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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

Check out my other column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED - Review/Giveaway

disappearancealicecreedOne of the things that struck me as I watched The Disappearance of Alice Creed, a ferocious first feature from writer/director J Blakeson, was that even though a lot of this was shot in a confined space it does not take away one iota from the thrill of what the movie aims to accomplish. What it aims for, you understand, is to have a story so good that it could all take place on a theater stage without nary a change in scenery.

Many films, like David Fincher’s Panic Room, have tried to use minimalism as a means to telegraph the claustrophobic insanity that can happen when a human being in confined in a tight space. Here, though, J Blakeson has a story of a kidnapped woman, played by Gemma Arterton, Alice, play out with remarkable results. The riveting kidnappers themselves, Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston), aren’t just two thieves looking to kidnap a rich man’s daughter for a hefty bounty these are characters who have real emotions, real reactions. It’s so inventive in that Alice isn’t the only person capable of thoughtful introspection, it’s a masterstroke that Marsan and Compston are given roles that add complex character traits that muddy what ought to be a pretty clear cut film about how a woman is able to overcome a bad situation.

Additionally, the film excels because it doesn’t rely on the usual tropes and plot devices of a movie like this and it’s inherently more enjoyable because of it. Yes, it has twists and turns but much like a writing exercise where if you were a teacher looking to have every student in a classroom write about how you would change a tire, this is the solution that would work the best. It’s not the premise that makes it so good, but it’s the execution of it that makes it so good.

The delight, then, in seeing it’s not following the same parameters, and it doesn’t, is simply enjoying the idea that you don’t know which way the film will zig or zag. Again, Marsan, Compston, and Arterton deserve the credit for making these people so much more than mere characters but by using the script they were given, a tight one at that, and imbuing their performances with the same level of craftiness what you have is a seriously fun film that just delivers on all levels.

It’s hard to review a film that depends so much on its surprises but the movie just hums along without any slack and, thus, makes for a viewing experience that if nothing else will keep your attention until the very last twist that doesn’t feel forced or underhanded, it’s most definitely earned.

And, for those who would like to win a Disappearance of Alice Creed prize pack, and didn’t see it last week, please read on:

To help get the word out on The Disappearance Of Alice Creed Anchor Bay Films want to give one of you lucky readers a chance to win a DVD prize pack. The grand prize includes: Brooklyn’s Finest, The Crazies, Pandorum, Righteous Kill and Traitor DVDs. All you have to do is shoot me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com and I’ll get you entered.

While you wait to see if you’re the one who will be anointed with these goodies go on and find Alice Creed on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/whereisalicecreed

For additional information please visit: http://www.whereisalicecreed.com

Become a fan: http://www.facebook.com/whereisalicecreed

As well, watch the first 5 minutes of the thriller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhPNzoI__28

Good Luck!

Worth Reviving: Electra Glide in Blue - by Ray Schillaci

eleI was seventeen-years-old in 1973 and going to as many “R” rated movies as possible. It was a thrill going without my parents and even a bigger one when I found something that went beyond the simple-minded T&A or Hershel Gordon Lewis gorehound reissue. I cannot remember what prompted me to take the RTD bus all the way to the El Portal Theater in the middle of a sweltering hot & humid San Fernando Valley summer day to see a limited run, PG rated movie about a cop and the motorcycle he hated. It could have been a combination of an ultra-cool poster, a kick-ass trailer and a few critics that were going gaga over this flipside of “Easy Rider”. Whatever it was, “Electra Glide in Blue” will forever be one of my favorite films that to this day surprises everyone I introduce it to.

From the very misleading beginning the director prepares you for a story that is not going to be told in the usual fashion. Hell, the credits don’t even start until the director has wowed us with the opening scene and goes on to deliver one of the greatest introductions of a lead character in many a year. Suggestion; CRANK your sound system up for that bass-filled intro, it’s amazing.

Director James William Guercio was a composer and the producer of a little known group called Chicago Transit Authority, later shortened to Chicago. Soon after his success, Guercio was offered the opportunity to direct a film based on true events about the complicated life and eventual death of an Arizona motorcycle officer in the early 70s. What he brought to the table was a vision of pure Americana harkening back to the golden days of John Ford westerns.

In fact, when Guercio had the chance to use cinematographer Conrad Hall he not only insisted that he forego his director’s salary to afford the highly acclaimed cinematographer but insisted that he wanted to recapture the beauty of Ford’s cinematographer Winton C Hoch. A funny anecdote; Hall had informed the director that for 25 years he was trying to escape that look. Guercio compromised and gave Conrad Hall the opportunity to shoot all interior shots any way he wanted. Hall was given free creative reign with the exception of exteriors which would be true to the John Ford vision. This amalgam of imagery is a sheer delight that only adds to the richness of Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig’s story and director Guercio’s unique vision.

