27 December 2010

Parallel Skiing Made Easy

Parallel Skiing Made Easy
United States - 1993
Director - Martin Heckelman
Morningstar Entertainment Inc., 1993, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 3 minutes

Death Mask of the Ninja

Hong Kong - 1982
Director -Chia Tang
Master Arts Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 35 minutes

Ski School

United States - 1990
Director - Damian Lee
MCA Home Video, 1990, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 30 minutes

Ninja Operation: Licensed to Terminate

Hong Kong - 1987
Director - Joseph Lai/Godfrey Ho
Imperial Entertainment Corp., 1989, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 29 minutes

24 December 2010

Snappy Answers

An old Al Jaffe piece from a 1986 issue of MAD magazine. I appreciate that it relates to a now ancient experience that was so totally ubiquitous to everyone that bad jokes somehow captured its banality. It was an experience repeated so frequently that it became ritual, and yet now, a mere 25 years later seems almost primitive.

Rental Store - Video To Go

20 December 2010


United States – 1985
Director – Vincent J. Privitera
Video Treasures, 1990, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 32 minutes

When I saw this on the shelf at the thrift store, I felt that I was being pressured, browbeaten, and even taunted into buying it by the singular, menacing name on the box. Shelley Winters. The movie sinks or floats on the power of that name alone, and that is all you need to know to justify its purchase, rental or theft. Not knowing who Shelley Winters was only deepened my feelings of guilty ignorance, playing upon heretofore suppressed feelings of inadequacy and making it all the more necessary to paper over the deep rifts in my spirit with the purchase of this dollar ninety-nine indulgence.

Shelley Winters many years before Witchfire
During a long career that began during the Second World War, Winters began as an up and coming blonde bombshell actress, but rejected this role both on screen and in her public persona, and instead actively challenged expected feminine norms. Some 45 years later in Witchfire, she actively challenged my tolerance for shrill, embarrassing nonsense. Her character Lydia is a patient at a psychiatric hospital where the handsome young doctor has just driven his car off a cliff. In an attempt to calm their psychoses, the interim doctor allows Lydia and two other aggrieved female patients to attend his funeral. Led by the intrepid Lydia the ladies escape and hide out in the nearby woods at her childhood home. It is there that she burned her family to death as a child, resulting we are left to assume for lack of any evidence other than the criminally deceptive title, in her subsequent mental illness and pharmaceutical treatment for such. Lydia claims to be a witch with the ability to cast a spell which will resurrect the dead doctor and bring him back to comfort them. Without their medication however, the three women begin the descent into unscripted madness. When a strapping hunter conveniently appears, they assume that he is the returned doctor and a few tepid minutes of climax splutter and ooze across the screen like the exudate from a carbuncle.

Witchfire, but not Shelley Winters
Witchfire is a slow-motion train-wreck in progress engineered (literally) by the nonsensical ad-libbing of Winters. I am not embarrassed to admit that I devolved into a more primitive mental state, debasing the film at every turn, and seeking whatever crude and degenerate sport I could make of this scintillatingly flogable carcass. What my desperate vulture-like mind latched on to were an extra’s boobs, (see right. Despite a love scene with The Hunter which generated some base anticipatory tension, patient Julietta (Corinne Chateau) doesn’t grace the screen with her presents) and the little kid from Over The Top (David Mendenhall) who performs the exact same role here, and receives a satisfying smack across the face from his dad, the very same Hunter. That I enjoyed these two moments so much is equally the fault of Witchfire and my own weak will, but assigning blame is irrelevant when the end result is the same.

13 December 2010

Luigi Martinati

United States - 1952
Director - Edward Ludwig

These posters were painted by Italian artist Luigi Martinati who did Italian versions of posters for all sorts of movies as well as political posters and advertisements, most notably for the Italian car manufacturer Fiat. A small amount of his work can be found online, almost all of it in low resolution, but I haven't yet found a decent gallery so we'll have to piece it together ourselves.

US - 1941
Director - Raoul Walsh

US - 1951
Director - Crane Wilbur

United States - 1945
Director - Michael Curtiz

United States - 1949
Director - Michael Curtiz

06 December 2010

Girls In Prison

United States – 1994
Director – John McNaughton
Dimension Home Video, 1995, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 22 minutes

The term “guilty pleasure” is confusing and somewhat self defeating. Film historian and social critic Robin Wood points out (in a brutal critique of that jawless cancerous mongoloid Roger Ebert) that if one feels guilty at pleasure, you’re bound to renounce either one or the other. The term’s use suggests that the “guilty” viewer really sees themselves as slumming, and has to reify their refined tastes by pointing out their “guilty” feelings at watching what they "really consider" to be such base garbage.

