December 2011 Archives

Stars and Stripes Forever Blu-ray Review: A Deadly Dull Biopic

The Blu-ray treatment is superb for this never-before-released-on-DVD biopic, but it's too bad the movie's not better.
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The Film John Philip Sousa occupies an undeniably important place in American music history, and Henry Koster's 1952 Technicolor biopic makes sure we don't forget it, stamping it on our collective brains with a worshipful portrait that doesn't end with the film's occasional fawning narration. These days, biographical films, especially those about artists, tend to be wearying foil-stamped templates, dotted with object lessons about the seductive pleasures of booze, drugs, and miscellaneous other vices. Somehow, one can't see "March King" Sousa falling prey to anything so crass; in fact, the composer's life was ostensibly so normal, Koster and screenwriter Lamar

Branded To Kill Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Legendary Piece of Cinema You Should Not Miss

Suzuki's 1967 Yakuza classic finally gets Blu-ray release.
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I was born in 1967. And in the tradition of all petulant teenagers - I grew to have disdain for the period. It was the dumb Hippies and the music wasn't as good as the Disco I liked and the movies were never about Jedis or killer Great White sharks. But then I grew up. It seems that in the past few years - I've rediscovered how great the end of the Sixties were. I'm watching great episodes of Doctor Who and the genius of Get Smart and I'm reading books and watching movies that show me how wrong I

Straw Dogs (2011) DVD Review: How to Ruin a Classic

A superb guide for all future filmmakers of the world: "Don't let this happen to you."
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Generally, when the modern-day monarchs of Hollywood decide to remake a classic motion picture, they opt to "re-envision" it instead of simply redoing something that somebody had already done before. They change the names of the characters, set their re-imagined stories in different locations, and usually add an altogether new tale all around. It's kind of like a witness protection program, really. In the case of Straw Dogs, the 2011 remake of Sam Peckinpah's unforgettable, groundbreaking tale from forty years before, screenwriter/director Rod Lurie decided to dispense with the "adding any originality" procedure into his feature -- giving us a

Where the Wild Things Are (2009) DVD Review: An Underrated Gem

A wonderful film that doesn't deserve to be forgotten.
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How Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze squeezed 104 minutes out of a 10-sentence children's book still amazes me. But they did, and boy, is it wonderful. Where the Wild Things Are is about Max (played by Max Records), a young boy with an extremely active imagination, and his journey to an extraordinary land populated by giant, terrifyingly cuddly beasts. After throwing a tantrum, culminating in biting his mother (Catherine Keener), Max runs away and sets sail for the Wild Things' island. In his first encounter with the giant beasts, he is nearly eaten but quickly establishes himself as their king

Kiss Me Deadly Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Pulp Science Fiction

Your parents were right about not picking up hitchhikers.
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When Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer debuted in I, Jury (1947) he was possibly the hardest of hardnosed detectives there was, "a new sort of hero--a vigilante enforcer who was detective, judge, jury, and executioner in one," as J. Hoberman describes in the liner notes. Spillane also increased the genre's level of sex and violence, all of which led to many critics deriding the book. Anthony Boucher, San Francisco Chronicle (August 3, 1947) called it "painfully derivative...required reading in a Gestapo training school." Saturday Review of Literature (August 9, 1947) rendered its "Verdict: Lurid." James Sandoe, Chicago Sun Book Week (August

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Movie Review: Truly Ridiculous but Ultimately Entertaining

Tom Cruise delivers with his latest installment in the saga of Ethan Hunt, the star secret agent of IMF.
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When a much-hyped sequel is released, one question seems to pop up time and time again: "Do I have to see the others to get this one?" For the most part, when you're dealing with a franchise that has as much momentum as the Mission: Impossible films, we're hardly discussing an ongoing storyline. Yes, there are nods toward past plotlines, and familiar characters in greater or lesser capacities, but those 15 minutes of script devoted to continuity could easily be removed and replaced, leaving the audience with an entirely new film to be spun-off-of and, eventually, driven into the ground.

