Some of my favorite flicks are ones that leave me confused. Whether it’s the skewed storytelling, surreal atmosphere or twisted visuals, I tend to veer towards things that aren’t so easy to pin down—or wrap up. A few prominent films that mess with the mind include the likes of Fight Club, Inception, Mulholland Drive, Memento, The Sixth Sense and Jacob’s Ladder.
The common thread running through all of these is the fact that each tends to leave viewers with a long list of unanswered questions. They also provide great fodder for conspiracy theories, online chats, podcasts and the like, which always serve to heighten the intrigue. One such head trip that doesn’t get nearly the attention or fanfare of the aforementioned goodies is Suture.
Released in 1993, the indie film stars Dennis Haysbert (later of 24 fame) as the good-natured Clay Arlington. Turns out, Clay has an identical half brother whom he barely knows named Vincent Towers across the country (Michael Harris). After becoming reunited at their wealthy father’s funeral, Vincent summons the unassuming Clay to his extravagant abode with major ulterior motives in mind. The scenario might not sound that unique on the surface, but there’s one mostly cosmetic twist that elevates it into far more offbeat territory, and in many ways defines the film.
While Clay and Vincent are perceived as identical to all in the film, in reality, they’re nothing alike. Vincent is thin with bony, weasel-like features, with a light complexion and a pony tail. Clay on the other hand, is big in stature, with short cropped hair and…wait for it, is black. The two estranged brothers look nothing alike, but as viewers, we are expected to suspend disbelief and go along with the ruse. This expectation of the audience is a key component of the storyline. It sets us off-balance, making an otherwise fairly traditional crime film a study of sorts on identity—that, or just an overtly staged bit of skullfuckery.
When Vincent welcomes Clay to his home, it quickly becomes apparent that something bad is about to happen. This sense of impending doom is another angle filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel leverage to full affect. Soon enough, Vincent fakes his own death with a car bomb, using the hapless Clay as the pawn, and things go horribly wrong from there. Surviving the event and suffering from amnesia, Clay believes that he truly is the wealthy Vincent Towers, as does the rest of the world, and dishy surgeon Dr. Renee Descartes (Mel Harris) is tasked with putting him back together.
While the plot goes virtually nowhere from there and the ending falls a little flat, Suture remains an interesting bit of ’90s indie filmmaking. Its stylish look, skewed camera angles and dry atmosphere make for an interesting view, and provide a few unanswered questions to ponder. Plus, the ominous image of Dennis Haysbert shrouded in bandages makes for some creepy movie poster visuals.
The sage folks at Arrow Video have reissued the obscure little flick in all of its kooky glory. This plush Blu-ray package includes loads of extras and a book that details the challenges it tool to get the film made, along with insights from the filmmakers. (Arrow/MVD)
More recent DVD goodies
Crimes of Passion
Director Ken Russell has cranked out some scandalous stuff over the years. Obsessed with sex, religion and politics, films like The Devils and Women in Love made viewers, critics and the Church more than a tad bit uncomfortable back in the day. But his edgy aesthetics were at the forefront of a new school of British filmmaking to emerge during the 1970s, and have ultimately proven to be influential.
In 1984 he unleashed Crimes of Passion upon the unsuspecting public. The mind-tripping story centers on a woman leading a double life, mousey fashion designer by day, call girl by night. Played with a wink and a wry smile by Kathleen Turner—who’d just made a major impression in Body Heat—the character China Blue engages in all manner of debauchery, some of which is displayed openly onscreen; not an easy feat for a well-known film during the Reagan ‘80s.
The film’s other central characters are Bobby (John Laughlin), who stalks China, with mostly good intentions, and the creepy Reverend Peter Shayne, played to the hilt by Anthony Perkins. Teetering on the edge of absurdity, the Rev is also stalking Ms. China, but his motives are tied to a twisted—and kinky—religious worldview.
