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Spectre Blu-ray Review: Ghosts of Bond's Past

Craig and Mendes re-team for an effort that falls short of Skyfall’s heights, but not by much.
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After the nearly universal acclaim and gigantic box office for the previous Bond outing, Skyfall, any follow-up was likely to suffer in comparison, even with the same creative team largely intact. Sure enough, the general consensus upon Spectre’s release seemed to be a resounding “meh” and lower ticket sales, but what all of that apathy masked was that judged on its own merits it’s still one of the strongest Bond films ever. Does the story make complete sense? Nope, but that’s never really been a drawback in this series. Sam Mendes returns to direct an ambitious tale that features the

The Emigrants / The New Land Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Profound Cinematic Experience Like No Other

Jan Troell's masterful epic saga receives the deluxe Blu-ray treatment.
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There have been many films about the dangerous journey of immigrants to America, the land of prosperity and new beginnings, such as El Norte (1983) and Sin Nombre (2009). However, I think none of them really possess the devastating and stark power as Director Jan Troell's epic masterpieces, The Emigrants (1971) / The New Land (1972), which were praised unanimously by critics and worldwide. It isn't difficult to see why; the entire saga is beautiful, authetic, and a profound cinematic experience like no other. Adapted from a novel by Vilhelm Moberg, it stars film legends Max von Sydow and Liv

Bridge of Spies Blu-ray Review: Spielberg's History Tour Reaches the Cold War

In Steven Spielberg's latest history lesson, our professor/director tackles the Cold War.
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For the last decade, Steven Spielberg has been stuck in the past as a director, churning out one historical film after another. Even his only fictional films, Indiana Jones and Tintin, tread retro themes and times, making it clear that at this stage of his storied career he’s looking back rather than forward. That gaze to the past has now landed on the Cold War, and finds him reteamed with frequent collaborator Tom Hanks. When a suspected Soviet spy is captured in New York, the authorities realize that he must be offered legal representation and call in esteemed attorney James

The Diary of a Teenage Girl Blu-ray Review: A Remarkably Forthright Film

The plot might remind one of Andrea Arnold's 'Fish Tank,' but the tone is decidedly different
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Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl isn’t particularly groundbreaking from a visual or formal standpoint; its burnished digital photography and lilting camerawork could belong to any number of Sundance entries. But this adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel is certainly distinctive among American film for its forthright, completely nonjudgmental approach to female sexuality. The plot — in which a teenage girl starts sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend — bears at least passing similarity to Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, but The Diary of a Teenage Girl is nearly a tonal opposite, fraught nerviness replaced with a pleasant inquisitiveness. Diary’s

Grandma Blu-ray Review: A Common Story with Uncommon Grace

The legendary Ms. Tomlin delivers her career best performance in one of the very best films of 2015.
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You would think that a road trip movie about a girl and grandmother bonding would be another one of those meandering chick flicks that you see nowadays far too much. However, Director Paul Weitz's 2015 refreshing gem of a film, Grandma, is not that type of film and that's a very good thing. It's a devilishly funny, smart, and wonderfully real piece of indie filmmaking that doesn't come around too often. It's also a showcase for the legendary Lily Tomlin to do what she does best, which is to knock it out of the park. And she does. Tomlin stars

Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 Blu-ray Review: Action Heroes '50s Japanese Style

Three action/crime films from Nikkatsu studios that showcase their popular leading me of the late 50s.
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The Nikkatsu Diamond Guys title comes from a marketing scheme from nearly 60 years ago. Nikkatsu is a studio in Japan, and they were looking for a new way to promote their movie stars in the late 50s, so they created the Nikkatsu Action Series, with the "Diamond Line" of "Mighty Guys". Arrow has put three of these pictures into a Blu-ray and DVD release, Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1. Unrelated in story, theme, or director, (though they all involve crime stories) what connects them is the studio, and the era in which they were shot. The three movies are

The Rolling Stones: From the Vault: Live at the Tokyo Dome 1990 Blu-ray Review

This entertaining performance proves all the naysayers wrong.
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The Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle stadium tour ran for nearly a year. The North American leg started in Philadelphia on Aug 31, 1989, and the European leg ended in London on Aug 25, 1990. The tour is notable for many reasons. The 10 nights they played at the Tokyo Dome in February 1990, from which the material on this live album comes, was the first time they ever performed in Japan. It was the band's first tour since their 1982 European Tour. It was their first tour without touring pianist Ian Stewart. It would be bassist Bill Wyman's last tour before

Bitter Rice Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Beauty of the Downtrodden

