Movies Till Dawn: Norwegian Rock and Roll Mystery Rollercoaster Invasion Edition

Midnight – “Green Room” – Thriller

510S7A1Nj+L(2015, Lionsgate) Trapped inside the green room at a ratty music joint in Oregon is the Ain’t Rights, a punk band who have had the bad luck to witness the murder of another musician by the skinheads who own the club. Outside is the bar’s quietly menacing owner (Patrick Stewart) and a small army of machete-toting followers, all focused on making sure the quartet doesn’t get out alive. This taut and smartly constructed siege thriller by Jeremy Saulnier spares no quarter in depicting the carnage that ensues when that door opens between the two groups, but as with his previous feature, the inventive revenge drama “Blue Ruin” (whose star, Macon Blair, has a supporting role here as the club’s sad-eyed booker), he makes sure that the characters taking knives and box cutters to and turning dogs on each other are fully rounded and not political-cultural Colorforms (case in point: Eric Edelstein’s mountainous Nazi Big Justin, who goes through a panoply of reactions while holding the band at gunpoint, from exasperation to fear, anguish and finally, stark terror). The result takes away the tang of voyeurism that usually comes with extreme movie violence and replaces it with genuine suspense and emotional heft; real people committing awful acts on each other lands a bigger punch than any body count exercise. The cast is uniformly excellent, with (the regrettably late) Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) handling intensely physical and emotional roles, but it’s Stewart who steals the picture as the soft-spoken Darcy, whose folksy, avuncular delivery hides real menace. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette, which covers the challenges of shooting in the rain-soaked Northwest and making the band sound believable; the soundtrack  features a wealth of punk and thrash metal tracks by (among others) Bad Brains, Fear, Slayer, Obituary, Napalm Death, Dead Kennedys (a credible cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” naturally) and Poison Idea.

1:30 a.m. – “Invasion U.S.A.” – Action

product_images_modal_IUSACover72dpi__7Be73a58ca-8efa-4c69-8286-964ed90337c8_7D(1985, Shout Factory) Chuck Norris, at the height of his drive-in/grindhouse fame, co-wrote and starred in this Trumpian Red Nightmare about a Communist attack on coastal Florida. Norris is the ex-federal agent called to stop Soviet terrorist Richard Lynch and his horde of Latin American, Chinese and Slavic killers from conducting a shambolic attack on suburban homes, shopping malls and even a school bus full of kids (at Christmas, no less). Your appreciation for this chaotic shoot-em-up depends entirely on how you feel about ‘80s-era action and in particular, Chuck Norris’ uncomfortable brand of tough-guy; you’ll either revel in its wealth of explosions, violent death and quotable/laughable dialogue (Melissa Prophet, as a excessively angry reporter, gets the lion’s share of the latter), or you’ll find “Invasion USA” a particularly ludicrous and jingoistic example of the sloppy, hyperbolic nonsense Cannon Films generated throughout the 1980s, thanks to Norris and James Bruner’s pulpy script and extensive post-production tinkering by producer Menahem Golan. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray includes commentary by director Joseph Zito (a remarkably good sport regarding the film’s many flaws) as well as lively interviews with Bruner and effects legends Tom Savini, Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, who reused some of their grisly creations from “Day of the Dead” for this film. Theatrical trailers for “Invasion” and “Braddock: Missing in Action 3” (see below) round out the disc.

3:30 a.m. – “The Wave” – Action/Thriller

81bUMQqfORL._SL1500_(2015, Magnolia Home Video) This Scandinavian variation on the American disaster movie features a 300-foot tsunami, created by mountains crumbling into a fjord, threatening a Norwegian geologist and his family. Director Roar Uthaug, who made his feature debut with the suspenseful “Cold Prey,” takes a fairly measured approach in setting up his doomsday scenario, allowing geologist Kristoffer Joner to make enough dire pronouncements about the impending catastrophe and the writers to put his family– wife Ane Dahl Torp, sullen teenage son Jonas Hoff Oftebro and cute-as-a-button daughter Edith Haagenrud-Sandre – in harm’s way before unleashing the CGI wave (an impressive creation). The trajectory of the wave delivers the proper amount of death and destruction, though as with “Green Room,” it lacks the disaster-porn vibe of Stateside pics like (the quite similar) “San Andreas” by investing some time in developing its characters and avoiding grand/camp gestures and dialogue. A colossal hit in Norway, which submitted the film for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2016; Magnolia’s Blu-ray includes making-of featurettes, with a specific focus on the wave, as well as an interview with Uthaug.

