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MIAMI - When you take a phone call from Armand Assante, you imagine him basking on a balcony overlooking a silver sand beach. He must hold an unlit cigar waiting to light up once the conversation has ended. But I’m not quite sure where he was when he called the Party Favors hotline to discuss his role in Guido which will be released on DVD on July 2.

He plays an FBI agent on the trail of on Iraqi hitman (Alki David) working for the mob. The hitman has his own troubles as he’s transporting a corpse cross country with his landlady (Lupe Ontiveros of Goonies, Desperate Housewives and El Norte) sharing the ride.

Assante has been working in films since a small part in The Lords of Flatbush back in 1974. He made a major splash opposite Antonio Banderas in The Mambo Kings. Although lately he’s been appearing on TV with the spoof Fatal Instinct and Striptease. He’s been appearing steadily in films and TV shows for nearly 40 years. How did he get involved with Guido?

“I got a call out of the blue from Alki, whom I’ve never known,” Assante said. “When he sent me the script; I remember how much I like the quality of that project. I thought it was a very unique, funny dark, zany little movie about this immigrant. I thought, “Wow. What a wonderful way to move into a film noir adventure type story. I thought it was very cleaver.”

It took a little finagling for Assante to get into the movie.

“I was working on two or three projects at the same time,” Assante said. “So when my schedule fit to fit his, I flew out to L.A. and we shot constantly to get me out in a few days.”

I asked Assante how he crafted his FBI agent role for such an intense shooting schedule.

“I have worked a lot with federal agents and homeland security people in my own projects that I want to do,” he recalled. “I was very interested in doing a reality show on piracy. I have a lot of experience with these people and talk to them at length. The one constant thing I’ve found is there’s a methodology of deductive reasoning. It’s slow, methodical, thoughtful work often frustrated by the parameters of bureaucracy, law, legality, protocol. The sense of angst that the bureaucracy is so overwhelming that to take action to get anything done is the main source of frustration for these people. They’re very slow to act and not people who fly off the handle. They are repulsed by criminality and repulsed by a system that sometimes is not addressing it the way it should. That’s the one trait I noticed.”

Seeing how the Party Favors recently spoke with Ron Jeremy about his role in Guido, I asked Assante about his time with the Hedgehog.

“I never got to work with Ron,” Assante admitted “I completely forgot that he’s in it.”
Assante had fond memories of one of his co-stars.

“I met Lupe Ontiveros,” he said with glee. “She was so gracious to me. She told me was a longtime fan of mine. She passed away a short time after. The woman was in phenomenal condition. It was a reminder of how fleeting this whole experience of all of ours is. I was quite sadden by that.”

After building up a relationship, how was Alki David on the set?

“I really appreciated working with Alki,” Assante said. “He’s seasoned not only as a performer, but as a writer. He cared about the project. There was a real sense of synergy among us to help him as best we could under the time and circumstances.”

Billy, I’ve worked with on several projects. It was a delight to see him again. Although I saw him very little. He’s so gifted as an actor.

Out of pure curiosity, I asked him about working with Gary Busey. Over the last few years, the former Oscar nominee has been known for just getting goofy on various reality shows. Assante had one of the rarest of encounters with the Busey.

“I have to tell you he was an absolute gentlemen. That has to be a real juicy one,” Assante admitted to the normalcy. “We worked very quick. He was in the body bag and I was on the zipper. He was an absolute gentleman to me.”

Assante wanted the readers to know about a few more projects that he’ll have coming out in the near future. He’s a Gary Cole kinda busy actor. Argentina’s Ley Primera ( “First Law” ) written and directed by Diego Rafecas. A story based on real events about the plundering of the rain forest and its indigenous people, the Chaco Indians, in Argentina. Montivideo Taste of a Dream is Serbia’s sequel to its acclaimed and award winning Montivideo about the origins of the World Cup in Soccer. In 1930, America, Serbia, Brazil and Uruguay held the world of football in total suspense. The New York based Actor is as well featured in LionsGate’s Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn as well as in Kevin Breslin’s upcoming, Blowtorch. Last year, Assante’s 19 minute documentary on Kazkahstan Dialogue from the Steppes was awarded by the Gasparilla International Film Festival—- Best Documentary Short. The project is a synthesis of Armand traveling there over a period of four years studying its people and history. Armand last year produced a feature film in Kazakhstan as well entitled The Whole World at Your Feet.

