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Crimes of Passion Blu-ray Review: The Double Life of a Working Girl

Ken Russell's contraversial sexual thriller gets a new life in this Arrow re-release.
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The name Ken Russell usually doesn't get mentioned along the ranks of other stylized filmmakers like Kubrick, Cronenberg, Anderson, and Lynch, yet his somewhat trippy-looking films have been an influence for many fellow film buffs so that when you watch one of his movies you start to think you've seen the shots used before but don't remember where. The prolific director has made such films as The Who's Tommy (musical), Altered States (sci-fi/horror), and The Music Lovers (comedy/drama). His 1984 feature Crimes of Passion can fit into many subgenres. It's an erotic drama, a tense psycho sexual thriller, and also

Nikkatsu Diamond Guys: Vol 2 Blu-ray Review: The Sillier Side of Japan

Three movies from the 1960s show the Japanese made more than just deeply felt dramas and samurai flicks.
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The Nikkatsu Corporation was formed in 1912 when several smaller production companies and theatre chains consolidated. They had some success in those years, but struggled in the early post war era. By the 1950s, they hit their stride, producing hundreds of movies in every conceivable genre that drew in the youth crowd by the truckload weekend after weekend. Arrow Video has been mining the Nikkatsu vaults during this “Golden Era” for a number of excellent video releases. Much like the Hollywood system of this era, Nikkatsu began contracting its directors and stars locking them into multi-film deals which created something

Doctor Butcher M.D. Blu-ray Review: Ready to Make House Calls Once Again

Severin Films presents a spectacular two-disc, two-movie version of one of 42nd Street's most legendarily notorious offerings.
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If you were one of the lucky lads or lasses who "matured" amid the days of VHS rental outlets, you know how exciting it could be to hunt for something truly extraordinary on the shelves of your local mom and pop store. Sure, the big time stores carried their own fair share of fun flicks, but those corporate suits almost always folded when it came to stocking their boutiques with more controversial filmic offerings. And when it came to being controversial, there was perhaps no greater ground to cover than that which was located in the horror section. Why, even

Twilight Time Presents: Sprawling Epics, Sidney Poitier, and a Serial Killer?

Five films from both film and real life history alike make their High-Definition debuts.
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From the rise and fall of great lands to the genesis of new ones, and a few odd points in-between, Twilight Time has all bases of great storytelling covered in this assortment of features from their March 2016 lineup. Here, we pay our respects to filmic adaptations of true historical accounts of the lives (and sometimes deaths) of the grandiose, the humble, and the downright dangerous. We being in a time and place far removed from contemporary society (though the political situation hasn't changed all that much, when you think about it), with a tale of some minor footnote of

Return of the Killer Tomatoes Blu-ray Review: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Vegetables and George Clooney's Mullet

This is comedy at most silliest, but it is quite smart and very entertaining, while being self-aware and mocking.
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Once in a while, there is a classic comedy, a comedy so funny and so legendary that it sets the standard for every other comedy that comes after it. The 1988 sequel, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, is not that movie. It is the ridiciously fun follow-up to sheerly absurd 1978 cult film, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, which was a spoof of horror-monster movies directed in the style of the Zuckers Brothers' films that redefined parody. While that movie did receive its fair share of love from a certain demographic, Return is actually the better film (yes I said

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan Blu-ray Review: Master of Monsters Revealed

This feature-length doc on the special effects master reveals the artistry behind his creature features.
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The advent of DVD extras has, I think, cost a toll on entertainment documentaries. I've seen reviews that refer to serious documentaries on movies, like Man of La Mancha, as "extended DVD extras." At the same time, this overrates most DVD extra documentaries and underrates the hard work documentarians can put into crafting a real film on an entertainment industry subject. Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan is a movie about the stop-motion and general special effects pioneer behind numerous beloved creature features of the '50s, '60s, and '70s. It's also a film that has a point of view, both on

The Swinging Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review: These Girls Do More Than Swing

An exploitation flick with a message.
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Quentin Tarantino once called director Jack Hill the “Howard Hawks of exploitation filmmaking.” I don’t know that I’d go quite that far but certainly Hill made some of the most memorable films in the genre. Working with minuscule budgets and, shall we politely say colorful plots, Hill still put our a fairly large number of very well-made and quite enjoyable films. One of the more interesting things to me is how, though working in the various exploitation genres, Hill still managed to make somewhat thoughtful films that dealt with racism, sexism, and other cultural ills. Certainly he’s still being exploitive,

The In-Laws (1979) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: So Funny It Never Wears out Its Welcome

