Recently by Kent Conrad

Daughters of Darkness (1971) 4K Ultra HD Review: Mysterious, Sensuous Vampire Story

A mysterious and sumptuously produced film about a newlywed woman finding monsters on her honeymoon, supernatural and otherwise.
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On the first level, Daughters of Darkness is a film about a newly married couple who encounter an intriguing, if overly familiar and insistent, traveling royal on the Continent, who tries to seduce them into her strange and ultimately deadly web. The husband and wife are tempted, spied upon, and ultimately driven to desperation. But they might have already been desperate before the Countess Bathory crossed their path. Stefan and Valerie, played John Karlen and Danielle Ouimet, respectively, begin their story on a train, where they make passionate (and fairly graphic) love. Afterwards, she asks him if he loves her,

Cold Light of Day (1989) Blu-ray Review: Portrait of a British Serial Killer

Obscure British serial killer film details the grubby life of a real life (if slightly fictionalized) murderer.
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Obscure, cheap, short, and brutal, Cold Light of Day is a surprising discovery of British cinema. Shot on 16mm, the occasionally extremely grainy footage matches the grubbiness of the sets, the characters, and the entire sordid story. Inspired by real life British serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who may have murdered as many as 17 young men, chopping up their bodies and keeping various pieces of them on his property, Cold Light of Day opens with the murderer, here called Jorden March, being caught by the police. There's no struggle or fight - they knock on his door, he comes with.

Graveyards of Honor Blu-ray Review: Grim Yakuza Renegade Dramas

Two adaptations of the same novel, made decades apart, about a yakuza too violent and self-destructive even for gang-life.
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Both Kinji Fukasaku and Takashi Miike were unlikely survivors in their different eras of Japanese cinema. They both were highly prolific, and rare among their peers when the fortunes of the Japanese film industry turned for the worse, they kept working, pivoting into different genres and styles. Fukasaku worked steadily through the '70s and '80s when many of his peers fell by the wayside, and though Miike by all rights ought to have burned out with his amazing productivity (over 100 feature films in three decades of filmmaking, sometimes more than five in a single year) he's still going strong.

Warning from Space Blu-ray Review: Starmen Waiting in the Sky

The first Japanese science fiction film shot in color is as surprisingly stylishly made as it is old-fashioned.
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All science fiction is dated. Even the most up-to-the-minute, forward-looking piece of work is still a work of its time, and time passes. An old science fiction movie is going to look old. The special effects aren't going to look contemporary. The science will not be up to date. The way things work in the story are not the way things actually happen. So how, in the spirit of open-hearted appreciation, can a modern viewer approach something like Warning from Space, released in 1956? The premise isn't going to be new to anyone with a cursory knowledge of even the

Split Second (1992) Blu-ray Review: Blade Runner and Alien's Stupid Baby

Combines two great sf movies to make a not great horror film, taking place in the distant future of 2008.
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Stealing the antagonist from one Ridley Scott movie and the world building (and star) from another, Split Second could have been a visionary bit of sci-fi weirdness. If it had fully embraced its strange plot and generated an atmosphere that properly combined the occult with the futuristic, it could have been a moody and delirious vision of a grim future. Instead, it's a basic buddy cop movie with an incoherent plot, characters that declare their traits instead of acting them on the screen, haphazard world-building, and a bunch of plot elements that don't come close to coming together into anything

Flash Gordon (1980) 4K Ultra HD Review: Garish and Spirited Comic Action

Whether it's too camp or in the proper comic spirit, Flash Gordon's elaborately colorful production bursts onto 4K.
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George Lucas's inspirations for Star Wars were many. He was a voracious reader of golden age science fiction, and picked elements he liked from several different stories: lightsabers were borrowed from Lensman, Tatooine's moisture farming and the spice mines of Kessel were liberated from Dune. But the form of the story, and the real heart of Lucas' ambition was to recreate the thrills of Flash Gordon: the long running comic strip, and the Buster G. Crabbe starring serials that were adapted from it. But the license for Flash Gordon was expensive, and mid-1970s George Lucas was not a billionaire. He

Black Test Car + The Black Report Blu-ray Review: Japanese Businessman Noir

Two '60s crime thrillers by director Yasuzo Masumura that explore the dark side of post-war industrialized Japan.
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One of the enduring images of contemporary Japanese culture is the salaryman. The rather anonymous guy in the suit who devotes his life to the company. He might be married and have kids (usually he is: what else would he need to dedicate so much time to work for, if not to keep his family?) but his number one priority is the company. Work 10 hours a day, then go off to drink with your boss, go home to sleep, and come back the next day, six days a week. It's soul deadening, and not the obvious setting for a

Pitch Black 4K Ultra HD Review: Riddick Starts Here

The first film in what became a sci-fi trilogy is a fun throwback action thriller, now in 4K UHD.
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Pitch Black was released in 2000, and it feels very much like the last science fiction action film of the '90s. This was a time when digital effects weren't cheap enough to make the generic movies that clogged the schedule at SyFy, back when it used to show science fiction movies. It comes from a time before the massive cultural influence of The Matrix was fully absorbed. Pitch Black began shooting a couple of weeks before The Matrix was released, but in style and tone it feels like the older film. The setting is distant future movie space opera -

Weathering with You Blu-ray Review: Anime Girls Make the Rain Stop

The new blockbuster anime film by Your Name director Makoto Shinkai again pits teenage love against supernatural disaster.
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In a 2021 Tokyo that is drenched with constant rainfall, there's a rumor going around about a so-called Sunshine girl: a successor to an ancient tribal shamanic figure, the Weather maiden, the Sunshine girl can use the powers of her prayers to part the clouds in the skies and allow the sun to shine through. It's something that anyone would want, when weeks of rain with no end in sight practically drown the city. The story is being followed by a pair of reporters from a little yellow journal of the occult. One is a pretty girl, Natsumi, who listens

The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection 4K Ultra HD Review: Four Masterworks of Suspense

Four of the Master of Suspense's most popular films make the leap onto 4K UHD.
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Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, but that's too limited a title for him. Where his talents primarily lie as a storyteller is in the manipulation of audiences. He liked to say, "I enjoy playing the audience like a piano" and he does so with masterful skill, using subtle tricks to shift the audience's sympathies, sometimes from scene to scene from one character to the next. In this way his films, while always intended as popular entertainments and always aimed for box office success (and usually achieving it), have layers of complexity that one rarely finds in

The New York Ripper 4K Ultra HD Review: Sleazy Exploitation American Giallo

A beautiful, terrible slasher film is a document of early '80s New York and its director's grotesque, murderous obsessions.
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The New York Ripper is sleazy. It contains sleaze. It is about sleaze. In its semi-coherent narrative, it indulges in the ugliness that its story decries. This is an ugly, gross film. It's also a weirdly beautiful document of late 20th century New York. The New York Ripper was directed by Lucio Fulci, who made many interesting, intriguing horror films, though I would be hard pressed to say he ever actually made a good one, a movie that could be enjoyed without reservations. He has a knack for crafting devious scenes, that start out relatively benign then become uncomfortable, and

The House by the Cemetery 4K Ultra HD Review: 'Damn Tombstones!'

Lucio Fulci's atmospheric, if baffling horror film arrives in a premium, beautiful 4k video release.
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It's probably not accurate to say Lucio Fulci is an acquired taste. It's more accurate to say, of all the directors of weird Italian horror movie genre, save perhaps Dario Argento, Fulci was the one most likely to create something you might remember after watching. His films have generally simplistic, and barely coherent plots - in fact, The House by the Cemetery with its bare thread of coherent narrative is one of his more complex stories. The power of Fulci's cinema is not in the overall effect but in the moment to moment. The House by The Cemetery has plenty

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie Blu-ray Review: Slick '90s Horror Anthology

Thin storylines are buoyed by effective production and a surprisingly good cast in this movie version of the TV show.
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The anthology movie seems like it is always going out of style, and yet it seems to crop up again and again, a renewable novelty. Horror is the most common theme of anthologies, which help to focus horror's greatest strength (shock, novel imagery, wild twists) while downplaying the genre's general weaknesses: tedium and repetition. But it also taxes the faculty of the genre that is often in short supply: inventiveness. Horror movies tend to try to stretch something that's barely an idea into feature length. An anthology needs several ideas just to justify its existence. One of the historical wellsprings

She Dies Tomorrow Movie Review: Meditation on Impending Doom

Amy Seimetz' second feature length film explores the various reactions to the certain knowledge that... tomorrow, you die.
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The premise is in the title: She Dies Tomorrow. She knows she's going to. She's certain of it. So certain that she, a recovering alcoholic, takes a drink for the first time in a while: what does it matter? She dies tomorrow. She's Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) and she calls her friend Jane to come over. Jane (Jane Adams) sees Amy's drunk, and listens to her babble about how she's going to die for as long as she can take, then leaves. Then, after a short amount of time at home, alone, Jane becomes convinced. It's going to happen to

Ride Your Wave Blu-ray Review: Touching Romance Becomes Ghost Story

Masaaki Yuasa's latest feature about surfing, grief, and water controlling ghosts is touching and off-putting at once.
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For the first half hour of Ride Your Wave, it seems like Masaaki Yuasa was tackling something he'd only ever flirted with in his previous animated offerings: realism. Without once abandoning the exaggerated squish and stretch sense of movement that is his primary visual signature, Ride Your Wave begins primarily being about real people, in real situations, without the hyperbole, magical realism or out and out crazy that's the hallmark of Yuasa's films. The majority of the film is not spent in the belly of the whale, like Mind Game, or hanging out with mythical fish monsters like Lu Over

Dream Demon Blu-ray Review: Newly-Unearthed '80s Horror Fantasy

Rarely scary, but visually gripping, an unsuccessful attempt to copy Nightmare on Elm Street scores as a fantasy film.
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An obscure British release from 1988 that never made it to the states theatrically, Dream Demon's major problem is that it is not a good horror movie. It has horror elements, some fun gore bits, and a very spooky atmosphere but Dream Demon isn't very scary. It doesn't have a relentless sense of dread that great horror evokes. It's at best a pretty mediocre horror movie. It is a really good fantasy movie, however, and should be looked at in that light. Jemma Redgrave in her film debut plays Diana, simultaneously a small town teacher and a daughter of great

The Mad Fox Blu-ray Review: Kabuki-styled Cinematic Fantasia

Sometimes kabuki, sometimes animated, always fascinating, The Mad Fox is rife with political intrigue and forbidden romance.
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Tomu Uchida is not one of the big names of Japanese cinema in the West, even though he had been at the game from early in the 20th century - his first credits date to 1924. He's made movies, excellent movies, throughout his career, but only recently have they been coming to light on home video releases. That Uchida doesn't have more recognition is a deep shame because, on the basis of this and a few other of his film available now in the West, he may be one of the Japanese greats, able to stand with his contemporaries Ichikawa,

Inferno of Torture Blu-ray Review: Torsos, Tattoos, and Torture

Another in Teruo Ishii's series of films depicting sadistic practices in Japanese history, all of which involve disrobing women.
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Inferno of Torture is the third of Teruo Ishii's ero-guro (erotic grotesque) films that have recently been released by Arrow Video. Orgies of Edo and Yakuza Law were anthology films, each with three stories ostensibly about the brutal systems of torture used by, respectively, the ruling class and the criminal class. Made in the late '60s and early '70s, these films are framed as historical docu-dramas, but are in fact exploitation films with historical themes. Whatever the intent, the films themselves consist mainly as ways to display sado-masochistic soft-core pornography, punctuated with sequences of gruesome horror. More specifically, topless women

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) Blu-ray Review: Love and Madness

'60s British Comedy stars David Warner as a love-sick, gorilla-obsessed artist trying to win back his wife.
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Morgan is going mad. Or maybe he was always a little mad, but it became too much and wasn't as fun as it was when they were young. Either way, his wife Leonie is divorcing him. Morgan knows this, he'd promised to stay away in Greece until it was all done, but instead he comes back in an attempt to reconcile. His first salvo to get his wife back is to hide a skeleton in her bed and to skulk around her house, where he is no longer wanted. As this doesn't work, he escalates his campaign by going after

Sound! Euphonium: The Movie - Our Promise: A Brand New Day Blu-ray Review: One More Year of Music

A slice of life anime feature continuing the story of the Kitauji High School music club.
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Does anything one does in high school matter? At the time, it seems all dreadfully important, and some people see it as a pivotal time in their life. But how much of what one actually does in high school has meaning, has relevance, outside of the immediate impact: was it fun to be in the play? To win the debate? To play in the school band? And is that enough, that it was just a fun experience, or does it have to mean more? The Sound! Euphonium series is about that nexus from childhood to adulthood, and how much of

Promare Blu-ray Review: Hyper Kinetic Superhero Firefighters

Studio Trigger's debut feature-length anime film is a high energy, colorful sci-fi confection.
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There's barely a still moment in Promare, a science fiction anime film about firefighters who not only put out blazes but fight down the human mutants that are causing them. The opening credits introduce the scenario: various people around the planet, in disparate stressful situations, suddenly develop the ability to channel fire, and use it to burn the people, places, and things that annoy them. A worldwide conflagration in imminent. The problem is mostly suppressed, but these people, called the Burnish, are out there, and a special squad of firefighters have to be ready on a moment's notice to combat

Their Finest Hour: 5 British WWII Classics Blu-ray Review: That British Stiff Upper Lip

Five British films about WWII, from home invasion to Dunkirk to the African campaign.
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The Second World War is a different story, depending where it's told. For Americans, it can be complex (how our country, isolated from much of the world, was finally, inextricably enmeshed in the political troubles of the entire globe) or simplistic (America flew in and rescued everyone, kickin' Nazi ass!) and it can fit anybody's political world view as long as the right facts are emphasized and complexities are smoothed over. For Britain, it was something different. England had been involved in continental wars for all of its history, but those conflicts never made it across the channel. In World