Guido comes out on DVD and other home video platforms on July 2.

GAS STATION EATING

I have tasted the greatest friend oysters in the most out of the way place. The Chef’s Korner served me a plate of oysters that had the perfect texture of fried batter and oysters that melted upon impact. The divine diner is in an old gas station in the town of Ebony, Va. How do you get there? Get off at Exit 4 on I-85 in Bracy, Virginia. Take 903 towards Ebony. You can’t miss it since the Chef’s Korner is pretty much at the end of the road. http://www.thechefskorner.com/

DID YOU HEAR ME, ESQUIRE NETWORK?

After my quick diatribe about how the Esquire Network was launching with barely an hour of original programming a week, someone must have noticed since G-4 is still on the cable box. Why has the launch been pushed back to September 23? According to reports, they realized they only had an hour of original programming. I’m counting this as a victory for TV viewers that are sick on channels that beat to death a single TV show. What’s the point of 100 channels if they deliver barely enough shows to fill 5 channels? The funny thing is that original press releases claimed the new launch would be in the Summer except Fall starts September 22. Maybe Esquire Channel needs to hire back the fact checkers or unblock their Wikipedia function?

MADNESS IS COMING

Noel Fielding is in production making another series of Luxury Comedy. This could be a show that could air on BBC America if they weren’t too busy rerunning V For Vendetta. Speaking of that channel, I did get a notice from Donal Logue that he will be appearing on BBC America’s Copper series that starts June 23. He has a busy year battling in Five Points and Charming.

CINEMA DREAMS

Labor of Love is another brilliant cinematic unearthing from Vinegar Syndrome. During the cold winter of Chicago, Henri Charbakshi gets funding for his film. The movie is about a couple who can’t conceive so they decide to hire male hookers to knock up his wife. The backers have one stipulation that Henri not merely make an arty European kinda movie. They want a hardcore X on the film can. Henri takes up the challenge of altering his dream so he can get his cash. Luckily documentarians Robert Flaxman and Daniel Goldman come along for the ride. They get plenty of interviews with actors and actresses who are getting naked during the coldest part of the year. They also shoot behind the scenes footage of the sex scenes. Henri doesn’t quite create a space that’s get for erotic moments. The film is so low budget that they skipped renting a soundproof blimp for the camera. The actors romantic moments are greeted with the grinding sound of the film going through the gears. Henri is hilarious talking about his technique. He keeps talking about French New Wave and other master of European cinema. He should have been talking about Jess Franco and Henry Paris (Radley Metzger). This is like American Movie’s daddy except with a little more talent. Flaxman and Goldman get so intimate to the set action that I almost went to the craft service table. There’s a great moment when an actor opens up about his sex scene with a much younger actress. While Henri Charbakshi’s The Last Affair was a major flop, his career wasn’t totally derailed. After several years, he emerged as Henri Charr, director of dozens of straight to video movies. He must have learned that one speaks of the French, but eats by emulating Roger Corman. The bonus features include Robert Flaxman answering questions on stage at a Cinefamily screening and the trailer. The finished The Last Affair isn’t a bonus feature. The film bombed upon impact. Luckily Labor of Love has been given a second chance at giving a true insight to the Boogie Nights dream in the ’70s. It’s like watching the Maysles Brothers going X-rated.

