Blu-ray Slight Return: Taco Tuesday

 

There’s always room for Walter Hill. And if you’re a fan of the current box office hit Baby Driver, then you need look no further than Hill’s 1978 film, The Driver, to see where Edgar Wright got his inspiration.

The recent release of Hill’s Trespass, for the first time on Blu-ray, reminds the viewer how adept Hill is at revitalizing genre action. Trespass (1992) takes the enclosed standoff against greater odds of Hawks’ Rio Bravo and mixes it with the treasure-hunting greed of Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, to great effect.

Bill Paxton and William Sadler play two firemen that during the line of duty discover a map to a hidden cache of gold crosses (stolen from a church in the early 1940s). Trying to rescue an old man in a fire, they are shocked when he hands them the map and then kills himself by leaping into the flames. The victim was obviously involved in the robbery, and his guilt has haunted him his entire and now-finished life.

 

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The map leads to an abandoned warehouse in East St. Louis. Sadler is the more dominant greedy character, with Paxton reluctant from the start. When they arrive at their destination and are tearing apart walls for the treasure, they realize that the tenement is also the club house for a violent gang that include Ice-T, Ice Cube and Glenn Plummer and others. A homeless person (Art Evans) also figures into the plot and may in fact be the only noble character on display.

Before long, the firemen are fighting room to room with the gang and Hill torques up the suspense as to who will live and die, much less walk away with the gold.

The Blu-ray from Shout! Factory’s Shout Select division includes five new interviews (writer Bob Gale, Sadler, producer Neil Canton) and featurettes (weapons and stunts).

Previously a 2014 Blu-ray release of Hill’s Southern Comfort (already out of print and a collector’s item) gave a similar treatment to another classic Hill actioner. A group of weekend warriors on a National Guard assignment get over their heads in the swamps of Louisiana Cajun country. Commentary includes new interviews with stars Peter Coyote, Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe, along with a Skype interview with Hill.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has found a new calling with Cinematic Titanic, a six-disc set that finds the original cast and writers on tour with a live version of their shtick.

Films on display include The Wasp Woman (A personal favorite Roger Corman ‘50s flick that has a cosmetics magnate being overpowered by her addiction to her wasp enzyme formula that turns her into a, yes you guessed right, wasp monster.), Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (hello, spoiler in the title), The Oozing Skull, The Doomsday Machine and eight others.

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The latter title pits the US against the Red Chinese in the early ‘70s. When a planned mission to Venus is taken over by the military, and replaces half the crew with women, it becomes apparent that the Earth is doomed and the space mission is one of regeneration. Mala Powers plays one of the femmes decades after she had played Roxane in the definitive 1950 version of Cyrano de Bergerac. Casey Kasem (the voice of America’s Top 40) has a cameo role.

I actually prefer this MST3K live format, as it leaves out many of the unfunny segue ways that plagued the broadcast version.

 

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1944 from Estonia deals with the division of the Baltic country during WWII. In the early part of the war, different parts of the country were taken over by the Russians and Germans who forced their conquered minions into battle with the result that Estonians were fighting and killing other Estonians in an unintentional civil war. The above-average action footage from director Elmo Nüganen, in particular the battle of Tannenberg, gives the viewer a first hand view of the absurdity of war.

 

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Behind the Mask – The Batman: Dead End Story documents the efforts of writer/director Eric Dow to bring his fan vision of the legendary comic book figure to the big screen. At one point, Dow gets Sylvester Stallone attached to play Batman and then on the basis of that gets Mark Hamill to sign on as The Joker.

Stallone eventually pulls out and the financing collapses. Dow perseveres and completes a short version of his vision that includes Batman, Joker, Alien and Predator. Dow blows away audiences at a subsequent San Diego Comic Con, and Behind the Mask brings you up to date of where the project now stands.

 

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Bender purports that the original serial killings in America took place in 1870s Kansas by a weird and possibly inbred family, the Benders, who had a “lone house on the prairie.” Wanderers check in, but they don’t check out.

The action unwinds in a realistic sense with the stilted dialogue and manners of the era. The filmmakers expect us to believe that the story is true, and the movie starts with existing 19th century photographs of the crime scene. The Benders disappeared and were never apprehended, but the crime scene revealed a blood-stained basement and bodies buried in the apple orchard — an orchard that was incidentally rich in fruit.

Both Bender and Behind the Mask are releases from the indie DVD distributor Candy Factory Films.

 

Blu-ray Slight Return: Taco Tuesday This was reposted for my personal reading use

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