The Bolshevik Trilogy: Three Films by Vsevolod Pudovkin Blu-ray Review: Silent Soviet Masterpieces

Three classics of silent Russian cinema exhibit the Soviet approach to editing as storytelling, with disparate tales of Bolshevik revolution.
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First and foremost, Pudovkin was a Soviet. His art was propaganda, because he believed in the cause. He's a contrast to that other great early 20th century Russian filmmaker best known in the West, Sergei Eisenstein, who found himself often at odds with the Soviet regime and lived part of his life in semi-exile. When Eisenstein returned to Russia, he was eyed with suspicion: what would have been his final film, Ivan the Terrible III, was eventually seized by authorities and most of it was destroyed. Pudovkin's work was never in doubt to its sympathies, which are amply demonstrated in

Come to Daddy Blu-ray Review: Twisty, Twisted Story of Family

Elijah Wood stars in this story of a man reconnecting with his father, and learning terrible secrets about them both.
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Come to Daddy is a twisty movie. A lot of its narrative power comes from its plot surprises, so as a reviewer it is difficult to decide how much to reveal, and how much to hold back to let its potential audience know whether or not the movie is worth their while. The story begins as indie drama: a not-so-young man has been sent a letter by his father, estranged for 30 years, saying that he wants to finally see his son and reconnect. Norval, the son, is having a rough few years and decides to take his dead up

My Bloody Valentine (1981) Blu-ray Review: Superb Slasher Restored

One of the best '80s slasher films, My Bloody Valentine returns to Blu-ray with newly restored video and audio.
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My Bloody Valentine was, if not quite a box-office bomb, a severe disappointment. It was released right at the height of the slasher craze, a year after Friday the 13th had directly copied the formula of John Carpenter's wildly successful Halloween, upped the gore factor, and turned what was a phenomenon into an entire genre. Cheap and easy to make, most slasher movies were throwaways, only interesting in their sometimes innovative and gruesome special effects. And despite hitting the basic tropes spot on (takes place on a holiday, has a masked killer in an interesting costume, and plenty of "teenagers"

FLCL Progressive/Alternative Blu-ray Review: A Classic Badly Revived

A U.S. anime hit returns with a pair of mediocre sequel series that totally misunderstand the original's appeal.
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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided the writer with a free copy of the Blu-ray reviewed in this article. The opinions shared are his own. FLCL (pronounced Furry Kurry or Fooly Cooly, dependent on one's mood) looked like it was the beginning of something. It was a direct-to-video anime series released in 2000-2001, which at the time in Japan generally meant a series that a production company was given a larger budget to produce higher quality animation, without the restrictions that were placed on anime television so the content was directed by the vision of the creator. And FLCL, written by

Trapped (1949) Blu-ray Review: Great Restoration of a B-movie

Previously only available in murky, ugly prints, pretty good crime thriller Trapped has been beautifully restored in HD.
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Film noir are crime movies, but not all crime movies are film noir. There has to be an element of tragedy to the film noir - of a normal person (criminal or not) who takes an opportunity to do indulge their worse nature, and their world falls apart around them because of it. A real film noir needs to be about a failing of moral choice. There has to be some chance that the main character could have acted in a different way, may have wanted to, really, but they had their moment of weakness. An itch they just had

Book Review: Making Moon by Simon Ward

The behind-the-scenes story of the conception and filming of one of the 21st century's best sci-fi movies.
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Hard sci-fi differentiates itself from the other kind by trying to follow the rules of physics and take place in a universe that might actually occur. Which doesn't mean the story is necessarily dry or dull, but it tries to be plausible. Moon (2009) certainly doesn't explain all of the scientific advancements that would make the story possible, but it keeps up at least the pretense of realism. How it achieved this and more is described in the lovely new book, Making Moon by Simon Ward. Taking a linear approach, Ward follows director Duncan Jones from his early ambitions to

Millennium Actress Blu-ray Review: Animated Japanese Film Fantasia

Satoshi Kon's second anime feature film about an actress' pursuit of a lost love intertwines fiction and reality.
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It's a love letter to film, a historical overview of early to mid-century Japan, and a biography of an actress told through scenes from her films. Millennium Actress is an incredibly ambitious, assured, and unconventional animated film, but it's unconventional in a different way than most out-there animated films. The animation isn't abstract or particularly mind-bending. There's no bizarre shock scenes or wild camera movements that would be impossible in the real world. Watching just individual scenes, one would think it could be made as a live action film without substantially changing a single shot. But Millennium Actress has such

The Fan (1981) Blu-ray Review: Bloody '80s Stalking Thriller

Michael Biehn is a creepy but underdeveloped stalker obsessed Lauren Bacall in '80s New York.
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The Fan was made in 1981. It's about a deranged man who kills people. He uses a special weapon to do so...and yet, somehow it is not a cheap, cheesy slasher movie. This is against all odds (and apparently against the film's best efforts). A psychopath obsessed with a woman in the early '80s by all cinematic law should defy laws of physics, find new and interesting ways to kill all his victims, and should be implacable, speak no dialogue, and have a catchy name in case we need The Fan II. Instead, The Fan becomes an often interesting, if

Stephen King's Storm of the Century (1999) DVD Review: Intriguing Premise at Snail's Pace

Perhaps the best of the run of Stephen King TV movies, Storm is atmospheric, creepy, and slow, slow, slow.
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TV made sense as its own thing until about 20 years ago. Nowadays, what constitutes TV is so sprawling and broken up that it's not really one thing anymore. Twenty years ago, cable was not king, and there weren't that many networks (though, to understand the zeitgeist of TV criticism, one should note Bruce Springsteen could chart a single in 1992 called "57 Channels and Nothin' On") and so the big TV networks competed in splashy ways to get eyes-on, especially in sweeps weeks. Sweeps were the few times during the year, one a quarter, when the Nielsen Company processed

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Blu-ray Review: Musical Parody Mostly Amusing

Lonely Island's first feature film is an often amusing, if toothless satire of the modern era of pop music.
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Comedy, like horror, is largely critic-proof, because the power of the genre lies in an immediate emotional reaction. You get scared. You laugh. It's difficult to put a lie to either of those gut responses. It's entirely possible to steel against them: your mood can dismiss the humor or the frights if you really try. But approaching the material openly reduces it to the immediate test: did I laugh? Was I scared? This is why comedies rarely get great reviews, because critics have no power against that reaction, and it bugs them. So, for the first test of the effectiveness

The Dead Center Blu-ray Review: Mostly Effective Psychological Horror

Primer's Shane Carruth stars in psychological and supernatural horror tale, where a suicide returns from the dead... but not alone.
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A spiral is integral to The Dead Center's imagery and story. A spiral appears on the photographs of a body from a crime scene, some sort of scar or lumps of tissue on his person. It wasn't seen in the autopsy because none was performed - the man breathes back to life on the gurney in the morgue, sneaks out, and ends up in a psychiatric ward. He was long dead when the paramedics brought him in; now he's catatonic, staring, and has become two doctors' problem: the medical examiner whose corpse has gone missing, and the psychiatrist who wants

Ringu Collection Blu-ray Review: Ghostly Revenge, Again and Again

Four weird, gripping and often terrifying films of spectral revenge that began the J-horror boom are now on Blu-ray.
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Horror as a genre tends to go through brief periods of inspiration, followed by long slogs of imitation. If you're unlucky, the inspired breakout hit is something like Saw, and as a horror fan you have to sit through years of vile dreck until something better comes along to rejigger the landscape. In the late '90s, horror was in one of its down-turn phases: the mid-'90s crackdown on letting youngsters into R-rated movies had the effect (still felt today) that to get the primary audience for horror, the young, you needed to be PG-13, which means violence has to be

Genius Party & Genius Party Beyond Blu-ray Review: Dozen Odd Egg Japanese Animations

Twelve short films from veterans of the anime industry explore the limits of storytelling, animation, and sometimes the audience's patience.
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Short movies get kind of short shrift because... they're short. And even though our modern mode of considering a "film" as something that lasts at least 90 minutes has more to do with modern commerce than it does with anything inherent in the medium, it's hard to fight against cultural expectations. The short film feels like a calling card. A dry run. A test for an idea that might have legs, or be the basis of a "real movie". Except in the world of animation. Some of the greatest animators in history have done nothing but shorts. All of the

Morituri (1965) Blu-ray Review: Hidden Naval WWII Classic

Starring Marlon Brando and Yul Brenner, Morituri is a great spy thriller beautifully shot aboard a real German frigate.
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The cliché is, they don't make them like they used to. But, damn it, movies like Morituri don't get made anymore. It's a suspense thriller with a complex technical background with several moving parts, both in the setting and the character interaction. It was made in a time where special effects were difficult to impossible to achieve, so the amazing things you see aren't done with computers, but with some underpaid idiot risking his life to get a shot. And there was an inkling in the filmmaker's mind that an adult might be in the audience, so the level of

The Big Fix (1978) Blu-ray Review: A Hippy Neo-noir Lament

Richard Dreyfuss is Moses Wine, a former-hippy detective whose latest case takes him back to his radical roots.
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Despite being such a sunny city, Los Angeles is the home of noir. All those sun bleached streets are hiding the deepest shadows. Many of the best literary mystery writers set their stories. Ray Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer hit the mean streets of Los Angeles, as does Harry Bosch and the various morally-conflicted cops of James Ellroy's various pitch black noirs. Unique among this varied crowd of detectives is Moses Wine. Philip Marlowe was a white knight of the streets. Lew Archer was WWII vet and amateur psychologist who found social ills at the foundation of

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) Blu-ray Review: Same Gore, Less Story

Follow up to Hellraiser has the same aesthetic, same cast, much the same crew, but not enough story or ideas.
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It's strange that so many horror movies spawn enormous franchises when the surprise and the unknown are central to the effectiveness of a good horror story. Shock and dread are two of the desired outcomes of horror: to be surprised by something you didn't want to see, and to be slowly drawn toward something you don't want to see, but just have to look. Hellraiser as it stands doesn't make a great candidate for a sequel in any case. It's primarily a twisted love story - the main characters are the undead Frank and his lover Julia who supplied him

Hellraiser (1987) Blu-ray Review: Clive Barker's Semi-professional Debut

An erotic and grotesque twist on a haunted house story, with an unsettling horrific vision that supersedes some film-making fumbles.
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Roger Ebert hated Hellraiser when it came out, giving it half a star. He starts with the money quote Stephen King gave the director/writer on his literary debut: "I have seen the future of horror, and it is Clive Barker." Ebert quips: "Maybe Stephen King was thinking of a different Clive Barker." Cute, but it ignores the strengths that Barker was bringing to the horror game, which in the mid-'80s literary world was becoming big business. First, Clive wrote with style. There are decent stylists in the horror world at the time (Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell) but there was a

True Believer (1989) Blu-ray Review: Blisteringly Performed Courtroom Drama

Briskly paced, excellent acted late 80s drama stars a disillusioned James Woods and a young, idealistic Robert Downey Jr.
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True Believer has been released on Blu-ray in one of Mill Creek's Retro VHS Look packages. While it's the same dimensions as a Blu-ray case, the slip-case over the disc has an old VHS cover on it, complete with a fake genre sticker attached. True Believer's says "Drama" and harkens from an era where drama was one of the dominant genres for motion pictures, back when it was assumed that an actual adult might, under some circumstance, accidentally wander into a movie theater and want to watch something that might arrest their intelligence. And True Believer is one of those

The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Gentle Ozu Comedy

Grandmaster filmmaker Ozu's minor, observant comedy about the growing differences between a middle-aged married couple.
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The first thing to get used to in an Ozu film is the camera perspective. He never (or at least rarely) does the normal over-the-shoulder shot and counter shot for conversations. Ozu tends to shoot things from a constant upward angle. It has been analogized to a POV from someone sitting, in traditional Japanese style on a mat, legs folded underneath. The view is tilted slightly upward, never straight on or from above. The second element of Ozu's filmmaking that has to be taken into consideration is the secondary nature of the plot. There are stories in all of his

Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy Blu-ray Review: New Wave Filmmaking, Naked Ladies

Challenging, evocative films from the Japanese New Wave that contemplate aspects of the Buddhist religion, with lots of sex.
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It's difficult to put a modern film-fan in the mind of a viewer from the past, because of the nature of the medium. Editing and compositional techniques that were once avant-garde become incorporated into the language of cinema so quickly that it can be hard to appreciate how mold-breaking films could be, since the most effective techniques of the vanguard rapidly become the de riguer filmmaking of the commercial set. Jump cuts and non-linear narrative used to be wildly experimental - just a decade later they're regularly used in network television, the most staid and crowd-friendly of visual entertainment. This

The Leopard Man (1943) Blu-ray Review: Subtle, Underrated '40s Chiller

A disappointment to its creators on release, The Leopard Man is one of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur's hidden gems.
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Based on Cornell Woolrich's dark novel, Black Alibi, The Leopard Man was the first property Val Lewton wanted to develop when he became the head of a B-film unit at RKO in 1942. The studio, stinging from very public, very expensive commercial fizzling of wunderkind's Orson Welles' Magnificent Ambersons, wanted to pump out cheap horror pictures in the vein of Universal's famous monster movies. Val Lewton, a protégé of David O. Selznick who acted as, among other duties, an uncredited writer for some scenes of Gone With the Wind, was a literate and intelligent man who understood that without money

Yakuza Law Blu-ray Review: Gory Fun Yakuza Anthology

Three fun but gory short stories of the Yakuza taking the law into their own hands, filled with bloody torture.
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Yakuza Law is not even in the top-five craziest movies made by Teruo Ishii, and in it, a man rips out his own eyeball and throws it as his former boss, a thief is tortured by being dragged on the road by a helicopter, and a Yakuza is punished by his friends for stealing is tied to a tree, urinated on, and practically eaten alive by mosquitos. These are just a small sampling of the various horrible goings on in this anthology of short Yakuza stories, each about how the crime syndicates employ their own seedy form of justice. Teruo

