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Peter Jackson continues The Hobbit trilogy with The Desolation of Smaug, an action-packed fantasy adventure that improves upon the previous installment, which suffered from sluggish pacing due to non-essential scenes. It also has the advantage of being the middle part of the story so it doesn't have to introduce the majority of main characters and it doesn't have to offer an ending, since leaving characters in precarious situations is enough. However, there's so much packed into it, like An Unexpected Journey, it feels more like Jackson is creating a miniseries intended to be watched in amounts of one's choosing at

The Maze Runner Digital HD Review: Lord of the Labyrinth Flies

Derivative of many other dystoptian works, but with enough fresh spin and worthwhile performances to make it a winner.
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Oh great, another teen dystopian flick, right? Yes, The Maze Runner seems like an also-ran following the lead of the Hunger Games and Divergents of the world, and yet it called to my mind an entirely different predecessor: Cube. In both films, a group of strangers wake up in an ever-changing, deadly maze with no memory of how they got there, and must band together to find their way out. Another similarity: they're both surprisingly entertaining. As efficiently directed by Wes Ball, the film thrusts viewers right into the nightmare without any preamble, following lead character Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) as

A Newly Widened Screen: Two Steve Martins and a Black Scorpion

The Warner Archive Collection re-releases several classic favorites in 16x9 widescreen.
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As some of you may recall, there was once a time when television sets were great big, bulky, boxy contraptions that weighed more than an entire average American family did immediately after eating Thanksgiving dinner. Shortly before the manufacturers of these electronic babysitters began making the lightweight widescreen models we know and (possibly) love, the world was introduced to DVD; a revolutionary new home video concept wherein we could finally see digital transfers of movies we (potentially) adored in their original theatrical aspect ratios. Sadly, some early DVD releases did not bring us the widescreen video presentations we had hoped

Stonehearst Asylum Blu-ray Review: Might Make Poe Proud

It's pretty good right up until it tries too hard.
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Coming this week to a retailer near you is Stonehearst Asylum, a 19th Century thriller of sorts from Brad Anderson, the man behind such films as The Machinist, The Call, Transsiberian, and Session 9. Stonehearst is based on the short story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" by Edgar Allan Poe. The film begins in Oxford, UK in 1899 with a demonstration of eliciting a psychotic response in a patient for instructional purposes. This scene hints at the barbaric practices of treating the insane that are nowadays considered heinous and foul and "how did we think that was

Top Five Movie Review: Genuine Laughs with the Sting of Truth

Need a break from oh-so-serious Oscar bait? Chris Rock's raucous, original comedy is funny, touching, and unexpectedly relevant.
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Perceptive moviegoers know that they can pick up clues about the movie they’re about to see by the trailers selected to show before it. Catching a prestige piece of Oscar-bait starring a crew of distinguished British thespians? You’ll see trailers for costume dramas, highbrow literary adaptations, and films with many shots of beautiful but desolate landscapes. About to see an action-adventure or sci-fi flick, e.g. Guardians of the Galaxy? You’ll see lots of explosions, CGI, and comic book superheroes swinging/flying to the rescue. When you’re attending a movie like Top Five, written, directed, and starring Chris Rock and featuring a

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition Blu-ray Review: Peter Jackson Goes Back Again

The director returns to Middle-earth with mixed results.
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Filmmaker Peter Jackson returned to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part of an intended trilogy based on the author’s 1937 fantasy novel. Considering a few recent book-to-film franchises had increased their ratios, it wasn’t a surprise when news broke that The Hobbit would be turned into two movies. However, when the announcement came that the material would be expanded into three movies, many fans were puzzled how it would work being stretched so thin. For many, myself included, it didn’t work well, especially when inevitably compared to Jackson’s Lord of the Rings

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) Blu-ray Review: Shades of Gray

The Warner Archive Collection breathes new life into the innovative classic.
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While it certainly wasn't the first motion picture adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic, MGM's 1945 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray did have the honor of not only being the first feature-length American version of the tale, as well as the first to employ the use of color when black-and-white was the norm (during the war, even). Fortunately, Albert Lewin's masterpiece does so sparingly. Reserving the bulk of his (black-and-white) stock so that cinematographer Harry Stradling may deliver some truly atmospheric noir-like (and Oscar winning) photography, Lewin then dazzles viewers with four very brief - but simplistically powerful

When the Wind Blows (1986) Blu-ray Review: Wild is the Wind

So, anyone for a nuclear holocaust, then?
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Not many people may remember this, but there was a lot of nuclear war going back in the '80s. Big time. All over the place! Tensions between the various powers in the east and the west began to swelter, and James Bond and many other agents from the free(er) parts of the world were rushed into action. Sometimes they succeeded, making the way for artists like Rita Coolidge to gain a hit single out of the deal in the process. Other times, however, things failed with the utmost of (in)efficiency. The world was destroyed, time and time again, inevitably paving