1940s Italian film marries social commentary about the lower class with rewarding drama and romance.
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Long before Dino De Laurentiis was a noted Hollywood producer, he produced Italian films such as this 1949 drama. Interestingly, his director on this film, Giuseppe De Santis, also had a deep appreciation of U.S. culture and Hollywood film techniques, although he maintained strong convictions about how his films should stake their own Italian identity both thematically and visually. His subject matter for Bitter Rice fully expresses those ideas as he wrings beautiful scenes out of a story set amongst poor farm workers. As the film reveals, every year scores of Italian women would leave home to find temporary work

Shadows and Fog Blu-ray Review: or, Smoke and Mirrors

Even with an unmistakable style and fine supporting cast, Woody Allen's final Orion Pictures production is a bittersweet one indeed.
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In several respects, the release of Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy in 1982 marked the beginning of two pivotal points in the career of Woody Allen. Not only was it the year he began releasing a new motion picture each and every year ‒ a tradition (or obsession, perhaps) that continues to this day ‒ but it was also his first film with Orion Pictures, a company with which he would find backing and distribution for his next eleven projects. It was during his Orion constellation that Allen made a number of homages to classic film genres (and

Scorpio (1973) Blu-ray Review: A Different Kind of Zodiac Killer

Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon shoot the breeze ‒ and just about everything else in sight ‒ in Michael Winner's oft-criticized (but still enjoyable) espionage flick.
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Following on the heels of his previous action film, 1972's The Mechanic with Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent, British filmmaker Michael (Death Wish) Winner reunited with the star of his first American project ‒ the one and only Burt Lancaster ‒ for a similarly-themed tale of espionage, double-crossin' secret agents, paid assassins, and looped dialogue. The result was 1973's Scorpio: a title that may have been carefully chosen to subtly associate audiences with yet another action film ‒ 1971's Dirty Harry, wherein Clint Eastwood matched wits (and barrel sizes) with a Zodiac-patterned serial killer named "Scorpio." And while Scorpio's limitations

Broken Lance Blu-ray Review: The Open Range (Robert) Wagnerian Opera

Twilight Time presents the Oscar-winning western remake that inspired even more movies.
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While it isn't entirely uncommon for a contemporary film to be remade into a western (it's much more common to see a western remade into something modern, or sometimes, even futuristic), it's extremely rare to see different filmed versions of the same story from the same screenwriter. The second of four adaptations (three being cinematic, the other made for TV) based on Pulitzer Prize winner Jerome Weidman's I'll Never Go Home Any More (1949), 1954's Broken Lance was the second time the original story had been transformed for the silver screen by Philip Yordan (King of Kings, El Cid) ‒

Tenderness of The Wolves Blu-ray Review: Not What You Expect, But Better

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's company make a surprisingly gentle serial killer movie.
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Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by serial killers. There is something so uniquely interesting about someone who murders not for money, revenge, jealousy, rage, or any other understandable motive but for the pure pleasure or murdering itself. It is of course horrendously horrible, but terribly fascinating as well. One such person I’d not heard of until I watched this film was Fritz Haarmann who lived and killed in Hanover, Germany in the period between the World Wars. He sexually assaulted, mutilated, dismembered, possibly ate, and almost certainly sold for meat a minimum of 24 boys all while

Deathgasm Blu-ray Review: Good, Brutal Fun

Maybe not quite my favorite horror-comedy, but definitely a good watch nonetheless.
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Growing up, I remember hearing some adults referring to heavy metal music (and its offshoots) as "devil music." In Deathgasm, it turns out they're right. It kicks off with headbanger Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) bringing the viewer up to speed on how he came to live with his ultra-Christian aunt and uncle and his preppy douchebag bully of a cousin. The narration sets the stage, and probably trimmed some runtime, but it ensures the pace doesn't drag with exposition. This is a horror-comedy, after all. If something isn't gushing guts or making me laugh, it needs to step aside. Struggling to

Mistress America Blu-ray Review: The Voice of a Generation

A modern day human psychology lesson, but with smart and insightful humor.
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I am a really big fan of indie films; films that rely on characters and their issues, rather than special effects and explosions. The films of director Noah Baumbach, and especially those with his girlfriend, co-writer, and current muse, Greta Gerwig, actually quenches my thirst for understanding people and their flaws. With Greenberg and Frances Ha, Gerwig has been establishing herself as the indie 'It' girl for quirky, but modern women trying to comes to terms with their real selves, while dealing with their hangups, as well as those of the people around them. The more I see her in

The Green Inferno Blu-ray Review: A Truly Visceral Experience

Human savagery is the name of the game in Roth's gripping throwback to Italian cannibal flicks.
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As we know, Eli Roth is one of those directors who is kind of a "love him or hate him" filmmaker, making movies that have been reviled and crucified by critics since his cult film Cabin Fever grossed out moviegoers back in 2002. As for me, I absolutely love him because his films successfully assault the audience and refuse to hold back. I have to say that they have the energy of Sam Raimi and the unapologetic gore of Lucio Fulci; they also have actual depths of intelligence that most of those pesky critics fail to realize. So case in