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Blu-ray Review: Fun, If Over-packed, Crossover Event

The mutant turtles join the caped crusader as Foot ninjas descend on Gotham city.
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Crossovers are fun because they can never really be consequential. Popular characters are the tent poles of multi-billion dollar corporations with strategies, product streams, all kinds of nonsense that has nothing to do with creativity. No one's going to have anything important happen in a crossover, so the mixing of worlds cannot be anything but cotton candy. That can make it an opportunity for creative teams, who have no real stakes because nothing matters, try and find the essence of the creative property. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a crossover that might seem like madness at first blush,

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars Blu-ray Review: Sad Retread from a Master

This rote sci-fi horror thriller from a former master has some good ideas that it does nothing with.
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The hero of John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is introduced asleep and handcuffed to a train. It seems like an apt metaphor for the entire film itself - tired, uninspired, and forced to move forward on a rail. Unsurprisingly, it was while making this film that John Carpenter decided he had better things to do than make movies he didn't like, and he mostly turned his back on the film industry since, with only three projects directed by him in the nine years following, and none since 2011's The Ward. John Carpenter's films have always had firm grasps on the

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki Blu-ray Review: Master Filmmaker's New Challenge

An intimate look at Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's return from retirement to make a short CGI film.
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Hayao Miyazaki has announced his retirement several times throughout his career, but in 2013 it looked like he meant it. Studio Ghibli, the anime studio formed by Hayao and his mentor/producer/competitor Isao Takahata, where he made classics like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke, closed the doors of its production office, and disbanded the staff. Miyazaki was apparently done, leaving behind him a legacy of quality that's unrivaled in most of filmmaking, let alone animated films. But the recent announcement that both Hayao and his son Goro Miyazaki are producing feature films with the studio has made it

The Brain (1988) Blu-ray Review: Giant Brain Eats Man

A ridiculous, fun '80s horror sci-fi flick about a man-eating alien brain with hypnotic powers.
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There are levels to shlock. And inside many a terrible movie, there are seeds of interest and enjoyment. The Brain is, by most metrics, a terrible movie. Mediocre acting, a rather inert story, a screenplay that does not add up. But it has, at least for its first hour before it runs out of ideas, an assured craziness that makes it worth a watch. It is not a subtle film - we see the titular Brain in the first couple of shots, sitting in a vat of unidentifiable goo. Then we get the traditional horror movie opener: the shock death

A Silent Voice Blu-ray Review: Bully Redemption in a Subdued Tone

An animated drama about a school bully picking on a deaf girl tells a story quiet about redemption and consequences.
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There's a certain style in Japanese storytelling and film-making where the important things are what is not shown, what is not said, what is not expressed. The subtext between the characters tells the story. Both Uzo and Kore-eda, in very different ways, based most of their careers on putting together stories where the truth beneath the veneer is only revealed by implication and by accident. By a simple gesture. A minor scene. Animation is a broader art form than live-action film-making, since all the visuals are drawn and, of course, by nature abstracted. There can be nuance, but only up

The Body Snatcher (1945) Blu-ray Review: Boris Karloff's Finest Hour

One of RKO's famous Val Lewton produced horror pictures and an atmospheric, tense horror thriller.
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What makes The Body Snatcher interesting is how much it isn't like a low budget horror movie. That's what it is, of course - one of several films shepherded by producer Val Lewton at RKO. In the early 1940s the studio was in financial straits. These problems were partly the responsibility of filmmaking wunderkind and box office underperformer Orson Welles. Both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons were expensive films to make and ultimately box office disappointments. For RKO to keep itself afloat, it needed a profitable unit. Val Lewton's horror movies were supposed to be that vehicle, and it's

Perfect Blue (1997) Blu-ray Review: Anime Psychothriller Lives Again

Satoshi Kon's animated psychological thriller is a mind-bending story of violence and personality crisis in the Japanese pop world.
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Perfect Blue was the feature film directorial debut of Satoshi Kon, one of the bright lights of anime whose career was tragically cut short in 2010 by cancer. Dying at the age of 46, he left an indelible mark on anime feature films. He was one of the few directors whom none could call "the next Miyazaki" because his films were distinct and unique: adult, abstract but in the service of narrative, critical but not cynical. Perfect Blue is a dark psychothriller, an animated giallo that made Satoshi Kon an instant top-shelf animated horror director... a genre that he only

The Magnificent Ambersons Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Flawed Masterpiece, but Still a Worthwhile Film

The Criterion Collection has stacked this beautiful release of Welles's troubled second production with a plethora of extras.
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Before getting into the history of the film: the mangling by the studio, the likely deliberately destroyed edited footage, and all of that intrigue, first we have to see the movie itself: The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles's follow-up to his explosive debut Citizen Kane. Based on a novel by Booth Tarkington about the downfall of a noveau riche mid-Western family, The Magnificent Ambersons has elements of drama and comedy and some sense of tragedy, but most of all it is the portrait of a changing country, and world. George Amberson, the only son of Isabel and heir to the fortune,

Lu Over the Wall Blu-ray Review: Vampire Mermaids Warm the Heart

A boy befriends a mermaid, and director Masaaki Yuasa reigns in his anarchic animation style...for a little while.
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Masaaki Yuasa is something of a wild card anime director. In an industry that can be chided for a certain uniformity of design and technique, he makes movies that look like nobody else's. To paint with a broad but not inaccurate brush, anime tends to go for contrasts of motion - energetic motion punctuated by stillness. Detailed backgrounds with simplified characters. Yuasa can do that, then wildly shift into incredible kineticism, with characters and backgrounds shifting with no concern for realism, detail, or anything other than the effect of the shot. Lu Over the Wall was conceived, as Yuasa explains

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms Blu-ray Review: Emotional, Poignant Fantasy Epic

This visually arresting fantasy story of a mother and son that pulls at the heartstrings (and the tear ducts).
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Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is visually stunning, and works hard at it. It opens with the working of a loom on screen, digitally animated. It's an incredibly detailed bit of mechanical animation, all lit with a white light that makes the images pale and almost translucent. The next image is of a beautiful vista - a white city sitting above a lake, blue water in the foreground and green and white mountains behind. Both shots are detailed, and rendered to be as visually impressive as possible. As the anime characters start appearing among these detailed fore and background

Suspiria (2018) Blu-ray Review: Wildly Reinvented, Massively Flawed

This remake of the 1977 horror classic completely reinvents the story, rarely for the better, and is very, very long.
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Suspiria is a strange film to remake, because most of what makes it an effective movie has nothing to do with the stuff that can be readily borrowed for a remake. The characters are mostly functional; the story is an excuse to string together episodes of suspense or horror. Everything good about the 1977 original comes from director Dario Argento's style, his mastery of tone. The lighting and the soundtrack are more central to its power than its story. So for a remake of Suspiria to be worth anyone's time, it would have to run in a very different direction

Melies: Fairy Tales in Color Blu-ray Review: When Special Effects Were Magic

A collection of 13 short films by the early effects genius of Silent Cinema.
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Georges Melies was one of the first special-effects wizards in the history of Cinema. He was so early on the scene that, in fact, he initially built his own camera, projector, and learned to develop his own film because the facilities for all of these did not exist and the Lumiere brothers wouldn't sell him theirs. While the Lumiere's believe cinema would have mostly academic or educational applications, Melies focused on creating spectacles - commercial films before there was really any commerce in film. He pioneered techniques using dissolves, multiple exposures, hand-tinting films, and more in the service of creating

Little Annie Rooney Blu-ray Review: Charming Silent Comedy and Melodrama

One of Mary Pickford's most successful films pulls on the heartstrings with admittedly shameless melodrama.
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Mary Pickford was 32 when she made Little Annie Rooney, where she plays a girl barely into her teens who spends all of her time picking fights with boys and getting into child gang warfare, when she isn't doting on her cop dad. It's a testament to Pickford's particular talents that she often easily passes for someone that young, even when surrounded by other child actors: she's tiny, her face is ageless, and she knows how to hold herself in a way that belies physical maturity. That she becomes the love interest for an apparently much older man (played by

Fanchon the Cricket (1915) Blu-ray Review: Lost Pickford Film Charms

Mary Pickford's waif character is charming in a rural comedy about a wild child and the townsman she loves.
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In modern films, it seems that everybody who wandered anywhere in the vicinity of the set gets an on-screen credit. Credits stretch on and on - some unfortunate movies like Darkness Falls (2003) even pad their credits out to get the films to a releasable length. Mary Pickford, in contrast, was one of the very first screen stars to get an on-screen credit in her films. In the first 20 years or so of cinema, the cultural status of films was uncertain: were they entertainment or art? Throwaway fad or works that would stand some test of time? Mary Pickford

Orgies of Edo Blu-ray Review: Torture, Surrealism, and Topless Women

Teruo Ishii's strange anthology of period stories of sex and torture is more bizarre than erotic, though entertaining.
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When a form of entertainment is facing a crisis, when other forms of media cut into its business and make it more and more difficult to be profitable, the most tried-and-true formula for clawing your banks books out of the red: exploitation! This was what faced the Japanese film industry from the early '60s onward, when television had finally become more pervasive and people could get their entertainment without having to go to the movie theater. Movie studios worked hard to show on the movie screen material you just can't get on television...which in the case of the Japanese studios

Metropolis (2001) Blu-ray Review: Visually Opulent, Narratively Dormant Adaptation

Inspired by Osamu Tezuka’s manga and Fritz Lang’s movie, this anime has style in excess...but lacks a cohesive story.
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The cliché about Osamu Tezuka is to call him the Walt Disney of Japan. He was, indeed, a pioneer of modern manga and anime, including creating the world famous Astro Boy, both as a manga and anime. But while he was wildly successful and astoundingly prolific, Tezuka was able to make inroads with his illustrated stories that Disney never realized: He created entertainments for adults as well as children, including a 3000-page biography of the Buddha. Metropolis, published in 1949, was a graphic novel from 30 years before the term was coined: a standalone comic book story, telling a complex

Torso (1973) Blu-ray Review: Sleazy Suspenseful Giallo Goodness

Director Sergio Martino crafts a precursor to modern slasher movies that combines sexploitation with stabbings. And gougings.
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One of the things that make giallo movies arresting is setting. Giallo movies are Italian, and, unsurprisingly enough, tend to be shot in Italy. And it turns out Italy has a lot of picturesque, attractive, and downright beautiful settings for murder and mayhem to take place. Torso, shot in Perugia in 1973, has breath-taking hillside vistas and incredible, ancient-looking city-scapes and plazas which are a decided contrast to the rather transparent exploitative boobs and blood strategy of the film. If nothing else, there's always something worth looking at on screen, whether it be architecture or arched-back Italian beauties in the

Book Review: The Teenage Slasher Movie Book by J.A. Kerswell

A comprehensive, lavishly illustrated overview of the reviled, but ever popular, slasher-movie genre.
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Before the late '90s-early 2000s revival of horror as a mainstream money maker (thanks largely to Scream and the new slasher boom which followed), there were four big modern boogeymen of horror: Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and, to a lesser extent, Leatherface. Sure, other monsters came and went, and had whole series playing out on direct to video, but those four guys all got theatrical releases. They had mainstream patina: hell, two of them got TV shows. It's one of the oddities of the horror genre that it's the villains, not the heroes, who make the series. Halloween is not

Horrors of Malformed Men Blu-ray Review: Complete Malformed Japanese Madness

Teruo Ishii's strangest film of murder, doppelgangers, and the titular malformed men finally makes it to Blu-ray.
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Escaped asylum inmates, mistaken identity, resurrection from the grave, bizarre biological experiments, murder, incest, and a plot for world domination via freaks - the barest bones of a plot outline makes Horrors of Malformed Men, directed by Teruo Ishii, sound itself malformed - overstuffed with ingredients that can’t cohere. Surprisingly, the film maintains an integrity to its own oddity and perversity, never pausing for a moment to let a hint of self-awareness turn the proceedings into farce. We meet our protagonist, Hirosuke Hitomi, in a woman’s cell of an insane asylum, where half-naked women dance around him and try to

Tideland (2005) Blu-ray Review: Childhood, Love, and Necrophilia

Terry Gilliam's controversial tale of an innocent in a grotesque world is four parts beautiful, six parts repulsive.
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In a recorded introduction to Tideland, director Terry Gilliam states flat out, "Many of you are not going to like this film." And "Don't forget to laugh." I didn't find a whole lot to laugh about in Tideland, which earned Gilliam the worst reviews of his career and scared up very little in the way of box-office returns. Gilliam has never been a commercial filmmaker, though. A challenging vision coming from him isn't a surprise. And Tideland is not some routine carnival of shock and gore. It is more thoughtful in its repulsive elements, and more likely to get under

Mind Game (2004) Blu-ray Review: Endlessly Confusing, Endlessly Fascinating

Masaaki Yuasa's debut animated feature is a kaleidoscope of images and scenes that, miraculously, make a coherent (if confusing) film.
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The first couple minutes of Mind Game contains, after a brief scene of a girl being chased onto a subway train and getting her leg caught in the door, a montage. It lasts a couple of minutes, and contains scenes from various lives, put together without context, without any real sense of which character is which, who is who or when or where. Segments from TV shows are interspersed with scenes from daily life, and memories that are later shown to be incomplete. A similar segment plays at the end of the film, and while most of the context for

Street Mobster Blu-ray Review: Gritty, Nasty Yakuza Drama

Kinji Fukasaku's brings docu-drama realism and brutal ugliness to the Yakuza genre in this gritty film.
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Street Mobster is a rough, often ugly story about Okita, a common street thug who tries to eke out a living as a low-level yakuza, but whose temper and inability to kowtow to his bosses lead him to disaster. He's not a gallant rogue or a tragic figure. His father was killed in the war; his mother was a whore who walked drunk into a river and was fished out dead the next day. He turned to crime as soon as he was capable, and one of his jobs was grabbing country girls who'd just moved to the city and

