Movies Till Dawn: Wholesome Holiday Entertainment

“Prisoners of the Ghostland” (2021,RLJE Films) In a post-apocalypse Japan which has reassembled itself as a crazy-quilt hybrid of its feudal era and the American West, the cowboy-hatted leader (Bill Moseley) of a small town sends bank robber Nicolas Cage after his granddaughter, who has fled into dangerous territory known as the Ghostland. The quest, which is already fraught with danger due to the mutants and other creatures that stalk the Ghostland, is made exponentially more urgent by explosives dotting Cage’s leather suit, which are set to detonate if the girl is not retrieved in a certain time frame. Visually ripe sci-fi actioner by eclectic director Sion Sono delivers a bonkers premise and plenty of oddball flourishes (a town populated by living mannequins), which liven the overly familiar (see: “Escape from New York’) and underbaked premise. Cage, whose success-by-excess formula has propelled him through numerous (and lesser) films, underplays his role, which may or may not be a good thing for audiences. RLJE’s Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette.

The Last of Sheila” (1973, Warner Archives Collection) Movie producer James Coburn invites a cross-section of industry friends – including director James Mason, actress Raquel Welch, agent Dyan Cannon, and writer Richard Benjamin, all on various rungs of the Hollywood ladder – for a Mediterranean cruise and card games, intended to reveal unpleasant truths about each guest and (just maybe) the identity of the person that murdered his gossip columnist wife. Intricately clever and tres bitchy black comedy penned by Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim and actor Anthony Perkins, who based the story on their own party games; the film’s chief pleasure is watching the cast launch gilded insults and peel eyeballs at each other against a glamorous backdrop, and as such, is a delight. The Warner Archives Blu-ray looks great and includes commentary by Benjamin and Cannon, with separate input by Welch; all three offer amusing production anecdotes.

Thank you to Warner Archives Collection for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

F.T.A” (1972, Kino Lorber) Ragged but right documentary preserving the F.T.A. (Fuck the Army/Free The Army) Show, which satiric and occasionally poignant counterpoint to the pro-combat Bob Hope/USO productions served to the military during the Vietnam War. An impressive cast of counterculture cognoscenti – actors Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Peter Boyle, comic Paul Mooney and singers Len Chandler and Rita Martinson – offer dated but earnestly delivered comic skits, musical numbers, and coffeehouse-style readings (Sutherland caps the show with a passage from Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun”); director Francine Parker intercuts these moments with interviews with GIs in the audience, who speak candidly about their opposition to the war and the hardships Black and female soldiers expect upon returning home. Yanked from release shortly after Fonda traveled to Hanoi in 1972, Kino’s print is a digitally restored edition funded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which includes new and archival interviews with Fonda, as well as the feature-length documentary “Sir! No Sir!” which details resistance efforts to the war within the military ranks.

Siege” (1982, Severin Films) The alarmingly prescient scenario for this cult Canadian thriller envisions a national police strike in the Great White North, which prompts a faction of cops to form their own vigilante group, the New Order. Said goons invade a gay bar and decimate its staff and patrons save one (Terry-David Despres), who flees to the relative safety of a nearby apartment building; there, he and a couple, along with two blind friends (Jack Blum and Keith Knight, a.k.a. Spaz and Fink from “Meatballs”) and an inordinately resourceful neighbor (Darel Haney), hole up while the New Order attempt to root them out. What sounds like (and occasionally plays like) grindhouse material is a surprisingly tense and well-made action-drama, based in part on fact (a 1981 police strike in Nova Scotia, which kept cops off the streets for over a month), and one that rightly calls vigilantism and an unchecked police force as the horror fodder that it is. Unlike other revenge exploitation films, it also holds back its glee over the armed response to the cops: the apartment dwellers’ response is desperate and unpolished, as it might be in real life. Severin’s Blu-ray includes informative commentary by producer/co-director Paul Donovan, who’s joined by “Hobo With a Shotgun” helmer Jason Eisner; they discuss the film’s production (funded by Canada’s tax shelter program) and spin numerous anecdotes, including an amusing/alarming story about how the the film’s weaponry was acquired. It’s featured over the 84-minute theatrical cut, which is joined on the disc by a 93-minute extended cut that adds pre-fight motivation to both sides of the battle.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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