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
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Cheerfully sleazy exploitation movie about a singing brain parasite is charmingly repellent.
One of the great filmmakers of the 20th century fills his domestic comedy with wistfulness, charm...and fart jokes.
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
Thematic trilogy from a Japanese master, these three films are designed to be as beautiful, and baffling, as possible.
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
Yakuza blow up the world, and that's just first film of this loose trilogy starring Show Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi.
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).
Informative, engaging overview of the actor's life and work, both with Akira Kurosawa and beyond.
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
This story of the enormously successful Japanese metal band is steeped in both triumph and (near constant) tragedy.
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
Visconti's biography of Ludwig II has access to amazing locations, some good acting, and no momentum.
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
2016's top Japanese box-office draw, Your Name is a modern anime of uncommon quality, both visually and in storytelling.
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.
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
Bikers come back from the dead, and it's pretty groovy in this early 70s cult obsession.
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
Chan-wook Park's sumptuous period piece is masterfully mounted, compelling, erotic, but is more compelling than involving.
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
In these three films about criminal outsiders, Takashi Miike tones down his frenetic style demonstrating a commitment to craft.
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
The 2016 sequel to the '99 shock hit tries to update the original's formula, but to much diminished effect.
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
The engaging and detailed story about the business strategies surrounding Pixar's IPO.
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. strands a fun premise and surprisingly great cast in a meandering story with few thrills.
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
With 14 movies and hour of extras, this set is all a fan could want (and more than most need.)
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
This lost noir is a steamy mix of sex-crime, repression, voyeurism, and all other sorts of ugly things, beautifully done.
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
Original Ringu director's best follow-up to his international hit, Dark Water is overwhelmingly atmospheric and surprisingly poignant.
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
Hiroshi Teshigahara's enigmatic, hypnotic tale of a man trapped is equal parts Twilight Zone and Kafka, and completely absorbing.
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.
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
Karyn Kusama's creepy little thriller finds it scares in strained manners and social tension rather than loud noises.
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
The prescient network TV action thriller comes to a satisfying, emotional conclusion.
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
This feature-length doc on the special effects master reveals the artistry behind his creature features.
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
Mario Bava's seminal Giallo film couples a gleeful disregard for good taste with incredibly artful imagery.
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
A second volume of movies from Nikkatsu's '60s heyday branches out from just crime movies, with occasionally baffling results.
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
Hsiao Hsien Hou won Best Director at Cannes for this gorgeous, but largely plotless and completely unsatisfying historical drama.
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
Nico Mastorakis' cult horror-action movie does nothing with an interesting premise, gets great Blu-ray release anyway.
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
Whit Stillman's winning romantic comedy about politics set in late Cold War Spain.
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
Six Yakuza movies from the '60s, replete with knife fights, anguish, and women falling in love with the wrong gangster.
How is being an Outlaw Gangster different from just being a gangster? By definition, they're all outlaws, aren't they? It turns out, no, it takes a very special soul to be an outlaw among gangsters. Especially if one is also, as the title of this collection implies, a VIP. This simple appellative explains a lot about the protagonist of this loose series of Yakuza movies. Goro Fujikawa, played by Tetsuya Watari in every one of the six movies included in this box set. Goro was born in poverty, lost his entire family when he was young and ended up in
The third in the remake/reboot movies series, Evangelion 3.33 takes the story in completely new directions.
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
This collection of documentaries includes a sobering look at PTSD that was suppressed for 30 years after it was made.
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
An authorized look at the first two terrific seasons of TV's handsomest (and most horrific) show.
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
Three action/crime films from Nikkatsu studios that showcase their popular leading me of the late 50s.
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
A creepy song on the end credits of a creepy movie created a lifetime fan.
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.)
Matching a Western setting with a horror story, Bone Tomahawk is that rare genre hybrid that gets both parts right.
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
This true crime story has a lot on its mind, but it doesn't translate into arresting storytelling.
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
Offbeat scenes and a determined Communist undertone offset this otherwise standard tale of Western revenge.
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
Fassbinder proteges Ulli Lommel and Kurt Raab bring the disturbing story of child-murderer Fritz Haarman to lurid life.
