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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 A drama can overcome hokey or outdated material with powerful performances.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

When Everything is WAC: A Visual Buffet from the Warner Archive

From one of Lucille Ball's first big roles, to one of John Carradine's last, this assortment of odds and ends from the Warner Archive Collection has it all.
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Since its humble inception at the beginning of 2009, the Warner Archive Collection has been paying its respects to many hard-to-find motion pictures which would be otherwise unavailable to classic movie buffs everywhere. And, much to the delight of the aforementioned grouping of folks who have had more than their fair share of ultra-sleek CGI-laden popcorn movies we pay a questionable lump of dough to see once in a theater packed full of people who still have yet to learn the fine art of cinema etiquette (seriously, turn your phones off, kids!), the WAC ‒ as it is so lovingly

Dillinger (1973) Blu-ray Review: Times Were Tough, So He Got with the Times!

Arrow Video brings us John Milius' directorial debut, featuring eager performances by Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, and Richard Dreyfuss.
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Never one to take a backseat to a popular genre, the always active brains behind the once prolific American International Pictures ‒ Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson ‒ instantly knew a moneymaker when they saw (or thought of) it. Even after Arkoff's production partner left to form his own company in 1972, only to unexpectedly leave this world from a brain tumor a few months later, Sam Arkoff continued to switch on that proverbial green light to many a low budget offering from seasoned industry professionals and total wannabes alike. And it was in July of 1973 that

The Witch Blu-ray Review: An Incredibly Spooky Descent into Gothic Madness

A chillingly original depiction of Gothic horror and familial breakdown.
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As we know, the horror genre is a rather dying one. In this case, filmmakers are forced to think up new ways to terrify their audiences. Some have failed, while others have truly succeeded. I think that director Robert Eggers definitely went far and beyond with the latter when he released his mesmerizing 2015 thriller The Witch. Not only does this film take you into some very dark places, but it also succeeds in taking the usual cliches of other horror films and turns them on their heads. The story takes place in New England during the 17th century, where

Macbeth (2015) Blu-ray Review: Heavy On Visuals, Light On Poetry

A new take on the Scottish Play is visually stunning, but skips a few too many of the Bard's words.
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Directors of both stage and screen love fiddling with the settings, periods, and sometimes even the words of William Shakespeare. His plays have been transplanted from Shakespeare’s own 16th Century to modern times and every period in between. The play's settings regularly gets moved around to suit the director’s whims and his words have been translated and modified time and time again. This speaks to how well his dramas speak to every person in every age. It also says something about how director’s attempt to mold great works under their own visions. In one of the features on the Blu-ray

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Blu-ray Review: A Disappointing End to a Disappointing Series

The Hunger Games series concludes with a dull roar.
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After the inert and exposition-heavy The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, the final chapter of the dystopic “trilogy” rumbles to its inevitable conclusion in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. Based on Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name, this 2015 movie is directed by Francis Lawrence with a screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. It’s hard to argue that Mockingjay - Part 2 is an improvement on its first portion, as Lawrence is up to the same tricks and the script dribbles with the same instructive dialogue. The personality has long since been drained from the

Bandits (2001) Blu-ray Review: Not As Bad As You've Heard

Come sleep around with the sleepover bandits.
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Even if you didn’t know Bandits was made in 2001, you’d automatically know it was made in the late '90s to early oughts. There’s just something about the film that screams that time period. It’s not so much the period aspect of it - the clothes, cars, etc - but rather I think it stems from both Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis having the lead roles in a Barry Levinson film. Those two actors have had long, storied careers and certainly have made plenty of films since Bandits, but there’s a certain something about those years that pits them

The Stuff Blu-ray Review: Once Is More Than Enough

A creature feature that would work much better today than it would back in 1985.
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When I was a kid, there was a new type of desert that had everyone talking. It was called TCBY (aka the country’s best yogurt) and I remember there being centers all around the midwest. Okay, maybe not the entire midwest but there was more than one restaurant in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, which is where I grew up. Everyone flocked to this place to try this yogurt and I remember it being very good. I also recall one night as I was eating some of it before bedtime. My dad told me about this movie he’s seen called The Stuff

Barcelona Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Innocent Imperialists Abroad