BLU-RAY HEAVEN

Oz The Great And Powerful revives the land over the rainbow courtesy of Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead). This is not another retelling of how Dorothy found her way home. Instead we get the tale of how the Wizard arrived as the leader of the Emerald City. In a bit of proper casting, James Franco (Pineapple Express) is the magician Oz. Franco is a bit of an overblown con man with his constant art projects that are more about concept and hype versus the execution. Franco’s enrolling at every college in America seems like something Oz would do. The movie starts out like The Wizard of Oz in a black and white world. Oz is part of a carnival performing his tricks with Zach Braff (Scrubs) as his sidekick in deception. Well he has to skip out of his performance when his sly ways come back with a vengeance. He escapes in a hot air balloon which gets sucked into a tornado. This leads him into a colorful world framed in Cinemascope. Turns out this new world has been waiting for a powerful magician with the name the same as the land. He’s ready to claim this title and live large. However he gets into girl trouble when it comes to three witches all fighting for the Technicolor turf. Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams) are not quite what they appear. Which one really is the wicked one since they all seem so sweet and lovely? Can Oz juggle the witches or will they burn him on the stake. For fans of the original movie, there’s plenty of flying monkeys. Braff gets to be a flying monkey and resume his flunky duties for Oz. There are plenty of bonus features including a second screen that gives views plenty of info. They tossed in a few bloopers, a feature on Danny Elfman’s score, How the China Girl was created, the production design, how one of the witches was turned green and Walt Disney’s fascination with the story. The movie was shot in 3-D so if you have the setup, consider getting the 3D Blu-ray package. You’ll crave to be caught by the tornado. There are numerous other packages. This review is based on the Blu-ray, DVD and Digital copy boxset. The DVD is great for keeping the kids occupied in the back of the car during a long trip through a tornado-less landscape.

Lifeforce: Collector’s Edition brings a blast from when Halley’s Comet visited the Earth back in 1985. Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist)brings us the frightening tale of Space Vampires that are brought to earth via the Space Shuttle. Scientists are amazed at the new E.T.s since one of them is a really hot woman (Mathtilda May) who enjoys being naked. This erotic alien does her best to suck the life out of London. While Lifeforce didn’t do well when it was released in the summer, the videotape rented rather well when word got out that the space vampire gal was naked for most of her scenes. There’s also a visit from Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as a possessed victim of the space vampires. Humanity’s only hope for defeating the menace is none of other than Steven Railsback (The Stunt Man & Helter Skelter). Charles Manson has to save the world. The film’s special effects were done by John Dykstra (Star Wars) and the score by Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther). This was a rather huge production for Cannon Films. They shot it on 70mm. The transfer on the boxset brings out the richness of the format. Hooper is happy he got to supervise the color timing to make it look just right. What’s great about the Blu-ray is that you can watch the European cut that’s 15 minutes longer than the American version. There’s plenty of bonus features including the vintage behind the scenes featurette, trailers, and new interviews with Hooper, Railsback and May. There’s also a DVD. Lifeforce should have had a larger cult, but there’s no way it can be properly run on a UHF station. Now you can enjoy it properly on your home big screen.

Ninja III: The Domination is my favorite of all the Ninja films in the world. You don’t even need to see the first two Ninja movies to enjoy Ninja III. Why is this all true? This is a potent mix of martial arts action spiced with inadvertent comedy. Have you ever seen a Ninja attack a helicopter by jumping out of a tree? A dying Ninja takes possession of an innocent person in order to track down and destroy the cops that killed him. That sounds probably sounds mildly entertaining. The film becomes essential viewing because the possessed person is a telephone repairwoman played by Lucinda Dickey (Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo). She also has a part time job as an aerobics instructor. Things get hilarious when the cop investigating her encounter with the ninja shows up at her aerobics class to get closer. When he finally breaks down her resistance to his romantic means, he removes his shirt to expose a body that any furry would embrace. The Ninja’s sword glows and floats into Lucinda’s hand to get her to do the dirty work of revenge. At once point James Hong (Balls of Fury) arrives to exorcise the evil ninja out of Lucinda. The spirit won’t leave her and gives her Bride of FrankenNinja hair. She’s now a full time killing machine. The only chance to stop her is Sho Kosugi (star of the first two Ninja movies. This film is a laugher after a few drinks and with even more friends gathered around the TV. Lucinda and director Sam Firstenberg would unite to make Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Those two understood how to make cinema magic like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. The bonus features are a DVD, a commentary with Sam and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert plus the original trailer. If you only buy one Ninja movie on Blu-ray this summer, let it be Ninja III: The Domination. She’s not out to save the center this time.