The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei) Blu-ray Review: Ex-Swordsman Blues

Wait, THIS lost to "The Barbarian Invasions"? THIS?!
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It's always interesting to see the similarities between samurai films and the western. Both genres have served to inspire filmmakers from either corner of the world intermittently over the years. Sergio Leone adapted the spaghetti western classic (For) A Fistful of Dollars from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo - a tale that itself borrowed elements from an American film noir, The Glass Key. Likewise, The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven, while Sergio Corbucci's cult classic Django (the real one, kids) and just about every other influential European western eventually wound up receiving an Eastern treatment in Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django.

The Strange Color Of Your Body's Tears Blu-ray Review: Bizarre, Incomprehensible, and Mesmerizing

A hallucinatory fever dream of a film that is surprising, strange and wonderful.
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After watching The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, you’ll probably have a lengthy discussion with your viewing partner about style versus substance. That is if your partner hasn’t fallen asleep or left the theatre in a rage. It's the sort of film that will likely sharply divide its audiences. It's either a beautifully poetic, deeply intellectual masterpiece or pretentious trash depending on who you ask. The story for what there is (and what there is is very little) concerns a man, Dan (Klaus Tange), who comes home from a business trip to find his apartment door locked from the

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection, Vol. 1 & 2 DVD Reviews: What, No Sammy Petrillo?

The Warner Archive Collection re-releases the long out of print Paramount sets featuring 13 of the duo's best-known works.
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While they were once as easy to find as a pregnant woman in a maternity ward, the world of comedy duos has almost faded into obscurity since the latter part of the '50s. One one side of the ring, there were the reigning kings of comedy themselves, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who had served both their public and country alike during World War II by making a slew of patriotic wartime comedies while raising a whopping (estimated) $85 million in war bonds. Alas, a very poor choice in accountants found the Internal Revenue Service pursuing the long-standing, legendary two-man

She's Beautiful When She's Angry Movie Review: A Sober and Sentimental Reflection

Documentarian Mary Dore's celebration of 2nd Wave Feminism opens in limited engagements in New York and Los Angeles.
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The problem for Feminism is the same oversimplified and problematic perception of all political movements in America, they lack joy. Almost all radical movements in America endure this same media-driven hose job, from protests in Ferguson to Tea Party rallies it’s all a bunch of un-fun, fringe aggressors. This image ignores the exultation of being swept by both radical mobilization and camaraderie. But American Feminism in particular, from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Andrea Dworkin, is haunted by an image of self-serious man-haters, full of a sexless anger and void of personality. Even the Third Wave Movement of the 1990s is

Judgment at Nuremberg Blu-ray Review: Picking Up the Pieces

Stanley Kramer's powerhouse post-World War II courtroom drama gets another chance to shock and delight via Twilight Time.
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We've all heard the saying "War is Hell" a million times over. Hell, there are probably over a million films that have been manufactured from all corners of the world throughout the last millennia or so that have done their very best to convey this message unto viewers. Sometimes, these stories serve as clever warning devices to remind mankind of its own mortality (and immaturity, despite its age). Other times, you just wind up with a great big mess of a cheap exploitation flick on your hands. And then there are those rare, infrequently-made movies that look past the conflicts

Dr. Gillespie Film Collection DVD Review: Van Johnson and Keye Luke Join the Fun

The last six films of the original Dr. Kildare series eerily foreshadows one of contemporary television's most popular medical dramas.
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In many respects, MGM's original Dr. Kildare Movie Collection essentially served as filmdom's first hospital show. Granted, the series was one of a theatrical nature; although television did in fact exist when the series was born, it had not yet been molded into what it would become in the '50s. Nevertheless, the various storylines and recurring supporting characters the nine films had gives the old fashioned film franchise a very likeable "modern" quality when viewed today (as it did way back when, I should add). But the series only grew to foreshadow television after its star, Lew Ayres, left the

The Skeleton Twins Movie Review: A Twisted Tale of Those Bound by Blood

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig turn dysfunction into emotional drama in The Skeleton Twins
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As the holidays get closer we'll all be thrust together with family we may love, but why are we stuck with them 24/7. There are countless Christmas-themed movies about spending awful holidays with equally awful extended families, but Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins says it doesn't have to be the holidays for your family to drive you nuts. Tightly controlled by leads Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, The Skeleton Twins is both funny and heartfelt, frustrating and endearing, in equal measure. Maggie and Milo (Wiig and Hader) haven't seen each other in a decade, but are thrust together when Milo

Darkman Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review: Delivers the Fun Quotient