Whit Stillman's winning romantic comedy about politics set in late Cold War Spain.
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The first thing to get about Barcelona is the movie is sympathetic to its protagonists. Fred and Ted are cousins who haven’t seen eye to eye on anything since Fred stole Ted’s kayak when they were 10 - though Fred says he was only borrowing it, and the thing was a death trap anyway. They bicker. Ted, an expatriate living in Barcelona, is full of pretension and self-consciousness. Fred is a naval officer, sent to Spain ahead of the fleet to plan recreation. He wears his uniform everywhere, is proud of it, and will be damned if all of Barcelona

Emelie Blu-ray Review: Strong Performances Elevate Generic Horror

From the Tudors to terror, actress Sarah Bolger shines as an unhinged babysitter.
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The horror genre cannibalizes itself, and I'm not talking about movies about cannibals. Unlike other genres, horror stereotypes are so ingrained in the collective consciousness that it's near impossible not to watch a horror movie through the lens of a previous one. Emelie immediately conjures up similarities to The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and that's not a bad thing in my book, being one of my favorite "rogue babysitter" films. Sarah Bolger and the child actors assemble work wonders with a script that tries to avoid the pitfalls but never sticks the landing. A couple's anniversary sees them hiring

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray Review: Return of the Franchise (to Great Heights)

One of the more memorable blockbusters in recent years, and the high-def presentation is a fantastic showcase for it.
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens might well have been one of the most anticipated films of all time if the numerous box-office records it set are any indication. Since Star Wars (released in 1977, amended in 1981 with the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope), the franchise went on to become a major pop-culture juggernaut with a presence in every medium thanks to its devoted fan base and the talented contributors who expanded the fictional universe. The Force Awakens, “Episode VII” of the main film series and the first of a planned sequel trilogy, is an action-packed, thrilling space adventure

Dangerous Men Blu-ray Review: Professionally, Thoroughly Terrible

A greater package than the movie itself warrants.
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Back in 2005, Dangerous Men had an extremely limited release -- the writer/director/composer/costume designer/etc. John S. Rad spent thousands of dollars to rent out four theaters in Los Angeles for a week to show his film, and its take was a whopping $70. It's not a coincidence. It's not simply a result of having almost no marketing (an ad even ran for it during Fear Factor). It's just a bad movie, evident in every trailer I've seen for it. The very first character we meet inadvertently sets the tone for the entire movie. His credited name is "Police Detective." Yes,

Room Blu-ray Review: A Difficult but Emotionally Rewarding Cinematic Experience

A film that should that stand the test of time with its powerful performances, terrific script, and truthful message.
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There is no greater fear for a parent than the loss of a child to certain horrifying circumstances, such as death or the thought of someone kidnapping their child and doing vile things to them. The plot of director Lenny Abrahamson's 2015 moving film, Room, takes that rather basic premise and extends it into something much more harrowing, but ultimately inspiring. Based on the acclaimed novel by Emma Donoghue, the film will take hold of you emotionally, once you get past the intensity of the story. It centers on the seventh year of capitivity of Joy (Brie Larson), a woman

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street Blu-ray Review: Sam Fuller Goes to Germany

Fuller's only feature-directing credit of the 1970s found him infiltrating the ranks of a German crime procedural.
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Half a rollicking, goofy near-parody of noir and half a queasy, German New Wave-inflected portrait of futility, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972) is a singular film from iconoclastic director Samuel Fuller. Dead Pigeon is actually an episode of the (still-running!) German television series Tatort, though it was also granted a theatrical release in several countries, making it Fuller’s only feature-directing credit of the decade. Olive Films presents the restored director’s cut on a stellar new Blu-ray release. Watching Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street will make you wish Fuller had directed an entire season of a crime procedural. His episodic,

Jane Got a Gun Blu-ray Review: Troubled Production, Decent Results

Natalie Portman more than holds her own as the star, but it's Joel Edgerton that really shines.
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Plagued by production difficulties, it's a wonder Jane Got a Gun ever saw the light of day. In 2011, the film made the Black List, an annual listing of popular unproduced screenplays. By May of 2012, Natalie Portman had signed on to star in the film alongside Michael Fassbender with Lynne Ramsey to direct. By the next year, Fassbender was out due to scheduling conflicts and Jude Law was in. Then Ramsey quit over artistic conflicts and out went her cinematographer with her. And Jude Law. Bradley Cooper came and went just as fast. Eventually they did make the film

Brief Encounter Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Small but Poignant