The Borgias - Season One is the Pick of the Week

A show about a Pope take this pick in a very slow week.
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If I was in charge of releasing movies each week I don't suspect I would put my big pictures out the week between Christmas and New Years either. The wallets are bare from purchasing too many presents and loads of people are off work and too busy with family gatherings to do much shopping anyways. Then there are New Years Eve party plans to make. No, if I was in charge I might just leave this week completely alone. Which is pretty much what those who actually are in charge of putting out new releases have done. The pickings are

Design for Living Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Delightfully Risque Pre-Hayes Code Romp

Criterion brings us a lovely HD release of Ernst Lubitsch's 1933 romantic comedy.
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"It's amazing how a few insults can bring people together in three hours." "It was certainly good to hear all the names you called me. I haven't heard 'em since I left Father and Mother." Sometimes, I forget that the motion picture industry even had a pre-Hayes Code era, so when a movie from the early '30s is displayed before my eyes and mentions the (soon-to-be-forbidden) act of fornication between two guys and a gal, I can't help but smack the side of my head like you would an old tube television that was on the fritz. Shortly after I

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) Blu-ray Review: An Average Rankin Bass TV Special

I would rather watch Rudolph or my all-time favorite The Year Without a Santa Claus.
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Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass created many successful animated holiday specials, the best known being Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. A lesser-known special from 1974 is 'Twas the Night Before Christmas based on Clement Moore's famous 1823 poem. I recalled looking forward to this one every year along with all of the others but hadn't watched it in a really long time. Junctionville is a town in panic when their letters to Santa start coming back. The residents quickly learn that it is due to an anonymous letter printed in the town's newspaper claiming that he

The Rocketeer 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review: Celebrating a Movie that Celebrates Old Movies

While a visually impressive restoration, it's severely lacking in special features.
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Disney's The Rocketeer based on the comic book by Dave Stevens has been released on Blu-ray to celebrate its 20-year anniversary. The story takes place in 1938 Hollywood and centers on Cliff (Billy Campbell), a young man who loves to fly planes. But his dreams suddenly take a sharp turn when the airplane he has spent most of his life building ends up broken into pieces on the runway after a shootout between the FBI and a couple of mob members. All appears to be lost until he discovers a small rocket engine hidden in one of the older planes

Peter Gabriel New Blood Live in London Blu-ray Review: The Power of the Orchestra

Gabriel captured live on his latest tour with orchestra in tow.
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In 2009, Peter Gabriel came up with a very intriguing concept where he would cover an artist's song with the intention they would cover one of his. His premise for this exchange, as he told the Guardian, was based on the idea that "rather than having a passive project where you do your own thing with people's songs, I wanted to see if I could interact with the people who wrote them, so they had to be living and amenable, or initially amenable." Peter decided his versions would feature only his vocal and an orchestra. Working with arranger John Metcalfe,

Santa Claus (1959) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review: Who Needs LSD When You Have This?

"To avoid fainting, keep repeating: 'It's only a movie... It's only a movie'."
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It is frequently hailed as one of the weirdest Christmas movies ever made. It was lampooned in the mid '90s on a memorable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. And its spirit -- Yuletide or otherwise -- simply refuses to lay down and die. It's Santa Claus, a truly bizarre Mexican fantasy film from 1959, directed by the venerable filmmaker René Cardona, who brought many projects to life over his long and illustrious career -- including all kinds of dramas, comedies, Luchador films, horror flicks, exploitation titles, and this. But what is this? Well, it's not an easy one to

Midnight in Paris is the Pick of the Week

Woody Allen's newest movies tops out a very small list of releases this week before Christmas.
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My brother is four years older than me so when I was just a kid he was a lusty teenager who always went out on the weekends with a girl or his friends or whatever. My father would usually stay up and wait for him to come home and I'd usually stay up with him. Back then the USA network was still in its infancy and as such had very little original programming but rather mostly showed reruns of random TV shows and lots of dumb old movies. Friday and Saturday night they ran what they called Up All Night,

Come Have Coffee With Us DVD Review: Italian Sex Comedy Subverted

Alberto Lattuada's 1970 film is a slyly satiric jab at the inflamed male libido.
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A bitterly ironic and slyly subversive Italian sex comedy, Alberto Lattuada's Come Have Coffee With Us mostly succeeds in spite of its languishing pace. Ugo Tognazzi stars as Emerenziano Paronzini, a middle-aged tax inspector who senses an opportunity when a wealthy naturalist dies, leaving behind three daughters. None of the three are conventionally attractive, but Emerenziano marries the oldest, Fortunata (Angela Goodwin), anyway -- ostensibly for the money. As the film proceeds, that inherited wealth becomes much less of an issue, and Emerenziano's appetites are clearly directed elsewhere, including the other two daughters, Tarsilla (Francesca Romana Coluzzi) -- lanky, with

Murder Obsession (Follia Omicida) DVD Review: Hey, Logic is for Losers!