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Blu-ray Review: Diminishing Returns

Second film in the Maze Runner cycle fails to build upon the strengths of its predecessor.
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While the first Maze Runner film delivered moderate thrills and sci-fi adventure, the sequel seems to be running in place. That’s partially due to the change of filming location from the humid wilds of Louisiana to the arid desolation of New Mexico, but mostly due to the film’s major plot shift. Where the first film had a great hook with kids trapped in a deadly labyrinth filled with gigantic puzzles and creatures, the new film ultimately plays like a lukewarm zombie apocalypse survival story. Our crew of heroic college-aged stars called the Gladers are set loose in a vast wilderness

Blood Rage (1987) Blu-ray Review: Because Florida

Cult cinema's perennial Thanksgiving slasher flick finally finds a home for the holidays.
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American school history books used to (and probably still do) paint a pretty picture about Christopher Columbus and a certain genocidal invasion by foreigners that would later be celebrated as a holiday known as Thanksgiving. A certain famous old television commercial would have you believe a serendipitously accidental collision between two young guys resulted in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups being born. Now, what happens when you take the great taste of Thanksgiving and combine it with the subgenre of regional horror? The answer: a seasonal slasher flick that was shot under two different names in 1983, and then released in

Spy (2015) Blu-ray Review: License to Laugh

Writer/director Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy continue to be a comedy partnership viewers can trust.
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When the whole world is in danger because a suitcase nuke falls into the wrong hands, whom does the CIA turn to? The dashing and debonair Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), of course. But when the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) kills Fine and the identity of all the field agents is comprised, who is left to turn to? With no other choice, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a CIA employee who assisted Fine from her desk at the agency's Langley headquarters, is given the assignment and great hilarity ensues. Spy delivers a lot of laughs, and just from McCarthy. The

Night and the City Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Jules Dassin's Marvelous London Noir

Add this movie to your collection by whatever means necessary.
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Based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Kersh, although director Jules Dassin claims never to have read it, Night and the City tells the story of Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), a con man who wants “to be somebody,” but isn't because he's not as smart as he thinks he is. The Criterion Collection presents both the U.S. version with a score by Franz Waxman and the UK version, which is five minutes longer, and has a score by Benjamin Frankel. This London noir opens with Harry on the run through darkened streets and shadowy alleyways, likely a

Wake Up and Kill Blu-ray Review: Gritty but Unengaging Criminal Bio-pic

This true crime story has a lot on its mind, but it doesn't translate into arresting storytelling.
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Wake Up and Kill isn't quite a traditional gangster film. There's a philosophy to the gangster film that requires a certain sort of specific ambition from its lead characters. The gangster in a movie commits crimes to get money to do something. To better his life, to provide for family or lovers or to be a part of a community. In Wake Up and Kill, Luciano Lutring's criminality is never explained, or even deeply explored. He doesn't seem to be very good at it - all his crimes, even as they become more elaborate and require greater planning, are basically

Jellyfish Eyes Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Surprisingly Unsurprising

Takashi Murakami’s first film is fun for the whole family but sorely lacking his usual artistic iconoclasm.
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The most surprising thing about unconventional artist Takashi Murakami’s first feature-length directorial effort is that it is entirely conventional. Based on my experience with his artwork, I expected a surreal, incoherent, but visually dazzling film, but instead found the film to be a straightforward and family-friendly update on the kids with critters movies popularized in the 1980s by the likes of E.T. and Gremlins. The film is more homage than trailblazer, which seems like a missed opportunity for the visionary Murakami. The story follows a tween boy as he moves to a new town with his recently widowed mom and

Twilight Time Presents: Various Vamps, Visitors, Bats and Vats

As another dreadful holiday season falls upon us, there is perhaps no better time to re-celebrate Halloween with this line-up of killer October chillers.
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Is it Halloween again yet? Yes, while many members of the commercialized human race rants about nightmarish presidential candidates inciting hate and discontent while obsessing over stocking stuffers amidst various prevailing paranoias concerning an imaginary war on a holiday that wasn't even theirs in the first place, the rest of us are ready to turn back the clock and revel in another ‒ more entertaining ‒ Pagan celebration. You know, the one some folks foolishly perceive to literally be of the Devil itself: Halloween. And since I was so wrapped up in my real life profession of helping people become

Blood Rage Blu-ray Combo Review: One of Arrow's Top Releases

"It's not cranberry sauce, Artie."
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Of course the slasher genre is of an acquired taste, mainly because of the lack of unqiue dialogue or acting. It is really based on how characters are killed and when. Detail was placed more on blood and guts among everything else, but in 1984 (the golden age of slashers), Wes Craven's classic Nightmare on Elm Street, became the greatest of all the '80s bloodbaths. But after its phenomenon, the genre went into steady decline. Slasher after slasher, movies became more cheesier and less original; it was the same formula over and over again. However, Blood Rage (shot in 1983