Run in a serpentine pattern to get yourself a copy.
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While there's a lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching that goes on whenever a sequel or remake is announced in Hollywood, it's rather surprising anyone bothers since it's long been a business model, and not just with movies, to try and replicate a success. What's even more surprising is when a winning formula is found that isn't repeated, such as the pairing of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in Arthur Hiller's The In-Laws (1979), a recent addiction to the Criterion Collection. Rather than the typical clashing of families with different personality types, Andrew Bergman's very funny script turns that idea on

Too Late for Tears / Woman on the Run Blu-ray Reviews: At Long Last, Lost Noir

Two forgotten mysteries, each with their own dark histories, get definitive makeovers in these must-have releases from Flicker Alley.
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There is nothing quite so overwhelming as being utterly unable to control one's situation. Despite all of our best efforts, we remain powerless to stop the unseen forces of time and fate. All over the planet, archaeologists have discovered the remains of vast cities and civilizations which have either been buried away by the sands of time or destroyed by cruel acts of fate. For those of us who like to refer to ourselves as film buffs, similar disasters and overall bad bits of luck have obscured many a motion picture. And while the ultimate uncovering of a previously lost

Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray Review: Astonishingly Beautiful Depiction of Ugliness

Mario Bava's seminal Giallo film couples a gleeful disregard for good taste with incredibly artful imagery.
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Blood and Black Lace, a lurid proto-slasher movie with gruesome and copious violence, is one of the most visually beautiful movies ever made. Bathing his shots in ostentatious colors with little concern for sourcing the light, Mario Bava’s seminal Giallo film has only a glancing connection to realism (Giallo being the particularly Italian style of murder mystery, de-emphasizing the investigation and focusing on the murders themselves.) It’s more like a fever dream, too sensuous to be a nightmare but too bloody and malign to be a pleasant fantasy. It’s one hell of a movie. The story is hardly the point

Suture Blu-ray Review: Standard Plot, Fascinating Presentation

Fairly uninteresting neo-noir pumped up by a really interesting central conceit.
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Two men, half brothers, meet at a bus station and ride back to one of their houses. They have only recently just met, at their father’s funeral, and decide to spend the weekend together getting to know one other. One of them, Vincent Towers (Michael Harris), is obviously rich - he drives a nice car, wears an expensive suit, and lives in a house that makes the word “fancy” feel small and embarrassed. The other, Clay Arlington (Dennis Haysbert), is obviously poor - he arrives by bus, comes from a tiny desert town, and dresses in jeans and an old,

The Return of a Man Called Horse Blu-ray Review: Harris Whispers. He Screams. He ACTS!

The oft-ignored sequel from one of cinema's lesser-explored trilogies gets a High-Definition makeover.
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In 1970, a simple tale of A Man Called Horse galloped its way onto the silver screen to shock audiences across near and far. With the Hays Production Code demolished and the MPAA now in full effect, filmmakers were at last able to make sprawling western adventure epics replete with gore and nudity. Because, well, after all, that's what made the Wild West so darn wild. Alas, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch had beaten the film to the screen (and fared much better at the box office), so copious amounts of violence (by the standards of the time) weren't entirely

The Arrow Roundup for June

What's on tap from Arrow Video this month.
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What the best from Arrow in June? The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) Italian giallo films are an acquired taste that I'm unsure I've acquired. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is one of the more fast-paced and cinematic of the those I've watched, but it's logic remains ill-defined and as messy as the blood-spattered walls at the end. Divided into two halves, things start out with a slash - introducing Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) as a sadistic murderer with a penchant for torturing women with red hair. Alan hopes to purge the inner

Appointment with Crime Blu-ray Review: Tell Crime You'll Need to Reschedule

A stylish opening sequence is not a harbinger of things to come.
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A relatively obscure British crime thriller, John Harlow’s noirish Appointment with Crime (1947) nabs a few style points early on before settling in as a dull programmer that doesn’t so much twist and turn as it does lazily bend around a couple of easily navigable corners. William Hartnell, best known as the first incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, stars as Leo Martin, a professional thief who gets caught when a jewelry smash-and-grab goes wrong, his wrists shattered by a security grate that comes abruptly crashing down. Despite assurances from boss Gus Loman (Raymond Lovell) that he won’t abandon

Return of the Killer Tomatoes! Blu-ray Review: Less Killing, More Silliness

The Killer Tomatoes are back and this time it's personal.
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We have Jim Henson to thank for this. During Muppets Take Manhattan, there was a fantasy sequence in which Miss Piggy fantasized about growing up with Kermit. In it, we see baby versions of Rowlf, Fozzie, Scooter, and Gonzo. This inspired Henson to create The Muppet Babies animated series for CBS (and inspired that odd-ball late '80s to early '90s genre of making baby/little kid versions of already popular adult characters). During the third season in an episode entitled “The Weirdo Zone,” the babies try to get in touch with their inner weirdness in order to understand Gonzo. Fozzie Bear