Russell’s direction is equally offbeat. His generous use of color—from the visuals to the characters themselves—gives the film an almost surreal sheen at times. Several scenes are way over-the-top, and serve to keep the viewer on edge, even when at times things begin to border on the nonsensical. You, too, can now harness the madness in hi-def, courtesy of this new Blu-ray/DVD combo, which also features a slew of extras and a book, a treat for Russell fans of every stripe. (Arrow/MVD)
While far less mysterious in its approach, the entire premise of The Nymphets is based on a head game. When a yuppie sad-sack (Kip Pardue) meets two young females of questionable age outside of a nightclub, he gets way more than he bargained for. The pair of attractive nymphets seem to thrive on messing with their older companion; giggling incessantly at his every action and patronizing him to no avail. Once the party moves to his upscale apartment, things go from bad to worse, but not necessarily in the way one would imagine.
With a premise similar to ’70s cult classic Death Game and Eli Roth’s recent remake Knock Knock, filmmaker Gary Gardner opts to move the story along via a psychological conflict of wits and drama as opposed to violence and graphic exploitation. While the movie does meander a bit at times, the mounting tension and delicate twists make The Nymphets a subtle shocker that’s very much worth its relatively short runtime. (Kino)
While pretty scarce on DVD for some time, this iconic gender-bender finally sees its inaugural release in hi-def. Struggling to make ends meet, Julie Andrews poses as a gay male impersonating a female and becoming a cabaret hit in the process. While it may not seem too far out for these times, the fact that it was originally released in 1982, during the early years of the Reagan administration, was quite possibly Hollywood’s reaction to the conservative former actor’s ascension.
Filled with funny bits and starring Julie Andrews who was able to shed her school-marm image, the film went on to be a mainstream hit, in spite of its campy feel and off-center subject matter. (Warner Archive Collection)
Riffing off of the James Bond spy craze of the mid ’60s, Modesty Blaise sees a female take the lead. British agent Modesty Blaise (played to the sultry hilt by then Italian star Monica Vitti) is sought by the government to prevent a massive diamond heist. Roping in sidekick Willie Garvin, portrayed by ’60s bad boy Terence Stamp, the story sees our heroine trot the globe and kick ass on villains of all stripes.
But those expecting the campiness of Austin Powers, or the impressive action of James Bond won’t find much of it here. Modesty Blaise, is more art-house than farce, which adds a layer of seriousness to the proceedings, making the film harder to predict than one might initially expect. (Kino)
Jack of Diamonds
Continuing on the swinging ’60s spy theme, Jack of Diamonds stars young and pre-spray-tanned George Hamilton as a reckless jewel thief. Soon, he gets let in on a big score by the beautiful Olga (Marie Laforêt) and finds himself upping his game to stay out of trouble. Shot in New York City, Paris, Munich, Genoa, and the Bavarian Alps, this stylish 1967 film also veers into James Bond territory at times, featuring some clever capers plus a few groovy touches that are very much characteristic of times. (Warner Archive Collection)
Malony is a pissed-off delinquent stuck in the legal system for most of his wayward youth. But now, he may have a slim chance of putting things right if he doesn’t screw things up first. Featuring ’60s vixen Catherine Deneuve as a sympathetic judge, this little French film features some big performances, especially that of Maloney, played by unknown Rod Paradot.
While the film itself is fairly predictable, Paradot’s performance is raw and unapologetic, imbuing Malony’s character with an anti-social streak that comes across authentic and unpretentious, a rarity in the realm of teen dramas. Director Emmanuelle Bercot gives the film a very realistic sheen, employing a hand-held camera for many of the more candid scenes. While it works to some degree, it places a bit of distance between us and the characters, making it hard to connect at times. (Cohen Media)
Similar in feel to the American show and movie Look from a few years back, Polish film 11 Minutes is a commentary of sorts on the use of surveillance in today’s society. The story takes place over the span of eleven minutes in the lives of several interwoven characters, culminating in a climax at the end. The cinematography simulates footage from CCTV, webcams and smart phones and through the various lenses, we meet several questionable characters ranging from a sleazy film director to a dubious street vendor, a drug runner and more.