Robert Blake plays John “Big John” Wintergreen (with an unusual mix of self deprecating charm, machismo and sensitivity), an Arizona motorcycle officer that yearns for higher ground. He finds his life far too simplistic and is dedicated to elevate himself to detective where he can use his mind and gain some respect. His initiation, journey and eventual disillusionment as an officer during a very volatile time for law enforcement is exhilarating, confusing and very profound. His dedication to the law and doing the right thing only brings disappointment and compounded trouble to his already complicated life.

Wintergreen is brought on to the scene of a suicide that he insists is a murder case. What unravels is a heartbreakingly honest expose of the fragility of men and the machismo they wear as a badge of honor. There are twists and turns galore that keep one second guessing, but if that was not enough, the filmmakers pull out all the stops with memorable performances played to natural perfection by top notch character actors like Royal Dano and Elisha Cook Jr. The subplots are incredibly integral and not throwaways which makes the story a complicated one at times, but pays off big in the end.

The studio (United Artists) had no idea how to market the small budgeted film (just under a million dollars) that was so way ahead of its time in the early 70s. UA played on Blake’s height; comparing him to taller officers and stating that he and old time western star Alan Ladd were the same height. They also attempted to just toss it out as another action film with the usual low budget art used for the action genre of that era. But many critics rallied behind the film declaring its power along with its breathtaking visuals. For years this film has been a misunderstood American masterpiece of cinema and to this day has not received its due. Even the 2005 DVD release had a horrible marketing cover with the declaration “He’s taking justice into his own hands.” There is nothing of the sort! Whoever threw that line in never bothered to even watch the movie.

For some, this film may be hard to watch only because of what star Robert Blake is known for today. That throws him into the category of other troubled artists; Woody Allen and Mel Gibson to name a few. I don’t even like bringing this up since it can prove to be a dicey moral dilemma. Do we turn our back on such landmark masterpieces as “Annie Hall” and “Hannah and Her Sisters” or “Braveheart” and “Apocalypto” because the artist may appear morally corrupt to our society? When faced with this, I remind myself that film is a collaborative effort and by punishing one, I am punishing hundreds of people who were involved in the making of these films. A reward can be had for pure film enthusiasts who can look past these issues.

There is no denying Blake’s powerful, multi-dimensional performance that eventually leads to his landing his own successful TV show (Baretta) for many years. Another interesting anecdote; after three very successful TV seasons Robert Blake wanted to move on. He no longer had any desire to continue on with the character and when Universal begged him for one more season Blake accepted with a ridiculous offer feeling all too well that the studio would never comply. To his surprise they did – paying him a higher salary and building a custom home on the studio property that would include a custom toilet seat that matched his ass. This just shows the depths that studios will sink to get what they want. When it was all said and done, Blake spent little time in his home away from home.

But it is not just Robert Blake that makes this film succeed on so many levels. It is the sheer artistry of director James William Guercio and cinematographer Conrad Hall. It is Guercio’s dynamic score set against the backdrop of Monument Valley. It is the perfect pitch nuances by supporting actors Billy Green Bush, Mitch Ryan and Jeanine Riley. And, finally it’s Rupert Hitzig and Robert Boris’ morality play that becomes an ode to law enforcement in the early 70s that made life a war zone for so many during those confused times.

Could I imagine the film without Robert Blake? Absolutely not, his stature and performance proves to be a dynamic linchpin for this beautiful film. It is mind blowing and our loss that director Guercio never went on to make other films. It is unclear as to why he never pursued that end of his career any further (with the exception of producing another Robert Blake film, “Second Hand Hearts”). Perhaps he was satisfied with his accomplishments in music having produced successful recordings for Chicago, The Buckinghams and Blood, Sweat and Tears. He also went on to develop a recording studio the Caribou Ranch nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and used successfully by such high profile artists like Elton John, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel and Waylon Jennings.

In regards to getting the chance to watch this true American cinema gem, it is available through Netflix, but you may be hard pressed to locate it at your local video store. It can also be purchased at a number of places on the net. My only beef is with the uncaring transfer that the studio (MGM) subjected us to. Yes, it’s better than the VHS version, but that’s not saying much and this is a film crying out for extras. My wish is that Criterion gets a hold of this and does the film justice with an endearing Blu Ray presentation. One that wows us like it did me the first time I set my eyes on it upon the big screen. At the time my body nearly felt thumped to death by the dynamic score blasting out of the speaker system at the El Portal. This brings back memories of when individual theaters had double bills and the word “multiplex” was only used in science and engineering.

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