What Have You Done To Solange? Blu-ray Review: Giallo at Its Finest

Sex, violence, and style, or everything you want in an Italian horror film.
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In the 1930s, the Mondadori company began producing a series of paperback books in Italy. They were usually translations of English-language murder mysteries and they came in a distinctive yellow cover. Italian directors took note and began making films loosely based on those books. By the 1960s, a distinctive horror sub-genre emerged from this - giallo, the Italian word for yellow became the nickname for the books and subsequently the films that came out of them. Quickly, the films moved away from direct adaptations of the earlier novels and adopted their own characteristics. Known for their distinctive cinematography, their black-gloved

Sinatra: All or Nothing at All Blu-ray Review: That's His Life

A thorough documentary that still leaves the viewer curious to learn more about Sinatra and explore his work.
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Frank Sinatra was one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling singers of all time, won an Academy Award as a supporting actor, and drew big audiences with his TV specials and his concerts. His life off the stage was even more compelling, and together they are presented in Alex Gibney's HBO documentary Sinatra: All or Nothing At All, available on Blu-ray and DVD. In 1971, Sinatra held a farewell concert to announce his (what would be short-lived) retirement at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theater. He picked 11 milestone songs from his career

The Bat (1959) / A Bucket of Blood Blu-ray Reviews: The Film Detective Goes Public (Domain)

A new indie label releases BD-R versions of two late '50s cult classics.
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Hailing from an era where it was never uncommon to see fly-by-night video distribution labels pop up with a couple of public domain titles, it is somewhat unsurprising to still see DVDs hit the shelves that have seen the light of day a good dozen times before. When it comes to the still forming world of Blu-ray, however, public domain issues are highly unusual ‒ especially since anyone could copy the data and release the same damn thing under their own label. Providing, that is, that said material was spectacular enough to warrant copying in the first place. When a

Amy Blu-ray Review: The Permeability of Private and Public Footage

Asif Kapadia's documentary on Amy Winehouse transcends the typical with an unusually and uncomfortably intimate collage.
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The narrative beats of Asif Kapadia’s documentary on Amy Winehouse are eminently familiar, tracing a musician’s rise to fame and the subsequent downfall fueled by substance abuse. Like a number of showbiz stories, Amy is possessed by a heartbreaking sense of inevitability. Nonetheless, Kapadia — best known for 2010’s Formula 1 doc Senna — transcends the typical with an unusually and uncomfortably intimate collage of almost entirely pre-existing footage, structured around audio-only interviews with collaborators, friends, and romantic partners. Home video of Winehouse goofing around with childhood friends bleeds into on-air interviews promoting her 2003 debut album Frank, which gives

The Brain That Wouldn't Die Blu-ray Review: The Head of No Class

The decapitated grandparent of grindhouse cinema gets a beautiful HD makeover in this, the definitive release of a true cult classic.
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Ah, the distant, slightly faded memory of a momentous moment during my wasted youth. I can still recall perusing the shelves of the long-defunct Video Outlet in rural Janesville, CA one fateful day, setting my eyes upon a large Warner Home Video clamshell of a flick called The Brain That Wouldn't Die. It was like a call to arms for a young genre lover such as myself: a film that focused on the wild notion of a mad scientist keeping his freshly decapitated fiancée's head alive in a pan while he ventures out to strip clubs to find a body

Requiescant Blu-ray Review: Massacred Mexican Communist Revenge

Offbeat scenes and a determined Communist undertone offset this otherwise standard tale of Western revenge.
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As Westerns go, Requiescant is an odd one. Its story isn't all that unusual - a young boy's entire Mexican clan is massacred by a greedy landowner and his gang of thieves. The boy is mistakenly left alive, found by a wandering preacher and raised to believe in non-violence and the Bible. When his "sister," whom he's in love with, takes off, he resolves to go find her, and his entire past comes crashing back around him. Eventually he becomes, almost inadvertently, the leader of a band of Mexican revolutionaries, taking back the land that was stolen from them. Boy

Southpaw Blu-ray Review: Feels Like Being Punched in the Face

A nonsensical boxing movie that had the audience throwing in the towel long before it was over.
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With the film opening to a realistic depiction of the intensity in the locker room as a fighter prepares for battle, we are led to believe that we are about to witness a gritty and insightful view into the world of pugilism. Though the violence in Southpaw certainly is gritty, the script is so full of plot holes that it would be laughable if it didn’t drag on to the point of feeling like we’re being punched in the face. Jake Gyllenhaal follows up last year's underappreciated Nighcrawler with the underwhelming riches to rags to redemption Southpaw in which he

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