Riccardo Freda's final outing is a wonderfully wacky mess of mayhem.
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Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi) is a young actor who occasionally suffers from strange flashbacks concerning the death of his father, a noted orchestral conductor who everyone referred to as "the Maestro," and whom Michael murdered in order to protect his mother. After the nearly-disastrous last day of shooting on his new film -- wherein Michael almost accidentally strangles a beautiful young actress to death, he makes an effort to get away from it all by doing just that: getting away from it all. And so, Michael's off to his mother's remote estate along with his whiny girlfriend, Deborah (Silvia Dionisio),

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) DVD Review: An Enthralling Search for a Mole in the Circus

Alec Guinness leads this impressive BBC miniseries.
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During the latter half of the 20th Century, David John Moore Cornwell became world renowned as espionage-fiction writer John le Carré. His breakout book was his third, 1963's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Unlike Ian Fleming's wild adventures where hero James Bond battled obvious villains, le Carré wrote realistic spy stories filled with complex characters, due in part to his having been a member of British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. A number of his novels have been turned into films over the years, including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) starring Richard Burton,

The Looney Tunes Show Season One Volume 2 DVD Review: Bugs and Daffy as The Odd Couple

In the grand Looney Tunes tradition, these shows will appeal to kids and their parents alike.
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Although it came out a little over a year ago, I have taken my time in watching all 24 films in the Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection box set. A couple of nights ago I put on The Maltese Falcon (1941), and selected the "Warner Night At The Movies 1941" option. With this choice one is transported to an era when going out to the movies was really something special. Rather than sitting through 20 minutes of obnoxious ads and trailers before the main attraction, audiences were entertained with a mix of newsreels, intriguing feature-ettes, and some of the greatest

America Lost and Found: The BBS Story Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

A story about the changing of the guard in Hollywood.
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The story told in Criterion's The BBS Story box set is a major chapter in the output of producers Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner. These films were part of the New Hollywood era when a younger generation of filmmakers, influenced more by European cinema than their American predecessors in the studio system, rose to the cultural forefront. As the times were a-changin' during the turbulent '60s, not even Hollywood was immune from the rebellion that was sweeping the planet. The seven films included in this set, released between 1968 and 1972, showcase filmmakers that took risks in the

Tokyo Drifter The Criterion Collection DVD Review: A Blast of Swinging Tokyo

Seijun Suzuki delivers a delirious Pop Art explosion.
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Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter (1966) is a delirious Pop Art explosion. Working under the yoke of the Japanese Nikkatsu Studio, Suzuki defied convention at every turn. His job was to deliver low-grade, bottom of the bill fare on the cheap, and he was under no illusions as to his status with the company. But Suzuki was too restless and creative an artist to simply grind out crap. So he did the job - he filmed the script he was given, and still found a way to elevate a D-level flick into an unforgettably violent vision of Swinging Tokyo. His recognition

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Blu-ray Review: As Good at Home as it was in Theaters

Highly recommended for action fans.
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of my favorite action films of the year. In my review, which can be read here in its entirety, I stated the filmmakers did "an impressive job rebooting the franchise by delivering an exciting action film" that has me "looking forward to revisiting this world and seeing what lies ahead for both man and ape." The creation of Caesar by Andy Serkis and Weta Digital was amazing. Not only is it the best thing about the film, but also a milestone in effects work that will long be remembered. Serkis has

Mr. Popper's Penguins Blu-ray Review: Painfully Predictable, yet Perfectly Passable Family Fare

Good for the kids and you won't mind watching it with them.
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Penguins are all the rage these days, so it was only a matter of time before Richard and Florence Atwater's classic children's novel about a man and his penguins was adapted for the big screen. Now, Mr. Popper's Penguins is available for viewing on your small(er) screen and with the holiday season upon us, it's only a matter of time before your local discount retailer is offering you copies of this film on DVD or Blu-ray (or perhaps a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack). Is it worth buying? That's what we're here to discuss. Diverging quite a bit from the original novel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the Pick of the Week

CG monkeys might just win an Oscar.
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If it isn't already distinctly clear from reading my weekly picks, let me state it directly now: I rarely get to the cinema anymore. I have a seven-month-old daughter and its rather difficult to find a sitter that will allow me and the wife to go out for a few hours. Although honestly, we weren't going much before we had her. It is too expensive to go often and whenever we would go all too often the theatre would be filled with all sorts of obnoxiousness from chatty teenager to bratty kids to adults talking and texting on their mobile