The Third Murder Movie Review: All Justice, No Truth

Hirokazu Kore-eda's keen observation of human interaction is brought to a courtroom drama, winner of six Japanese Academy awards.
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There shouldn't be much to the murder trial. After all, the murderer has already confessed. The prosecution is pushing for the death penalty, though, after as much as guaranteeing the defendant Misumi they wouldn't if he just says he did it. His current attorney in over his head, new counsel is pressed in to do what can be done to make sure Misumi only spends the rest of his life in prison. The new attorney Shigemori is barely interested. He resents being brought in to the case when it's already set to go to trial. Misumi was only two years

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! Blu-ray Review: Undercover Yakuza Hijinks

Released in 1963, director Seijun Suzuki was on the brink of his artistic breakthrough with this comic gangland picture.
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Seijun Suzuki, one of the stable of directors at Nikkatsu in the '50s and '60s, Japan's oldest film studio, was fired in 1967 after his imaginative and visually inventive Branded to Kill completely confused the studio head. It was the culmination of an increasingly prickly relationship between Suzuki and the studio, as he worked very hard to put a personal touch and visual flair on what were standard studio genre scripts. He would happily undermine the generic beats and tone of the violent gangster movies he was tasked with making, if it would allow him to get something interesting on

The Bloodthirsty Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Dracula Goes East

Three Japanese movies directed by Michio Yamamoto that involve Western-style vampires, with style, atmosphere, and some decent sprays of blood.
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As one of the great national cinemas, the Japanese movie industry has invented whole cloth many genres and excelled in many non-native filmic conventions… except arguably the Western-style horror movie. Until the late '90s, when The Ring brought out a rather short-lived craze of ghost stories (usually with a long black-haired ghost, which is cribbed from Japanese folk-lore), Japanese example of horror were rather sparse, and rather different than Western films. In the West some of the acknowledged greatest movies of the silent era are horror films. There are several distinct studio and national traditions: Universal horror creatures, the '50s

Seijun Suzuki: Early Years Vol.2 Border Crossings: The Crime and Action Movies Blu-ray Review: Nikkatsu Noir

Five early films by Seijun Suzuki spotlight Nikkatsu's early 60s trends and the director's growing ambition.
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Seijun Suzuki is one of the more famous Japanese directors of the '60s, when younger filmmakers were taking the rein from the older masters like Ozu and Mizoguchi and Japanese domestic cinema was seeing both its high point as a commercial medium, and heading toward a crash in the late '60s when television would finally saturate Japanese markets. Suzuki worked at Nikkatsu, strangely the oldest and newest Japanese film studio at the time (it was the first film studio in Japan but had been disbanded by the Imperial government in 1941 and reformed 10 years later) whose bread and butter

Basket Case (1982) Blu-ray Review: Enthusiastically Silly and Sleazy

Frank Henenlotter's feature debut comes on a ridiculously stuffed Blu-ray, a must for any fan.
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My conscience tells me I have to recommend this release, because it is a superb home video version of Basket Case, with an absolutely comprehensive set of bonus features, impeccable video and soundtrack (mono and thankfully not upconverted into fake surround) and something that should thrill any fan of the movie or series. But the entire aesthetic of Basket Case rebels against the archival perfection of a Blu-ray release. This is the sort of movie that should be seen in a seedy little theater where you'd never use your credit card. It has '70s (or, more accurately, early '80s) New

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno Blu-ray Review: Lost Masterpiece or Dodged Bullet?

Documentary details Clouzot's experimental Inferno, using recently discovered footage from the failed production, to mixed results.
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There's a little cottage industry of documentaries about movies that didn't get made. Every few years one of them pops up - Lost in La Mancha about Terry Gilliam's early, disastrous attempt to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote or Jodorowsky's Dune. Implicit in the premise is that the world of cinema is missing out on a masterpiece - that a world of perhaps game-changing potential is lost to us because of some unfortunate timing, a couple of bad days on a set, or a miscalculation that metastasizes into a disaster. Honestly, whenever I see or read these stories,

Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) Blu-ray Review: Friendship in the Face of Evil

Heartfelt if slight documentary about a rock band's return to Paris in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
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Until the Paris Terrorist attack on November 13, 2015 where their concert at the Bataclan was targeted leaving 89 dead, for non-fans Eagles of Death Metal, if they had heard of them at all, were mostly thought of as Josh Homme's other band. Queens of the Stone Age, Homme's central musical outlet, has been a staple of the American hard rock scene for two decades, while Eagles of Death Metal was the weird side project where he co-wrote the songs, was the rhythm section, and hardly ever toured with the band. If the first third of Eagles of Death Metal:

An Actor's Revenge Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Kabuki Costumes in Modernist Cinema

Kon Ichikawa's remake of a '30s movie dresses a stagey plot in innovative cinematic stylings.
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Yukinojo, the kabuki female impersonator who gets the titular vengeance in Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge (1963), is a tough sell for a cinematic character. Heavily made up both onstage and off, never once dropping his female gestures and high-pitched voice, Kazuo Hasegawa's performance is definitely deeply committed. This, which according to the title card early in the film was his 300th film performance, is also a remake of a popular film from the '30s, also starring Kazuo Hasegawa. A Kazuo Hasegawa in his early 20s playing a female impersonator so mesmerizing that the most beautiful woman in Edo (Tokyo

Kameradschaft Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Cry for Cooperation

Pabst's 1931 mine disaster film is swiftly paced, beautifully shot, and a heartfelt plea for comradeship between nations.
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It's difficult to separate Kameradschaft from its historical context. Released in 1931, this story of cooperation between French and Germans in a mining disaster on the border came out just two years before the Nazis gained electoral power in Germany. It was a time of street fighting and political instability, and apparently not a time when German audiences wanted to see a heartfelt plea for international community (according to the Luc Sante essay that accompanies this Criterion Collection release, it played to empty houses on release). Director G.W. Pabst's film was a cry in the dark, unheard and unheeded. So,

Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016) Blu-ray Review: Uncovering Cinematic Buried Treasures

This documentary about a 1978 find of a cache of "lost" silent films traces the history of Dawson City.
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In an industry that is lately obsessed with making films available in multiple different versions, both in medium of delivery and in the actual content, it's astounding to conceive just how disposable film was in its early days. Cinema was more curiosity than art form, and it's estimated that nearly 75% of all the films made in the early, silent era are lost. There's a number of reasons for this (not least of which that early film stock, made with silver nitrate, was highly flammable and could even spontaneously combust in the right conditions) but in the end it means

Jerome Bixby's The Man From Earth (2007) Blu-ray Review: Science Fiction Chamber Play

Ten years after it was a sleeper sci-fi hit, Man from Earth comes visually restored to Blu-ray.
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A man is confronted by his friends after he walks out on his going-away party. He's been a local professor for 10 years, but tells them that he does this: after a while, he just moves on. He needs to. "You can't have done it too often, you're too young," one of them says. Well... that may not be strictly true. Because John Oldman is a very old man indeed. 14,000 years old, and he leaves places when it becomes too obvious that he's not like everybody else. Released in 2007, The Man From Earth is a rare thing in

Glory (2016) DVD Review: Bulgarian Tragicomedy Depressed Me

A railway lineman ruins his life by doing the right thing in this semi-comic, biting and ultimately depressing film.
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One of the reviews quoted on the box for Glory describes it as "Frank Capra Meets the Dardenne Brothers". I do not know anything about the Dardenne Brothers, but from the evidence of this film, I can only assume they make puppy snuff films, because the tone, theme and conclusion of Glory is about as far from a Frank Capra movie as I can conceive. Capra's central theme was about the dignity of humanity when pressed against the impersonal forces of society; Glory is about a man who has all of his dignity stripped from him until he is crushed

The Captive (1915) Blu-ray Review: War, Romance, Forced Labor

Olive Films releases an obscure film from epic director Cecil B. DeMille's silent cinema days.
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The Captive is a story of war-time deprivation and how terrible circumstances can bring disparate people together. There's gun battles, and romance. It's also a thematic precursor to the Seinfeld sitcom pilot within the show, where Jerry gets a man assigned to be his butler by the courts. Set during the Balkan Wars in 1913, The Captive is a silent film made by Cecil B. DeMille. It was one of more than a dozen films he made in 1915 in his first couple years of filmmaking, and it demonstrates the meticulous attention to detail the were a hallmark of his

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) Blu-ray Review: Rural Murder Italian Style

Lucio Fulci, famous for his gore and zombie films, brings his lurid vision to the Giallo.
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There's an old saying in Classic Hollywood, attributed to Howard Hawks, that a good movie is "three good scenes, no bad scenes." Sometimes I've felt, while watching Italian horror and Giallo movies, particularly Lucio Fulci's, that the rule is "three interesting (and gory) scenes, and who the hell cares what else happens?" Shock and strangeness are paramount, with coherence coming a very distant third. So it was surprising to me, watching Don't Torture a Duckling, that it has a story that can be pieced together with only a few leaps in logic. Don't Torture a Duckling begins with a genuinely

Terror in a Texas Town (1958) Blu-ray Review: Swedish Sterling Slays Slinger

One of Dalton Trumbo's last pseudonymous screenplays before the blacklist was broken, this is a stylish Western noir.
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Watching older movies, it's fun to remember sometimes how much all media is created as much by the times as it is by its creators. A lot of times, this is basically what reviewers mean when they call something 'dated' - it looks like the time it's from. Timelessness is overrated, to my mind, and highly subjective, anyway. Terror in a Texas Town, a Western that plays a little like a film noir, shows signs of being a movie that was made very much with television in the back of its mind. The opening sequence of the movie shows Sterling

The Slayer (1982) Blu-ray Review: Marital Crisis Solved by Slayer

An idiosyncratic semi-slasher that barely got a theatrical release is finally on home video, uncut and restored.
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Achieving notoriety in the early '80s (at least across the pond) for being one of the Video Nasties, films legally challenged and sometimes prohibited from exhibition in the U.K., the American-made The Slayer is a slasher movie that does not quite want to be one. For certain, it has the overall structure of one: four people (two couples) go out to an isolated vacation spot, have personal tension, and then one by one are slaughtered in graphic ways. The murderer is a mystery, the deaths are gruesome and elaborate, with special make-up effects by an industry veteran. There's a final

Book Review: Unchained Melody: The Films of Meiko Kaji by Tom Mes

Arrow Books presents a critical overview of Lady Snowblood's entire career.
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To much of the post-Millennium western cinematic audience, Meiko Kaji was introduced with her voice. Both the theme songs from Lady Snowblood and Female Convict Scorpion were featured in Kill Bill. More than that, Kill Bill's story, structure and visual style (at least in the section in Japan) were all heavily influenced by Lady Snowblood. Ironically enough, though Meiko Kaji did have a successful singing career in the '70s, her most influential contributions have been visual: the way she looked, the way she dressed, embodied a fierce determination and independence that made her stand apart from other Japanese film actresses

Children of the Corn (1984) Blu-ray Review: Killer Kids Get Religion

'80s cult horror film based on a Stephen King short story gets seriously loaded Blu-ray release.
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Cult movies aren't the same as good movies. Good movies generally have decent production values, interesting stories and scripts, nuanced performances, and resonant themes. Cult movies can have any or all of the above, but can often dispense with most or even all of the markers of quality to create their cult moments. That weird scene, that creepy image, that one thing you couldn't believe you were seeing. Children of the Corn misses a lot of marks as a good movie, but it sure has more than its share of cult-making moments. The premise helps a lot - in the

The Big Knife (1955) Blu-ray Review: Poison Pen Letter to Hollywood

Based on a Clifford Odets stageplay, this story of 50s Hollywood corruption is melodramatic candy for classic cinema fans.
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The Big Knife (1955) is several things at once. It's a Hollywood movie about how awful Hollywood is. It's a noir crime story where the studio boss is the gangster and the caper never quite gets off the ground. It's a lurid melodrama with a larger than life central character who acts in larger than life overreactions right up to the end. And it's quite obviously adapted from a stage play with not a whole lot in the way of (apparent) adapting going on. It's also, for fans of classic Hollywood glitz and classic Hollywood sleaze, a lot of fun.