Here at Lost Video Archive though, we don’t make excuses for taste, and Women In Prison films are a case in point. I hate to let things get too serious in this damp corridor without a little levity, and what with all the social commentary around here lately it seems high time to lighten things up a bit. So here it is, about as close as it comes to “guilty pleasure” in my book; Girls In Prison. Let’s not kid ourselves, has there ever been a WIP film that has a serious plot? I mean, one to which the nudity and catfights are incidental rather than fundamental? (One exception is 1943’s head-swimmingly boring and nudity-free House of 1000 Women which is about Englishwomen imprisoned in Germany during the Second World War {I have not seen Ida Lupino in 1955’s Women’s Prison but I'll bet that it is similar}) It’s already suspect to walk into a video rental place and pick up a WIP film (and this is where I think guilt is confused with embarrassment in the above statement), but to pick one that has such a well known name on the cover is to walk willingly into the disparaging gaze of society.

Anne Heche became a well known actress when she starred in several films with Johnny Depp and Demi Moore around 1996. But particularly after her well publicized psychological issues and relationship debacle in 2000, this early film became something of a dirty little (not so) secret. The sort of early career choice we all assume that actresses regret once they're established. Ironically of course, Girls In Prison is one of the more clever WIP films out there, and despite its low production value and shoddy, self-aware comedy, has an interesting premise set in the midst of the McCarthyism/Red-Scare of the early 1950’s. If hard pressed, one could probably come up with at least a partially redeeming excuse for watching any other WIP flick, but considering the names involved here, it is impossible to credibly justify watching Girls In Prison to anyone, except to see Anne Heche’s (and maybe Ione Skye's) boobs, no matter how "innocent" you might actually be.

30 November 2010

29 November 2010

Prime Risk

I love the burning Capitol Building and rocket blasted Washington Monument.

United States – 1984
Director – Michael Farkas
Lightning Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 38 minutes

Prime Risk is yet another movie that is completely at the mercy of history, but what film that hinges around a specific technological marvel isn’t similarly parochial? Without some historical awareness of the profound leaps in computer science that occurred in the 1980’s and 90’s you would be justifiably confused and or bored by this film whose plot relies so completely on magnetic information storage and retrieval methods. You might also have no idea that is quite literally the mold from which 1995’s Hackers was crudely squeezed. While Prime Risk features neither the cool topical pseudonyms like “Crash Override” nor the thrilling and absolutely timeless rollerblading scenes of its successor, it does have a doofus-male/ hot-female whiz kid team-up on the run from the Feds while simultaneously trying to stop a dastardly computerized plot to rule the world.

In the same manner as the atomic monster films of the 50’s, Prime Risk relies on the public’s sketchy knowledge of the subject to orchestrate a cacophony of both fear and intrigue. In this case it is computers, those dastardly machines that are slowly (in the 80's) encroaching on our lives with all their menacing and mysterious bleeps and bloops. Ahhhh, the great fear of new technology; that in embracing it for our convenience or security before we fully understand it, we open the door for all kinds of unpredictable malicious mayhem. This theme is driven home in the opening sequence of Prime Risk when a jamming-signal broadcast by some as-yet-unknown source causes televisions, remote control cars and escalators in a shopping mall to go haywire. See!? If they can threaten our catatonic communal consumption experience, the very fabric of our society is clearly threatened with a fundamental and catastrophic unraveling!

One notable break with its postwar predecessors is the use of a female science-whiz as the protagonist (despite this she still plays second synthesizer to the much less interesting male lead). Julie (Toni Hudson) is still in high school but she is already a brilliant computer engineer. Because she is a woman however, her application for an IT job at the local bank is rejected. Vowing revenge, she uses an oscilloscope to read the magnetic pulses from an ATM computer at the bank, and coverts the electromagnetic cycles into a tone frequency -sound notes- which she uses to determine the PIN numbers for people's bank accounts. Somehow she teams up with a depressed classmate Mike (Lee Montgomery) who needs raw cash because his authoritarian father won’t pay for anything but law school. In the process of manufacturing fake ATM cards and fleecing the bank however, Mike and Julie stumble upon a terrorist organization that is doing the same thing, intending to crash the Federal Reserve computer system and bring the world, and U.S. financial systems to their respective knees.

Just as the shit is hitting the fan, Julie and Mike turn to the Feds whose agents Minsky (Clu Gulager), and Yeoman (Sam Bottoms) don’t believe a word of it because there’s absolutely no way the fate of the totally invulnerable and monolithic U.S. government could be in the hands of a couple of punk kids. But we know better. We know it happens all the time because by the dawn of the Reagan era we’ve become cynical about American omnipotence, (thank you Vietnam!) and because we saw War Games last year.

A Spanish Embassy Home Entertainment VHS insert from someplace. 