Behind the Mask (1946) DVD Review: Inert Pulp Adaptation

There's little to recommend about this uninspired B-picture about pulp magazine star The Shadow.
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One of a number of films based on pulp magazine hero The Shadow, Behind the Mask (also known as The Shadow Behind the Mask) is the second of three films to star Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston, a wealthy playboy who crusades as masked proto-superhero The Shadow at night. Richmond is a credibly smarmy womanizer, but he's the only thing that sort of works in this Monogram B-picture. The dreadful screenplay by George Callahan based on Walter B. Gibson's stories isn't given any life by Phil Karlson, who would go on to direct some crackling low-budget noirs like Kansas City

Some Kind of Monster DVD Review: A Fearless Portrait of Metallica

Hit the lights and watch this DVD!
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What started out as promotional piece detailing the recording of Metallica's next album ended up becoming not only a fearless portrait of one of the biggest bands ever in the world of rock, but also a poignant look at how a family deals with addiction and the rippling effects that can have on everyone involved. The film opens in 2003 as journalists arrive to listen to tracks from St. Anger, the band's first studio album in five years. The band had gone through a number of upheavals recently. They sued Napster and its users who illegally shared Metallica's music, alienating

Tokyo Drifter Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Style Over Substance

Jam-packed with more than enough visual artistry to compensate for its lightweight story.
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Iconic director Seijun Suzuki's film isn't very impressive from a story standpoint, but is packed with wall-to-colorful-wall visual flair. It's '60s Japanese pop culture in all its glory, arising from a pop song of the time, featuring a lead performance by a studio-mandated pop idol, and most importantly completely awash in Suzuki's vibrant and imaginatively staged scenes that giddily favor flash over logic. Ostensibly a yakuza action drama, the film follows a talented and supposedly reformed hitman named "Phoenix" Tetsu as he drifts around Tokyo in an attempt to avoid death at the hands of rival gangs. His yakuza boss,

Branded To Kill Criterion Collection DVD Review: Suzuki's Absurd Deconstruction of Yakuza Crime Films

Non-stop violence and duplicity from Japanese New Wave bad boy Seijun Suzuki.
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There has never been a crime film quite like this. Director Seijun Suzuki's Branded To Kill (1967), did not merely turn the genre on its ear, it practically destroys the convention. The film is famous for getting the Japanese New Wave director fired from the Nikkatsu Studios. But Branded To Kill was much more than just an outrageous gesture from a director with a chip on his shoulder. Suzuki pioneered a new storytelling device with his film by stripping away all extraneous information. It may take us a minute to catch up with the action at certain times, but this

The Love We Make DVD Review: Paul McCartney Leads the Charge to Heal a City and a Nation

Behind the scenes at the Concert for New York City.
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When the tragedy of 9/11 occurred, Paul McCartney was sitting in an airplane on the tarmac at JFK airport. He could see the smoke coming from the towers. As the day rolled on and it became clear these were no accidents, McCartney decided he needed to do something to give back to the city and country that had given him so much. McCartney called upon his celebrity friends and organized The Concert for New York City. The events leading up to the concert were captured on film by Bradley Kaplan and Albert Maysles (who, along with his brother, famously filmed

Welcome to L.A. DVD Review: Like Altman Under Anesthesia

Non-characters sleepwalk through "the city of the one-night stands."
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It would certainly be easy to write off Welcome to L.A. as a vacuous, tedious, pretentious movie about vacuous, tedious, pretentious people. And this would not be inaccurate. But it might miss some other aspects of the film that are more interesting. It's a flawed time capsule of a certain time, place, and attitude. Alan Rudolph was a protégé of Robert Altman. He worked as an assistant director on The Long Goodbye, California Split, and Nashville, some choice works from Altman's golden decade. Welcome to L.A. was not actually his first film as a director - he is credited with

The Adventures of Tintin Season One DVD Review: Animated Adventure Abounds!