Hana-bi Blu-ray Review: Violence, Beauty, and Beautiful Violence

Takeshi Kitano’s first international success is unique, enigmatic and frequently beautiful.
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Off-beat and enigmatic, with a timeline that eschews strict linearity, Hana-bi (originally released in 1997 in the states as Fireworks) is a “cop movie” only insofar as the main characters are police officers, and there is violence between them and gangsters. The film’s main focus (without ever getting weepy or talky) is the response to grief and trauma - a response that includes robbing banks and shoving chopsticks into people’s eyes. Written, directed and edited by as well as starring Takeshi Kitano, Hana-bi follows detective Nishi, a man on the edge. His wife is sick, and his daughter has recently

Soul on a String DVD Review: Astonishing Vistas, Ambiguous Story

Zhang Yang's Tibetan Buddhist western is long on beautiful landscapes, short on clear narrative.
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Soul on a String offers the visuals (and the length) of an epic Western, and even some of the story beats, but it certainly doesn't share another hallmark typical of the Western: straightforward storytelling. It plays with different narrative timelines that even begin to confuse some of the film's characters. Events seem to happen simultaneously in the past and in the present, converging in points that make any attempt to suss out a definitive timeline impossible and maybe irrelevant. All of this is in service to a pretty simple narrative: a man has to get to a mountain, while other

Down Down the Deep River DVD Review: A Tribute to an '80s Childhood

Okkervil River's songwriter expands a song into an intriguing short film about nostalgia.
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It seems rare in American arts that people are allowed to do more than one thing. It seems almost greedy for someone who is successful in one art form to go and fill up space in another. So Will Sheff, songwriter and apparently only permanent member of Okkervil River, a celebrated indie folk-rock group, has plenty to prove on this venture into filmmaking. An expansion of a song by the same name off their 2013 release The Silver Gymnasium, Down Down the Deep River is a 40-minute short film that turn the song about childhood experience into a narrative about

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Complete Trilogy Blu-ray Review: More Frenzied Yakuza Madness

Returning to his Yakuza series a whole six months after the last, Fukasaku covers similar ground, but finds new angles.
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Battles Without Honor and Humanity has been called the Japanese Godfather, and while it has some similarities (depicting daily life of gangsters, where formality and ritual places a veneer of civility on brutal criminality) it has a completely different tone. There's a sepia-tinged nostalgia to The Godfather, with Michael Corleone's rise in power and his subsequent decline in humanity looked on with a sense of tragedy. The Battles series, directed by Kinji Fukasaku and largely written by Kasahara Kazuo, was an intentional demystification of the yakuza. Gone are the stoic and honor-bound modern samurai of earlier yakuza films. In Battles,

After the Storm Blu-ray Review: Human Drama is Equally Sad, Sweet

Japanese director Kore-Eda continues career-long streak of touching, humorous and very human dramas.
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The premise sounds like a high-concept, wacky comedy: down on his luck novelist and sometimes private detective follows around his ex-wife to keep tabs on her new boyfriend, while his aging mother engineers a scheme to get the two back together, for the sake of the couple's son. The lead actor even looks the part for broad physical comedy: at 6’2”, Hiroshi Abe literally stands out in any crowd in Japan. But After the Storm was written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Japan’s latter day master of the quietly powerful drama. His style is about observing small moments and interactions,

In This Corner of the World Movie Review: Daily Life in Wartime

A personal perspective on war is shown in this anime about a daydreaming house-wife's life in Japan in WWII.
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In This Corner of the World is a Japanese animated movie that tells the wartime story of Suzu, a sweet but ditsy young girl who at 18 is shipped from her home in Hiroshima to be married to Shusaku, a young man from Kure, a port and shipbuilding city about 15 miles away. It's 1944, and the war is beginning to come home to Japan in earnest. Shusaku's mother is in ill health, and the family needs a new girl to help take care of the home. Maybe the couple will love each other some day, and her new family

Warlock Collection Blu-ray Review: Satan's Son Starts Franchise

Collects the three loosely connected movies in the Warlock series: one good, one weird, one dreadful.
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Like House II, Warlock was one of those movies that I remember seeing heavily advertised on television as a kid, and it occupied a place of real intrigue in my mind. I was too young to see it in the theater, and as it turns out (though I had no idea at the time) a shake-up at the production company meant that Warlock barely even saw a theatrical release. But the ads, with their canny use of "Carmina Burana" created a space of real menace in my consciousness. This new Blu-ray release, the Warlock Collection, brings all three movies (the

The Fencer Movie Review: Touching Soviet-Era Sports Drama

A rare movie about fencing and Soviet oppression, The Fencer infuses the sports movie formula with real-world stakes.
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Never before have I seen a sports movie whose main emotional tone was quiet dread. One look at the title: The Fencer, and you know the film is about fencing, and when you hear the basic storyline - in 1953, a man moves from the big city and begins a fencing school in a small town - many of the story beats will already be known to a savvy viewer. Yes, he’s reluctant to teach at first but darn it if the moppets don’t get into his heart. There's a love story with a demure teacher. There’s a big tournament

Zaza (1923) Blu-ray Review: Swanson's Spitfire Star Turn

Gloria Swanson stars as a singing star who just wants her man in this silent comedy melodrama.
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It's hard to get around the fact that, for a modern movie viewer, silent movies are a lot of extra work. Even for a viewer more used to enjoying silents than most, it can be extra taxing to pay attention without audio cues. For some genres this can ultimately is a bonus - fantasy and horror silents tend to have a dream-like quality that makes the material extra-effective. For comedies and melodramas, it can be a lot iffier. Zaza, a 1923 comedy that morphs into a melodrama, is an odd duck in any case for a modern viewer. First, there's

Doberman Cop (1977) Blu-ray Review: Sonny Chiba's Hick Dirty Harry

Entertaining cop movie despite a wildly fluctuating tone, a departure from director Fukasaku's harder-edged Yakuza material.
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Kinji Fukasaku, of Battles Without Honor or Humanity fame, is best known as the director of hard-edged, cynical material with an almost documentary edge to it (that is, before he directed his final film Battle Royale, 20 years after his career heyday). When he was tapped to direct a manga adaptation, it was an odd pairing. Manga, or more specifically, gegika, which is manga that takes itself seriously, still tends toward over-heated material, with one foot in reality and on foot in comic book exaggeration. The book Fukasaku was tasked with adapting, Doberman Cop, is about a Harley-riding tough who

The Unholy (1988) Blu-ray Review: Damp Devil Movie Gets Superb Release

Another cult film where you had to be there, The Unholy's Blu-ray extras show what went wrong.
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Devil movies work best when they have a core of revelation. They need characters to struggle against the reality of the devil in their stories, to search for any rational explanation that is evil is not real, has a face, and is looking at them. The Exorcist might end with a half hour of puking, swearing Linda Blair, but that's not until the poor girl is subjected to weeks of medical and psychological tests. Directed by Camilo Vila, The Unholy, a cult favorite devil movie that has finally seen release on Blu-ray feels like it understands the core of what

Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) Blu-ray Review: Bava's First Horror Bash

Fun, fast paced, and unexpectedly grisly for a late '50s movie, cult favorite Caltiki gets a lavish Blu-ray treatment.
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Every era gets the horror monsters it deserves, I think. In the '30s and '40s old literary monsters were brought to cinema in the form of the Universal classics: Dracula, Frankenstein, and movies beyond, with one foot in the present and one in the past. The time periods of the movies were always vague - main characters dressed relatively contemporaneously, but somehow lived in ambiguously ethnic European villages. The lord of the manor may wear a modern suit, but the peasants next door had lederhosen, torches, and pitchforks always at the ready. Modern horror revolves around zombies or haunted houses

House: Two Stories Blu-ray Review: '80s Horror Done Weird

The very '80s horror/fantasy movie series gets a lavish box-set Blu-ray release.
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House II is one of the few movies I can remember seeing ads for on TV when I was watching cartoons in the afternoon. The ad would come on again and again, and it looked like everything I could want in a movie - monsters, human sacrifice, John Ratzenberger. However, it was also a horror movie (kind of) so no one in my family would take me to see it in the theater. When I eventually got to see it on VHS it didn't become a favorite, but there was so much strange content in there, so many weird little

Cops vs Thugs (1975) Blu-ray Review: Corrupt Cops Combat Corporatization

A vintage Yakuza story by Fukasaku in his prime about the corrupt links between cops and gangs.
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Of the spate of Japanese movies that infiltrated the American consciousness at the beginning of the 21st century, when the industry was in a sadly short-lived renaissance, most, like The Ring and The Grudge were by relatively young filmmakers. One, however, was the surprise swan song of a septuagenarian who had been making movies all his life: Battle Royale, directed by Kinji Fukasaku. That's the movie where naughty schoolkids are sent to an island to do televised battle to the death. It was also the last film that Fukasaku would make (he died in the middle of directing the sequel,

Brain Damage (1988) Blu-ray Review: Schlock That Loves Being Shlock

Cheerfully sleazy exploitation movie about a singing brain parasite is charmingly repellent.
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There's a certain genius to Brain Damage (1989). Thousands of horror movies are made which simply copy the last popular one, doing the bare minimum to get a (in the past) theatrical release or (more recently) a DVD distributor. These movies feel like somebody is filling out a checklist. "Creative" kills, check. Some nudity, okay. Jump scares, gore shots, blah blah blah. Brain Damage is no less puerile, in a sense, but it is knowingly puerile. It isn't copying somebody else's bad ideas, it has a sackful of its own (and some good ones, to boot.) Brain Damage tells the

Good Morning (1959) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Japanese Master's Flatulent Comedy

One of the great filmmakers of the 20th century fills his domestic comedy with wistfulness, charm...and fart jokes.
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Comedy doesn't tend to get the respect of drama in movie writing. Like horror, its effectiveness depends on whether or not the audience laughs - it demands, when done right, an immediate physical response. It's hard to write oneself out of having laughed at a comedy a writer doesn't want to enjoy for whatever reason, or to write oneself into praising a comedy that didn't raise a yuck. Dramas have more stuff for writers to write about, and writers are the ones who make the lists of what's important in cinema and what isn't. I've seen reviews of 1959's Good

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Blu-ray Review: Radical Politics and Radical Filmmaking

Thematic trilogy from a Japanese master, these three films are designed to be as beautiful, and baffling, as possible.
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Some movies offer formal challenges as part of their appeal. They might have sequences of the narrative where the viewer doesn't know exactly what's going on or in what sequences they're shown. They might have elliptical stories that really require an interpretation rather than just unfolding the narrative directly for the viewer, like a David Lynch film. Or they might have a different way of showing images on screen that is unconventional. Entire film movements are built around recognizing the "rules" by which films are made, and then subverting or even ignoring them. And then there's Kiju Yoshida's Japanese New

Dead or Alive Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Literally Explosive Cinematic Madness

Yakuza blow up the world, and that's just first film of this loose trilogy starring Show Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi.
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The opening six minutes of Dead or Alive, one of the first films of Takashi Miike to get international attention, are some of the most energetic, aggressive, and propulsive filmmaking of the '90s (or, hell, of any era.) Several characters are introduced and plots are put into motion, interwoven with quick cuts of various people engaged in various debaucheries: stealing drugs, sex in bathrooms, stripping, a man doing a six-foot line of cocaine off an enormous ramp, and a man shoveling in bowl after bowl of ramen (which then memorably gets blown out of his stomach in a shotgun blast).

Mifune: The Last Samurai DVD Review: Japan's Greatest Actor Profiled

Informative, engaging overview of the actor's life and work, both with Akira Kurosawa and beyond.
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Toshiro Mifune is one of the most dynamic actors who's ever played on the big screen. He was an animal presence that made it difficult to look away. Even in one of Akira Kurosawa's more staid productions, the stagy and fairly drab The Lower Depths, comes to life when his character comes on screen for an unfortunate few times. In combination with Akira Kurosawa, he made one of the definitive actor/director teams who shaped the future of Japanese cinema, helping to bring it to international attention for the first time in 1950’s Rashomon. Mifune: The Last Samurai, a feature-length documentary

We Are X Blu-ray Review: Hair Metal and Heartache

This story of the enormously successful Japanese metal band is steeped in both triumph and (near constant) tragedy.
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Early in We Are X, Yoshiki, the leader of the band is asked in an English-language interview why the band broke up in 1997. He says, “My vocalist got brainwashed” in his heavily accented but perfectly fluent English. Is it a joke, or a cultural misunderstanding? Absolutely not - in 1997 Toshi quit X Japan, an enormously successful band, because a cult leader had convinced him it was wrong. Six months later, the band’s lead guitarist was dead in an apparent suicide. Yoshiki, the band’s founder, drummer, and lead composer tells about finding his own father dead on the floor

Ludwig (1973) Blu-ray Review: Lots of Castles, Little Story

Visconti's biography of Ludwig II has access to amazing locations, some good acting, and no momentum.
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Strange for an explicitly socialist director of the mid-20th century, but Luchino Visconti was unabashed in his almost fetishistic adoration of the trappings of European royalty. Being of noble blood himself, through most of his career Luchino's work on stage and on screen had been radical politically and socially. In the last few decades of his career, he was called a "documenter of decadence", but it's very difficult to find anything but admiration in his work for the supposed "decayed" ways of those on the top of the social hill. Ludwig, about the "Mad King" of Bavaria whose extravagance, in

Your Name Movie Review: Bodies Swapped, Heartstrings Tugged

2016's top Japanese box-office draw, Your Name is a modern anime of uncommon quality, both visually and in storytelling.
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For what is on the surface a sweet, elegiac coming of age romance, Your Name gets pretty ambitious. It starts as a body switching comedy, then becomes a bittersweet time travel mystery, then a thriller and back to the elegiac bittersweetness before it’s done. That is tries this at all is laudable, that it succeeds so well at all of these while never seeming like a confusing mish-mash of ideas is unexpected. Mitusha is a teenage girl who lives in a small Japanese town where she and her sister help their grandmother keep up rituals at the local shrine. When

Book Review: LOAC Essentials Vol. 8: King Features Essentials 1: Krazy Kat 1934 by George Harriman: Rare Dailies of the Kraziest of Komics

Finally, a new, readily available collection of one of the best comic strips ever.
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It is ironic that, in the era of the Internet which has disrupted so much of modern publishing, it has become easier than ever to delve into the archives of the media past. Newspapers are struggling to survive, and aspiring comic strips have a much better chance finding an audience on their own website than trying to get a comic syndicate interested in publishing them in print. Indeed, I wouldn't doubt that having a built-in audience would be a requirement for syndication, since print space is precious, and smaller than ever, with old reprinted strips competing with the new. But

Psychomania Blu-ray Review: Inexplicable Zombie Biker Cult Movie

Bikers come back from the dead, and it's pretty groovy in this early 70s cult obsession.
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Other people’s movie cults are just weird. My own cult obsessions are, of course, completely justifiable and unquestionable (Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing are two of the greatest things anyone has ever done, and I will fight over that) but the things that other people obsess over make no sense. Psychomania is one of these: an object of adoration for a group a British film fans that, for anyone outside the phenomenon, just seems puzzling. The premise is hokey enough to guarantee that, unless it was completely incompetent, some people would love it: a British biker gang

The Handmaiden DVD Review: Period Thriller, Twisty and Twisted

Chan-wook Park's sumptuous period piece is masterfully mounted, compelling, erotic, but is more compelling than involving.
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Movies that depend on plot twists have a number of complications forced on them, in order to be good and not just "twisty". The first problem is that the twists have to be big enough that they change the audience's perception of what has gone before, but not so wild that they discount everything that has happened. You want to twist the audience's head from one side to the other, but not clean off. And since most twists occur in order to bring characters into a new light, it's important that the audience has a firm grasp on character before