5 a.m. –“The Hateful Eight” – Western/Drama/Mystery

Basic CMYK(2015, Anchor Bay) Grisly Chinese box homage to spaghetti Westerns and locked room mysteries from Quentin Tarantino, who assembles an excellent cast to play his octet of vicious types, trapped by blizzard in a Wyoming waystation and ratcheting up the racial hatred, mistrust and double crosses until the blood-soaked finale. Those familiar with Tarantino’s work know that the previous is just a bare-bones summary; time, identity and motivation are as fluid as ever, and while keeping track of the Who’s Who and Why Are They Doing It may require a scorecard, the end result is as audacious (or implausible, if you’re a detractor) as most of the filmmaker’s previous efforts. Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson and Oscar nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh anchor the cast, with solid support from Tarantino repertory players Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins and Bruce Dern; Ennio Morricone’s marvelous, Oscar-winning score bolsters the icy sweep of Robert Richardson’s cinematography. Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray/DVD combo includes an overview of the special 70mm roadshow presentation of “Hateful Eight,” as well as a standard making-of featurette with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

6:30 a.m. – “Rollercoaster” – Action/Thriller

product_images_modal_RollercoasterBRCover72dpi__7B31e6ef9d-5265-41e7-b7da-5473fb46d85f_7D(1977, Shout Factory) Recent events may have lent an unpleasant aftertaste to this movie, about a domestic terrorist detonating bombs at amusement parks, but if you can see past this unfortunate coincidence, “Rollercoaster” is enjoyable escapist suspense fare that exceeds the twin gimmicks of its premise and Sensurround presentation. George Segal is a safety inspector on the trail of a creepy Timothy Bottoms, who wants $1 million to stop him blowing up popular rollercoasters across the country. As part of his plan, Bottoms requires Segal to ride many of the targeted coasters, including the Rebel Yell at Kings Dominion in Virginia, before the pair face off at the then-newly opened Revolution at a pre-Six Flags Magic Mountain. All the moving parts in “Rollercoaster” are awkward fits: on one hand, you have straightforward and suspenseful work by director James Gladstone and writers Richard Levinson and William Link, and a solid cast led by Segal and Bottoms and featuring, among many others, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Susan Strasberg and a teenaged Helen Hunt as Segal’s daughter. These elements are undermined by a few unfortunate choices, like close-ups of riders grimacing and shrieking various coasters, or the sheer racket of the Sensurround audio (reproduced, more or less, on the Shout Factory Blu-ray). But even in this uneven state, “Rollercoaster” never achieves the sloppy camp depths of disaster junk like “Earthquake,” which may have been its undoing during its theatrical run (in addition to being released in the same summer as “Star Wars”) – there’s enough mayhem for thriller fans, but far too little for doomsday devotees. Dotted among the sprawling cast is Sparks, performing (somewhat ruefully) “Fill ‘Er Up” and “Big Boy” at Magic Mountain, as well as DJ Charlie Tuna, Craig Wasson, Warhol star Tom Baker (not the Fourth Doctor), Robert “Count Yorga” Quarry and an uncredited Steve Guttenberg; the Blu-ray also includes the original trailer, radio spots and a brief interview with associate producer and former child actor Tommy Cook, who also conceived the original story.

More Noteworthy Viewing: there’s more Chuck amuck in “Braddock: Missing in Action 3” (Shout Factory), the third and final entry in his revisionist Vietnam saga, with 813mtuC5XfL._SL1500_Norris rescuing Amerasian orphans (including his son) from the clutches of an fiendish general (actor/singer Aki Aleong) who’s straight out of a World War II propaganda film. The indie martial arts thriller “Die Fighting” (2014, MVD Visual) mixes vigorous fight set pieces with an oddball storyline involving a stunt team (the real-life Z-Team, who play themselves) forced to engage in dangerous scenarios – fighting an entire dojo of karate students, for one – in order to rescue the kidnapped spouse of one of their members. And from the evergreen library of Warner Archives Collection, there’s John Milius’ rousing and well-made “The Wind and the Lion” (1975), with Berber chieftain Sean Connery incurring the wrath of Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith) by abducting – and falling in love with – American Candice Bergen. The Blu-ray features commentary by Milius, a making-of featurette and the original trailer.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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