Movies Till Dawn: Under the Radar 2 (More Rarely Seen, Forgotten or Hard to Find)

Putney Swope” (1969, Vinegar Syndrome) A black advertising executive (Arnold Johnson) remakes his company into a counterculture engine (“Truth and Soul, Inc.”) that skewers social and political hypocrisy with its no-holds-barred commercials. Satire from Robert Downey, Jr’s father, Robert Sr., was a brazen underground hit during its release, but the ensuing years have blunted much of its broad swings at capitalism, racial tensions, and Madison Avenue; it’s probably best enjoyed today for its room-wrecking political incorrectness and amusing turns by Mel Brooks, infamous prankster Alan Abel and Allan Arbus. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD features commentary by and numerous interviews with Downey, Sr., who provided the dubbed voice for Johnson, and whose opinion of the film appears to vary with each featurette, as well as a second commentary by critic Sergio Mims and an interview with cinematographer Gerald Cotts.

“Babylon” (1980, Kino Lorber) A sound system, and the chance for club stardom it promises, is the only relief from rampant racism, police brutality and crime for Brinsley Forde (of Aswad) and his friends, but even that dream appears too slight to survive the relentless gloom of Thatcher-era South London. Stateside Blu-ray debut of this long-unseen drama – partly based on the life of legendary producer/musician Dennis Bovell, who also wrote the film’s stellar score – by Franco Rosso, whose depiction of a immigrant population bending under (and trying to push back against) the weight of a system determined to break it is all too timely. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by the late Rosso, Ford and writer Martin Stellman (“Quadrophenia), as well as “Dread, Beat and Blood,” Rossi’s 1979 documentary on Linton Kwesi Johnson that was banned from broadcast by the BBC, and new/recent interviews with the cast and crew.

I am the Night” (2019, Warner Bros./TNT) Six-part miniseries based on Fauna Hodel’s memoir, with India Eisley as the teenage Hodel, whose search for her true identity reveals a connection to the Black Dahlia murder, and Chris Pine as the reporter who assists her. Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”) co-produced and directs the first three episodes of the series, which features a solid turn by Pine, direction by Carl Franklin and Victoria Mahoney, and excellent use of LA locations like the Wave House, Greystone Mansion and the John Sowden House, which has an alleged connection to the Dahlia case. But it’s also thinly plotted, and Eisely can’t carry Hodel’s emotional weight, so the end result looks gorgeous but feels underfed. The two-disc set includes a lengthy look at the Sowden House’s history among other making-of featurettes.

Domino” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Danish cop Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (“Game of Thrones”) learns that neither the terrorist (Eriq Ebounaney) that murdered his partner nor the other agencies in pursuit of him, like oily CIA spook Guy Pearce, are exactly who they seem to be. Production troubles, including a reported shutout from the editing room, spelled trouble for this international action drama from Brian De Palma before it was released, and the final product reflects that turmoil in its execution, which is frequently paper-thin and written with ham fists. But De Palma devotees will still find exciting set pieces, including a standout drone attack on a Spanish bullring that may confirm some of their long-standing faith. The Lionsgate Blu-ray is free of extras.

The Loveless” (1982, Arrow Video) A motorcycle gang led by Willem Dafoe (in his first credited screen role) runs afoul of small-minded locals (as well as a few hot-blooded girls) in this feature directorial debut by Kathryn Bigelow (with producer Monty Montgomery). More of an exercise in style than a narrative film, and anchored largely by fetishistic appreciation of the bikers’ leather-clad frames a la Kenneth Anger, but Dafoe is a magnetic presence and Bigelow and Montgomery’s script does well in channeling Eisenhower-era noir attitude through a filter of period biker/road racer titles. Arrow’s Blu-ray bundles commentary by Montgomery with interviews with Dafoe, rocker/author Robert Gordon (who plays one of the bikers and also provided the score) and other cast members, musician Eddie Dixon (“Wild at Heart”), producer A. Kitman Ho and DP Doyle Smith, among others.

Hail Satan?” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) As the old saying goes, the Devil always lays claim to the best songs, but as this wry documentary illustrates, he also seems to get the more appealing spokespeople. To wit: the Satanic Temple, a largely non-religious entity separate from the Church of Satan and one that espouses free thinking, tolerance and a decided sense of humor, especially when it comes to evangelical Christianity intruding in American pursuit of freedom. Director Penny Lane‘s film chronicles the two factions at loggerheads over proposed religious monuments at various state capitol buildings; the Temple’s response, which is the film’s highlight, does much to dispel any diabolical patina that hangs over the organization, which ultimately comes across like any grass-roots group, struggling with expansion, internal strife and financial issues. Lionsgate’s DVD includes additional scenes and interviews.

Itsy Bitsy” (2019, Shout! Factory) Single mom Elizabeth Roberts‘s new job as a nurse for MS-afflicted antiques dealer Bruce Davison is complicated (to say the least) when one of his relics sets loose an enormous cave spider with designs on her son and young daughter. Effective, Kickstarter-funded indie horror by visual effects producer turned writer/director Micah Gallo that delivers Big Bug creepy-crawlies with an appreciable amount of atmosphere and character development, aided in no small part by a uniformly solid cast that includes Denise Crosby, character actor Matty Cardarople and Eileen Dietz (“The Exorcist”). Opens on August 30 in select theaters in Los Angeles, Glendale and other points on the compass, as well as on demand everywhere.

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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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