By Chase Whale | January 5, 2015
Treasure Chest is a new column from film pundit Chase Whale, exploring arthouse, underground, exploitation and cult cinema released on Blu-ray and DVD from some of the most cutting edge independent distributors around the U.S.
Distributor: Warner Archive
Warner Archive has become my favorite go-to for repertory cinema, my new “Criterion Collection.” They restored my favorite movie, Robert Altman’s zany comedy Brewster McCloud, as well as Freebie and the Bean, among many more older gems.
Just released is Sydney Pollack’s 1974 action adventure noir, The Yakuza, starring Robert Mitchum. The last time I watched Mitchum on screen, he was stalking two little children in the very frightening Night of the Hunter. I still can’t get the devastating last image of Shelly Long out of my head. Here, he’s slaying Yakuza gangsters with Japan’s Clint Eastwood, Ken Takakura (The Yellow Handkerchief, Ridley Scott’s Black Rain).
The Yakuza follows hardboiled ex-private eye Harry Kilmer (Mitchum) to Japan to look for a pal’s kidnapped daughter. His biggest (and perhaps only) motivation to take the case is that his history in Japan still holds a big piece of his heart. Once he gets there, he teams up with his old flame’s brother (Takakura), a former samurai, to take on the Japanese mafia, otherwise known as the yakuza. Blood is spilled, bullets fly, and badassery ensues.
Hyper-violence and ball-busting action aside, The Yakuza is a sublime story on the development of the yakuza and the way of the samurai — forgiveness, paying your debts and kicking ass.
(Special Features: commentary by director Sydney Pollack; vintage featurette: “Promises to Keep”)
In 1973, Richard L. Bare thought outside the box and created a new way to see terror called “Duo-vision” — a one of a kind movie watching experience. Split screen, watching two different scenarios play out at the same time and eventually come together as one (later popularized by Brian De Palma). The idea is brilliant. The execution for the film it was created for, Wicked, Wicked? Not so much.
Wicked, Wicked probably would have worked better if it rolled with the punches and played up the comedy or stuck with straight up, juicy horror. It’s enjoyable to watch now for the gimmick and a good laugh, but those hahas come when the suspense is meant to be taken seriously. Oof! Another element that stunts the film is that there are so many things happening at one — and most of the time the cameras seem to be everything. It would have been a much cooler film if it was focused solely on the killer on one side, his prey on the other.
Bare should get some credit here — he did have to shoot it as two separate films and piece it all together, way, way before the age of digital editing and cheap reshoots. It took Warner Archives two years to restore the film, so I can’t imagine all of the unforeseen challenges Bare had to face.
Wicked, Wicked still serves as something that should be a part of your collection.
Movies about greed, deception and double-crossing will never end well for any player involved. It’ll end downright nasty. Adapted for the screen by Jay Presson Allen (Cabaret) and directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network), Deathtrap stars Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Trilogy), the late, irreplaceable Christopher Reeve (Superman ) and Dyan Cannon (Heaven Can Wait). This movie is all about the plot twist. There are times when you think you have the story figured out, and the metaphorical Rubik’s Cube takes an ugly turn for a big, unexpected surprise. Deathtrap has more twists than a delicious golden brown pretzel. It’s a truly brilliant story that keeps you on you guessing until he bitter end. A true gem.
(Presented in 1080p high definition 16×9 1:85.1)
Distributor: Criterion Collection
Todd Haynes’ Safe is one of the most terrifying films of the 20th century. It’s set in the late 80s and deals with an unknown illness and the race to find a cure, as the lead’s health starts to decline at an alarming rate. The name and cause of the disease is never really addressed (she’s told she has MCS, multiple chemical sensitivity), but it’s first suggested that it could be AIDS. The panic for the view sets in when the lead (a young Julianne Moore) gets ill off almost anything — certain smells, fragrances and chemicals from things we use and deal with in every day life. This film is every hypochondriac’s worst nightmare, but what a hell of a film it is.
Released in 1995, the backdrop is the late 80s, the exact time when HIV/AIDS became a widespread panic. Most will walk away knowing it is not AIDS and she is hyper-allergic to most chemicals, but it’s never understood how it started. The doctors tell her that it might be because of milk, but she drinks milk throughout the film and doesn’t vomit, convulse, or bleed out of holes on her face like she does with other fluids and non-toxic chemicals.
If you take out the theory that it might be an allegory for AIDS (which you can), this movie would still work today, tomorrow, or 20 years from now. There are people in this world who are vulnerable to falling ill due to various odors and scents.
(Special Features: new 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Todd Haynes, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray; audio commentary featuring Haynes, actor Julianne Moore, and producer Christine Vachon; new conversation between Haynes and Moore; The Suicide, a 1978 short film by Haynes; new interview with Vachon; theatrical trailer; and essay by critic Dennis Lim.)