Black Society Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Madman Miike's (Relatively) Somber Saga

In these three films about criminal outsiders, Takashi Miike tones down his frenetic style demonstrating a commitment to craft.
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Takashi Miike is the Japanese director who will, seemingly, film anything. And anything does not just mean he'll put the ugliest or craziest images on screen, but he will try literally anything. Hyperbolic nastiness, vicious violence, creepy sex including necrophilia? Yes. A madwoman chopping off a man's foot with piano-wire to teach him a lesson? Sure. A children's fantasy film with talking umbrellas? Why not? Or, in the so-called Black Society Trilogy, three (relatively) restrained movies about the difficulty of being an outsider, even in the outsider society of organized crime, where the need for family both sustains and destroys

Blair Witch Blu-ray Review: Murky Modern Updating Misses Mark

The 2016 sequel to the '99 shock hit tries to update the original's formula, but to much diminished effect.
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Ambiguity is a central attribute to satisfying horror movies (I write "satisfying" because, if the box office is any indication, playing really loud noises every couple of minutes is the key to a successful horror movie). For a horror movie to get under your skin, you have to engage with it and that means, on some level, trying to figure out just what the heck is really going on. The Blair Witch Project, for all it did to foist the found-footage filmmaking style upon us, had ambiguity in spades. What this (comparatively) big-budget sequel, titled simply Blair Witch, demonstrates is

Book Review: To Pixar and Beyond by Lawrence Levy: Surprisingly Accessible Financial Memoir

The engaging and detailed story about the business strategies surrounding Pixar's IPO.
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If Toy Story had flopped, it would have been the end of Steve Jobs. Remembered in his later life for his keynotes, his turtlenecks, his creation and latter day resurrection of Apple, it can be easy to forget that from the mid-'80s until the late-'90s, Steve Jobs was written off. Played out. A two-time loser, with a computer-graphics company hemorrhaging money left and right. Pixar had been in the red practically since its founding as The Graphics Group by Lucasfilm (that George Lucas had, on some level, anticipated and helped bring about every aspect of the digital-video revolution, audio, visual

C.H.U.D. Blu-ray Review: Cheesy Happenings, Underwhelming Direction

C.H.U.D. strands a fun premise and surprisingly great cast in a meandering story with few thrills.
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What’s weird about C.H.U.D. is how much it’s like a real movie. An '80s horror flick, it has the feel of one of those '70s movies shockers that doled out the horror pretty sparingly, but spent a lot of time building characters and solidifying its premise. Partly this is because of the New York location shooting. Partly it is because the actors, particularly David Stern and Christopher Curry, rewrote large swatches of the script to turn their cut-outs into real characters. The title is an acronym meaning Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. And it’s not a surprise these C.H.U.D.s are working

The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast Blu-ray Review: Extensive, Exhausting Exploitation Experience

With 14 movies and hour of extras, this set is all a fan could want (and more than most need.)
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Enormous multi-movie box sets (especially expensive ones) have two real audiences: already devoted fans, and movie buffs who want to get into a director, so they take the plunge all at once. There is, to my mind, no one who will casually purchase a 17-disc, 14-movie set with copious (almost endless) extras, particularly one that retails for a couple hundred bucks. The question, then, for Arrow Video’s extensive (if not entirely exhaustive) Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast is, what is in it, and will it satisfy both the dedicated and the curious? Being curious myself, and not a follower of the

Private Property Blu-ray Review: Sizzling Hot Forgotten Noir

This lost noir is a steamy mix of sex-crime, repression, voyeurism, and all other sorts of ugly things, beautifully done.
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Made just on the cusp of the broadening of censorship rules in Hollywood, Private Property was probably too much, too soon. Unable to secure an MPAA seal of approval, the movie never opened wide, and quickly disappeared. This is a shame because Private Property is a brimming pot of noir nastiness, a near classic in a genre that's too often associated with gangsters and organized criminality, but at its heart is really about human frailty, obsession, and madness. Corey Allen and Warren Oates star as Duke and Boots, a pair of drifters who wander up from the beach looking for

Dark Water Blu-ray Review: A More Intimate Ring of Terror

Original Ringu director's best follow-up to his international hit, Dark Water is overwhelmingly atmospheric and surprisingly poignant.
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While it's not entirely accurate to say that Ringu was the first J-horror movie (the momentum for that had been building in the direct to video and TV movie markets) it was certainly the first breakout hit in the genre that marries the traditional image of the long black-haired female, a staple of Japanese ghost stories, with modern anxieties. Ironic now that it was done with the thoroughly dated black VHS, this marriage of the modern world with the classical imagery formed the thematic backbone of this new phase in modern horror cinema. When Ringu was re-made in America as

Woman in the Dunes Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Digging out a Life in Sand

Hiroshi Teshigahara's enigmatic, hypnotic tale of a man trapped is equal parts Twilight Zone and Kafka, and completely absorbing.
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Every night, the woman shovels sand from the bottom of a hole, which gets carted up by a rope pulley, and hauled away. She lives at the bottom of a deep pit, and every night the sand builds up. If she leaves off for more than a couple of days, the sand will get everywhere, and eventually the house will collapse, and she will die. Her husband and daughter were killed by the sand. So she digs, each night, for most of the night. She sleeps during the day, nude, sometimes not even under a blanket, since sleeping with the

Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection Blu-ray Review: She'd Have Killed Bill in the First Movie

Meiko Kaji and her incredible cheekbones star in four Japanese women's prison movies with varying levels of insanity.
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Despite all the blood, boobs, torture, cruelty, crazy lighting schemes, and wild camera angles, the most indelible image in these four women's prison movies is Meiko Kaji's face. In particular, her big-eyed, vengeful glare. Her hair is jet black, and in some memorable shots her pale, beautiful face is the only thing lit in frame. In an almost silent role as Nami Matsushima (a.k.a Scorpion), her large, staring eyes and why she's glaring so intently frame the central theme of the movies: the victimization of women by men, and by extension, themselves. Of course, to deliver this theme, these movies

The Invitation (2016) Movie Review: Paranoia, Isolation, and a Good Wine Party

Karyn Kusama's creepy little thriller finds it scares in strained manners and social tension rather than loud noises.
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Writing about a movie like The Invitation is a delicate business, because much of its effectiveness depends on the surprise twists in the narrative. Even mentioning that there are surprise twists in effect telegraphs what they can be. From any story premise, there are only so many possibilities that can happen. In a story about a man who thinks people are out to get him, he either needs to be vindicated, or shown definitively to be paranoid. A middle road essentially means there's no story. It's a testament to the craftsmanship that went into The Invitation that, even though the

Person of Interest: The Fifth and Final Season DVD Review: Goodbye to the Machine

The prescient network TV action thriller comes to a satisfying, emotional conclusion.
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Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided Cinema Sentries with a free copy of the DVD reviewed in this post. The opinions shared are those solely of the writer. Person of Interest has had a strange trajectory. As its themes and storylines became more relevant to real world fears and concerns, its audience has eroded. What was once the fifth-highest rated show on network TV has been unceremoniously burnt off, 13 episodes broadcast in eight weeks, in May and June of this year. What had been a bright spot in CBS's rather staid lineup became an afterthought. The premise behind Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo DVD Review: Giant Robots with Daddy Issues

The third in the remake/reboot movies series, Evangelion 3.33 takes the story in completely new directions.
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This will take some explaining. In the mid '90s, the anime TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion sparked something of a revolution in the medium. Designed as a kind of pastiche and critique of mecha shows its creator, Hideaki Anno, had enjoyed as a young men (mecha being giant robot shows), Evangelion was an alien-invasion story filtered through Anno's current mental state - which was of a very depressed man, who had given his life over to work in a medium and business that he could find no meaning in. Neon Genesis Evangelion as a story had many of the trappings

Let There Be Light: John Huston's Wartime Documentaries Blu-ray Review: From Propaganda to Trauma

This collection of documentaries includes a sobering look at PTSD that was suppressed for 30 years after it was made.
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It's odd to feel nostalgia for a time one never lived in, and to envy men who are fighting in a war. But the Second World War holds an oddly nostalgic place in American culture, especially when uncritically examined. Some call it "The Last Good War" as if war were ever good, as if the times weren't fractious then as well as now. Part of what makes World War II seem, when looking back, as a time of complete cultural consensus is the propaganda that Hollywood produced at the time. The studios worked hand in hand with the government to

The Art and Making of Hannibal: The Television Series Book Review: A Gleefully Grisly Souvenir

An authorized look at the first two terrific seasons of TV's handsomest (and most horrific) show.
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When I first heard about the Hannibal TV show, it seemed like a joke - the apotheosis of the modern reboot culture, where anything could be greenlit as long as someone, anyone had heard of it before. Hannibal the character himself had become very difficult to take seriously - from a figure of real menace in Silence of the Lambs to something more like a regular horror movie monster in the sequels (I haven't seen Hannibal Rising, but I understand it follows a rather familiar Sympathy for the Devil style storyline - Hannibal is Hannibal the Cannibal because he is

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

David Bowie, The Heart's Filthy Lesson, Se7en, and Me

A creepy song on the end credits of a creepy movie created a lifetime fan.
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David Fincher led me to David Bowie. I doubt that was a typical path to the Thin White Duke, but it's how I got there. I went to watch Se7en because the review in the Daily News said it should have gotten an NC-17 for its grisly crime scenes, so that was something I had to see. This was back when it was easier for young and impressionable teens to get into R-rated movies (two years later I would be barred from seeing Lost Highway at the same theater, even though I was 17 - I just couldn't prove it.)

Bone Tomahawk DVD Review: Rare Horror Western Hybrid

Matching a Western setting with a horror story, Bone Tomahawk is that rare genre hybrid that gets both parts right.
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One of the problems with the modern Western is the seemingly desperate need for creators to seem superior, both to the times and the people who inhabited them, and the genre itself. A modern man would doubtless be uncomfortable transported back into harder times, without modern amenities or sensibilities to buoy him. But his discomfort wouldn't necessarily be a sign of superiority any more than his inability to get alone in a foreign country would place him above the natives. The past isn't inexorably worse or better or anything but different. Bone Tomahawk understands this, and approaches its unusual story

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

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

Tenderness of the Wolves Blu-ray Review: Serial Killer Social Drama

Fassbinder proteges Ulli Lommel and Kurt Raab bring the disturbing story of child-murderer Fritz Haarman to lurid life.
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Seventies German cinema belonged to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The director incredibly prolific from an annoyingly precocious age. He directed his first feature when he was 22, died when he was 37, and in that 15 years he made over 40 films and TV productions, all while directing plays and living the sort of wild hedonism that, well, leaves you dead at 37. Along the way, he built up a kind of commune/repertoire of actors, filmmakers, and hangers-on, all working on various projects. One of these was Kurt Raab, an actor and production designer who was deeply interested in the Fritz

Attack On Titan: The Movies: Part 1 & Part 2 Review: Anime-Inspired Cinematic Insanity

A two-part adaptation of the anime series, these movies deviate from the original, but keep the crazy spirit intact.
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Of the various pleasures of Japanese cinema, for me one of the greatest is to see stuff on screen that is absolutely 100 percent crazy. Not pseudo-Lynchian surrealism, necessarily, but images that are the logical endpoint of a plot that gets nuttier and nuttier as it goes along. To wit, in Attack On Titan: Part 1, there is a scene where the hero, Eren, after having held open the mouth of an enormous monster, and pulled his friend Armin out of it, gets chomped on (losing an arm), slides down the creature's throat, and ends up inside its stomach. There,

Big House, U.S.A. Blu-ray Review: Lean, Tough '50s Crime

This surprisingly grim, unsentimental crime film with great character actor cast is a tough-minded winner.
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This was an unexpected treasure. Big House, U.S.A. (which is a completely undescriptive, absolutely terrible title for this grim thriller) is as close as movies came in the '50s to being like the crime-fiction novels of the era. It's a lumpy narrative that follows our antagonist from bad end to bad end, getting into one horrible scrape from which he can't escape to another, without ever making him sympathetic or likeable. Doesn't sound like a fun time at the movies, but Big House, U.S.A. is consistently engaging, taut, and interesting, and doesn't always go just where I expected it to.

The Hee Haw Collection DVD Review: Stockholm Syndrome in the Cornfields

This five episode collection of the corniest TV show in history makes the show's long life understandable... a little.
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The first hour of watching The Hee Haw Collection might have been the longest hour of anything I've seen. The leaden jokes, hideous animations, Buck Owen's fake hair, Grandpa Jones frailing the banjo while it was being played Scruggs-style on the playback. Every few minutes there might be a music performance that would lift me back up just to kick me in the teeth with more... humor. By the end of the second episode, something had shifted, slightly. It may have helped that the second episode here was from the third season - these Time Life Presents collections apparently randomly

Cemetery Without Crosses Blu-ray Review: Franco-Spanish Spaghetti Western

Robert Hossein's Euro-Western is long on style and brooding, short on story and character.
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Filmed in Spain, with a mostly French cast directed by (and starring) the French Robert Hossein and with a screenplay co-credited to the Italian Dario Argento, Cemetery Without Crosses is, of course, a Western set in Texas. It’s interesting to consider how the Western, which had captured the imagination of the world enough that a cottage industry of European Westerns existed for decades, has now almost completely disappeared. Genres come and go (the screwball comedy has never been really successfully revived, and whenever a modern musical comes around to “revive the genre” is does so by not looking, or feeling

He Ran All The Way Blu-ray Review: Beautiful Cinematography Elevates Standard Noir

A small thriller (John Garfield's last film) draped in spectacular black and white imagery by cinematographer James Wong Howe.
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He Ran All The Way was written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by John Berry, both just before they were blacklisted in Hollywood as Community Sympathizers after the HUAC hearings. Try as I might, I couldn’t find much Red propaganda in the film. What I did find was a taut, beautifully shot little thriller about a guy who terrorizes and invades the home of a girl who, had he met her just the day before, he would have probably dated her for a while, maybe even got married. It was a mess of circumstance and bad habits and pretending to

Person of Interest Season 4 DVD Review: A.I. Supercomputer Battle Royale

Season Four is bumpier than average, but this season's highlights more than make up for some weak patches.
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Every season of Person of Interest ends with some kind of apocalypse, some place to recover from. A lot of TV series do this, and it's usually a trick - an "Oh man, how will they ever recover from this?" moment at the end of the season, which is as quickly as possible scrubbed over so the show can get back to doing the same thing again and again in the next season. Person of Interest, in contrast, has been quite good at making its massive earth-shaking decisions stick, and at the end of season three, they threw up a

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Blu-ray Review: A Magical Series About Real Magic in England

A faithful adaptation of the modern classic novel, a complicated and convoluted fantasy story about rival wizards in 19th-century England.
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There are people who cannot handle fantasy. There are viewers who think that any mention of the specifically impossible (instead of what fiction is normally filled with, which is the "practically impossible" or the "completely improbable") invalidates a story. I know people who like Game of Thrones who get upset at the dragons and the Red Woman and the White Walkers - which is strange, since the very first scene of the first episode has White Walkers in it - they came first. Those elements are "unrealistic", while all the other made up stuff is taken in stride. For the

Stray Cat Rock Blu-ray Review: Motorcycle Girl Gangs and Hippy Crime Sprees

Five loosely connected Japanese exploitation movies capture the spirit, and looseness of their age.
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On an interview on this disc, director Yasuharu Hasebe talks about how ephemeral the movies he made were. “I expected it to last a week,” he says about one of the three movies he made on this box set. They were not made with posterity in mind, but were very much of their time and in their time. This is true of any movie, of course - however carefully constructed or intentionally contrived, a movie cannot help but be made in the time when it is made and by the people who make it. And there are movements and trends

Society Blu-ray Review: Glorious Mess of an '80s Horror Movie

Brian Yuzna's bizarre directorial debut is wildly uneven, but never less than fascinating.
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Horror movies are often critiqued as metaphors, largely in an attempt to approach them in terms that distance critics from the act of watching the horror movie. I'm not watching a guy with a knife stab some poor, mostly undressed girl, and enjoying it! I'm watching a metaphor! And filmmakers, who sometimes make the mistake of listening to critics, have built metaphorical aspects of their stories into genre codes (all skewered in Scream and its imitators) so the filmmaker is not filming mock-rape scenarios that end in violence for titillation's sake - they're filming a metaphor! Except it's always the

The Searchers Blu-ray Review: Revisionist Western Before There Were Revisionist Westerns

John Ford's justly praised western classic explores the contradictions of glory and brutality in the settling of the West.
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Taking a highly praised classic on is a tricky business for any film reviewer. A movie as celebrated and revered as The Searchers has been picked over, analyzed, and revised up and down in critical estimation since it was dubbed a classic. It can be hard to just sit down and watch The Searchers like any movie. Not for nothing, the first time I saw it was in film school, surrounded by people who, even if like me they hadn't seen it before, had already had drummed into them what was "important" about it. The Searchers was not an instant

Retaliation Blu-ray review: Japanese Gangster Exploitation Mayhem

Another fine Arrow release of a late-'60s era Japanese exploitation picture.
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One of the joys of watching old exploitation movies like Retaliation is that the inexpensive filmmaking meant that a documentary approach had to be used to keep things cheap. Much of the movie is not on standing sets, but in real locations, with very shaky hand-held shots. The action can't be over-choreographed (no time, no money) so the action is stylistically obscured, moving too swiftly and brutally for any of it to be seen clearly. Having things move in and out of frame and be obscured in camera is significantly more arresting, to my mind, than the shaky cam fake-handheld

The Friends of Eddie Coyle Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Crime, Lowkey, and Unsentimental

Peter Yates' 1973 Crime Drama explores how important, and how expendable, "Friends" can be in Boston's working-class criminal underground.
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Released about a year after Coppola's crime epic, The Godfather, The Friends of Eddie Coyle was seen by some critics as a kind of anti-Godfather when it was released. Both films are about the criminal world and how it suffuses the lives of those in it, but while The Godfather had a sepia-toned romanticism, Peter Yates' film, an adaptation of a George V. Higgins novel, has no room for sentimentality, or glamor. There's not much in the way of violence in the movie, either. It's a crime story, and it's about criminals, and while there's bank robberies, home invasions, gun

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control Movie Review: Skewed Look at Human Behavior

Errol Morris's meditation on human behavior as seen from four men with very strange jobs.
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The title might throw a viewer off - 'Out of Control'. A documentary about things being out of control sounds like a warning, or a plea for sanity. Early on when the subjects of the doc were talking, I was waiting for the filmmaker's negative point of view to show itself, for the unspoken question of "what's wrong with them?" But it does not occur, because the goal in this film is not to hector, but to observe. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control profiles (without narration, just interviews and footage) four men in disparate, seemingly unrelated lines of work,

Blind Woman's Curse Blu-ray Review: Gory Japanese Ghosts and Yakuza Fun

A kitchen sink of Japanese genre elements from Japanese exploitation expert Teruo Ishii.
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Blind Woman's Curse, directed by Teruo Ishii and due out on Blu-ray on April 21 from Arrow Video, is a fine example of the kind of leeway that was allowed in Japanese studio films. As long as the movie had enough elements that looked like it belonged to a genre, Japanese exploitation movies of the '60s and '70s would go to surprising artistic places, and most often with extremely professional technical results. This movie, on the surface a mix of a Yakuza story about a female boss of an early 20th century Japanese gang and a ghost story with a

A Walk Among The Tombstones Blu-ray review: Somber, Slow Detective Throwback

This adaptation of Lawrence Block's alcoholic detective series is true to the character, maybe to a fault.
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Looking at the trailer for A Walk Among The Tombstones, one would be forgiven for assuming it is a Liam Neeson movie. That is, about man with a particular set of skills. Terrorists (or just murderers, here) being killed. Action mayhem, a hero who will stop at nothing. But this movie, an adaptation of Lawrence Block's novel, the tenth in his series featuring recovering alcoholic and recovering police detective Matt Scudder, is by no means an action movie. It involves no revenge (at least not for the main character). It involves no obession. Central to Scudder's character in his work

The Vanishing (1988) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Thriller as Character Study

A woman's disappearance creates a terrible bond between the man who took her, and the one who lost her.
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The missing person is the greatest motif of the mystery story. Even if the murder story is more common (and perhaps the majority of missing-person stories become murder stories in the fullness of time) the missing-person story contains more questions: not just who did it, but what did they do? What really happened? Is the missing person dead, captured, tortured, or did they even just leave of their own accord? The relationship between the missing and those looking for them can be complicated and fascinating. In one line of The Vanishing, Rex Hofman, after years of looking for the long-missing

UHF Blu-ray Review: Constant Parodying, Semi-Constant Laughter

"Weird Al" packs a comic sensibility not at all conducive to feature films into a ramshackle movie.
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"Weird Al" seems to be perpetually "coming back". It's surprising to see, in a world where all careers have peaks and valleys, and some valleys never rise into a peak again, that a "novelty act" has stayed fresh, interesting, fun and popular while basically just doing the same thing for 30-plus years. With a combination of pop-culture references, absurdist humor, and not-too biting parody (which only, as Al explains himself on the Comic Con panel available on the Blu-ray features, occasionally ventures into satire when it directly comments on the work) "Weird Al" seeks, above all, to amuse. Not so

Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars DVD Review: A Parallel Adventure in the Galactic Empire

Disney's inventive duo run amiably amok through the story of Star Wars: A New Hope.
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Phineas and Ferb works almost entirely on the basis of their engaging formula. While there have been occasional efforts to shake things up, the broad strokes are usually present in some manner: Phineas and Ferb, step-brothers with a knack for invention and a boundless positivity, come up with some crazy new gadget/theme park/wild concept and execute it flawlessly, all while their sister Candace tries to get them busted with their parents, because she feels that's the moral duty of an older sister. At the same time, their pet duck-billed platypus Perry is actually a secret agent (Agent P) who foils

Father Brown Season One DVD Review: Uninspired Priest Detective Series

Catholic priest detective isn't particularly Catholic, nor much of a detective, in this BBC series.
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It is difficult to determine where Father Brown fails more completely: as an adaptation, or as a mystery show in its own right. Based on a character created by Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton, the TV Father Brown's Catholic priest isn't particularly Catholic. The series is set in the '50s (all of Chesterton's stories were contemporary and written from 1910 to 1936) but though the look of the '50s is mostly right, the feel is not. This show is a series of mistakes, of strange and uneven characterization, and, the greatest sin of all, of outright boring mysteries. Set in a

Any Given Sunday 15th Anniversary Blu-ray Review: Oversized Game Meets Oversized Filmmaker

Sprawling football epic looks at the game from all sides.
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Recently at lunch, I was watching ESPN with the sound off at a local bar. For 20 minutes, the anchors talked about child abuse, spousal abuse, whether or not Roger Goddell should step down. There wasn't a score on the screen the entire time, and not a single game talked about. Regardless of the importance of the issues surrounding football, there is no small part of me that wishes football talk could be about the game. No issues, no important business. Not about money or politics or anything but moving the ball. That's because, when it comes to football, I'm

Rocks in My Pockets Film Review: Animated Exploration of Suicide and Depression

Rock in My Pockets, an independent animated film, explores the depths of suicide and depression, without itself being suicidally depressing.
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Rocks in My Pockets begins with a detailed discussion of suicide by hanging, with all angles fully explored, from how to make sure the rope doesn't slip to how to take care of potential messes involved in the process, obviously by someone who has given it a lot of thought. This is not "cry for help catch me" talk, but "how can I make sure I end my existence" - preferably without inconveniencing anyone else too much. It's chilling, and even off-putting - if this is where the movie starts, how dark is it going to be when it really

Blu-ray Review: Contrived Narratives Meet Astonishing Nature Footage

Hidden Kingdoms, from BBC Earth, showcases the world of small animals, mixing fictional stories with very real, very beautiful footage.
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Nature shows have to balance the nature with the show. The point of watching animals do stuff is to see what animals really do, but an hour of just watching a dung beetle shove dung around is not going to be scintillating television. Hidden Kingdoms, a three-part nature show focusing on tiny animals (which played on the Discovery Channel under the much less elegant title Mini Monsters) goes headlong into show and contrivance, creating little manufactured narratives about its stars, complete with twists and motivations that might be a little more complex than these little animal brains can plausibly conceive.

The Book Thief Blu-ray Review: Familiar but Compelling Wartime Drama

Following a girl who comes of age in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief is a familiar, but quality story.
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It's almost always stupid to say, "They don't make films like this anymore" to describe some character drama. It's usually not true, and if it is, there's often good reason. Some forms of drama just don't have elastic sell-by dates. Sometimes technology improves, making techniques or story forms that were artifacts of the era in which they were created obsolete. But it is true that the mid-budgeted character-focused drama is not much of a going concern, particularly one that tells what could be called a "traditional" story. Mid-budget movies with mid-budget returns don't make stockholders excited, and a studio can

Starting Point: 1979-1996 and Turning Point: 1997-2008 Book Review: Unique Memoirs from an Animation Genius

Starting Point and Turning Point memoirs provide insight into the work and life of Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki
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Hayao Miyazaki's downbeat personal sensibility, constant self-doubt, and pessimism are nearly absent from his works. My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away are all populated by young people who, despite their personal problems, eventually do their best. Princess Mononoke is graphically violent and depicts an intractable conflict that leads to much death and suffering, but it ends with at least the possibility of reconciliation. Miyazaki's best work (which include most of his feature films) are palpable with this sense of tension - that the world is hard and full of problems, and that if they can't be surmounted,

Dragons: Defenders of Berk Part 2 DVD Review: Mostly Satisfactory Season Ender

Concludes the second TV season of Dragon training on a satisfactory, not brilliant, note.
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How to Train Your Dragon 2 looks, at least from the early trailer, like it is willing to take risks with the series formula. Hiccup is older in the trailer, and the rest of his friends have aged accordingly. Older characters leads to dealing with more serious stuff, and can either be a sign of a series maturing, or attempting to wear the superficial coloring of maturity to appease a knee-jerk, psuedo-sophistication which sees "dark" and "serious" as synonymous with "quality." Who knows how the movie sequel will do, but its predecessor was a real pleasant surprise. What does all

Book Review: Weird Fantasy, Volume 1: Glossy Reprint of Classic SF Comic

The latest hardcover EC Archives release features the first six issues of this series digitally recolored.
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EC Comics holds a special place in comic book history. After all, it was EC comics in particular that were singled out in the mid-'50s comic book panic, by both Frederic Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent was about the mind-bending, anti-socializing power comic books had on the minds of the young, and in actual congressional inquiries. All of which led to the Comics Code Authority, that little symbol that was underneath the issue number on comics for years, and without which comics could not easily get distribution. It was private sector de facto censorship and a major influence

Dragons: Defenders of Berk Part 1 DVD Review: Another Half Season of Dragon Training

Dragons: Defenders of Berk Part 1 returns to the surprisingly good TV incarnation of How to Train Your Dragon.
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They've changed the title. Dragons, the TV series continuation of the hit CGI movie How to Train Your Dragon was, in its first incarnation, subtitled Riders of Berk (reviewed here on Cinema Sentries). That season was all about the slow road to acceptance of dragons into the Viking community of Berk. Now that the Berkian's enemies from Outcast island (led by Alvin the Treacherous) have gotten the idea that dragons can be used by Vikings, the series' focus, along with its title, shifts to Defenders of Berk. It's still about training dragons, the former sworn enemies of all Viking-kind. The

