from HD master restored in the original widescreen film format, with a choice of English or Italian audio with subtitles, and is released for the first time in UK in a Numbered Collector’s Lenticular Edition. The special features include an interview with Kim Newman and Paola Petri (the late director’s wife), trailers and photo gallery.

DID YOU KNOW?
The brassiere that Ursula Andress sports in the film really did shoot, and was the inspiration for the Fembots in 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiJ6oghRqKY%5D

Rabies (2010) |The Israeli black satire that should be on you must-see slasher list

rabies 2010 poster

In directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s 2010 Israeli black satire Rabies (aka Kalevet) – which is more a play on the idea of the disease than the disease itself – short tempers and misunderstandings result in one screwed-up day for four friends heading off for a game of tennis, as the woods they get lost in become a battle zone (a subtle hint at the country’s ‘situation’) when the four friends come to the man’s aid, but end up fighting each other and a couple of sleazy cops. The results are grisly, gory and downright hilarious.

rabies 2010 poster

With its snappy dialogue (in Hebrew, of course), colourful characters and inventive shocks – bear traps, mines, and the great outdoors are all put to blackly comic good use – this is one of those indie film festival finds that so deserves a wider audience. Put this must-see slasher in your diaries now.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qw2hfNKQuo%5D

Sleepwalker (1984) | BFI Flipside resurrects Saxon Logan’s old dark house satire

Saxon Logan's Sleepwalker

THE OLD DARK HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD
As a storm rages, arrogant video producer Richard (Nikolas Grace) and his timid wife Angela (Joanna David) arrive at the country home of Angela’s friend Marianne (Heather Page) and her brother Alex (Bill Douglas) for a weekend stay. But things get off to a bad start at a local restaurant where materialist Thatcherite Richards launches into a vicious verbal assault on intellectual translator Alex. A few bottles of wine later, events take a nightmarish turn back at the house when an unseen killer takes down the guests one by one. …

Saxon Logan's Sleepwalker

THE BASTARD OFFSPRING
With its blackly comic script and knowing horror imagery, Saxon Logan‘s pint-size homage to James Whale’s 1932 classic Old Dark House plays like a giallo-styled Abigail’s Party possessed by the acid tongue of Joe Orton and the social satire of Lindsay Anderson. This bastard offspring is a deliciously dark vision of British mores that justifiably deserves being dusted off from the BFI vaults. It’s a great little find, just begging for rediscovery. It’s just a shame that Logan, a one-time BBC film editor who began his career working on Anderson’s O! Lucky Man (1973), never did anything else after this.

Saxon Logan's Sleepwalker

THE BFI FLIPSIDE RELEASE
Re-mastered from the only surviving print, this long-unseen 49-minute film is presented here in its original aspect ratio 1.85:1, in both HD and SD, along with two shorts by director Saxon Logan – (Stepping Out, 1977, 11min), which supported Polanski’s The Tenant in UK cinemas, and (Working Surface, 1979, 16min) – plus, the rare 1971 mid-length fantasy, The Insomniac, directed by Rodney Giesler. A 2013 video interview with director Logan and a booklet featuring notes on the transfer and an essay on the film also accompany the release.

THE VERDICT
A must see.

Available as a dual format release from BFI Flipside (click here to order)

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