Color, 2001, 87 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Roger Nygard
Starring Daniel Benzali, Lori Loughlin, Louis Mandylor
Synapse Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
SIX DAYS IN ROSWELL
Color, 1998, 81 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Timothy B. Johnson
Starring Richard Kronfeld
Synapse Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)
In the wake of the cult favorite documentary Trekkies, the various people involved found a springboard to make a wide array of idiosyncratic projects often blurring the line between fiction and documentary. Apart from the obvious sequel, director Roger Nygard followed it up quickly with the quirky indie crime comedy Suckers, and he also served as producer and editor for Timothy B. Johnson's Six Days in Roswell, both collected together in 2020 for a Blu-ray release from Synapse Films. Easily the lesser seen of the two due to its relative unavailability is Suckers, which is the main feature here and plays like a profane updating of Used Cars with a violent twist.
In debt to loan sharks, Bobby Deluca (Mandylor) is pressured by his wife, Donna (Loughlin), to get a steady job and decides to go into selling used cars. He ends up on the sales team of the aggressive Reggie (Benzali), who trains his team to take virtually any means necessary to close a deal with a customer -- and Bobby becomes all too willing to go along with the approach, which is laid out in a string of outrageous training sessions that spill over into various techniques on the floor to pass off any undesirable car as a great bargain. Unfortunately Bobby's financial woes and a little secret side business of Reggie's are both fated to intersect before too long, bringing actual physical threats into the mix that could end both of their careers.
Shot in a colorful but gritty style with hand-held camerawork and committed performances, Suckers works best when it uses Bobby and Reggie as a training manual of sorts for how you can get fleeced by a salesman without even realizing it. The more exaggerated sequences (including a sex / sales scene in a car that seems tailor made for the trailer) probably seemed a bit more extreme at the time than they do now given how much has come to light about corrupt sales practices in many businesses, but it still has some kick and works nicely due to the characterizations and strong supporting performances.
Synapse's Blu-ray release (with a simultaneous DVD edition dropping the co-feature and its relevant extras) features a vibrant transfer cited as a 4K remaster approved by Nygard, and thankfully it doesn't try to mess around with the original grainy look. Anyone who hit the theaters frequently during the indie wave of the late '90s and early '00s will smile at the aesthetic here, which you really don't see at all anymore. DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English options are provided, both sounding fine with most of the channel separation going to the music, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. An audio commentary by Nygard, producer Joe Yannetty, cinematographer Nathan Hope, actor/composer Jimmie Wood, and composer JJ Holiday focuses on production anecdotes including the casting process, the research and personal experience worked into the story, the mannerisms adopted to distinguish the salespeople, the awkwardness of shooting sex scenes, and the tactics of putting together a film outside the studio system. Also included are the trailer, a pair of deleted scenes (1m55s) pulled from a time-coded VHS work print, and four raw takes (7m28s) that make an interesting contrast to the finished versions in the movie itself.
A look at the quirky underbelly of America's heartland (well, a few states to the southwest of it anyway), Six Days in Roswell offers a novel spin on the sardonic lunacy of True Stories and Gates of Heaven with a linking device centering around Trekkies alumnus Richard Kronfeld, who's so dejected by the departure and success of all his friends that he decides live out his dream of taking off from Minnesota to Roswell, New Mexico, in hopes of being abducted by aliens. The film spends an unusual amount of time setting up Rich's motivation and personal circumstances, which makes the payoffs much more amusing and complex. As viewers we desperately want to identify with Rich as our normal center of gravity in a swirling storm of crazies, but by the halfway point it's impossible to deny that he's just as far gone as everybody else.
Though most of the film's humor comes from the UFO-crazy fanatics who either claim they've had an encounter with the visitors or are simply in the game to make a fast buck, the real pleasure in Roswell lies in the incidentals. Rich's camper rental arrangement with an elderly resident and his attempts to adjust to the climate are among the best anecdotes, while the filmmakers seek out the quirky little details like UFO pancakes and pizza, Rich's multicolored UFO haircut, and gun-toting locals who critique our guide's preparation for an alien invasion. Along the way we also get dozens of interviews, including a surprise appearance by Communion's Whitley Streiber, who offers an astonishing amount of non-information which Rich nevertheless regards as one of the highlights of his life. However, the comedic climax is obviously reached during a production of Roswell: The Musical, a surreal spectacle that must be witnessed to be believed. Synapse first released this as a standalone DVD back in 2000 featuring a nice and crisp transfer for the time from the original 16mm elements, plus a treasure trove of goodies bound to amuse fans of the film and UFO lovers alike. Kronfeld, producer Roger Nygard, and director Timothy B. Johnson appear for a commentary track as rollicking as the film itself, albeit a little more relaxed and down to earth. The video extras include a homemade 19m36s documentary, "Six Days in the Desert," chronicling the filmmakers' attempts to bring their second cinematic effort to life, along with a hefty half hour of prime footage scrapped from the final cut. Each filmmakers' bio comes complete with snippets of their previous work, including a truly bizarre and hilarious montage of Richian highlights filled with deadpan quips. The well designed menus provide plenty of room for exploring, with nooks and crannies leading you to various production photos, trivia tidbits, two theatrical trailers (plus one for Trekkies) and UFO ephemera, while clicking on map icons leads you to some nifty Easter Eggs (three total), including the strangest vacuum cleaner demonstration you'll ever see. The Blu-ray features a fresh 4K scan of the film itself approved by Nygard (also very colorful, grainy, and detailed, with the aspect ratio modified to 1.78:1 from 1.33:1 without any significant compositions issues), a new DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix with some fun little music and sound effect spread added on, the audio commentary, the trailer, and the original making-of documentary.
Reviewed on October 4, 2020