Himizu Movie Review: Compellingly Weird Coming-of-age Drama

Himizu is a strange, but compelling, coming-of-age drama about a boy trying to find normalcy in post-tsunami Japan.
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Weird movies (and Sion Sono makes nothing but weird movies) can only be really successful story vehicles if they properly teach the audience how to watch them. Sharp tonal shifts and weird characterizations can work dramatically if the groundwork is laid. In many of his previous films (his most famous to American audiences is probably 2001's Suicide Club) Sion Sono has not approached storytelling with much discipline. His style is less "everything but the kitchen sink" and more "3 or 4 kitchen sinks, from completely unrelated kitchens" and lots of screaming actors. Himizu has numerous, strange plotlines. It has off

Guilty of Romance Movie Review: Sexy Thriller with Tacked-On Murder

Sion Sono's Guilty of Romance is a sexy, strange, perverse thriller about a housewife's forays into prostitution.
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Izumi seems like the perfect wife, by her husband's sterile and demanding definition of perfect. She has his slippers in the right position for when he comes home at night, and has them right where his feet land when he gets up in the morning. He leaves at 7 every day, comes home at 9 every night, and those times when she is near him, Izumi seems happy, even though they do not speak. It does not last. Guilty of Romance is a story about a bored housewife, with a wraparound story about a grisly murder of the movie serial-killer

Gasoline Alley: The Complete Sundays Volume 1, 1920-1922 Book Review: Fine Restoration of Classic Strips

Lovingly restored, Dark Horse Comics collects the first two years of the beloved series Sunday run.
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Reading archives of old comic strips can be odd, because not only were these never meant to be perennial entertainment, but were the definition of ephemera, thrown out the next day with the rest of the old paper. That's one of the refreshing things about them - they aren't written with a modern audience in mind, and so remain suffused with the character of their times. It would be presumptuous to place weighty pretensions on any collection of old comic strips. Gasoline Alley, which started in 1918 as a gag strip about auto mechanics only inadvertently became a chronicle of

Hellboy: The First 20 Years Book Review: Celebrating Mike Mignonla's Most Famous Creation

Hellboy: The First 20 Years is an attractive artbook that charts the visuals of the Hellboy series
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Hellboy: The First 20 Years is a celebration, not necessarily of the character, but of the artist and writer who created him, Mike Mignola. It is an art book that shows how intrinsic Mignola's sense of character design and color are to making the character work. Because it is a character that probably should not work. In the context of comic books, the notion of a boy from Hell who fights against the paranormal isn't too outlandish, but even from the beginning Hellboy wasn't quite what one would expect from the high concept. He's not very devilish, and he has

Wicked Blood Blu-ray Review: Southern Meth Generic Crime Drama

Wicked Blood, a crime drama seen through the eyes of a teenage girl begins promisingly, but sinks under generic plot.
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The film's title, Wicked Blood, implies that it will be about family, and I suppose it is. It evokes the notion that heredity may be destiny - that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) get played out, or even recreated in their children. Or it is about how a girl in a family overloaded with bad is terrified that the little good she has around her will be taken away, but the only way she can think to deal with it gets her deeper into the family's darkness. It's an idea that has a lot of promise, if it

The Agatha Christie Hour Complete Collection DVD Review: Agatha Christie's Also Rans

The Agatha Christie Hour adapted 10 short stories featuring lesser known characters from Christie's canon
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When I was a young television viewer, I had romantic notions about TV in Britain. The only British TV I had ever seen was Monty Python and The Young Ones (back when they used to run on MTV) and there was something different about the way it looked, never mind how wild the content seemed. The rare times I would watch Mystery! on PBS (which had an incredible credits sequence animated by Edward Gorey) I was struck by the same feeling of difference. Maybe I felt it was classier than American TV, or more refined. Now, as an older, more

Milius Movie Review: The Director who Wanted to be a General

Milius documents the rise and fall of raconteur and Hollywood rebel John Milius.
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For a man who has had many triumphs, John Milius is seen as a tragic figure - he's the one who couldn't adapt to the corporate takeover of Hollywood in the '80s. He's the one that flamed out with Red Dawn, which might have been financially successful (which is hard to gauge from my meager research, but a cursory examination at shows it was the 20th highest grossing movie of the year, and the top grossing PG-13 film) but it was controversial, and proved just too-Milius for Hollywood. Much of this documentary is centered on the notion that Milius

Bryan Ferry: Live in Lyon DVD Review: Smooth, Professional Concert Crooning

Bryan Ferry's Live in Lyon live concert DVD features songs from every phase of the crooner's career, respectably performed.
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After a certain age, all British rock musicians seem to funnel into one style of music. It begins gradually (and most often in "solo" careers) - a second guitarist is added to the live band to fill out the sound. Then one or two extra keyboard players come on board, to help sound more like the record. Then, inevitably, the backup singers (usually black and female). Edges are smoothed over. The whole thing begins to sound respectable. David Bowie has had this sound for the last decade, as has David Gilmour. And in Live In Lyon, Bryan Ferry's band goes

In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey DVD Review: Straightforward Look at Oddball Musician

In Search of Blind Joe Death is a captivating look at the life and works of genuine musical misfit John Fahey.
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Nothing is obscure anymore - or nothing can remain obscure. Internet information proliferation flattens structures. Getting information on John Fahey is just as easy as getting information on John Lennon, or Elton John, or thousands of other musicians who sold orders of magnitude more records. Wikipedia has an extensive article on all of them, with no secret handshakes or special backrooms to go to. Obscure isn't obscure anymore, or at least it cannot remain so for long. That this is a recent thing in culture is one of the points brought home by the excellent new documentary In Search of

Sanguivorous DVD Review: Super-Arty Asian Vampires

Sanguivorous is a horror film more interested in abstract visuals than narrative, or scares.
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At 56 minutes, Sanguivorous has a quality rare in experimental/avant garde cinema - it knows if it isn't going to give a traditional film-going experience, it can't afford to outwear its welcome. Still, it comes close. Its story is told in an abstract fashion, in that avant-garde way that keeps the audience at a distance. Sometimes scenes follow logically, sometimes the images carry the emotional weight of the story while having no discernible narrative content. Sometimes it is silent, with title cards, sometimes there is production sound and dialog (which makes the advertising claims that this is a "silent movie"

Vikings: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review: Old Gods Make Decent Drama

History Channel's first scripted series, Vikings mixes fact, legend, and fairly standard TV drama.
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The images that are conjured by the words "History Channel scripted series" are not too exciting. It makes one think of men in fake beards and faker costumes standing around tables, making speeches about important things that are going to happen, like those Civil War TV-movies that occasionally come about, where it feels like all the participants already know the outcome of the battle, and the war, before it has even begun. Vikings, happily, is not that. It is not perfect television, but it's a real, modern show. That means it looks good, it has an intricate political plot, and

Waking the Dead: Season Eight DVD Review: Forensic Cop Show, Overwrought and Desperate

In its eighth season, Waking the Dead is a perfect example of a show that has outworn its welcome.
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An advantage many British shows have over American television is that they usually have far fewer episodes. A show will typically (though not universally) have around six episodes in a series (the British using the word "series" the way American television uses "seasons") and there will sometimes be a few years gap between series. Ostensibly, this means that there is more creative impetus behind the episodes - that more television exists because there were good ideas for it, and not just because they didn't manage to get canceled the previous year. But this is not universally the case, and even

American Horror Story: Asylum Blu-Ray Review: Absolutely Insane, But It Works

American Horror Story: Asylum is like a dozen horror movies at once, but somehow they all hold together.
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American Horror Story is more about horror than it is horror. It has the tropes, and the imagery, of real horror, but it is so completely saturated with these familiar aspects that it doesn't manage to ever be too terribly scary. Fortunately, that is not all the show wants, or needs to accomplish. Asylum, the second season of AHS, is a completely distinct story from the first season. Gone is the thoroughly annoying Harmon family, along with the rubber man and the psychic Downs syndrome next door neighbor. Asylum takes place, appropriately, in an asylum, run by the harsh to

Birth of the Living Dead Movie Review: Timely Revisiting of Horror Classic

Birth of the Living Dead, Rob Kuhn's excellent new doc, looks at the impact of George Romero's seminal zombie movie.
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At the risk of sounding hipsterish, I'm sick of zombies. Zombies are so done. When I was a young Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead fan, that thought would have been unthinkable. Much like the zombies themselves (or, more properly in Night of the Living Dead, where the Zed-word is never spoken, the ghouls themselves), the cultural phenomenon of zombies started small, in cult films and amongst the feverish fandoms, but after shuffling slowly toward the mainstream, suddenly they broke out into a run. They've taken over, and are apparently here to stay. The zombie saturation occurred somewhat

Brainwave DVD Review: Interesting Lectures, but Missed Opportunity

Brainwave, a lecture series that pair an artist with a neuroscientist, is an intriguing, if rather random, DVD release.
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Brainwave is an annual lecture/conversation series that has been presented by the Rubin Museum of Art in New York since 2008. Each presentation pairs two thinkers from different walks of life - generally a creative with a scientist - and has them discuss some aspect of the brain and consciousness - happiness, fear, emotions, dreams - anything that goes on inside the mind. The general idea is to get two smart people who think in different ways to compare their notions in front of an audience. The Brainwave DVD release contains 10 of these presentations, each around an hour long,

Haven: The Complete Third Season DVD Review: Supernatural TV Series Dives into Some Pitfalls

Haven Season 3 continues the supernatural series with a mixed-bag of episodes, some good, some real dogs.
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There are two major pitfalls that supernaturally themed TV shows can easily fall into. First, since these shows have to walk a narrow path between the familiar and the extraordinary, it can be all too easy to have stories that, however well intentioned and honed, are just kind of silly. The other major pitfall is that, as the number of stories expands, the universe of possibility has to expand, as well - and that can lead to mythology bloat, where the supernatural world is so overloaded with nuances and histories and backstories that watching the show becomes impossible without eidetic

Blandings Series 1 DVD Review: The Great Wodehouse (Somewhat) Well Adapted

Blandings, adapted from the stories by P.G. Wodehouse, wonderfully performed, but deviates somewhat from Woderhouse's innocent spirit.
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P. G. Wodehouse, an incredibly prolific British humorist (writing nearly 100 books, and many plays, movies and short stories) was one of the greatest prose writers of his or any other century. Hardly a paragraph goes past without some witticism, some pithy, beautifully made remark that turns a phrase in a direction it hasn't gone before, often with humorous results. No words ever wasted, no dialogue indistinct or bland. And he spent all that wonderful talent writing light comedies about the misadventures of the British aristocratic class. His work is not trenchant satire. No one's ox is really being gored,

Robotech 2-Movie Collection DVD Review: The Shadow Chronicles Collector's Edition and Love Live Alive: A Robotech Sequel and A Long, Long Clip Show

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles 2-disc release includes Love Live Alive, a extended clip show of the original series.
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Robotech was the introduction to an entire generation to the wonders of anime (at the time called Japanimation), and (perhaps more importantly) of expansive genre entertainment. That is, entertainment in a specific genre (in this case sf/space opera) that had a complicated and evolving serialized plot with real drama (characters development and even death) that eventually led to a conclusion. This was not the norm for youngsters watching animated television in the '80s, where every episode of He-Man or Thundercats was essentially self-contained and interchangeable. Robotech was a TV series that was produced from the footage of three unrelated anime

Shoah Criterion Collection DVD Review: Superb Release of Haunting, Tragic Film

Criterion Collection's release of Shoah is a superb packaging of the powerful, haunting Holocaust documentary.
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Shoah is a film about trains. Inside its nearly 10 hours of running time, the image and movement of the train itself is the most common visual motif. There are innumerable shots of trains moving, shots from inside trains, or mounted on the front of them. Though the camera rarely moves in the film, when it does, it often mimics the inexorable movement of the train, dollying forward slowly and surely on the subject which grows in the frame, particularly in shots of the camps. That's where these trains were going, in Eastern Europe in the '40s - Treblinka, Belzec,

Strike Back: Cinemax Season Two Blu-ray Review: 21st Century Production Values, '80s Action Sensibility

'80s action cinema made anew. Whether you find that damning, or high praise, will determine whether or not the show's for you.
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Throughout Strike Back's second season, a single episode did not go by where someone was not shot in the head at point blank range or had their throat slit. Similarly, if the show's brash American ex-Delta force hero Damien Scott hasn't bedded one of his female contacts, there's certain to be a scene set in a strip club or by a swimming pool where some woman is swimming topless in order to fulfill the episode quota of nudity. Strike Back is '80s action cinema made anew. Whether you find that damning, or high praise, will determine whether or not the

Dragons: Riders of Berk Part 1 and 2: More Vikings, More Dragons

Dragons: Riders of Berk continues from How To Train Your Dragon, with more Vikings and more Dragons.
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How To Train Your Dragon was a surprise, a CGI-animated action adventure story with humor and real heart coming from Dreamworks Animation, whose output tends towards the juvenilie (Madagascar) or the base and vulgar (the Shrek series). In the world of HTTYD, lead character Hiccup plays a viking out of step with his time and culture - while all the men of his village, Berk, are huge slabs of meat with face covering beards, he is spindly, thin and weak. The village is locked in a constant life and death struggle with dragon raids, which Hiccup tends to make worse

The Gangster (2012) Blu-ray Review: Ambitious but Flawed Gangland Epic

Sixties-era Thailand gangs rumble in the streets of Bangkok in The Gangster, an ambitious but flawed new film.
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Classic gangster movies followed a specific arc, probably best codified in the original Scarface (1932) - the audience follows the gangster from his lowly beginnings to the giddy heights of crime-bossery, and then watches as the gangster, who is a bad guy, falls from these heights. The thrill of vicarious transgression combined with the self-satisfaction of righteous condemnation. In the move away from the studio system and strict controls over content, artistic freedom, and fashion of the time shifted the paradigm toward moral ambiguity, the gangster became less of a tragic figure, and more aspirational: the man who has transcended

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