Twilight Time Presents: From the Dark to the Way Too Light

What do two film noirs, three westerns, one failed Charlton Heston adventure epic, and one of the worst giallo movies have in common? They've all seen the light of Blu-ray.
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A timeless, tiresome proverb tells us it is darkest before the dawn, and we have all surely met that one idiot who is always more than happy to impose some form of such an idiom upon you whenever things aren't looking overly bright for you. Fortunately, there is no lack of lighting in this sextet of moving picture offerings from Twilight Time. In the instance of the two film noir titles included in this lot ‒ Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) and a re-issue of The Big Heat (1953) ‒ the lighting is always perfect. When we're in the great

Roots: The Complete Original Series Blu-ray Review: A Powerful Story About a Family and a Country

Not just an important television drama, but an essential component that should be used when teaching U.S. History.
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Commemorating the 40th anniversary a year early, the landmark television miniseries Roots has been remastered and released on Blu-ray. Based on Alex Haley's Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which spent 22 weeks as #1 on The New York Times Best Seller List and won a Pulitzer Prize, it purports to tell the story of Haley's family traced back to the birth of his great-great-great-great grandfather Kunta Kinte. However, Haley was taken to the court and reached a settlement requiring a six-figure payout and his acknowledgment that portions of Roots were taken from Harold Courlander's 1967 novel The African.

Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 2 Blu-ray Review: Some Things Don't Translate

A second volume of movies from Nikkatsu's '60s heyday branches out from just crime movies, with occasionally baffling results.
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Japanese cinema is samurai showdowns, tough gangster pictures, or calm, quietly devastating domestic dramas. Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi. Oh, and Godzilla. Maybe a few decades of nothing for a while, then long-haired ghosts and incredibly violent weird movies by Takashi Miike. That’s what the industry and art form looked like to even an interested observer not too long ago. There were a few other movies that came in through the cracks (Afterlife in the late '90s, Kitano’s fireworks before that) but the vision of Japanese cinema, internationally, was fairly stable for a long of film enthusiasts. With their Nikkatsu releases in

Twilight Time Presents: Dramatic Epics from Time (and Even Space!)

An infinite number of stars. Six movies. Positively no refunds.
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Whether you attended only one week of high school or an entire day in the food and beverage industry, you're more than highly likely to be aware of something called "drama." Generally, it's a toxic element of life, which many of us tend to ignore (or at least pretend to when you really, matter-of-factly thrive on it). But when it comes to the moving pictures, the drama has a tendency to be much more fulfilling. Not because it's healthier (though technically, it is, since we don't actually have to live it), but because there's a darn fine chance it has

Zootopia Blu-ray Review: The Great Bunny Detective

Disney's latest animated adventure focuses on an odd couple of buddies tasked with setting aside their differences for the greater good.
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Judy Hopps is a bunny. Nick Wilde is a fox. In the peaceful animal world of Zootopia, that doesn’t automatically make them enemies, since predators and prey exist in perfect harmony. When a few predators mysteriously start disappearing and reverting to their primal ferocity, they threaten to destroy the urban utopia unless rookie Officer Hopps and her devious acquaintance Nick can crack the case. Although it’s a cartoon, Zootopia isn’t just for kids. Its recurring theme of bigotry blatantly uses the different animal classes in place of race relations, while elsewhere amusing riffs on The Godfather and Breaking Bad make

La Chienne Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Early Renoir is a Delight

Criterion does a masterful job of bringing an early sound picture to live.
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Life has not gone well for Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon). He works as a cashier for a hosiery company and is generally despised by his colleagues. In an opening scene, they openly mock and scorn him for being a wet blanket and for having to run home to his wife instead of going out on the town with them. The wife, too, rather deplores Maurice and spends nearly every moment of her time on screen berating him. The only pleasure the poor fellow gets from life is painting and even that is spat upon by his wife who declares he

Blood Bath Blu-ray Review: Bloody Interesting

Sometimes the behind-the-scenes stories are more interesting than the actual films.
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Roger Corman’s name is synonymous with low-budget, independently financed b-pictures. He’s produced over 400 films in his career, most of which come with titles like Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda or Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. They almost always made money because he knows the basics of filmmaking and he has his finger on the pulse of what's going to sell. He also gave a great many A-list directors and actors their start in the business including folks like James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Jack Nicholson. A famous bit of spurious trivia says that he filmed Little

Le Amiche Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Antonioni Drains the Passion from Melodrama

This middle-period entry from the Italian master hints at what's to come, but stands on its own as an interesting work.
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It’s tempting to label Michelangelo Antonioni’s fourth feature film Le Amiche a transitional work, as it shuns Neorealism and embraces melodrama like some of his earlier work, but also moves toward the aggressively modernist sensibilities that would define subsequent masterpieces like L’Avventura, La Notte and Red Desert. While it’s true that Le Amiche only obliquely studies interpersonal alienation, it’s also more than just a bellwether for the more experimental work to come. With its long, meandering takes and restrained performances, it acts like a melodrama that’s had the passion slowly drained out of it, and stands on its own as

Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia Blu-ray Review: Killer Queens?