Sam Raimi's ultracool, post Evil Dead B-movie.
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As we all know, Sam Raimi is one of our favorite directors, cult films (The Evil Dead series), and blockbusters (the Spiderman series, Drag Me to Hell). Not to place criticism, but he does have a tendency to make certain films that have failed to live up the hyper-kinetic gruesome horror of his early classics, such as the ill-fated Crimewave (1985), The Quick and the Dead (1995), and most recently his prequel follow-up to the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, entitled Oz: The Great and Powerful. But he has made some really remarkable films, such as A Simple

Bunny Lake is Missing Blu-ray Review: Required Viewing is Found

The only film to ever have employed a couple of Zombies as a Greek chorus hits High-Def courtesy Twilight Time.
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As soon as the opening credits of Bunny Lake is Missing fade in following the perfunctory Columbia lady logo, it's obvious that this is an Otto (Anatomy of a Murder) Preminger film. A hand reaches up onto the completely black screen, ripping pieces of the darkness away to show us just enough for the incredible iconic work of Saul Bass to reveal the men and women responsible for this magnificent work of cinematic art. Likewise, director Preminger only shows us fractions of the light throughout this psychological thriller revolving around a missing child in London during the revolutionary mid '60s

The Hook (1963) DVD Review: "Kid, Any Day a War Ends is a Nice Day."

Kirk Douglas, Nick Adams, and Robert Walker, Jr. star in a well-made Korean War drama from George Seaton.
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George Seaton had quite the varied career. Starting out as a struggling playwright and actor within the theater, the future screenwriter and director also became the first nationally-heard actor to portray The Lone Ranger in 1933, lated alleging he invented the famous "Hi-yo Silver!" catchphrase due to his own inability to whistle. Landing a job at MGM courtesy the legendary Irving Thalberg, Seaton's wit and ability to think up a good gag soon caught the attention of Groucho Marx, and he helped contribute heavily to the jokes seen and heard in A Night at the Opera, and would earn the

It Happened One Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Original Runaway Bride

Frank Capra's romantic comedy classic shines in new Criterion release.
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It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time in cinematic history when romantic comedies were extremely rare. That all started to change, for better or worse, with the 1934 release of this Frank Capra gem. The film went on to sweep the five major Oscar categories, netting statues for stars Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, director Capra, and screenwriter Robert Riskin, cementing its status as a Hollywood classic. That classic is now 80 years old and was showing its age, so its recent meticulous restoration and new release on Blu-ray offers a completely refreshed take on the film. Colbert

The Graduate Movie Review: The Perfect Way to Disturb the Sounds of Silence

Is The Graduate still meaningful? Maybe more than ever.
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The year 1967 was one of those magical years (like 1972 or 1996) that produced so many groundbreaking movies that I rarely pass up a chance to see one with that copyright date. That year saw the likes of Bonnie & Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, and Bedazzled, and closed out with my own my debut in November and thenThe Graduate came along just before Christmas. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards with Mike Nichols the sole winner for Directing. I was twenty, just like Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) when I first saw the film. Having just graduated from college

Very Extremely Dangerous (2012) DVD Review: A Life of Utter Chaos

The story of musician Jerry McGill in Very Extremely Dangerous makes Behind the Music look like Romper Room.
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Three-time felon Jerry McGill (1940 - 2013) was a musician whose life was the stuff of legend. Very Extremely Dangerous (2012) is a documentary that was filmed in 2010 during his battle with lung cancer. In it we meet a man who is described by his own friends as a “rattlesnake,” yet even at that point, his charisma and talent were palpable. The 90-minute film was directed by Irish filmmaker Paul Duane, who also produced, along with author Robert Gordon. Duane was inspired to track down McGill and tell his story after reading Gordon’s book It Came from Memphis. I

Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) Blu-ray Review: Uneven Musical Gangster Noir (in Color)

The Warner Archive presents the second of three strikes for Jack Webb's failed franchise.
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Way back during those far-off days of the very early 1990s (he said in jest), I found myself - along with my peers - choosing an assignment for English from a number of eclectic books our teacher had on-hand. And while my report of The Communist Manifesto, wherein I commented Karl Marx was of no relation to Groucho, Harpo, Chico or Zeppo, was a deliberately dumb affair, it could not compare to the smirking delight that set over my face when the morons on the other side of the room - the "cool, popular" kids, if you will - decided

Touch the Wall Movie Review: A Tale of Two Swimmers

Missy Franklin strives to make her first while Kara Lynn Joyce aims for her third Olympic Games. Or, why sometimes bronze is just as sweet as gold.
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Near the end of Touch the Wall, an engaging new sports documentary—and a rare one about swimming—Olympian Missy Franklin sits and reflects on the meaning of her collection of four gold and one bronze medals from the 2012 London Olympic Games. The magnitude of what she’s accomplished is only slowly sinking in and she makes a point of giving special attention to the bronze medal. It was her first, her favorite, and yet few people ask to see it. The scene has a way of capturing the entire movie—and the entire sport. During the heat of an Olympic year, the