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
A two-part adaptation of the anime series, these movies deviate from the original, but keep the crazy spirit intact.
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,
This surprisingly grim, unsentimental crime film with great character actor cast is a tough-minded winner.
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.
This five episode collection of the corniest TV show in history makes the show's long life understandable... a little.
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
Robert Hossein's Euro-Western is long on style and brooding, short on story and character.
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
A small thriller (John Garfield's last film) draped in spectacular black and white imagery by cinematographer James Wong Howe.
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
Season Four is bumpier than average, but this season's highlights more than make up for some weak patches.
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
A faithful adaptation of the modern classic novel, a complicated and convoluted fantasy story about rival wizards in 19th-century England.
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
Five loosely connected Japanese exploitation movies capture the spirit, and looseness of their age.
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
Brian Yuzna's bizarre directorial debut is wildly uneven, but never less than fascinating.
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
John Ford's justly praised western classic explores the contradictions of glory and brutality in the settling of the West.
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
Another fine Arrow release of a late-'60s era Japanese exploitation picture.
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
Peter Yates' 1973 Crime Drama explores how important, and how expendable, "Friends" can be in Boston's working-class criminal underground.
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
Errol Morris's meditation on human behavior as seen from four men with very strange jobs.
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,
A kitchen sink of Japanese genre elements from Japanese exploitation expert Teruo Ishii.
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
This adaptation of Lawrence Block's alcoholic detective series is true to the character, maybe to a fault.
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
A woman's disappearance creates a terrible bond between the man who took her, and the one who lost her.
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
"Weird Al" packs a comic sensibility not at all conducive to feature films into a ramshackle movie.
"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
Disney's inventive duo run amiably amok through the story of Star Wars: A New Hope.
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
Catholic priest detective isn't particularly Catholic, nor much of a detective, in this BBC series.
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
Sprawling football epic looks at the game from all sides.
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
Rock in My Pockets, an independent animated film, explores the depths of suicide and depression, without itself being suicidally depressing.
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
Hidden Kingdoms, from BBC Earth, showcases the world of small animals, mixing fictional stories with very real, very beautiful footage.
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.
Following a girl who comes of age in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief is a familiar, but quality story.
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
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,
Concludes the second TV season of Dragon training on a satisfactory, not brilliant, note.
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
The latest hardcover EC Archives release features the first six issues of this series digitally recolored.
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 returns to the surprisingly good TV incarnation of How to Train Your Dragon.
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 is a strange, but compelling, coming-of-age drama about a boy trying to find normalcy in post-tsunami Japan.
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
Sion Sono's Guilty of Romance is a sexy, strange, perverse thriller about a housewife's forays into prostitution.
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.
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 is an attractive artbook that charts the visuals of the Hellboy series
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, a crime drama seen through the eyes of a teenage girl begins promisingly, but sinks under generic plot.
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 adapted 10 short stories featuring lesser known characters from Christie's canon
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 documents the rise and fall of raconteur and Hollywood rebel John Milius.
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 BoxOfficeMojo.com 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's Live in Lyon live concert DVD features songs from every phase of the crooner's career, respectably performed.
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.
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 is a horror film more interested in abstract visuals than narrative, or scares.
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"
History Channel's first scripted series, Vikings mixes fact, legend, and fairly standard TV drama.
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
In its eighth season, Waking the Dead is a perfect example of a show that has outworn its welcome.
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 is like a dozen horror movies at once, but somehow they all hold together.
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, Rob Kuhn's excellent new doc, looks at the impact of George Romero's seminal zombie movie.
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, a lecture series that pair an artist with a neuroscientist, is an intriguing, if rather random, DVD release.
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 Season 3 continues the supernatural series with a mixed-bag of episodes, some good, some real dogs.
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, adapted from the stories by P.G. Wodehouse, wonderfully performed, but deviates somewhat from Woderhouse's innocent spirit.
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.
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
Criterion Collection's release of Shoah is a superb packaging of the powerful, haunting Holocaust documentary.
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.
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 continues from How To Train Your Dragon, with more Vikings and more Dragons.
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
Sixties-era Thailand gangs rumble in the streets of Bangkok in The Gangster, an ambitious but flawed new film.
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