The Howling: Collector’s Edition is the ultimate version of the werewolf film. Finally getting to see it at 1080p brings out so many little details that vanished from VHS. Dee Wallace (E.T.) is a TV reporter looking to score a big scoop. However her source wants to meet at a peep show booth in an adult store. Something goes weird in the booth. Even though she survives, there’s a lot of trauma. Her helpful therapist (The Avengers‘ Patrick MacNee) sends her off to a beach front colony to recuperate. What she doesn’t know is that her fellow campers are werewolves including John Carradine. They want to convert her. The ending is still a powerful shocker with its attitude toward how we see things on TV. This was Joe Dante at his monster mad best. What makes this an ultimate edition is that many of the previous bonus features from earlier releases are her. This includes a commentary with Joe Dante and his cast reuniting, “Unleashing the Beast,” deleted scenes, more focus on Rob Bottin’s werewolf transformations. Executive Producer Steven A. Lane breaks down how he put the film together and the numerous sequels. He points out that he’s hasn’t become rich off the films, but it’s kept him active. There’s also a tour of the locations to see how some things haven’t changed since 1980.

Action-Packed Double Feature: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry & Race With the Devil is the reason to get an HD video projector and turn your driveway into a drive-in theater. This was at the time when Peter Fonda ruled action cinema. This double feature shows him as a man being pursued for totally different reasons. Peter Fonda is a hold up man in a grocery store robbery in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. He’s got dreams of being a NASCAR driver which makes him a fine getaway driver. However he screws up the night before the heist when he sleeps with Susan George. She’s not as easy to shake as lawman Vic Morrow (The Bad News Bears). So it’s Susan and his partner Adam Roarke (The Stuntman) inside a supped up Chevy Impala. They tear up the countryside with Morrow coming after them in a helicopter. This film deserves more respect when people write their great cinematic car chases lists. Race With the Devil has Fonda going on a cross country camping trip with Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch). Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H*) and Lara Parker (Dark Shadows) play their wives on this R.V. journey. Things are going good until they camp near a Satanic ritual. The Satanists don’t like their human sacrifice being interrupted. They come after Peter and Warren. Can Peter Fonda escape in his RV? There’s a great conspiratorial “nowhere is safe and nobody can be trusted” vibe to the film. The Blu-ray transfers of both films bring out the grit of pursuit. You can feel the motors rumbling when you crank up the surround sound. The commentary tracks and documentaries featuring Peter Fonda are still here. It’s a perfect way to spend a hot summer night.

Dead Souls is a classic example of why there are no true bargains in the world of real estate. There’s always a price for paying less. Johnny Petrie (The Amityville Horror’s Jesse James) gets a double surprise when he turns 18. He first learns that he was adopted. The blow of such a discovery is tempered with the gift of his natural family’s farm in Maine. He’s ready to learn about his true self. The place is a fixer upper since it’s been empty since his family was killed there. He also gets a sense that his real father might have not been a Holy Roller preacher. He might have dabbled in the dark side. The property just might be haunted and his return inside seems to have revived the evil spirits. This shocking film originally ran on the Chiller channel. The version on the Blu-ray includes 7 minutes more. The movie is based on Michael Laimo’s novel. The bonus features include a commentary track, bloopers and a tour of the set. Remember that you should always pay a fair price for a house else evil spirits will eliminate any discount you perceive.

DVD SHELF

Perry Mason: The Final Season - Season 9, Volume 1 begins the sad task of ending the great legal drama (until they brought back the show in the ’80s). Even though this is the final season, Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) is brought into the cast as Lt. Steve Drumm. He’s taking over for Lt. Tragg since Ray Collins after season 8. How could they end the show with Oscar Goldman on the scene? There’s 15 cases on the 4 DVDs. “The Case of the Laughing Lady” takes us to the women’s jail in Los Angeles. An inmate swears the real killer is a socialite she spots on a TV special. How could someone on TV kill anyone? Bernard Fox (Bewitched’s Doctor Bombay) is part of the intrigue. “The Case of the Cheating Chancellor” involves Lee Meriwether (Barnaby Jones) as a mistress with an academic fetish. “The Case of the Hasty Honeymooner” quickly hitches Noah Beery Jr. (The Rockford Files) to a carefully selected bride. But does she really work out? Can any marriage survive a visit from Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch)? “The Case of the Runaway Racer” puts the pedal to the guest star metal with visits from Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat), Michael Constantine Room 222 and Paul Winfield (The Terminator). Strange to think there’s only 15 more episodes left. The arrival of Richard Anderson makes it feel like the show is ready to go another 8 seasons. The gavel falls on Volume 2 on August 13. Then we get to wonder if the revived series hits DVD.