A far cry from David Lean's big epics, but sometimes small is just as beautiful.
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Christ, David Lean knew how to compose a shot. I swear you could take all of his movies, put them in a pile, shuffle them up, and no matter what scene came up, you could make a stunning poster out of the image. We tend to think of his later, grand pictures like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago when we think about David Lean’s stunning images, but Brief Encounter proves he could create something epic out of little things as well. Filmed in 1945 in the final vestiges of the European stage of

Outlaw Gangster VIP: The Complete Collection Blu-ray Review: Gangster and Outlaw, All in One

Six Yakuza movies from the '60s, replete with knife fights, anguish, and women falling in love with the wrong gangster.
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How is being an Outlaw Gangster different from just being a gangster? By definition, they're all outlaws, aren't they? It turns out, no, it takes a very special soul to be an outlaw among gangsters. Especially if one is also, as the title of this collection implies, a VIP. This simple appellative explains a lot about the protagonist of this loose series of Yakuza movies. Goro Fujikawa, played by Tetsuya Watari in every one of the six movies included in this box set. Goro was born in poverty, lost his entire family when he was young and ended up in

The Zero Boys Blu-ray Review: Totally '80s Cheese

An odd-ball action/horror hybrid that will surely scratch that bad '80s flick itch.
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Oh the '80s! Was there a better decade for watching bad movies? The advent of home video not only meant you could watch bad movies from the comfort of your own home, but it also ushered in the era of direct-to-video productions and thousands of more bad movies coming out every year. The action and horror genres probably got the biggest boost as you could make those films on the cheap and genre fans would eat them up without necessarily caring if the production quality was all that good. Cashing in on this concept, director Nico Masorakis smashed the two

The Stuff (1985) Blu-ray Review: The Thing Nightmares Are Made From

Larry Cohen's comical, horrifying look at rampant commercialism, American gluttony, and corporate greed gets another chance to creep around thanks to Arrow Video.
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As a screenplay artist, Larry Cohen has many a unique offering under his literary belt. The New York-born auteur first started writing mysteries for television when he was only in his early twenties, and his god (told me to) given knack for penning thrillers soon found him cranking out teleplays for cult airwave favorites such as Branded, The Invaders, and Columbo during the '60s and '70s. Then, during the early '70s, Mr. Cohen was permitted to expand his filmmaking résumé with a directorial debut in the realm of a present subgenre phenomenon: blaxploitation movies. As a result, Larry was also

Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli Blu-ray Review: Arrow Strikes Giallo Gold

From deadly strolls about in High Heels to casual executions committed at Midnight, this two-fer from Arrow Video USA is sure to make a killing among fans of classic Italian thrillers.
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Though born in the early '60s, only a few short years before various forms of psychedelic and sexual revolutions began to spin a seemingly stuck planet in circles far too fast for even God to fathom, the giallo film truly started to roll about freely once the 1970s came to pass. The titles were unabashedly long and lurid; the storylines both baffling and beguiling; the murders downright bloody, yet immeasurably inventive. These were the thrillers ripped straight from Italy's sleazy pulp fiction crime novels boasting distinctive yellow (or, "giallo," if you will) jackets which kept moviegoing audiences glued to their

Death Walks Twice Blu-ray Review: Two Times the Horror, Two Times the Fun

Two Italian giallos get the Arrow treatment.
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After the success of his first film as a director, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Luciano Ercoli directed two more giallos before moving on to other genres. These two films, Death Walks on High Heels, and Death Walks at Midnight have been lovingly restored and upgraded by Arrow Video into a very nice boxed set. Besides sharing similar titles, Ercoli also used the same actress, Nieves Navarro - here going by the stage name Susan Scott (his then girlfriend, later turned wife) as the lead in both films as well as using the same writer, similar themes, and

Twilight Time Presents: Our Own Personal Freedoms

A quintet of moving pictures that are guaranteed to hear your prayers (or at least be your friends when you're feeling unknown and all alone).
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Everyone strives for a little more room to breathe in this world. Some seek solace far away from others on islands previously unexplored by man. Others, beget into dystopian lies, defy omnipresent eyes around them in order to discover the truth. Still more are simply born with their own freedom, albeit one that is easily taken away with the mere flick of a trigger. To further illustrate this endeavor, I submit to you this collection of Twilight Time offerings (initially released in December of 2015), which take us into all of the aforementioned mysteries of personal freedoms ‒ and then

