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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

2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Review: Day One and Two

Illustrations of why I love this festival.
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Each year as I am heading home from the TCM Classic Film Festival, I am sure that the next year couldn’t be any better and I am always proved wrong. My sixth year was no different and after 17 movies, I only wanted more. The festival was held over four days, mostly at locations on Hollywood Blvd, such as the Roosevelt Hotel, the TCL Chinese Theater, and the Egyptian Theater. There were frequently five films playing at any one time along with various interviews and presentations. This makes for a difficult decision-making process once the schedule is posted. Lines start

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

Fathom Events and TCM Present On the Waterfront

You'll believe he coulda been a contender when you see it on the big screen.
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Director Elia Kazan named names. He at first refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities but when push came to shove, he gave them the names of eight people who had been Communists. Though it angered a great many in the more liberal Hollywood circles, it saved his career. He was not blacklisted and went on to make a great many more wonderful films including On the Waterfront. That film was his own personal statement as to why he testified. It's hard to watch the film today without that baggage seeping through. Harder still is to watch

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

MSPIFF 2016 Review: Alena

A stylish thriller that combines both Let The Right One In and Carrie.
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Bullying is one of those issues the media and the public have been ranting about in the last few years. Now that’s not to say there should not be any discussion on the subject. I just think this whole thing gets very little results. Not everyone is going to like you and no group meet-ups or tweet outs is going to change that. When you are faced with a bully, there are a few options. You can either stand up to them or you can run away. Another choice is to do what our main character does and just let

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 Huntsman: Winter's War Movie Review - Winter Turns Around in Embarassment

This unnecessary prequel/sequel piles on opulence in lieu of interest.
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When Snow White and the Hunstman debuted in 2012, it marked the beginning of what's become sloppily known as the "revisionist fairy tale" genre, a genre that still hasn't found the presumably fervid audiences that'll eat every morsel Hollywood serves up to us. The Huntsman: Winter's War will leave you near starving with the lack of anything that passes for intrigue or stakes, with its beautifully costumed cast aimlessly wandering a landscape so unsure of itself it refuses to declare itself a sequel or prequel and becomes both. Freya (Emily Blunt), the sister of Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), has spent

Southwest of Salem Film Review: Texas' Modern-day Witch Hunt

A documentary that both fascinates and infuriates audiences to action.
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In a true-crime landscape of Serial and Making a Murderer there's absolutely no better time for Deborah Esquenazi's documentary Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four. Similar to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost series with its exploration of small town conservatism and a group of outcasts accused of a heinous crime with little evidence, Esquenazi's documenting of the women collectively known as the San Antonio Four infuriates and terrifies in equal measure. With the case still being investigated currently the story is only beginning... In 2000 four women were accuses of sexually assaulting two little

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

John Carradine Goes Fishing DVD Review: Oh, the Horror

After nearly 70 years of anticipation, the documentary nobody ever asked for is unearthed from the sands of tides ‒ and it still stinks to high heaven.
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By the time Fish Story had been shot, scored, and pasted together for its (presumably very limited) theatrical debut in 1947, the recently-added category for Best Documentary in the Oscars was only five years old. And, upon even the most casual, non-committed viewing of Fish Story ‒ which has recently been rediscovered after nearly 70 years of obscurity and released on DVD-R via budget label Alpha Video under the more "marketable" moniker of John Carradine Goes Fishing ‒ it's easy to see why this documentary never found its way to the Academy for award-worthy approval. Granted, a good part of

MSPIFF 2016 Review: Here Comes The Videofreex

A very interesting portrait of a group that made an impact in our lives but have never been recognized for it until now.
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Now that everyone can post all sorts of videos on the internet today, it’s easy to take the technology we use for granted. Anyone with a cell phone can now be considered a journalist. They just have to be at the right place at the right time or the wrong time depending on what the occasion is. I remember when the beating of Rodney King first aired and how it sparked a revolution/riot. People were talking and debating about that tape for a long time. In my mind, I thought that this was the first time independent video got into

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.

Lamb DVD Review: A Heartbreaking Tale of Two Broken Individuals

A soulfully creepy and courageous depiction of two lost souls crossing paths.
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Films that deal with uneasy relationships, such as Sundays and Cybele, can have a certain uncomfortable effect on audiences. Maybe they can't deal with stories about characters who have questionable interactions with other people, or that they are in denial about their own lives, but however you see it, these types of films do start conversations. Director Ross Partridge's 2015 film, Lamb, is one such film. Despite the film's unhealthy subject matter, it is more of a heartbreaking tale of two broken individuals finding each other at just the exact moment. Partridge himself stars as David Lamb, a lonely and

The Jungle Book (2016) Movie Review: A Loving Spin on an Old Tale

Jon Favreau recreates The Jungle Book lusher and grander than ever before.
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Almost fifty years have passed since The Jungle Book graced movies screen, marking the end of an era as the last film personally overseen by Walt Disney. Disney's corporate jungle has changed a lot in 49 years but director Jon Favreau brings the magic back with his interpretation of Rudyard Kipling's tale, engaging audiences in a lush world beautifully rendered in photo-realistic CGI while introducing old characters with added nuance and pathos. Favreau treads a new path by simply repainting and expanding the old one, creating a new tale Uncle Walt would be proud of. Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) has

MSPIFF 2016 Review: Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You

The creator of television's greatest hits is the focus in this great documentary.
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Before I explain anything about Norman Lear or this documentary, I feel that It’s important to give a quick, little lesson on early TV programs. Most of the sitcoms that were made in the early '50s were ones that did not reflect society but were ones a lot of people thought society wanted to be. Shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it To Beaver showed a very idealistic way the moral majority viewed the American family. Most of the problems involved simple things like the boss coming over for dinner and little Jimmy cheating on a test. All that

Memories of a Penitent Heart Movie Review: Memories of a Fragmented Heart

Desires and religion clash in this absorbing familial documentary.
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Blood is thicker than water is a common adage trotted out in order to emphasize the unbreakable bonds of family. Our family, in theory, should be comprised of the people who know us best and, conversely, whom we know as well as ourselves. Director Cecilia Aldarondo questions familial authenticity in the gripping documentary Memories a Penitent Heart. Turning the camera inward, Aldarondo explores her own family and identity through investigating her deceased uncle. Comparisons to Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell abound, but Aldarondo tackles something beyond just her insular family world, casting a net which comprises the religious and cultural

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

Sugar Kisses DVD Review: Young Love in Misshapen Chaos

A tale of young love, domestic strife and a safe place with a hell of a view.
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Carlos Cuarón’s 2013 film Sugar Kisses is part street fable and part Shakespearean tragedy. The screenplay by Cuarón and Luis Usabiaga brims with the clarity of young love and juxtaposes it against the darkness of crime and domestic punishment. It’s a familiar tale and at times Cuarón’s affection for clichés gets in the way, but there’s still a lot to like about this picture. Cuarón is the brother of Gravity and Y Tu Mamá También director Alfonso Cuarón and he wrote the screenplay for the latter, which was a sensual coming-of-age narrative that shares a lot with Sugar Kisses. But

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