Herge's creation translates well to television.
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The Adventures of Tintin by Belgian artist Hegre first appeared as a comic strip in a children's newspaper supplement in 1929 featuring the intrepid young reporter/detective. The strips were collected in 1930 and presented as Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Over the course of four decades, Herge created 23 adventures for Tintin that took him and an assorted cast of characters all over the globe and to the moon, concluding with Tintin and the Picaros in 1976. Considered one of the most popular European comics in the world, the Tintin stories are a multimedia sensation, having been adapted
Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy is a series of three films that were released in 1993 and 1994. They came out at the beginning of a Golden Age for foreign films and right at the height of the breakout of Independent Cinema. Both these categories are considered genres, but in fact, they comprise the umbrella of all the genres - musicals, comedies, dramas, mysteries, and more. They are typically recognizable by their reliance on more daring cinematic techniques and symbolic or obtuse storytelling methods. At the time of their release, these movies proved to me to be the

The Lady Vanishes (1938) from Criterion is the Pick of the Week

An early Hitchcock classic gets the Criterion treatment on Blu-ray.
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With Christmas right around the corner one would imagine the movie studios would be releasing a slew of awesome movies to fill our collective stockings. Apparently, one imagines wrong. Or perhaps, I'm simply the wrong person to fill stockings as the types of movies that fill movie studios' pockets are not always the types of films I'm interested in. There are several big name releases this week and we'll get to them in a moment, but for my choice we have to go back 73 years to an Alfred Hitchcock classic. The Lady Vanishes is getting the Criterion treatment on

WWII Double Feature: Jungle Patrol / Silent Raiders DVD Review: Two Forgotten Gems from VCI

A fine pairing of World War II quickies.
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I have many guilty pleasures when it comes to film. Cliffhanger serials, Italian horror movies, European spy flicks -- I love 'em all. And, apart from kicking back at the end of the day to shut my brain off to a vintage b-grade western, one of my favorite ways to idly stare at the TV for hours on end is to watch a classic war film. Not so much the big-budgeted color spectacles with famous faces and runtimes the length of the California coast line, though. No, sir: I like my war films to be low-budget, black and white, short,

Golden Needles DVD Review: Joe Don Baker Kicks Ass in Hong Kong

A strange but unbalanced combination of noir and comedy from the makers of Enter the Dragon.
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Golden Needles is one of those movies that could have been better -- memorable, even -- had any of its crew actually cared enough to give a damn. Co-penned by former television writer S. Lee Pogostin and helmed by Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse, Golden Needles is one of many motion pictures produced and distributed following the death of Bruce Lee -- a time when American filmmakers and moviegoers were experiencing a sudden Asian craze. They even bring in Enter the Dragon co-star Jim Kelly -- who was in the middle of his short but unique career -- for

The Help Blu-ray Review: Maids Air Dirty Laundry Anonymously

I can't recommend this film strongly enough.
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Written by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is a fiction novel released in 2009. It is currently ranked number seven on The New York Times best seller list at the time of this writing and has been on the list for 41 weeks. I read and loved the book after hearing rave reviews from many friends. The book was rich with interesting characters, many of whom were developed with a rare depth that I came to care about. Some characters I loved while others I hated. When I heard they were adapting the novel into a film, I was concerned about

The Stunt Man (1980) DVD Review: One of the Best Damn Movies Ever. Ever.

Reality and fantasy collide in Richard Rush's masterful epic.
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Director Richard Rush had a vision. He wanted to adapt The Stunt Man, a novel by Paul Brodeur, into a feature film. Unfortunately, studio executives were, naturally, apprehensive about backing him because they just didn't know what it was -- and it took a good nine years for Rush to get the project underway. Filmed in 1978, but not released until 1980 (chalk up another score for the studio heads, kids), The Stunt Man is an utterly absorbing and fascinating journey into "subjective reality" -- one that has so many underlying elements about the human psyche going on, it's easy

Deep Purple with Orchestra: Live In Montreux 2011 DVD Review: They All Came out to Montreux Again

One of the rare music DVDs that stands up to repeated viewings.
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It certainly makes sense for Deep Purple to record a concert live at Montreux, Switzerland. After all, the opening line of their most famous song goes; "We all came out to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline." The track is of course, "Smoke On The Water," a blow-by-blow account of how the band lost all of their equipment in a fire there - set to one of the most monster riffs of all time. That was back in 1972, on the Machine Head album. Nearly 40 years later they have returned with a couple of different members and an orchestra.

Three Colors (Blue, White, Red) Criterion Collection DVD Review: Does Not Disappoint

Krzysztof Kieslowski's beautiful and moving trilogy gets some great bells and whistles.
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I fell in love with the beautiful and moving Three Colors (Trios Couleurs) trilogy when it first came to video in the late 1990s. When this set from Criterion arrived, I felt like it was early Christmas. This newly improved collection of the trilogy does not disappoint. Blue (Bleu) is the story of Julie (Juliette Binoche), a woman who loses both her husband and daughter in a horrific car accident. Though Julie tries to isolate herself from her pain and the rest of the world, the door to her emotions and to others cannot remain shut forever. Her story is

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