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Under the Radar

Hipster DVD Gift Pack

Despite all the talk about the death of DVD in the age of streaming, MGM continues to comb through its library and release titles that you never thought you'd see on DVD. This month we've got a few that you can use as backup Christmas gifts for your girlfriend's irritating art-school brother or your annoying cousin who doesn't share your love of action pictures.

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Devil's Angels

Your hipster cousin reveres John Cassavetes as a patron saint of indie film, the guy who bucked the system and directed incredibly moody low-budget classics like Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence. No one in Hollywood shared Cassavetes' passion for his European-style art films so he had to pay for them himself by taking whatever acting jobs came his way and using the paycheck to buy more film.

Sometimes he ended up in a great movie like The Dirty Dozen or Rosemary's Baby or the wildly underrated noir tv series Johnny Staccato "(TV's Jazz Detective"). And sometimes he took a job like Devil's Angels. Mr. Method Actor is both way too old and way too clean-cut to play the leader of a motorcycle gang who has to defend his fellow riders against bogus charges of messing with Mimsy Farmer (best known for her performance in the Riot on Sunset Strip). John really doesn't look happy to be there and for his sake you have to hope the shoot only took a couple of weeks.

This probably doesn't have enough violence or action for you, but the reaction you'd get while watching it with an art-film snob would be worth the price of admission.

You know things are getting rare and obscure when there's not even a trailer on YouTube.

Golden Needles

After awesome performances in Walking Tall and Charley Varrick, you'd think Joe Don Baker would be on the verge of becoming a major star. Maybe he was, but then he made Golden Needles. This movie has all the production values of an episode of Columbo even though parts of it seem to have been filmed on location in Asia. Baker was paired with Enter the Dragon star Jim Kelly and led a cast that also featured Elizabeth Ashley and Burgess Meredith.

So here's the deal: Joe Don can't do any martial arts whatsoever. He throws a heavy punch, but he's running around sweating and hoping one of his punches knocks out his opponent. Since there's a PG rating here, the violence is pretty limited and there isn't much sex to fill in the gaps. Not even a massive showdown in an L.A. health club featuring a battle on the racquetball courts can inject much life.

Speaking of racquetball, I couldn't help thinking how much better this movie could've been if it starred noted karate and racquetball enthusiast Elvis Presley. He could've at least tried to pull off the martial arts and maybe a new career playing 70s badasses would've saved his life. Col. Tom Parker would've never allowed his boy to work outside of the USA but it's a daydream that helped distract from an incredibly slow third act.

Your hipster cousin is probably trying to look like Keith Carradine right now.

Welcome to L.A.

This is the actual promotional copy from the back of the DVD box:

A self-important group of eccentrics from Los Angeles realize how worthless their lives are.
Can't get much more candid than that. Keith Carradine is a songwriter whose dad secretly funds an album of his material by a huge recording star played by Richard Baskin, heir to the ice cream fortune. Richard actually wrote all the songs that he recorded in the movie and they're a weird cross between Jackson Browne and Jacques Brel. That's not really a recommendation. Keith's character sleeps with a bunch of women who also sleep with some other guys who additionally sleep with some of the same women Keith's been sleeping with. That description makes the movie sound far more sexy than it actually is.

Welcome to L.A. was written and directed by Robert Altman protegé Alan Rudolph and has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the great unseen movies of the '70s. I saw it back in the '80s and liked it at the time. I was wrong. This movie is interminable. If you have any interest in what goes on in recording studios, you might find Richard Baskin's music and the studio scenes weirdly compelling.

Alan Rudolph's next movie is the far superior stalker drama Remember My Name. Check that one out. If you give the Welcome to L.A. DVD as a gift, you'll probably get some credit when they open the gift but don't expect anyone to thank you again later.

All of these DVD's were manufactured from "best available sources" so they don't have anything in the way of extra materials. You can catch Golden Needles and Devil's Angels on Netflix but you'll have to buy the disk if you want to see Welcome to L.A.

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