Director Jerzy Skolimowski skillfully pulls it together into a tense thriller that also indicts us all to some degree for collectively allowing this interference into our daily lives. Like Look, 11 Minutes has a kind of mean-spirited tone, which serves to heighten its eerie appeal. (IFC)
You’ll Like My Mother
When a young pregnant widow moves across the country to be close to her late husband’s family, she gets far more than she bargained for. Francesca (Patty Duke) loses her husband in Vietnam and goes to seek support from his family that she has never met. Turns out, they’re a brood of homicidal cretins and it soon becomes apparent that she and her baby need to leave—and fast.
Released in 1972, this is seamy affair has touches of the decade’s exploitation hallmarks, yet veers into melodramatic territory, making it not quite as sketchy as it could be. But, it’s got a few scary moments, which make it a worthwhile view. (Shout! Factory)
Bitten – Season 3
Leave it to our friends in the North to out-sauce us on network TV. Bitten is a Canadian series that is based on author Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld book series. While similar monster/supernatural shows are rampant in these parts, Bitten is rife with skin (of the human variety) and more graphic elements. Not quite as racy as say, HBO’s True Blood, it does push things further while keeping some of the requisite melodrama in place.
Elena is a woman with a secret. The seemingly normal city girl actually belongs to a pack of noble werewolves and she must learn how to reconcile her roots with her current aspirations. In my mind, very few modern werewolf portrayals succeed in creating convincing monsters. In many cases, the CGI looks stiff and obviously fake, as is the case with many of the scenes here. The creators would do well to look at the deft designs employed in American Werewolf in London and The Howling.
Nevertheless, the third and final season packs a few bloody punches into its slightly more complex narrative, touching on themes of duty and family and the conflict that often arises when the two become crossed. (eOne)
The Knick – Season 2
Cinemax’s hit series about a brilliantly flawed—and drug addicted—surgeon in early 1900s New York saw its second season hit some new highs while adding further complexities to the mix. Following up the chaos that was season one, surgeon John Thackery (Clive Owen) has been interned for cocaine addiction and it looks like the hospital he champions is about to be moved uptown. Will he be able to get back into the swing of things before it’s too late?
The Knick’s gritty storytelling, seedy feel and impeccable acting make it a standout on Cable TV, and while the second season is not quite as immediate in its impact, it’s still a worthy view. (HBO Home Video)
Edward G. Robinson made loads of dark and heavy film noir flicks during the 1940s, helping to define the genre with his dour delivery and somber expression. Blackmail (1939) has him portraying John Ingram a successful family man and entrepreneur with a secret, one that makes him an easy target for blackmail. When the shite goes down, he falls hard then comes back for revenge. Robinson plays it angry and vindictive, which perfectly suits his personality. This rare find comes courtesy of Warner Archive and is a must for mystery/thriller completists. (Warner Archive Collection)
Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow
When you’ve got both filmmaker George A. Romero and author Steven King together on a project, the results are sure to be massive. Such was the case of ’80s cult favorite Creepshow, where the pair of horror luminaries collaborated on the successful film.
Just Desserts chronicles the experience in a series of interviews, footage, vignettes and more. In it, we learn about the origins of the project, why the two power players chose an old comic to bring to life and much more. For horror fans it’s an insightful film full of juicy trivia nuggets. (Synapse)
Workaholics – Season 6
Lightening things up a tad, the sixth season of Workaholics is out on DVD and it’s exactly what you’d expect. Rife with the absurdist skits we’ve come to know and love, this season sees the guys find a new boss, attend NA meetings, submit to their female colleagues and much more. While there’s nothing massively new this season, it’s still a riotous ride that hits on some of the pitfalls of working in a corporate environment. (Comedy Central)
Supergirl – Season 1
The comic wars have been heating up for years and DC has been dominating on TV as of late. The latest Warner Bros. show follows Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El as she makes her way to Earth, eventually becoming Supergirl, the savior of the city.
