Posts Tagged ‘Cult Classics’

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Sorcerer (1977)

D.  William Friedkin

Starring:  Roy Scheider

It was the Summer of 1977 and a movie came out that changed my life and the life of so may others.  That movie was Star Wars.  Lucas’ prequels have somewhat tarnished the legacy of the original trilogy but I will always love those movies for what they meant to me as a young child, getting to see all of them with my Dad who loved cinema as much as I do.  God only knows what JJ Abrams has up his bloody sleeve for the recently announced sequel trilogy but I do I’ll be there to see them.

But I’m not here to talk about that venerable franchise.  I’m here to bring to light a movie that came out about a month later, a movie that drowned under the massive tidal wave created by audiences flocking to the theater to see the beloved space opera time and time again.  This film was ignored by audiences, dismissed by critics, and quickly faded into obscurity.

The film was a remake of the French classic Wages of Fear, itself based on a novel.  Directed by William Friedkin, the thriller was set in the jungles of  South America.  It told the tale of 4 desperate men, exiles of a sort, hiding out and waiting for a chance to elevate their positions, to reclaim some aspect of their former lives.  The men volunteer to transport old dynamite, precious but highly volatile cargo, over two hundred miles through treacherous terrain.  The dynamite is necessary to extinguish an oil field fire but it can only arrive by truck and is highly unstable. It’s a high-risk proposition with a hefty reward.  It’s a near suicide mission.  It’s their last hope.

The film starred Roy Scheider who had previously worked with the director on The French Connection.  He was fresh off the success of Jaws but he was miles away in character from his heroic Chief Brody.  All of the players were on point.  Each man is on the journey for a reason.  Each desperate for reward.  Each knows they may not survive.  Each of them do not care because they have nothing else, no other choice.  They’d rather die by fire than waste away in exile.

The film was brilliantly filmed.  Friedkin made excellent use of his shooting locales.  He conveyed the squalor of the village in which the men have taken refuge.  He showed the danger in the jungle through which the men travel.  There is a set piece on a bridge, a perilous trek as a truck creeps across old wooden planks.  There is more tension in these ten minutes, I think, than in any other movie I’ve ever seen.

The film featured the first soundtrack by German electronic band Tangerine Dream.  It launched their careers and they went on to create some of the most memorable film music of all time.  The score fits the film perfectly.  One would not work without the other.

The film was spectacular.   But nobody knew it.  It was gone as quickly and as quietly as it arrived.  The dismal box office caused the studio and the director to part ways.  But Friedkin always believed in the film.  He never stopped believing.

The film popped up on cable from time to time and was finally released to the home video market in 1990 on VHS and Laserdisc.  Eight years later, it would appear on DVD.  It was a truly terrible product, copied over poorly from the laserdisc in the wrong aspect ration.  There were not many options by which to see the film.

Friedkin eventually sued the studios over the rights to the films as they were making no positive steps to release it on the new popular Blu-ray format.  The case was eventually dropped and Friedkin was given control over a fully restored theatrical and Blu-ray release.  And finally, 37 years later, it has arrived in the best possible format.  It is available to you.  It is waiting.

If you’ve already seen the film, I’m preaching to the choir.  If you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing.

But you should probably find out.

 

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Every once in a while, I’ll open up the vault to pull out a forgotten treasure or an underappreciated gem

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Director: Matthew Robbins

Starring: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell

If you, like me, are from Corpus Christi, Texas then you know exactly why this movie is such a treasure.

If, in the more likely case, you’ve never heard of this fine 80’s gem, pull up a chair, throw on a jean jacket and allow me to expound on the many virtues on display in this criminally forgotten classic.

Helen Slater stars as the titular Billie Jean Davy, a lovely teenager growing up in a trailer park in Corpus Christi, the sparkling city by the sea and frequent target of hurricanes. She lives there with her brother, Binx, who is played by Christian Slater (no relation to Ms. Slater.) They spend their summer days riding around on Binx’s (such a stupid name) moped and swimming in a nearby waterhole.

At the swimming hole. NICE!

On just such an occassion, the siblings encounter a pack of nogoodniks whose advances were previously rejected at the Sonic Drive-In (Seriously, this movie is dripping in good old-fashioned Texas white trash.) Sexually frustrated by the virginal Billie Jean, the punks commandeer Binx’s moped and cause literally dozen’s of dollars of damage to it. I’m pretty sure you could buy a IPad for how much that POS probably cost.

Anyway, we are talking 80’s dollars here so that was a chunk of change and the Davy’s are dead set on getting recompense. To wit, they go to the thriving beach side souvenir store run by the father of the leader of the punks. The dad is an oily kind of dude but surely young Billie Jean has no reason to suspect ulterior motives when he invites her upstairs. Never mind the fact he’s got a murder van parked out back. Anyway, he offers up a proposal of an…indecent nature which she politely refuses because she’s already banging her volleyball coach.

MEANWHILE…Binx, doomed to a lifetime of idiocy by his name and the fact that he’s being played by Christian Slater, is downstairs rifling behind the counter like any normal person would do in the same situation. He finds a gun, Billie Jean comes racing down the stairs because she’s conflicted by her love for the oily daddy, teenage punk son walks in, there’s a whole Reservoir Dogs kinda thing, and the dad goes down from a grazing gunshot wound while our heroes go on the run.

Binx. Whatta douche.

If it sound’s like I’m making fun of the movie…well, I kind of am. But it’s out of love. It’s like that rich cousin you have who you might save from a vicious dog if someone else were watching. Might. Depends on how far away you are. Or how big the dog is.

It’s harmless fun filled with overwrought acting and it proudly bears one of those ridiculous plots where if someone just stopped for one second and said, “Hold on! Maybe we should just logically explain what’s going on and everyone will see we were in the right!” then there would be no movie. But no, Binx just grabs a gun and it all goes tits up which is why it’s great.

As I alluded to earlier, the film gets bonus points for being filmed in my hometown. More bonus points for featuring Peter Coyote of E.T fame, Yeardley Smith of Lisa Simpson fame, and a pre-Quantum Leap Dean Stockwell. There’s a whole teenage rebellion thing going on here with an out-of-left-field homage to Joan of Arc. The wicked good soundtrack features a killer title tune offered up by Pat Benatar who needed the money.

But all that goodness pales in comparison to the ultimate goodness. Inspired by Ms. of Arc, Billie Jean cuts her hair short to resemble the martyr. She dons a scuba top with cut-off sleeves, fingerless gloves, dangly earrings, and heavy eyeshadow. She’s steps from the shadows in the backyard of the mansion where her merry band of criminals have take refuge. Filmed by the young man who lives in the mansion and who has fallen in love with her, she professes her innocence and declares her intentions to continue her holy war until the oily man has met her demands. ‘We didn’t start this,’ she says defiantly,’but we are going to finish it. Fair is fair. Fair is fair!’

Yes indeed, Billie Jean. Fair is fair. Fair is fair.

Fair is fair!

Even more bonus points: When Smith’s character, Putter (another stupid name), is taken into custody after boldly sacrificing herself for her best friend, her mother comes storming into the jailhouse and promptly slaps her wayward teen. The mother is played by Janet Smalley in her only film role. Ms. Smalley, as I knew her, played piano for my junior high school choir.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who would ever admit they were in choir?

Moving on.

The Legend of Billie Jean is not widely available on DVD or Blu-ray but can be purchased from Warner Brothers Archive for a more than reasonable price.