Rawhide: The Sixth Season - Volume 1 & 2 marks the time after Clint Eastwood came back from Europe with A Fistful of Dollars on his resume. Around the globe, Clint was the Man With No Name. However his Sergio Leone movies wouldn’t play in America until 1967. He was still Rowdy Yates around here. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a mean shot with his gun. But he wasn’t the star. That honor belonged to Eric Fleming. He was in charge of driving those cattle across the heart of America. The 30 Incidents on this two volumes . “Incident of the Red Wind” has Clint rubbing the wrong way with Neville Brand (The Untouchables). He think Neville can’t find water and is going to kill off the herd. Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched) magically appears in “Incident at El Crucero.” Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) proves to be trouble when he turns up in chains in “Incident of the Travelin’ Man.” James Sikking (Doogie Howser M.D.) wants him strung up. Another cinema icon arrives when Frankie Avalon (Beach Party) learns to be a man from hanging with Clint. “Incident of the Rawhiders” pre-unites Dukes of Hazzard stars James Best and Denver Pyle. “Incident of the Rusty Shotgun” blasts Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo). “Incident of the Peyote Cup” is the best. Indians dose a drover with the natural LSD. It’s a freak out before the arrival of Flower power. Wonder how many kids in ‘67 remembered this episode when they were offered peyote at a San Francisco concert? The season is a trip since Clint is clueless on the screen that he’s about to change the face of Westerns around the globe while working the range back in Hollywood.

Journey of the Universe distills the big theory of existence as cosmologist Brian Swimme takes a walk around the Greek island of Samos. How do you cram a 1.4 billion years into an hour long TV special? Very carefully. Swimme is engaging as he relates the script written by himself and Yale’s Mary Evelyn Tucker. “This story has the power to awaken us more deeply to who we are. For just as the Milky Way is the universe in the form of a flower, we are the universe in the form of a human. And every time we are drawn to look up in the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting on itself. And this changes everything,” Swimme says. It amazing how he squeezes so many concepts into what feels like a leisurely journey. This documentary reminds me of Mindwalk. Journey of the Universe: Conversations is a 4 DVD follow up with talks hosted by Mary Evelyn Tucker. Scientists and major college professors expand upon elements mentioned in the original documentary. Think of this as the intermediate course for viewers who must know more. The first half of the talks focus on “The Emergence of Universe, Earth, Life and Humans.” The second section allows speakers focus on the future of the universe and what must be done to keep things form going out of control. What will make humanity and the Earth achieve a sustainable success in the coming centuries? There are a lot of factors discussed. Shelter Island offers the special and Conversations as a combined boxset and separately.

Ring of Fire is an oil company’s biggest nightmare. A drilling accident near a small town leads to a bunch of volcanoes exploding. Nothing ruins a pristine valley faster than hot lava pouring down from the former mountain tops. Naturally in the wake of such an Earth destroying disaster, the oil company must go into overdrive with their marketing department putting up walls of deniability to keep the lava flow from destroying the stock. The only hope to stop things from going completely apocalyptic is the work of two environmental activists. The locals are a bit more concerned about that neighborhood behind turned into New Pompeii. The three hour miniseries casts well with Michael Vartan (Alias), Lauren Lee Smith (CSI) and Terry O’Quinn (Lost & The Stepfather). There’s a lot of stuff catching on fire from the volcano damage to please the diehard disaster fans. This original ran on Reelz.

Snitch brings together Dwayne Johnson (formerly The Rock) and Susan Sarandon in a tag team that could have taken out the Road Warriors. Dwayne’s a good dad with a son dumb enough to get busted for a lot of drugs. What can he do to keep the kid from serving ten years in the big house? How about make a deal to go deep cover an infiltrate the Mexican drug cartel? If he can smash the underworld organization, his son will get sprung. Fans of The Wire get to see The Rock working with Omar (Michael Kenneth Williams). Can you smell what the farmer in the dell is cooking? It’s a fun over the top family drama turned action flick. The DVD will allow you to get a digital copy on iTunes and access the Ultraviolet stream. You can watch it everywhere. You might not want to watch Snitch on your iPhone while hanging out at the courthouse. The other bonus features include a making of, deleted scenes and the trailer. The audio commentary features director Ric Roman Waugh and editor Jonathan Chibnall. More editors should get to contribute to commentary tracks since they’re the ones who often make the film enjoyable.

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