Another 'Sniper' and early Lucy

By Tom Von Malder | Jun 27, 2020
Photo by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Chad Michael Collins and Sayaka Akimoto star in "Sniper: Assassin's End."

Owls Head — Sniper: Assassin’s End (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 95 min.). The one constant in the Sniper series, which now has reached eight films since 1993, is Tom Berenger, who plays retired military sniper Sgt. Thomas Beckett. Only the first film was released theatrically. The new film is competently made and features a couple of nice performances, but the script is lazy and obvious. One whole section, involving Berenger, is a cliché, seen maybe a dozen times in other films and even TV shows.

In this installment, Beckett’s son, Special Ops sniper Brandon Beckett (Chad Michael Collins of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”), is set up as the assassin who kills Bruno Diaz in Costa Verde, South America, when the real killer is Lady Death (Sayaka Akimoto, a Japanese actress and singer making her Hollywood film debut). She has the moves, as shown in her one-on-one battle with Brandon. The motive behind the killing is not political, but rather to disrupt the merger of two pharmaceutical companies, so that one company’s stock will tank, making a huge profit for several insiders. Brandon is supposed to be killed by Lady Death, making it look like a suicide, but she shows up in the Seattle area too late, as the government already has him in custody.

Leading the government interrogators is Agent John Franklin (Lochlyn Munro of TV’s “Riverdale”). On his team is Agent Juliet Clover (Emily Tennant of TV’s “Project Blue Book,” “Riverdale”), who actually is more helpful, on the down low, to Homeland Security Agent Zeke “Zero” Rosenberg (Ryan Robbins of TV’s “Sanctuary,” “Riverdale”), who believes Brandon is innocent and is out to prove that. Robbins gives the best performance in the film.

The cliché section is when an on-the-run Brandon goes to visit his retired father in the Montana woods, where he has an underground escape route. There are no bonus features. All eight films also are being released as “The Ultimate Sniper Collection.” Grade: film 2 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940, Criterion Collection, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 89 min.). The film, directed by Dorothy Arzner, tells the story of two chorus line girls who become rivals on stage and in love. Maureen O’Hara, in her sixth film, plays the more reserved Judy O’Brien, who dreams of becoming a ballerina and of even creating her own ballet dances. She is the one who delivers the famous scathing rebuke to a jeering, heckling burlesque audience. Her polar opposite is brassy gold digger Bubbles, aka “the hot one,” played with glee by Lucille Ball, who had been making movies for eight years, mostly in uncredited small parts. Ball would start her brilliant TV career in 11 years.

The black-and-white, newly restored film, in a 4K digital transfer, opens with both women performing in a club act, with others of teacher Madame Lydia Basilova’s troupe. Basilova is played by Maria Ouspenskaya, famous as Maleva in two of Universal’s “Werewolf” films (1941, 1943) and as Baroness Von Obersdorf in “Dodsworth.” The Akron, Ohio club is raided by the police because there is a backroom with gambling going on, but both women are intrigued by tire magnate Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward of “And Then There Were None,” “The Man in the Iron Mask”), tipsy because he is celebrating his pending divorce from Elinor (Virginia Field), as he is nice to the girls, passing his hat for donations to pay them. Judy chats him up, but Bubbles is the one who goes to a club with him.

The chorus girls head back to New York City and Madame Basilova by various means. During an audition for a hula dancing gig, all the girls are considered too boring, until Bubbles shows up and gets the job … for $25 a week. Soon Bubbles has met lucky, changed her name to Tiger Lily White and become a burlesque star. She gets the idea of having Judy be hired to do a classical dance, which will draw laughs and in essence become her stage “stooge.” The usual rise-to-fame montage, including lots of newspaper headlines, follows.

Highlight scenes in the film including Judy showing up for a meeting that allows her to see a dance production in rehearsal. First, there is a more staid, classical sequence, then it segues into a wonderful, lively New York City street scene. Another highlight is Tiger Lily (Ball) performing two burlesque songs: the dirty-minded “Oh! Mother What Do I Do Now?” with its skirt-lifting bursts of wind and the boisterous “Jitterbug Bite.” She interacts with the ogling crowd during both numbers.

Meanwhile, Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy, about to play Ellery Queen in four films) has seen Judy in the elevator of the building where his ballet company is located, not realizing she is the would-be auditioner whom he had not met because she left early. And Harris reenters the picture when he shows up, again drunk, at the burlesque show.

The underlying feminism in the film – Arzner was the sole female director in the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s and early 1940s – comes to the surface late in the film, when a fed-up Judy walks down to center stage to confront her hecklers. She tells the mostly male audience: “Go ahead and stare. I’m not ashamed. I know you want me to tear my clothes off so you can look your 50 cents’ worth. Fifty cents for the privilege of staring at a girl the way your wives won’t let you.” Despite this, O’Hara is a bit miscast. Arzner should have let Ball roll more.

There are only two extras, both new interviews. Film critic B. Ruby Rich discusses Arzner and her career, centering on “Dance, Girl, Dance” and “Craig’s Wife” (15:16). Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola recalls his days as a UCLA film school student who had a class taught by Arzner in 1962, who, at one point, advised him to stick with it, when he was considering going back to New York City (10:48). There also is a pamphlet essay by critic Sheila O’Malley. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

Dream Demon director’s cut (1988, Arrow, Blu-ray, NR, 88 min.). This is a newly restored version of the film, directed and co-written by Harley Cokliss, who provides an introduction, as well as does audio commentary with producer Paul Webster for about half the film (46:21). In the film, bride-to-be Diana (Jemma Redgrave in her debut) starts having violent nightmares, involving her husband-to be Oliver (Mark Greenstreet) and others, having moved into a wedding-gift new house and occupying the bottom of three flats. Oliver is a hero of the Falklands War, which brings the interest of two sleazy journalists, played by Timothy Spall as Peck and Jimmy Nail as Paul. They really harass Diana.

Early on, Diana rejects Oliver at the altar. He slaps her and she slaps him and … well, it is the first of several memorable horror gags in the film. In fact, much of the film’s action apparently takes place in dreams; and while there is no “demon” as such, Spall’s photographer does go missing and keeps reappearing in more degraded fashion each time (a bit like “An American Werewolf in London,” but not as funny).

American transplant Jenny (Kathleen Wilhoite, who will be in “Road House” soon after) shows up, believing she used to live in the house before she was adopted in America. Eventually it seems that Jenny, whom Diana invites to stay with her, becomes part of Diana’s dreams as well. One scene shows Oliver in bed with another woman, but is it a bad dream or reality?

Other extras include new interviews with Cokliss (27:22), who talks about dropped scenes and a dropped detective character; Redgrave (16 min.); Webster (37:22); Greenstreet (9:44); Nickolas Grace (8:58), who plays Jenny’s father and was in “Brideshead Revisited”; Annabelle Lanyon (9:20), who plays the child; and composer Bill Nelson (15:13), who talks about using an emulator board and cobbling the score together. Cokliss, who more generally goes by Cokeliss, also directed “Bad Moon Rising” and was a second unit director on “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.”

Additionally, there is the theatrical version of the film (89 min.), a making-of featurette from 1988 (26:26) and two galleries of production and behind-the-scenes photos. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 3.75 stars

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