French poster from Movie Poster Database

22 November 2010

Ministry of Vengeance

United States - 1989
Director - Peter Maris
Media Home Entertainment/Video Treasures, 1990, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes

Yet another painfully boring piece of junk from Peter Maris, the man behind the profoundly disappointing Land of Doom. John Schneider in case you didn't see fit to follow the link above was Bo Duke.

Ministry of Vengeance trailer courtesy Action Packed Cinema on Youtube.

Extreme Justice

United States - 1992
Director - Mark L. Lester
Vidmark Entertainment, 1993, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes
Starring - Scott Glenn, Lou Diamond Phillips and Yaphet Kotto

I fell asleep watching this one. Kotto is a cop, again.

Extreme Justice trailer courtesy Action Packed Cinema at Youtube.

20 November 2010

The Park Is Mine

In cooperation with some of the finest movie blogs I know, Lost Video Archive is proud to contribute this post to Kotto Week, an event focusing on the long extensive career of this under appreciated actor. A full list of participants follows this post.

Canada - 1986
Key Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 40 minutes

Tommy Lee’s Mitch is no different than other cinematic Viet-vets of the 80’s. He’s emotionally damaged, bitter and unable to readjust to civilian life and he feels lost in and at odds with the world around him. But the way The Park Is Mine conciliates his trauma with society deviates from the typical ‘Nam Vet storyline in an interesting way and reflects some of the political developments of the period in which it was made. It was around this time that vets successfully won recognition and compensation from the manufacturers of Agent Orange and their own Veterans Administration for the postwar afflictions they were suffering.
The film opens with a shot through the flashing lights atop a police cruiser as it speeds through the streets. This is a theme that will persist throughout the film and ultimately come to define its resolution. For now it serves to anchor the portrayal of Government authority as reactive and ineffectual when the cruiser arrives at a Veteran’s Hospital where a distraught ‘Nam vet promptly leaps to his death.

A short while later at his hotel room, Mitch receives a letter from the jumper, one of his war buddies which explains his frustration with the plight of veterans, the fact that society “doesn’t listen”, and the locations of hundreds of explosive charges and a cache of military equipment hidden in Central Park. The following sequences show Tommy Lee uncovering all the hardware while his friend explains in voiceover. Giving Mitch this internal dialogue places him safely within the established mentally-ill Vietnam Veteran stereotype established by his cinematic predecessors. Having assessed, with his friend’s posthumous help, the extent of his arsenal, and encouraged by that inner voice, Mitch informs the authorities of his intent to take over Central Park on behalf of all ignored and mistreated veterans. Typically, the resolution in veteran movies is for the vet himself to come to terms with his or his friend’s trauma, but here Mitch doesn’t learn to cope, he doesn’t change at all.

It is his confrontation with State authority that is significant here. The sheer volume of gunfire and hardware in the subsequent standoff suggests that Mitch is something more than just a crazy vet. He is not a symbolic attempt to address the issue of collective national guilt for the war as in films like Distant Thunder, but to externalize its legacy exclusively to veterans. It reformulates the veteran as a helpless victim, which inheres the State’s (everyone but the veteran) responsibility for fixing him. The State is not responsible for the problem but is compassionate enough to try and fix it.

The person who mediates this conclusion is Lieutenant Eubanks, played by Yaphet Kotto in a familiar role as competent and capable police officer who conflicts with the hard-headed institutionalism of his superiors. Mitch has delivered an ultimatum demanding that he be left to control the park until a certain time, and his message be delivered to the public. Eubanks’ countermands his superior’s reactionary orders and simply gives Mitch what he wants. His conflict with his superiors and empathy for Mitch suggest an experiential understanding of the latter’s condition. Eubanks knows that one cannot fully break from the parent culture, but to demand and receive acknowledgement within it is a salve, both for the oppressed and forgotten as much as the status quo which needs to tell itself that it has “done enough.” By allowing this wayward child to speak and return to the fold symbolically lets society off the hook without addressing the issue in terms that are actually meaningful for the newly minted “victims”.

It’s important to remember of course that just because this victim identity has been created to serve political needs doesn’t make it true. It reinforces claims of benevolent and superior authority and thrives on the disempowerment of the subject to create their own solutions; “equality” rather than liberation. But we know better, it was through the hard work of blacks themselves that catalyzed the Civil Rights Movement, and it was Vietnam veterans who fought for their rights, and all too often, token “recognition” that undermined those accomplishments. The final scene of The Park Is Mine confirms this as Mitch is being led to a police cruiser in handcuffs. The sympathetic TV reporter who followed Mitch’s escapades in the park says, “You did it” and the movie ends. Did what I ask, what has changed for Mitch except his uniform from camouflage to an orange jumpsuit? Is that a solution?

The Park Is Mine trailer comes courtesy of Rare Retro Trailers at Youtube.

I don't know what this is, a poster maybe? Looks like a cropped VHS box to me.