Arrow Video places two more (partly) forgotten gialli on the map in a box set that some folks will kill for.
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Following in on the high, blood-stained heels of their previously-released gialli box set, Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli, Arrow Video has once again assembled a mini ensemble to two dissimilarly similar titles from a somewhat forgotten Italian genre filmmaker. This time, we are allotted the opportunity to discern (and maybe even dissect) two unique thrillers from the realm of movies fueled by sex, violence, funky fashions, even funkier music, and J&B Scotch aplenty, both of which were helmed and brought to fruition by one Emilio P. Miraglia. Much like Ercoli ‒ whose films were made and distributed

The Naked Island Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Japanese film explores the travails of a poor farming family without the use of dialogue.
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Kaneto Shindo’s film about the daily struggles of a poor farming family has one major hook: a total absence of dialogue. Filmed in black and white on a rocky speck of an island off the coast of Japan, the film initially plays more like a documentary than a narrative film until a tragic event unfolds in the final act. Up until that point, the daily monotony of hardscrabble farming life wears out its welcome as a film subject long before its allotted time is over. The family consists of a middle-aged man, his younger wife, and their two young sons.

The Assassin Blu-ray Review: Mesmerizingly Beautiful, Maddeningly Obtuse

Hsiao Hsien Hou won Best Director at Cannes for this gorgeous, but largely plotless and completely unsatisfying historical drama.
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It’s hard when reviewing a movie to admit that you don’t get it. If you have enough ego to broadcast your opinions on films, you probably have enough ego to be sure you have something interesting to say about them. So when a movie confounds you, there can be the temptation to pretend you get what it’s doing, for appearance’s sake. This movie isn’t smarter than me, after all! Well, The Assassin has confounded me, and I’m not sure if that’s because it was smarter than me, or what it was trying to do was something I am not receptive

Killer Dames - Two Gothic Chillers By Emilio Miraglia Blu-ray Review

Arrow Video creates another fantastic set featuring two Italian giallo films.
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Emilio Miraglia rose through the ranks of Italian cinema in the early '60s, making his bones as an assistant director on over 15 films before taking the reins as director. After a couple of mostly forgotten action flicks and a heist picture, he made two well regarded (at least among genre fans) giallos before turning to the Spaghetti Western genre. He directed six films between 1967 and 1972 and then completely disappeared from cinema all together. It's the giallos he is remembered for and Arrow Video has put the pair together in another of their fantastic, limited edition releases. A

Blood Bath (1966) Blu-ray Review: Alternatingly Bloody Good and Awfully Bad Stuff

Arrow Video brings us the ultimate release of the Roger Corman horror film best known for its bizarre and convoluted production history.
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Within the grand scope of filmmaking, there is perhaps no greater force than that of editing. If you take a peek at some of the deleted and alternate scenes from George Lucas' original Star Wars, you may bear witness to some truly dreadful moments which were, thankfully, excised during a frantic last minute editing session ‒ as overseen by people other than Mr. Lucas himself. You see, sometimes even the main driving force behind a feature really doesn't know what to keep and what to snip out. On the flip side of the coin, there have been more than a

Outlaw Gangster VIP: The Complete Collection Blu-ray Review: It Don't Feel Good To Be a Gangster

Obscure Japanese films from the 1960s get an excellent release.
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In May of 1968, Japan's oldest movie studio, Nikkatsu, released a little Yakuza drama called Outlaw Gangster VIP. It proved rather popular and profitable, and so they released a remarkable five sequels to it in just under two years. It is rather understandable then that these films get a little repetitive plot-wise. Testy Watari plays Goro Fujisawa, a Yakuza warrior who has (rightfully) earned the nickname Goro the Assassin but has grown tired of the gangster lifestyle and hypocritical honor codes. In each film he tries to escape the gangs to live a normal life, meets a girl (always played

The Zero Boys Blu-ray Review: A Thrill-less Thriller

Nico Mastorakis' cult horror-action movie does nothing with an interesting premise, gets great Blu-ray release anyway.
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Execution is the most important aspect of any thriller. A science fiction movie with good ideas can stand pokey pacing and indifferent acting. A drama can overcome hokey or outdated material with powerful performances. But in a purely cinematic, manipulative genre like the thriller, filmmaking is at a paramount. Holding the audience’s attention, placing them in the action, building up tension, that’s what thrillers are supposed to do. The Zero Boys does not. It starts with an interesting enough premise - what happens if slasher movies villains go up against people with some degree of combat training? And then doesn't

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