While it’s a little short on backstory and has a certain prime-time sheen to it, Melissa Benoist, is perfect as the noble and naive heroine, and the special effects are impressive. The actress’s cute and nerdy image falls somewhere between Blake Lively and Lisa Loeb, so it’s no wonder that the fan boys are out in full force over this one. This release comes in crisp hi-def with loads of extras. (Warner Home Video)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 1
Dispensing with the grittier aspects of some of the recent Marvel film properties, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is big on the fantastical—plotlines, sets and special effects. Rogue hero Rip Hunter has seen the future and it’s not looking good. Per that, he assembles a team of B-list DC characters—The Atom, White Canary, Captain Cold—plus some new faces to hit the threats head on.
Beaming with camp and quirk, the show shares some commonalties with Doctor Who in its ambitious storylines and sense of humor. For those seeking some badass in their comic universe, this is not it. But, it’s still a fun ride nevertheless. (Warner Home Video)
Arrow – Season 4
The Green Arrow has always gotten the short end of the stick in my view. He not only lacked the street credibility of his colleagues, but possessed none of the super powers or hi-tech gadgetry that made his friends so badass. He was also relegated to second-tier status behind the likes of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, et al.
But in the show Arrow, Oliver Queen—the man behind the green hood—is the star, and this show does a fine job at delivering a solid backstory along with some intriguing twists, not mention the cool gadgets and special effects. Season 4 starts off with a bang, but soon the focus shifts a bit with new emphasis on other main characters. While not as punchy as the first couple seasons, this one’s still a worthy view for fans of the DC universe. (Warner Home Video)
Lucifer – Season 1
On one hand, the idea of a mainstream American show based around the ultimate boogey man is coolly clever and ironic. On the other, it’s sure to ruffle a few feathers of some of our more puritanical friends, especially ones that already view Hollywood as the devil’s playground.
Based on a character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, Lucifer the show is a comedy-drama that sees our hero abandoning his thrown in favor of living in LA as an adviser to the police. It’s corny as hell, especially as an otherwise fairly standard procedural police drama. But, the devilish one’s self-deprecating humor and swift one-liners make it an entertaining little show, with some svelte acting and special effects. (Warner Home Video)
This early 2000s horror jaunt incorporated heaping elements of gore, the supernatural and teenage melodrama into its slick mix. In the aftermath of the Jennifer Love Hewitt school of teen horror flicks of the late ’90s, there was still a bit of cheesiness lingering within the genre, which Jeepers Creepers has in spades. But there’s some fun, creepy visuals to be had, plus some clever plot twists.
Actors Justin Long and Gina Philips keep the teen angle afloat, but it’s the bad guy who steals the show here, feasting on body parts for good measure, and hiding its hideous wing behind a trench coat—a sketchy sight to say the list. This new Blu-ray features an optimized transfer and loads of meaty extras. (Shout! Factory)
KISS Rocks Vegas
Recorded during a sold-out, nine-show run at the Hard Rock, KISS Rocks Vegas chronicles the event with all the pomp and flash-bombs one would expect after 40 years. But this is not the KISS of yore, that fascinated throngs of heshers the world over with its brash riffs and even louder bravado.
To KISS purists, this deluxe release may not mean much. After all, the band has been soldiering on with two replacement members for years and many diehards don’t take this too lightly. But, this Blu-ray/CD package is a treat for those who can look past all that. The visuals are crisp and bombastic and the set list features a decent swath of classics—ranging from the requisite opener “Detroit Rock City” to the heavy “Creatures of The Night” and ’80s pop hit “Tears Are Falling.” Taken at face value, it’s a decent set, in spite of Paul Stanley’s vocal shortcomings. But is it really KISS? Sure… just a more streamlined, by-the-numbers version that suits its now family friendly status to a tee. (Eagle Rock)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers.