September 2011 Archives

Hong Kong Confidential (1958) DVD Review: Pour Yourself a Martini and Enjoy the Fun!

We just passed platinum and went straight on to the diamond level, baby!
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By 1958, Gene Barry had already established himself as something of a star among moviegoers, having won The War of the Worlds and chased down a moonshining Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road -- to say nothing of wooing Angie Dickinson at China Gate whilst starring alongside jazz icon Nat "King" Cole. Despite all those accomplishments, Gene's own singing talent had never been fully exploited by the entertainment industry. And then, somewhere around the same time his spell as Bat Masterson hit television airwaves, Gene Barry would hone in on some of the skills he would perfect in Burke's Law as

Dum Maaro Dum DVD Review: Crime in Paradise

Crime and punishment in a beachside paradise.
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Goa. Just the name conjures up images of sunkissed Indian beachside bliss for electronic dance music fans around the world, but as we learn in this gripping thriller there's also a criminal underworld at play. That crime element is largely fueled by the drug trade, because those international party people on the beach aren't just high on life. When an innocent college-bound youth gets enlisted as a drug mule, a fiery policeman crosses his path and triggers a war with the local crime kingpin. The subject matter is a nice departure from the Bollywood norm of overblown romantic musicals, but

Carlos (2010) Criterion Collection DVD Review: An Extraordinary Movie

An epic account of terrorist Carlos the Jackal's life
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From the opening explosion of a car bomb in Paris, through the anti-climactic, somewhat pathetic ending - Carlos is a 330-minute tour de force of a film. French director Olivier Assayas' epic treatment of the life of terrorist Carlos The Jackal has been released in a variety of forms. These range from the full theatrical and TV miniseries all the way down to a 185-minute edition shown in German theatres. As a part of The Criterion Collection, Carlos is now available in a definitive, director-approved four-disc package. Although there is a prominent disclaimer at the top of the film stating

The Phantom Carriage Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Impressive Ghost of Cinema Past

Well-crafted effects and a timeless tale make for a fine Swedish silent film
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I don't spend much time watching silent films, especially foreign silent films, but The Phantom Carriage has me rethinking that stance. Made over 90 years ago by Swedish master Victor Sjostrom, the film is just as relevant and striking today as it must have been for the filmgoers of its time. It's quite easy to see how Sjostrom became a major influence on Swedish great Ingmar Bergman, with the devotion going so deep that Bergman featured Sjostrom as an actor in his films, most notably in Wild Strawberries. As the film opens, we meet the young Sister Edit of the

Book Review: Star Wars Omnibus: The Complete Saga Episode I - VI: Greedo Shoots First Here Too

If you're still on the fence about the Blu-ray collection, these may be the comics you're looking for
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The comic book adaptations of all six Star Wars films are fairly straightforward and faithful for the most part, but there's a disturbance in the Force when it comes to A New Hope. Much like the current retooled incarnation of its film, the comic book includes Lucas-friendly, fan-despised deviations from the original film such as Greedo shooting at Han Solo first in their Mos Eisley cantina encounter and Solo's scene with a mobile Jabba the Hutt in the spaceport. That's entirely due to the production timeframe of the book. While Empire is derived from the Marvel Comics series run during

Contest: Win a Music on Film Book, Grease or A Hard Day's Night

You could win a book that explores one of these musical films.
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Cinema Sentries and Hal Leonard have teamed up to give four lucky readers the opportunity to win a book from Limelight Editions new series Music on Film.  The paperbacks are 4.75" by 6.25" and "each book highlights one musical film from every angle." Grease (1978) is director Randal Kleiser's film adapation of the 1971 musical about summer lovers, greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and sweet Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John).  When Sandy's parents decide not to return to Australia, she enrolls at Rydell High and Danny has to juggle his affections for her and his tough guy image as leader of

Killer Elite Movie Review: Better Than Expected

A little bit of effort in writing the story goes a long way in making an entertaining movie.
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Adapted from Sir Ranulph Fiennes' 1991 book The Feather Men, which claims to be based on a true story, director/co-writer Gary McKendry's thriller Killer Elite doesn't come across as a series of factual events, but I don't hold that against the movie because I was entertained by the better-than-expected story among the stunts. After a job doesn't run as smoothly as it should during the prologue, Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) retires from working as an international assassin. Not surprisingly, he is coerced back into action when his mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), is held hostage by exiled Sheikh Amr (Rodney

The Butcher, The Chef, And The Swordsman DVD Review: Three Tales, One Blade, Zero Entertainment

Brash young director Wuershan fails to impress with his modern take on martial arts cinema
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I was hoping for some originality in this film, a fresh take on martial arts period drama. It boasts a young director colorfully named Wuershan, so I figured anyone audacious enough to go by one odd name in the fairly rigid Chinese film industry was bound to bring some flair to the table. Sure enough, it's unlike anything else in the genre, with a non-stop assault on the senses punctuated by quick cuts, a hip modern soundtrack, and even an animated segment, but unfortunately our young director treated plot like a second-class citizen and populated his tale with such a

The Phantom Carriage Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Pinnacle of Swedish Silent Filmmaking

A profoundly emotional and influential film.
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Swedish director Victor Sjostrom's (1879-1960) The Phantom Carriage (1921) is a profoundly emotional film, and was a seminal influence on a young Ingmar Bergman. Sjostrom also starred in this cornerstone of Swedish cinema. It stands with such groundbreaking early works as D.W. Griffiths' Intolerance (1916) as a masterpiece of early filmmaking technique, and helped elevate the medium to the highest form of art. In the opening scene we find a young Salvation Army girl named Edith (Astrid Holm) on her deathbed. It is obvious that the woman is very sick, and possibly delirious with tuberculosis - yet all she desires

Skateland Movie Review: I Wanted to Like It

Who needs a good three-act structure when you can have 17?
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I had high hopes for this movie. I really did. What I imagined was a film about a group of friends whose lives revolve around their favorite place, Skateland. It's the place where they first fall in love, find their best friends, and take their first punch. A coming-of-age tale where the central conflict becomes about saving their beloved Skateland at the end of the roller-skating era. Again, that is the movie I hoped for. That is not what the writers or director gave me. In reality, Skateland is barely a movie about said place. The film, like its main

Movie Recon: Oranges and Sunshine, The Raven, Thunder Soul

We've got your posters, stills and trailers of three upcoming films.
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In today's Recon we've got two fictionalizations of real people from the past, and a documentary that captures both the past and the present of a mroup of students and their teacher. I will report on whether its status has me Locked on Target (highly interested), if is On the Radar (mildly interested), or if is is still Under Surveillance (not yet interested). Oranges and Sunshine The Story: For over 100 years some 100,000 childen were sent to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa from the United Kingdom. Most of them were orphans, but many were sent without their

Bridesmaids DVD Review: A Star Is Born

A hilarious star-making turn for writer/lead actress Kristen Wiig
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Don't let the title and picture fool you: this movie is all about Kristen Wiig. Sure, there's an ensemble cast and a story about a wedding, but the core of the film is bridesmaid Annie's (Wiig) voyage of self-discovery as she hits rock bottom and learns what's most important in her life. If that sounds like a Lifetime movie, further enforcing the chick-flick appeal of the film, rest assured that Annie's journey is packed with side-splitting humor with broad appeal to both sexes. Annie is a bit of a sad sack loser, with little more to show for her 30-something

Brand New Day Blu-ray Review: Fast Forward to the Songs

Charming songs and a promising start can't overcome bloated and meandering road trip
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An Australian musical with singing Aborigines, hippies and priests? What could go wrong? While the film clearly falls into the category of "something you don't see every day", its originality can't overcome its amateurish production and poorly conceived plot. Geoffrey Rush is the only recognizable acting talent involved, and while it's admirable that he's supporting his native films, even his contribution as a schoolmaster priest ends up being more of an embarrassment than a high point in his lengthy career. Regrettably, the best aspect is a couple of charming songs that may linger long after the rest of this lackluster

Dressed to Kill Blu-ray Review: Brian De Palma Conflates Sex and Death

Despite its borrowed elements from Psycho, Dressed to Kill isn't a mere Hitchcock rip-off.
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The Film Exhibit A of the "Brian De Palma just rips off Hitchcock" trope has to be Dressed to Kill, which lifts settings, plot twists, and character types whole cloth from Psycho. But that mere description doesn't account for the often-thrilling stylistic virtuosity De Palma displays. Yes, Dressed to Kill can be clumsy, tawdry, and in one particularly tone-deaf moment, oddly racist, but more often, it's elegant, erotic, and terribly effective at pulling the strings of terror. It's not quite the masterpiece that De Palma's follow-up Blow Out is, but Dressed to Kill remains a high point of De Palma's

The Hustler (1961) Blu-ray Review: This Disc is a Born Winner

"I'm Eddie Felson. I shoot straight pool."
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Robert Rossen's The Hustler is based on Walter Tevis' novel of the same name and stars Paul Newman as pool player "Fast Eddie" Felson, a man so focused on his goal he has no idea how to accomplish it because he spent so much time building up his talent he ignored building up his character. The opening prologue reveals Eddie to be a con man. He pretends to be drunk and suckers money out of a bartender. But those were low stakes. Eddie is after Minnesota Fats, known as the best pool player in the country. But Eddie isn't there

Hickey & Boggs DVD Review: Definitely Worth Checking Out

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp are positively stellar in this ignored, neo-noir detective story.
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"Nobody came." "Nobody cares." --Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as Al Hickey & Frank Boggs (respectively), ironically predicting how the film would fare at the box office. In the fall of 1972, audiences were thrilled to learn actors Robert Culp and Bill Cosby -- the stars of hit '60s espionage series, I Spy -- were teaming up once again to play a pair of detectives in the movie Hickey & Boggs. Unfortunately, all of the excitement about the movie died just as soon as the curtains in the auditorium went up or they read the reviews in the newspaper the

The Glory Stompers DVD Review: Another Classic AIP Biker Flick

Before Easy Rider, there was The Glory Stompers.
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The year before Easy Rider (1969) made history, Dennis Hopper appeared in the American International biker flick The Glory Stompers (1967). It is a classic piece of AIP (American International Pictures) exploitation, featuring topless women, lots of fighting, drug use, and no real plot to speak of. Maybe Hopper used it to hone his cinematic motorcycle-riding technique, or just to get stoned on set. In any case, The Glory Stompers fits right into the AIP biker movie mold, and holds its own against such greats as The Wild Angels (1966), The Born Losers (1967), and Devil's Angels (1967). Of course

The Incredible Melting Man DVD Review: "Epically Awful" at its Finest

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"Magnificent! You've never seen anything until you've seen the sun through the rings of Saturn!" --Alex Rebar as astronaut Steve West, shortly before returning to Earth and malforming into a big pile of goo. There are countless "bad" movies out there. I should know; I've seen a lot of them. But, when it comes to The Incredible Melting Man, there's simply no way to accurately describe how truly bad it is. But this one is one of those fabled "good" bad movies, the kind that is best enjoyed with copious amounts of alcohol and/or hallucinogenics. Or, as I like to

A Fistful of Dollars / For A Few Dollars More Blu-ray Reviews: The Man With No Name Looks Better Than Ever

After nearly half a century, Eastwood can still rock a poncho.
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One of the great things about middle age is that you forget stuff. This is problematic when it relates to the location of your car keys, the combination to your gym locker or the date of your future ex-wife's birthday. But it's fantastic when it comes to watching movies. Now that I'm over 39, I find that I have completely forgotten the plot to movies I haven't seen in a few years. At first this depressed me; it was a sad reminder that yet another mile marker had been passed on the road toward my mortality. But I have come

Movie Recon: The Human Centipede Part 2 (Full Sequence), Inside Out, and Margin Call

We've scouted out more movie posters, trailers, and info for your viewing pleasure.
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Today's recon features the guaranteed to churn your stomach (and your sense of artistic merit in film) The Human Centipede Part 2 (Full Sequence), an action vehicle for WWE star Triple H that doesn't make me want to vomit called Inside Out and a fictional take on the 2008 financial crisis starring a slew of A-list actors titled Margin Call. Read on to learn more. The Human Centipede Part 2 (Full Sequence) I like horror films. I even like ridiculously stupid horror films that are nothing more than an excuse to pile one blood-soaked body on top of another

Orpheus Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Cinematic Magic from a Familiar Tale

Jean Cocteau's version of the Orpheus myth is a stunningly beautiful film.
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The Film Jean Cocteau had a knack for applying a distinct surreal stamp to familiar tales. He did it in Beauty and the Beast, which persists as one of the most fantastical fantasy movies ever made, and he did it with his Orphic Trilogy, which transformed the myth of Orpheus into visual poetry. One of the Criterion Collection's first box sets was Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy, but a recent licensing expiration led it to go out of print. Fortunately, Criterion retained the rights to the trilogy's centerpiece, Orpheus, which they have re-released in a stunning new Blu-ray edition. Jean Marais stars

Movie Recon: A Bird of the Air & Johnny English Reborn

Get the lowdown on two upcoming films.
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For today's recon we've got a quirky romance and a parrot in A Bird of the Air, plus Rowan Atkinson acting like, well like Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English Reborn. For posters, trailers, stills and more, please continue reading. A Bird of the Air We should all be just a wee bit suspicious of movies with one of its stars being neither human or animated. Whether it's Clint Eastwood with an orangutan or Bill Murray and an elephant, movies about animals are regularly terrible. The plot synopsis of A Bird of the Air - "A sassy parrot and free-spirited

The Magnificent Seven / Return of the Seven Blu-ray Reviews: MGM Reissues Half of a Previously-Released Set

The best U.S. western ever to be inspired by a Japanese flick (and its lousy first sequel)
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It's really not something that's bound to come up in most history classes, but America has this odd tendency to remake anything that's vastly superior to what it churns out. Take, for example, the field of electronics: Japan makes these killer gadgets and doodads, which are in turn copied and produced by manufacturers in the States. The same goes for automobiles. The reasoning behind it all is simple: why would you even think about being a dirty Commie rat and shelling out the big bucks for some fancy-pants import when you can buy the much-cheaper, far inferior US equivalent (which,

X-Men: First Class Blu-ray Review: Arguably the Best of the Film Franchise

The merry mutants go back to their beginnings.
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Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn delivers first-class entertainment with X-Men: First Class, a prequel to the film franchise that presents the origins of the Marvel Comics mutant team inspired by Jeff Parker's comic books of the same name. The film opens by presenting the beginning of relationships that propel the story forward. In 1944 at a concentration camp, scientist Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) explores young Erik Lensherr's magnetism powers through coercive measures. Around the same time, young versions of telepath Charles Xavier and blue-skinned, shape-shifter Raven meet and form a friendship. Fast forward to 1962, Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) is traveling the world

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (1973) DVD Review: Hard to Improve Upon Made-For-TV Gold

Not just a nostalgic trip, the 1973 TV movie actually holds up pretty well.
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Warner Archive has released the original made-for-TV film Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. With the Guillermo Del Toro remake taking such a beating in the press, I thought it was a good time to refresh our collective memories to the quality product he was trying to improve upon. This review really starts over 30 years ago. On a cold, wet Friday night in the mid-'70s, ABC reaired their 1973 made-for-TV horror film Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. Little Shawn had yet to see Jaws, and he was years away from The Exorcist. Little Shawn had only been exposed

Cul-De-Sac Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Roman Polanski Leads Down a Dead End Road

An interesting peek inside the mind of Polanski.
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With new releases from The Criterion Collection, the ones I look forward to the most aren't always the major works or World Cinema or the important Independent releases. The most intriguing are usually the lesser-known works of well-respected directors. When I go down my list of directors that are masters of the craft (meaning that they have control of all aspects from script to acting to filming) - one name that will always appear is Roman Polanski. The man has given us classics in multiple decades: Rosemary's Baby in the '60s, Chinatown in the '70s and The Pianist in the

Movie Recon: The Immortals, Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

This installment contains two different takes on some ancient myths.
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Today's installment of Movie Recon consists of two fantasies. Immortals is the tale of Greek gods and kings as told by the producers of 300 and the director of the Fall; the second is a four-part motion comic based upon Norse mythology. Learn more, see the poster art, and watch some trailers below. The Immortals Tarsem Singh has made a couple of movies (The Cell, The Fall) neither was very good, but both were visually amazing. This time around he's got a story that sounds interesting - a brutal Greecian king (Mickey Rourke) wreaks havoc across the country in

Henry's Crime Blu-ray Review: Keanu Reeves Branches Out

"Henry's Crime" is something of a crime in itself.
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What is Henry's Crime? Apart from a poor title, it's a movie about some poor dope by the name of Henry who perpetrates a misdeed. In this instance, the aforementioned Henry feller is played by none other than Keanu Reeves. Now, should that mere fact not be enough to have you running for the hills, please be advised that Mr. Reeves also decided to branch out from his usual bland method of acting to co-produce this low-key dramedy. Still reading? Still curious as to what Henry's Crime is? Well, it's a yarn about Henry Torne, whose entire life is "Torne"

Topsy-Turvy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: It is the Very Model of a Modern-Day Blu-ray Release

Mike Leigh's marvelous look back at Gilbert and Sullivan.
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After five films, Mike Leigh took a break from modern-day kitchen-sick dramas and created Topsy-Turvy, a marvelous historical biopic about W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's creation of the comic opera The Mikado. Though dealing with a different class of folks, the struggles of Gilbert and Sullivan, and those involved with them, in successfully creating art are no less vital to their lives than the issues faced by the working-class characters from Leigh's other work. Topsy-Turvy opens in London on January 5, 1884 as their opera Princess Ida debuts at Richard D'Oyly Carte's (Ron Cook) Savoy Theatre. It struggles at

Captain America (1992) DVD Review: Less Than Tolerable

Red, White and BLECH!
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If you are a die-hard fan of superhero cinema who simply can't wait for this summers' hit film Captain America: The First Avenger to hit the shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray, then MGM has got quite an offer to tide you over. Currently available through their Manufacturing on Demand program is this largely unseen and with any luck, forgotten, gem. I'm sorry, did I say "gem"? I meant "turd." Captain America was scheduled to be released in 1990 to coincide with the title character's 50th anniversary. Trailers were cut and promotional posters featuring Cap's iconic shield were seen in theaters

The Saturday Public Domain Movie: Detour (1945)

"That's life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you." - Al Roberts
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Here's a classic film noir for your viewing pleasure this Labor Day weekend. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and based on the novel of the same name by Martin Goldsmith, who co-wrote the screenplay, Detour stars Tom Neal as Al, a piano player who gets gets sidetracked by fate while traveling to California to be with his fiancee. He gets picked up hitchhiking by Charles Haskell Jr (Edmund MacDonald). During Al's turn to drive, Charles dies of natural causes. Scared that the police won't believe his story, Al decides the best thing to do is ditch Charles' body and

Movie Recon: The Thing (2011), The Woman, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings

Three new horror movie posters and trailers.
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With Halloween fast approaching this report is all about upcoming horror movies. The Thing is a prelude to John Carpenter's classic film, though the premise looks pretty much exactly the same. The Woman is a controversial film about a woman who is captured and tortured by a family, and Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginings is another sequel to the long-running franchise. Keep reading for more details. The Thing (2011) Calling itself a prelude to the classic 1982 John Carpenter film with the same name, The Thing concerns itself with a group of researchers who discover an unknown creature in

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