Life Itself Movie Review: A Fascinating Person Attached to That Thumb

Film critic extraordinaire Roger Ebert gets the compelling documentary he deserves, celebratory but unafraid to show his flaws and weaknesses.
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Do you think you know Roger Ebert? Believe me, whatever you know, you know only part of the story. Just a few of the late critic’s achievements: ● Winning a Pulitzer for film reviewing in 1975, the first critic to do so (take that, Pauline Kael!) ● With Gene Siskel, turning film critics into TV stars courted by Hollywood power players seeking the elusive Two Thumbs Up!™ ● Writing the screenplays to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens ● Diving headlong into online and social media venues when illness robbed him of his

The Day They Robbed the Bank of England DVD Review: Introducing Peter O'Toole

A taut, well-crafted Victorian Era heist thriller that forged the way for many crime dramas to come.
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Though he had a relatively noted - if short-lived - career in the Hollywood limelight as an A picture actor, it's sometimes hard to imagine the late Aldo Ray as a serious performer when one notes the amount of motion pictures he made in his later years that were preceded B, X, Z, and just about every other letter of the alphabet. Today, he is probably best remembered for not being remembered at all - with an entire legion of mostly clueless Quentin Tarantino followers assuming Brad Pitt's Inglourious Basterds character, Lt. Aldo Raine, is merely just a similarly sounding

Birdman of Alcatraz Blu-ray Review: The Cinematic System's Sympathetic Psychopath

Twilight Time brings us a much-needed High-Def release of the Burt Lancaster/John Frankenheimer classic.
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November 2014 could truly be one of the most auspiciously underestimated months in the history of home video releases. One of two significantly incredible reasons for my assessment owes to a recent Warner release that many of us never, ever thought we would see, Batman: The Complete Television Series - which not only made it to video in a form other than our terrible VHS recordings from TV, but on Blu-ray even. The second reason this month deserves an asterisk in the annals of history is warranted by the High-Def home video debut of another fellow named after a small

Mokey / Revolt in the Big House DVD Reviews: A Young Robert Blake Two-fer

The controversial actor goes from motherless juvenile delinquent to prison revolutionary in these two New-to-DVD rarities from the Warner Archive.
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While Robert Blake is unlikely to be on everyone's list of people to meet, the one-time child actor was one of the few of his kind to actually make a successful transition from being a kiddie icon to an adult star. And, while the spotlights for both his professional and private lives have certainly faded out, Blake - one of the few still living actors to have starred in the original Our Gang / Little Rascals short subjects - has nevertheless left a lengthy legacy behind. Starting out as a young doe-eyed Bobby Blake (as he was then known as,

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 40th Anniversary Edition DVD Review: The Best It's Ever Been

It has dulled a bit over time with other movies building on its formula, but the legacy and impact live on.
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I've seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre twice in my life now. The first was sometime in the 1990s, as I was watching a slew of horror movies with friends at the time. It was okay, nothing special, and certainly didn't seem to warrant the hype surrounding it. I simply watched it and moved on. The second viewing was of the new 40th Anniversary Edition a couple of days ago, and while my opinion remains that about two-thirds of the movie is cheesy, trite, and even at times boring, the last 15 or 20 minutes is still a serious head

Genesis: Three Sides Live Blu-ray Review: ...And Then They Were Live...

Turn it on (again) and play it loud.
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Available for the first time as a stand-alone DVD and on Blu-ray, Genesis: Three Sides Live was initially released on Betamax and VHS in 1982 as a companion piece to the live album of the same name. The film shows the band (vocals/drums Phil Collins, keyboards Tony Banks, guitar/bass Mike Rutherford with support from touring members guitar/bass Daryl Stuermer and drums Chester Thompson) on their 1981 North American tour promoting their eleventh album, Abacab. The concert performances are taken from two New York shows, primarily from Nassau Coliseum, Long Island, on November 29, 1981 with two ("Me & Sarah Jane"

Wicked, Wicked DVD Review: The Best Bad Gimmick Movie Ever

The first film to have been constructed entirely out of B roll footage finally comes to DVD.
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Towards the end of his career in the motion picture industry, director Richard L. Bare - the sole individual behind the camera for virtually every episode of Green Acres ever as well as the same man who penned and directed the Joe McDoakes series of theatrical shorts - hit upon an idea. As he looked down the freeway, he noticed it took on the appearance of being split into two separate screens by the divider. It was then, according to legend, that the filmmaker who had spent darn near the entire span of his métier in Hollywood directing comedies and

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