And Then There Were None (2015) Blu-ray Review: And Then There Was Yet Another

There can be only one. But is this much-anticipated (and greatly needed) BBC miniseries event truly 'it'?
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Of all the stories written and published by Britain's crowned queen of mysteries, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None has had the privilege of being adapted, staged, filmed, re-adapted, re-staged, re-written, re-published, remade, and ripped-off more than any other tale in the literate world. And it stands to reason that it should: it is, after all, one of the most ‒ if not the most ‒ successful mysteries ever published. Originally published in its native country with a far less respectable title taken from an 1860s blackface song (you may look it up at your discretion and leisure), the

The Lady in the Van Blu-ray Review: Impound This Vehicle

Maggie Smith as a one-note character is the only good thing in this very droll comedy.
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When watching a movie, there are some things that are good to reveal about a character right away and some things that should be left toward the third act. How would we respond as viewers, if for example in the movie Psycho, Norman Bates was seen wearing his mother’s clothing and then we cut to the moment when he first meets Marion. It would feel a bit out of place and that is how I felt when I watched this movie. At the very start, we see an elderly lady driving away from one of the most backwards cops ever

Bride of Re-Animator Blu-ray Review: A Gallows Worth of Fun

All the gore (and humor) you want from the franchise.
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Brian Yuzna’s sequel to the cult classic Re-Animator is the very definition of a film that is not for everyone. For your humble reviewer, it was about the point when the re-animated dismembered fingers, which have been attached to an eyeball, escape the lab and are accidentally squished by the police lieutenant that I knew Bride of Re-Animator was a film totally for me. Bride strips the original of its - well I don’t want to say import as Re-Animator isn’t much more than a hilariously gory zombie romp - so let's say artistic meaning and gleefully reproduces its blood-splattered

The Forest Blu-ray Review: It May Make You Want To Give Up Camping

You may not want to go hiking or camping anytime soon after viewing The Forest, but you are likely to want to seek out Natalie Dormer in her next feature.
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Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, The Tudors) stars in the supernatural thriller The Forest. The film is an old-school jump-scare movie that substitutes a haunted house for a creepy forest in Japan. The only problem with this conceit is that the spooky forest featured in the film, Japan's Aokigahara Forest, at the foot of Mount Fuji, is a real place, with a real and poignant modern history of being a site where people choose to go to die. The Forest quickly presents this fact and then...does not much with it, proceeding with its fairly traditional ghost story.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans Blu-ray Review: That's So Raven, Damian

Weak plotting in the first half undermines a terrific final act.
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DC appears determined to cater to all manner of Justice League fans this year. If the dark, brooding Batman V Superman movie isn’t your cup of tea, and you think you’re too grown up for the blissfully fun hijinks of Lego Justice League: Cosmic Clash, here’s your middle-of-the-road alternative. Sure, it leans more to the dark side, but in a welcome departure from many recent DC animated releases, it doesn’t resort to adult language or mature themes to hit its perceived demographic. Continuing the Damian Wayne (Robin) story followed in the past couple of Batman animated films, the latest entry

The Forest (2016) Blu-ray Review: Beautiful, but Dull

Not even Natalie Dormer can save this dud.
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At the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan, lies the Aokigahara forest. With its large rocky ice caverns, it is a popular tourist destination. With its densely packed trees and vegetation, all visitors are warned to stay on the trails or get lost. In Japanese mythology, the forest is populated with angry ghosts called Yūrei. For decades now, it has also been a popular site for suicides. Despondent men and women wander into the forest, hang themselves, overdose, or sometimes intentionally get lost and starve to death. That’s a terrific set-up for a great horror movie. Unfortunately The Forest isn’t it.

Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean Blu-ray Review: The Acting and Directing Elevate the Writing

Robert Altman and his cast turn a second-tier script into something worth watching.
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Based upon a stage play of the same name this movie was written by the playwright (Ed Graczyk) and directed by Robert Altman (who also directed it on the stage). It tells the story of six women who come together for a twenty-year reunion of a James Dean fan club inside an old Woolworths in a tiny town in Texas. There they laugh, reminisce, open up old wounds, and reveal secrets long since buried. The story itself is nothing special, old friends coming together to drudge up the past is pretty boilerplate storytelling, and the script adds nothing new. The

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