Well, whatta ya know, a German VHS from Die Filmfreaks

 Spanish VHS sleeve and poster are both from a Spanish language movie forum, Association Arhem.

Visit these other Kotto Week participants:
Monday Nov. 15th
Friday Nov. 19th
Illogical Contraption - Eye of the Tiger 
Ninja Dixon - Across 110th St.
Lines That Make Things - The A Team (TV episode)
Things That Don't Suck - Blue Collar
Saturday Nov. 20th
Breakfast In the Ruins - Bone
Lost Video Archive -  The Park Is Mine

16 November 2010

Raid on Entebbe

In cooperation with some of the finest movie blogs I know, Lost Video Archive is proud to contribute this post to Kotto Week, an event focusing on the long, extensive and diverse career of this underappreciated actor. A full list of participants follows this post.

United States - 1976
Director - Irvin Kershner
Thorn EMI Home Viedo, 1984, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 53 minutes

Raid On Entebbe is a made for television historical dramatization of Operation Entebbe/Thunderbolt which took place on 4 July, 1976.  Seven days earlier a group of 4 hijackers had taken over a plane headed from Athens to Tel Aviv Israel and flew it to Lybia and subsequently to a Uganda suffering through its fifth year of Idi Amin’s dictatorship. Israeli commandos flew all the way to Entebbe to pull a surprise raid on the airport where the remaining hostages were being held.

Contrary to what I’m sure was a tense situation in reality, it is pretty dull here, and at 40 minutes I feel like a hostage of a thinly scripted glorification of Israeli military valor and absolution from responsibility for violence. With an excessively hefty cast that includes Charles Bronson, John Saxon, Peter Finch, James Woods, Martin Balsam, Horst Bucholtz and yes, Yaphet Kotto, there is enough time to parade each actor across the screen, but not enough to give any of their characters depth. Raid on Entebbe is a film that is a prisoner of its precise moment in time, for without a knowledge of the events, it makes little sense. Nevertheless, Kotto manages well with his few minutes of screen time as Idi Amin.

Unfortunately this seems to be typical of the roles played by Kotto. His talents are restricted to supporting characters (where he nevertheless frequently outperforms the leads). Historians of blacks in film have repeatedly pointed out that Hollywood has had a very difficult time coping with a fully humanized strong black male lead. This may be why Kotto took to television, where the work was more frequent if not more empowering for his roles, but that’s only my theory. It’s simply sad that Kotto so rarely had a chance to apply his skill to a character with real human depth. Subsequently, I think there is an interesting theoretical connection between Kotto and his role here as Idi Amin. Amin was perhaps the perfect dramatic foil for the period in the mid 70’s. He was a crazy black man at a time when American culture had just exhausted itself on the Civil Rights movement and The Great Society. White people needed a reason to believe they had, and to be seen as having "done enough", to feel that they had atoned for their guilt, and that anyone who wasn't satisfied, who still wanted more, or who simply refused to be quiet were baaaaad niggers.

I’m not trying to recast Amin as merely a victim of bad press, he was very much a real tyrant. However, because his sociopathic egotism was largely meted out upon his own people it made him easier to dismiss in the West. He could be treated as a pitiable, posturing “martinet”, and exemplified as a "type". The white status quo didn’t (and still doesn’t) know how to deal with forceful and assertive black characters who act bigger than the britches they have been given, so it continues to disempower, mock and stereotype them, including by relegating them supporting or comedic roles in film and history.

Aside from pointing out that Israeli commandos are good (and they were, but  even that is boring in this film), Raid on Entebbe manages to not say much at all except that Idi Amin was unstable and vindictive. Any film about Amin practically begs comparison to other performances of this unique and bizarre historical figure. Joseph Olita’s in Amin: The Rise and Fall, Julius Harris’s in Victory at Entebbe, Forest Whittaker’s in Last King of Scotland, and the real deal himself in Barbet Schroeder's documentary Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait which feels as much like an elaborate put-on as any of the others. In the few minutes of screen time he is afforded as Amin (this film is really about Israels political image), Yaphet Kotto manages to better the first two and come damn close to the second two. It is ironic that Yaphet Kotto makes Amin the most interesting and complex character in an otherwise boring film.

This VHS cover (?) comes from Amazon U.K

This poster I got from The Warsaw Jewish Film Festival site is the creation of artist John Solie, his signature appears on the far left next to the C-130 aircraft. Solie was responsible for innumerable posters in the golden age of poster art. You can read my blurb about him here.

This poster courtesy NYCJunta.

Visit these other participants as Kotto Week progresses:
Monday Nov. 15th
Unflinching Eye - Alien
Raculfright 13's Blogo Trasho - Truck Turner
Tuesday Nov. 16th
Lost Video Archive - Raid on Entebbe
Manchester Morgue - Friday Foster
Wednesday Nov. 17th
Booksteve's Library - Live and Let Die